The Grapes of Wrath, or not….

My dad's grapes
My dad’s “vineyard”

It should be no surprise to you, based on the url of this blog, that I don’t know much about the practicle aspects of gardening. However something I do have in my favor is that I don’t pretend to know something I don’t. In other words, I ask for help. Such is the case with these grapes.

I do not have grapes, but my dad does. They used to produce quite well but for the last several years they have not done very well and since I have been starting to garden, I thought I would take it upon myself to do some inquiries. I did not tell my dad what I was up to by the way.

I found out from my dad that he actually had two different types of grapes. He has Concord Grapes for my mom and, since he doesn’t care for Concord Grapes, he has some other kind of grapes for himself. He no longer remembers what they are called (they were planted over 20 years ago so I have to cut him some slack) and the name he thought they might be called doesn’t come up in any searches nor is known by anyone I’ve asked who know about grapes.

I also found out that the only fertalizing he does is whatever falls their way when he fertilizes the lawn. This of course meant nothing to me, and I should point out that I actually carried out the conversations with him and with the people at Portland Nursery over a few different times, I’m merely presenting it as one conversation for your reading purposes.

Base of the grapes before the work
This is a P.J. shot (Pre-Jeffery) of the base of the grapes

Now I’m sure that the majority of nurseries are full of knowledgable people, but I tend to go to Portland Nursery on SE Division near 92nd Ave. I forget why I stopped there originally, I think I wanted to get an indoor bonsai plant (but never did) and stopped in to see what they had. In any case I keep going back there. Knowledgable, friendly, and helpful has earned my loyalty.

According to the helpful people at Portland Nursery there’s a few things that can contribute to a decline in productivity, which is a fancier way of saying “doesn’t make a lot of grapes anymore”. One of the first things to look at was fertilizer. Lawns need a lot of nitrogen, apparently, but grapes do not. So it sounds like they may not be getting as much of the other nutrients that they need, but were getting way too much nitrogen. Actually I don’t know if it’s “too much” quite as much as “not enough” of the other. In other words, I don’t think the extra nitrogen hurt anything, but didn’t help either.

Now they did carry a fertilizer for plants such as grapes with a 7-3-3, but I needed/wanted something smaller in size. The fertilizer I got still had the essential 3-3, but was a 6 and not a 7. I’m assuming that’s the nitrogen. I didn’t bother looking at the box to confirm that, the guy said it would work and it was in a more managable amount. I didn’t know how to apply fertilizer properly, and he told me how, which I’ll tell you later as I’m not done with “probable causes” for decreasing grape quantities.

Another possible issue is the pruning. Now I know even less about pruning than I do about grapes, and dad does the pruning, so I’m chalking that to “out of my hands” and not worrying about it. The last thing is mulch. Apparently grapes need mulch around the base, a lot of mulch. It needed to come out to the edges of the drip line. When I explained that dad doesn’t have a drip line and he just uses a sprinkler, the guy explained that the drip line means the edges of the top part of the grape vine, the “umbrella part” as I think of it. And it has to be thick, like several inches thick, the mulch has to be thick, not the drip line.

So I got fertilizer and mulch. In fact I got Citrus Mix from Down to Earth for the fertilizer and Black Forest for the mulch.

Citrus Mix Fertalizer
Food for thought…well for grapes anyway.
Mulch. A lot of mulch.

The guy said to put down the fertalizer and then the mulch, but not to put the fertilizer within the first 6 inches of the trunk of the grapes because apparently there are no feeder roots there. I had no idea that there was such a thing as “feeder roots” but it did trigger a faint memory of reading about a similar concept for something else.

So the first thing I did was to break up the ground surrounding the grapes before I put the fertilizer down. I wasn’t told I had to do that, it just seemed like a good idea and a way to help get the fertilizer into the ground to where the grapes could use it faster. After I did that I put the fertilizer down. I tried to start 6 inches away from the stem, honest I did, but I wasn’t able to and I can’t worry about it. It doesn’t hurt anything and it’s better than nothing.

Roughed up area
“Breaking Ground” takes on a whole new meaning
Fertilizer around the base
Close enough for (non) government work

After that I put down the mulch. Now something I didn’t mention before, but you can see in the pictures, is that there was kind of a natural “grass free” zone around the base of the grapes. It was my guide for both the fertalizer and for the mulch. I made the mulch as thick as I felt was sufficient and hoped it would rain soon (it didn’t) to wet everything down and get it going.

mulch around the grapes
Maybe ants play “King of the Hill” on mulch mounds

That’s all I’m planning on doing to the grapes. I’ll try my best to remember to keep you updated about what happened.

– Jeffery