Grapes are an essential plant for productive gardeners in the temperate and arid parts of Australia. They’re self pollinating, drought resistant, versatile, beautiful, and bear generous crops of delicious fruit. What more can you ask for in a food plant?
Some are so easy going, though, that they need a bit of effort on the part of the gardener to keep them productive. Isabella is one triffid-like variety that springs to mind. Sultana (Thompson Seedless) is another. Left to their own devices these pair will swamp any available trellis they can get their tendrils on, so it’s important to give them a decent pruning during their winter dormancy to keep the vines in check and facilitate heavy crops of fruit in late summer and autumn.
I prune my vines using the two bud spur method. Put simply, this involves initial training of the plant to two or more permanent arms (like you’d see in a vineyard), then annual pruning of all the canes that grow vertically from these arms each summer. It’s called the two bud spur method because the pruning cut is made just above the second leaf bud, leaving a short stem that resembles a rooster’s spur.
I also remove any shoots that have grown from the main trunk of the vine, along with anything that’s dead, diseased or poorly placed on the main growing arms. Don’t waste the prunings. They can be cut into 20cm long pieces and propagated as hardwood cuttings, and if you have a wood heater or wood fired oven, they can be cut into 30cm lengths, bundled together and tied with twine to make traditional kindling “faggots”.
We’re having a cold winter in my part of the world, and to be honest, it’s been nice to spend a restful couple of months mostly indoors. But on a sunny, windless July day, few jobs are more satisfying than pruning my vines. Grape wood makes a crisp snap when cut, reflecting the crispness of the air, and if all goes to plan, the crispness of the grapes I’ll harvest in nine months time.
By: Justin Russell
First published: July 2014