Monday, October 25, 2010

Harvesting grapes and making juice

Some grapes are very difficult and require a lot of chemical applications in order to have a decent crop. If that is what you want and you don't mind dumping lots of chemicals on your plants, you can probably grow almost any kind of grape you want. My grapes are not beautiful, but they do not have any chemicals on them.

This was our first year of good grape production. Here they are in early summer.

I have several varieties of grapes. I am certain that I have Concords (and they are a good variety for beginners) and I have others that I have taken as cuttings from friends and farmers that are great producers as well.

Our first year of really plentiful grape production. I think the vines are about 4 years old (summer 2010).

In about a half hour we have a lot of fruit. In the field we use clippers to cut clusters off. We will later remove the stems and bad fruit.

Inside, under the sink, I remove the stems and any bad fruit. Bad fruit usually floats to the top and can be easily skimmed off to discard. The remaining fruit is used to make juice.

A big metal pot is used to cook the grapes. I place the clean grapes in the pot and add enough water to cover the fruit. I then boil them, reduce to a simmer, and mash them for about 15 minutes after boiling. Some people like to use a juicer to chop up the grapes prior to boiling. This helps, but is not necessary.

The mash is filtered through a strainer to make the juice. Some people like to filter the juice through cheese cloth, which removes all large particles and most of the color. We just refrigerate the juice and drink it fresh for several days. If you want to make wine or can the juice, follow the links below.

Upon completion, there is mash left over.
We filter this many times before discarding the mash.

Pruning Blackberries

Blackberries are one of the easiest berry bushes to get started and are a reliable producer for many years. The only maintenance required is pruning them back to a manageable size every year after harvesting the last berries in August. I have tried many varieties, but I have found no types that are superior to the thornless varieties in fruit quantity, taste and reliability. I wanted to see if the thorny types had better flavor or bigger fruit or any advantage that would justify having to deal with the nasty thorns and I have found no justification, so I have torn out all of my varieties except the thornless ones. I wish I knew what kind I have specifically, but with most of my fruit trees and berry bushes, I go out and talk to friends and farmers and take cuttings of plants that produce well with no chemicals, and often they do not know the variety. If you observe your own neighborhood or the country area around your city you will start to notice trees and berry bushes of all kinds that look kind of neglected (indicating that they are not sprayed with chemicals) yet they have good fruit output. These are the plants you want to choose for cuttings. Click here for info on taking cuttings.

Blackberries a couple of weeks from being ready to pick.

Ready to start harvesting. Blackberries produce for 2-4 weeks.

My thornless blackberries grow to be about 12' tall by the end of summer. Notice the 7' high hoop house in the background. I let them grow all summer and prune them back after harvest.

After harvest, I cut all the canes back to about 4' high and specifically remove all the canes that produced fruit this year to the ground. All brambles are different, but blackberries only produce fruit on canes that grew from the previous year so anything that had fruit on it this year will not have berries the next year.

It is easy to tell what canes had fruit, as you will see some of the unharvested seed heads on top of the canes. Cut all of these to the ground and get rid of them. They do not compost well so I burn them. The growth from this season will produce fruit next year. By cutting the shrubs back to 4' after harvest, the canes will have time to put out side shoots and grow to about 6' before fall, thus providing a thick mass of one year old growth that will produce fruit the next year. No home should be without blackberries. Good luck.