How to Grow Grapes for Home Use
Objective: To learn to produce grapes at home in sufficient quantity to be able to have all you want to eat, then enough left over to make all the wine you want to drink, and all the jelly and preserves you care to deal with.
My personal vineyard consists of three Muscadine vines which I
planted in 1975. Muscadine grapes
are found mostly in the southeastern portion of the
Many different types of Muscadine vines have been developed over the years. I have three different varieties, a hybrid “Jumbo” Scuppernong which I purchased from FCX stores when they were in business (no longer), a “bronze” scuppernong, and a “Bullace” scuppernong. The Jumbo is a very large grape, many of which are 2/3 the size of golf ball and they appear black when fully ripe. They are edible and sweet before becoming fully ripe. They begin to ripen in eastern NC in late July and will bear until mid October. The Bronze is slightly smaller and is bronze in color. Some people call them “white: scuppernongs. They ripen several weeks to a month later than the Jumbo. Ripening at approximately the same time as the Bronze is the Bullace. It is the smallest of the three grapes.
The process begins with the planting of the vines. Vines can be obtained by buying a vine from a nursery or getting a cutting from someone who has one. A vine can be rooted by inserting it under soil during one growing season. The portion under the soil will grow roots. It can then be cut from the original vine and replanted.
When planting the vine, place a 4x4 treated post in the ground next to the vine and attach a strong cord or string tightly from the top of the post down to near the ground. Use this cord to train the vine up to the top as it grows. It should easily grow to the top in the first growing season.
Next, install eight more 4x4’s in a circle around the vine, 10’ out from the vine. Place the first four in a cross (X) and then cross that X with another X. From the top of each X, run a heavy wire across the center post to the opposite post, so that you have 4 wires, 20’ long, crossing from outside post to outside post, with each crossing over the center post. The wire can be obtained from a farm supply business such as Tractor and Auto Supply. It is solid and not braided wire. The thickness of the wire is approximately 3/16” and is very strong. It is galvanized so as to prevent rust for many years. You will need heavy duty pliers to be able to bend it. To cut it, you will need bolt cutters or a hacksaw. Attach it across the top of the post with a large wire staple and then wrap a round of it around the post. Draw the wire as tightly as you can because the weight of a mature vine will put a great deal of stress on the wire. Later, if you discover that the posts are leaning from the weight, you might be able to install 10’ sections of TV antenna mast post between each of the posts and the center post. I have had to do that.
Once the vine has reached the top of the post (which should be approximately 6’ above the ground), train a runner vine down each of the eight wires leading out to a pole. The vines should have no trouble reaching the posts during the 2nd year, or 3rd year at the worst. You should be getting grapes in the 2nd year.
Now comes the secret to a full harvest each year – the pruning of the vine. It is imperative that you prune each and every year. Never skip a year. Pruning should come only after the grapes are finished bearing and the sap has dropped as well as the leaves. I like to prune mine in December on a warm day when I can stay with the job with freezing. I have pruned in Jan, Feb, Mar, and even April. I don’t recommend any of these months. It is usually too cold in Jan and Feb and my March the sap may have started to rise and the vines may “bleed” when cut. Honestly, though, I can’t say that “bleeding” vines has ever diminished the crop that year. Some older people say it is not good for the vine to bleed and to some degree, I agree with them, though I can’t say why.
Pruning involves cutting off all of the “side” vines that have grown out from each of the eight vines coming from the main trunk. You should leave them about 6 inches long after trimming. I prune using two different methods. One method is a powered (electric or gasoline) hedge trimmer. The other is a hand prunner. The method you choose is not important. The powered trimmer is much faster, but sometimes tears the end of the vine it is cutting. When you have finished, you should have eight individual vines running along the wires with short 6” shoots remaining along the length of the vines. All grapes grow on new growth, so each year the 8 vines will prolifically produce more vines which will be full of grapes. After 8 years, you should cut off one of the 8 vines at the point it leaves the main trunk and train a new vine down the wire in its place. Each year thereafter, cut off the succeeding vine and retrain another new one. After 16 years, the vine will have been completely renewed. If you keep doing this, the vine is completely renewed every 8 years. A well maintained vine might live hundreds of years. The original trunk on my Jumbo vine is now approximately 8” in diameter after 33 years. The vine at my Dad’s house is still producing grapes, though not well maintained, after 74 years.
You may feel it necessary to fertilize and water your vines. I personally have done of either. I have watered occasionally when we were in a very dry spell and I have fertilized, but I can not tell you that it has improved the quantity or size of the grapes. I have not fertilized my vines in at least a decade and the grapes are just as big and just as plentiful now as ever. Though I have never tried, I would not be afraid of guess that the Jumbo vine would make hundreds of gallons of wine in any given year. This year, about 6 gallons was made from it, along with about 30 pints of grape jelly. Many were eaten, but the majority of grapes just fell off to the ground, unused. It is by far the most prolific vine of the three.
My vineyard is designed in such as way as to utilize the posts of one vine as the end post for the next vine, etc. That way, I avoid buying as many posts. Wires run from post to post and from vine to vine, across a total of three vines. From end to end across three vines is 60’. As a family, we eat the bronze and Bullace scuppernongs and give them to friends and neighbors. The Jumbos are used for vine and jelly.
In case you are not familiar with scuppernongs, they are a member of the Muscadine family of grapes. They have a tough skin which you do not eat. To eat them, you place the stem side of the grape between your teeth and bite down, sucking the contents of the grape into your mouth. Savor the flavor and juice and swallow the whole thing, seeds and all. Throw the hull away. This is totally unlike the grocery store grapes and unfamiliar to most people outside of the farming area of the southeaster US.