Growing organic fruits and vegetables has become a highly popular trend for both farmers and home gardeners alike. The value is not only in the superior taste, but also in the low environmental impact that organic produce and growing methods have.
If you are new to growing organic produce, there is some advice you can follow to make your new adventure a successful and fruitful one outlined below.
Organic grape growing involves choosing grapes that are suitable for your specific region, using the proper viticultural techniques and systems as well. You would not be successful trying to grow Chardonnay in a cool moist climate or in a coastal region, so be sure to choose grapes that are more suited to our warmer, more humid climate or that are able to grow in your location.
The greatest challenge to growing grapes in unsuitable climates is the rot and mildew that may occur if the grapes are grown in an unsuitable climate. This is especially true for those grown in humid or moist climates when they need a drier one. Ripening is more of a viticultural issue than one that should be considered by organic or conventional growers.
Fertiliser is a no-go for organic grapes and should be replaced by compost. This allows the grapes to be naturally fertilised without using harmful chemicals and saves you money because compost costs are often significantly less than the costs of chemical fertiliser. The vines can be provided with extra nitrogen via means of nitrogen binding cover crops or marine (fish and kelp) products.
Rock phosphate, Gypsum, Magnesium sulphate, wood-ashes, Potassium sulphate, Lime (pH adjustment), Calcium chloride, trace elements, blood- and bonemeal may be used if there are deficiencies other than lack of nitrogen. Use a gentle spreading machine such as the CompacSpread by Radium Engineering, which is designed specifically for vineyards and orchards, in order to avoid damaging the plants before laying compost.
Going organic for grape growing means that you will no longer be using pesticides or insecticides. For insects that prove harmful to your grapes and vines, use a predator insect rather than simply spraying them with an insecticide. You can use cover crops to discourage these predator insects, as well as provide habitats for beneficial insects.
Use cover crops, such as Queen Anne's lace and different clovers, and do not worry about keeping your vineyard borders too neat. An untidy growing area encourages beneficial insects to inhabit the area and these natural exterminators are what organic grape growers need. These covers encourage naturally occurring micro-ecosystems within the agro-ecosystem, allowing for a 100% organic pest control system.
Your trellis design should follow the natural growth habits of your chosen grapes, such as choosing a high trellis or arbour for downward growing branches or rectangular trellises for vines of the muscadine variety. With vigorously growing vines, pruning should be geared toward the preservation of two to four 2m canes, and the trimming of excess growth.
Many grape vines produce upward facing shoots, meaning a two-tiered trellis is necessary to support the branches as they grow. By pruning them during late winter, before the buds begin to swell, your vines will get stronger and will be more resistant to disease. Encouraging the natural growth habits of your vines, rather than trying to make them aesthetically appealing, allows the trunks and branches to become sturdier and the plant will be healthier overall.
Any viticulturist, whether organic or conventional, knows that having loads of light and air for grapevines helps them to produce the best fruit. Find a site that has good drainage and has access to sun during most of the day. If there is not sun throughout the day, you should find one that has morning sun, especially in a cooler climate.
Air circulation is a vital organic way to prevent disease. You should aim not to put your vine in a corner with a fence either side as this will significantly decrease the airflow around the plant and will encourage mildew, rot and other diseases. Be realistic about the amount of vines you can plant in a small space.
Growing grapes organically may sound like a difficult process, but it is one of the best ways to grow healthy fruit and limit your impact on the environment. Be sure to research the different insects and cover plants you can use to fight disease and pests, and take this journey one step at a time. At the end of it, you will have delicious wine from organically grown grapes – and what could be better than sipping on something you have grown yourself.