By Paul & Liz Stevens
Like many we wanted to produce grapes, and like many that dream seemed to always end up in disappointment, as the grapes would come on and seem to just dry up before they matured. We did the typical 4 x4 post with wire strung between them, but after the first few years when the grapes were really starting to take off the post were crooked, the wire was sagging and no matter what we did the vines always ended up touching the ground.
In touring the Amish country we began noticing one more step they use in supporting their grapes. They use the post and wire, but they take one additional step. At about 54” high they run a solid pipe through the post and drill through and bolt it at each post.
When we moved to Texas we decided to take that next step and built our new support using three post set so that we could run a 20’ 1-1/2” galvanized chain link fence top rail through the post. This meant we had to subtract 4” off each end of the 20’ so that the pole would go from end to end, with one post in the center. Before we set the post we wedged them plum and used a string level on our chalk line and snapped a line level at 54” high, then another line where we wanted the top to be. We numbered the post took each one back out and drilled strait through the center of each post on our drill press using the chalk line as our horizontal center point. We used the next size up forstner bit from the actual pole size to give a bit of wiggle room. We then drilled a series of 3/8” holes in each post space 16” apart starting at 12” from the ground. This is where we ran our wire through to attach the vines as they grow up to the main pole. We cut the post to length and set the post back into the ground. With some extra hands we went ahead and slid the pole through the tops, drilled through the end post and bolted them, after we had the end post plumb, we plumbed the center post and drilled and bolted it.
We set the post with just a little bit of concrete just to fill the post hole, plus we only needed to go down around 2’. With this system all the tension is held by the pipe at the top, so we didn’t need to attack it with a 3’ deep hole and several bags of concrete. That was our first clue that we were really going to really like this approach, a lot less work! To add a bit of fancy to the project we purchased the ball tops and screwed them into the top of each post. After the post cured we ran our wire through the holes having the pole across the top keeps the post solid, thus we were able to really stretch the wire without worry of pulling the post inward.
We started our grapes and carefully nurtured them as they grew to the top. We choose Muscadine Grapes as we know someone living in the Florida panhandle suggested them. They have much of the same climate as we do in central coastal Texas, and have tried several of the varieties from up North with no success, except for the Muscadine, with that said where you live will have a lot to do with the varieties that do well in your climate.
Well with all this work we thought we were ready to cash in on a great grape crop, nope after they started to really mature about five years ago, the same old story, they came on strong and then just shriveled up like a pea and dropped off. We have them in the irrigation system so we knew they were getting plenty of water. We did notice that we were getting a fungus on the leaves and would spray but that didn’t really help either.
As we drove through Texas we would always admire the wonderful grape vineyards and wondered just what the secret was that we were missing. As we began to look closer we noticed there were no leaves up to around 4’ from the ground. At first we thought this was just because the plants were more mature. We went home and peeled off all our leaves that were close to the ground and kept new growth from coming out at that level. We also fertilized the plants and to our surprise the fungus went away the plants filled out the grapes came on stayed and we had a great crop that year. This year will mark our 3rd year with a strong crop of grapes. Last year off four plants spreading across that 20’ section we were able to harvest enough grapes to make jelly and nearly five gallons of wine.
In total it has been eight years since we planted our grapes, the support is still as plumb and straight as the day we installed it, and it appears it will be that way for some time. We are really sold on this system, as for what made the grapes finally take off, we are not sure which has more benefit the removal of the leaves or the fertilizer but we plan to keep a good thing going. Hope this helps someone else having the same problems with their grapes.