You don’t need a garden bathed in Mediterranean sunshine for grape growing. Find a warm, sheltered spot and it’ll be a vintage year.
The Romans cultivated vineyards in Britain 2,000 years ago and today’s warm summers are again making vine-growing a very practical proposition.
Growers have been quick to take advantage of the changing climate to produce local plonk but at home the reason most people want to grow grapes is simply to eat them.
It is not difficult to do and vines give the garden a delightfully Mediterranean atmosphere with their architectural foliage and bunches of fruit.
But you do need the right spot – your warmest, sunniest and most sheltered corner, ideally against a south-facing wall where the soil is well drained. It is also worth growing grapes on a freestanding trellis, pergola or gazebo if you have a very sheltered, sunny spot.
To enjoy ripe, sweet fruit you also need the right type of grape. Most of those sold in garden centres are wine-making varieties and are too sour to eat, or they are ornamental types that are grown for their foliage rather than their fruit. So to be sure of getting a really good dessert variety go to a specialist nursery.
Each variety of grape has its own likes and dislikes. Some do reasonably well in a warm, sheltered spot out in the open and a few are fine for pots on a patio, but most need the protection of walls, since brick or stonework act like a giant radiator that is almost, but not quite, as good as growing in a greenhouse.
The best time to plant a vine is while it is dormant between November and early March. If it hasn’t already been pruned by the nursery cut it down to three leaf-joints above ground level when you plant it. This might seem wasteful, but believe me it helps the new vine establish itself well and it will soon make lots of new growth when it gets going the following year.
You can plant vines while they are still in leaf in summer as long as they have been grown in pots. If you do plant in summer, though, wait until the following November or December before cutting them down hard. They bleed if you cut them in growing mode.
Before planting a vine you need to prepare the soil exceptionally well. Dig out a big trench at least 3ft (1½metres) wide and 2ft (61cm) deep and bury as much organic matter as you can in the bottom.
A couple of barrowloads is not too much as grapes need plenty of moisture-retaining material underneath them, especially if you are growing them against a wall.
Put up netting or trellis for tying the long floppy stems on to – it will make life so much easier later – then mix more organic matter in with good topsoil and plant your vine at least 12in (30½cm) from the wall or fence. If you are putting in several plants, space them 3ft apart.
The next spring, when the vine starts to grow, you can take the easy route and let it ramble naturally over the wall, but space out the stems and tie them in for support. From then on just shorten the main stems and remove weak, overcrowded or unwanted side shoots every December to keep the plant tidy. It will look good as a decorative climber and produce some useful fruit.
But if big, serious bunches of grapes are your objective, it pays to train a vine properly. It may seem complicated when it is described but it is much easier to do than it sounds.
In spring, select the two strongest shoots and nip out all the others while they are still small. Allow the chosen shoots to grow upwards. In December, prune them back to within three leaf joints of the base – the aim is merely to strengthen the plant for now.
In year two, leave three strong shoots to grow and nip out the rest. Prune off two more at 2ft high in December and cut the third off at three leaf-joints above the ground.
In the spring of year three train the two long shoots out horizontally, one each side of the plant about 18in (45¾cm) above ground level. These should each carry one or two bunches of grapes that summer. Let a couple of shoots grow up from the base of the plant and prune these off at 2ft high in December.
Cut off the fruited stems a bud or two from the main plant stem, then in spring tie the two 2ft shoots in their place. Do that every year afterwards. You will have fewer but bigger and easier to reach grapes. To ensure the fruit is a good size, remove one in three grapes from all over the bunch once they have reached the diameter of a pea.
Growing grapes is a real feather in your cap. Put some in a blender with other fruit to make smoothies or feed them through a juicer for fresh grape juice. You can keep it in the freezer, so nothing goes to waste.
Pick of the bunch
Interlaken – These sweet, golden-yellow seedless grapes will grow well on a south-facing wall or on a fence around a suntrap patio.
Black Corinth – With small, sweet, red seedless grapes, these do well in pots and the fruit can also be dried to make currants.
Brant – This reliable old faithful is ornamental and edible with great autumn-tinted foliage and small bunches of sweet, black, but pippy grapes.
Gloire de Boskoop – A dual-purpose vine with crops of sweet black grapes and colourful foliage.
Léon Millot – This black grape is good for eating or for grape juice. It has slight autumn tints.
Strawberry – A large, vigorous, prolific vine with pink grapes that have a faint strawberry flavour.
Vitis vinifera Purpurea – This is the classic purple-leaved vine that is usually grown as an ornamental climber. But in a sunny spot it also bears crops of sweet, purple grapes.
(Article source: The Express)