Agenda for 2015 Muscadine Field Day

Below is the agenda for the 2015 Muscadine Field Day.  It will be held tomorrow morning.  More detailed information, including location, times, etc. was published on this blog here: https://msfruitextension.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/mississippi-muscadine-field-day-2015/

2015 Muscadine Field Day Agenda

2015 Muscadine Field Day Agenda

Passion Fruit Harvest

Two days ago I harvested some native passion fruit (Passiflora incarnata) from my research vineyard.  It was planted in places where I did not have grapevines.  Last year it produced some fruit, but this year the bounty is larger.  I harvested a 3-gallon pot worth of fruit in short order.

Harvested passion fruit

Harvested passion fruit

As you can see, some were riper than others but all were taken off the ground.  That is one of the management issues with passion fruit of this species, as the fruit falls off when ripe (or even not quite ripe).  So lots of time is spent on hands and knees or stooped over.  I have a few different wild vines and there is variability in fruit size and shape.

Size variability in wild passion fruit (P. incarnata)

Size variability in wild passion fruit (P. incarnata)

Now I have the fruit, what do I do with it?  My plan was to create a syrup from the juice.  I peeled off the outer rind and put the inner arils with seeds into a bladder press.  Eventually I ended up with about 24 ounces of juice.

Passion fruit juice after pressing

Passion fruit juice after pressing

I did not check the brix but I did taste it and the juice was tart.  It will need some sugar.  I hope to start doing more work with passiflora in the future.  Passiflora incarnata is a fascinating plant with great potential.  All it takes is time, money, determination, support, etc.

A Year with No Fruit

This year I have received several calls wondering why certain trees and vines produced little or no fruit this year.  It is a fair question — what would cause this problem?  Assuming there really was no fruit or the fruit failed to develop properly (rather than a disease issue) the answer points to pollination.  Will all the rain and cool temperatures we had this spring, conditions were poor for pollination in some crops in some locations.  Some crops that I have seen with poor or no crop this year are pears, peaches, pecans, and muscadines.  I’m sure there are plenty of others as well.  Rain and cool weather deters pollinators from visiting open flowers.  Rain also dampens the pollen itself and makes it so that it cannot readily be dispersed. Timing is the critical thing, as one cultivar may have a full crop and another nothing.  It could even vary from plant to plant of the same cultivar, and also from field to field (i.e. a neighbor might have a good crop whereas you have little or nothing). So the interaction of rain and flower opening is where things can go wrong.  Of course other things can reduce pollination (lack of pollinator insects, lack of pollinizer trees, disease, frost, drought, excess heat and humidity, etc.) but this year I put my money behind the wet and cool conditions.

This pecan tree, located in Poplarville, MS, has no nuts at all

This pecan tree, located in Poplarville, MS, has no nuts at all.

It is not just trees that had a hard time this year.

'Fry' muscadine with no fruit

‘Fry’ muscadine with no fruit.

Some cultivars were impacted but were able to set some fruit, although it will not be a full harvest by any means.

'Janet' muscadine with some fruit, but limited by poor pollination conditions.

‘Janet’ muscadine with some fruit, but limited by poor pollination conditions.

Is there an upside to not having much fruit this year?  Well, bud fruitfulness should be increased for next year, especially in the pecan trees.  So, just like the mantra of the Chicago Cubs — There’s always next year!

Firmness and Splitting in Grapes

This year I harvested several different cultivars of grapes for the purpose of seeing what kind of firmness and splitting data I could get.  It was not a true study, just a quick “look-see” to get an idea of how it would work.  Below is some of the observations I was able to get (will help from Dr. Donna Shaw and Lavonne Stringer). Brix (sugar levels) were recorded first to see how high they were at harvest.  Nine cultivars were chosen — Blanc du bois, Champanel, Cimarron, Conquistador, FAMU99, MidSouth, Miss blanc, Victoria Red, and Villard blanc.  As you can see below, sugar levels were low for most, although these were only samples and the entire vine was not necessarily harvested.

Brix measurements of 9 grape cultivars

Brix measurements of 9 grape cultivars.

Individual berries were then tested for firmness, as seen below.  In most cases, the lower the brix, the better the firmness. This is not surprising as unripe berries would be expected to be firmer.  One big exception was Conquistador which was the firmest berry by far, even at nearly 18 brix.

Firmness of nine grape cultivars.

Firmness of nine grape cultivars.

Finally we looked at how the berries split if exposed to water. We did this in two ways, individual berries and also as whole clusters. The results were almost the same both ways but I will show both. MidSouth, FAMU99, and Conquistador showed a tendency to split when submerged in water overnight. So in this case firmness did not seem to be strongly tied to splitting tendency.

Individual berry splitting of nine grape cultivars.

Percentage of individual berry splitting of nine grape cultivars.

Things were mostly the same when whole clusters were submerged, although there was a little more on Blanc du bois. The difference was small though and with replication and a larger sample size may not be significantly different.

Percentage of berries from whole clusters that split from nine grape cultivars.

Percentage of berries from whole clusters that split from nine grape cultivars.

I was surprised by the lack of splitting from Victoria red. It has what I would characterize as a thinner skin than most of these cultivars, yet it did not split at all. A good thing to know.  Obviously Conquistador has a tendency to split, as ~50% of exposed berries did just that.  Next year we will give it another go-round and see what happens then.

Education and Experimentation via Mississippi Bunch Grapes

And when I say “grape harvest” I mean bunch grapes, not muscadines (which will come later in the season).  This year the vines in my vineyard were in the 3rd leaf.  I harvested a little fruit last year, but this year was the first “big” harvest. Since most of the harvested vines were part of a study, I did various measurements on them (total weight, cluster and berry weights, brix, TA, pH), but had a conundrum — what do I do with the fruit?  The majority of the harvested grapes was from three cultivars: Blanc du bois, Miss blanc, and Villard blanc.  I also harvested a little from MidSouth.  In the end I gave it all away, some of it to folks who helped harvest, but also some to help a business do some experimentation of their own.

Mark and Travis from Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company helping harvest a few vines of Miss blanc

Mark and Travis from Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company helping harvest a few vines of Miss blanc.

Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company is located in Kiln, Mississippi.  Just after I moved here in 2011, my wife and I went for a visit to the brewery where we met Mark Henderson, co-owner. We asked questions about the brewery biz and he asked what we did for a living.  After telling him I worked with grapes, he became very interested and said he wanted to source some local grape juice for a project.  I told him, “good luck” because there was none to be had.  Later, I connected with a local grower, Dr. Wayne Adams, who had some fruit but not enough to supply Mark.  I planted the grape vines as a response to his request. After moving here, I thought my days with grapes was probably over, but what I have found out is there there is a strong interest in Mississippi just like everywhere else. In 2014 I wrote a Specialty Crops Block Grant funded through the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and USDA-NIFA that focused on grape education.  This vineyard helps to bolster that education component.

Fast forward to 2015 and I have vines producing fruit.  I again contacted Mark and asked if he wanted the juice to do some experimenting on.  He said yes.  Unfortunately the Blanc du bois was not in good shape.  It had a good bit of rot caused by early season anthracnose then bunch rots.  The very rainy month of May did it no favors.  However, Miss blanc and Villard blanc were in relatively good shape.

Harvested Miss blanc fruit ready for data measurements

Harvested Miss blanc fruit ready for data measurements.

After getting the fruit in from the field, we took some data measurements then pressed it for juice.  Mark and Travis from Lazy Magnolia came up to help with that process along with my collaborator Dr. Donna Shaw from USDA-ARS in Poplarville.

Dr. Shaw (left) and Mark Henderson (right) pressing Miss blanc grapes for juice

Dr. Shaw (left) and Mark Henderson (right) pressing Miss blanc grapes for juice.

It is a very messy job, but being able to taste the fresh juice is rewarding. Of course it happened to be on one of the hottest days of the year, but then again it is July in South Mississippi!  We were able to get about 20 gallons of juice from 18 Miss blanc vines.  A couple of days later we were able to get 10 gallons of juice from 17 Villard blanc vines.  I also gave Mark about 2 gallons of MidSouth juice (which is acidic but has an intriguing “raspberry” flavor).  So he has between 25-30 gallons to try something (wine, mead, beer, or something else entirely). This project is a beginning to see how Mississippi-grown grapes can be used for marketable products.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in growing bunch grapes in Mississippi please contact me.  Although it is not easy to do, it can be done with the right cultivars and management practices.  Developing markets is another important step in the process, and Lazy Magnolia is exploring whether or not grapes can make a marketable product for their business model with the help of Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Crow Away!

I want to start off upfront with a few things: First, I am not an expert on crow behavior, Second I am a fan of The Black Crowes, Counting Crows, and A Murder of Crows, and Third, I know crows can be a nuisance.

I’m not sure what programs exist in Mississippi to control these bird pests.  I know the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Oklahoma had a program for control, but I am not sure if Mississippi has anything similar. In Oklahoma crows are a significant pest of pecans.

I found a couple links with information on controlling them in Mississippi and it looks like they can be killed if needed to protect crops.

http://icwdm.org/handbook/birds/AmericanCrows.asp

“Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal act resulting from a formal treaty signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, under this act, crows may be controlled without a federal permit when found “committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.”

States may require permits to control crows and may regulate the method of take. Federal guidelines permit states to establish hunting seasons for crows. During these seasons, crows may be hunted according to the regulations established in each state. Regulations or interpretation of depredation rules may vary among states, and state or local laws may prohibit certain control techniques such as shooting or trapping. Check with local wildlife officials if there is any doubt regarding legality of control methods.”

https://www.animallaw.info/statute/ms-hunting-%C2%A7-49-1-39-killing-animals-or-birds-injurious-agriculture-exception-migratory

“Statute Text

  • 49-1-39. Killing animals or birds injurious to agriculture; exception as to migratory birds

The commission may issue permits to kill any species of animals or native, nonmigratory birds which may become injurious to agricultural or other interests in any particular community. All migratory birds, including hawks, owls, and eagles and their nests and eggs are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and federal regulations promulgated under this act. All species of blackbirds, cowbirds, starlings, crows, grackles, and English sparrows may be killed without a permit when such birds are committing or about to commit depredations on shade or ornamental trees or agricultural crops.”

Now, eliminating (killing) crows is not always necessary.  Often exclusion is the best option if possible.  Scare tactics or repellents can also work, but usually only for a limited time period as the crows become wise to it.

My suggestion, if elimination is necessary, would be to contact the US Fish and Wildlife folks in Jackson for more info: http://www.fws.gov/jacksonwildlife/.  Also available is The Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts at Mississippi State University which can be found at this website: http://www.humanwildlifeconflicts.msstate.edu/#&panel1-1

A Few Early Grape Clusters

This morning I was out in the vineyard to harvest a few grape clusters for a study on Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) egg laying habits conducted by Dr. Blair Sampson.  These cultivars are unusual in that they are rarely grown outside of the southern U.S.  I harvested one or two clusters (depending on the number of berries available per cluster) from ‘Victoria Red’ (Ark 1123 x Exotic), ‘Cimarron’ (V. cinerea var. canescens x Seneca), ‘MidSouth’ (De Grasset x Galibert 255-5), ‘FAMU 99’ (unknown to me), and ‘Champanel’ (V. champinii x Worden).  These are not fully ripe in the eating or processing sense, but they are close enough for this study to work.  Below is a photo of ‘Champanel’, ‘Cimarron’, and ‘MidSouth’.

Champanel, MidSouth, and Cimarron (Top to Bottom)

Champanel, MidSouth, and Cimarron (Top to Bottom)

So, even though I have these in my vineyard it doesn’t mean they do well.  This is the first year I’ve had Champanel grapes, but overall it looks decent.  The vine looks healthy, not a lot of rot (which is really saying something this year), no PD symptoms, and a good bit of fruit.  I had trouble establishing the vine for whatever reason, but it looks good now.

MidSouth is an intriguing vine that I have written about before.  It has a moderate vigor and moderate yield.  The vine is suffering from a nutrient deficiency (that I believe is Mg) that some vines in the vineyard show symptoms of as well.  However, overall the vine looks okay.  The flavor is what I like — it reminds me of raspberry.  It isn’t quite ripe yet though and acid levels are high.  It was never recommended as a wine grape although it could be useful in blending (maybe).

Cimarron is a cultivar released from Oklahoma State University in the 1970s.  A strong Concord-like flavor and aroma.  It does not do well in south Mississippi.  Vines have PD symptoms and have only produced a small amount of fruit.  Terminal portions of the cordons are dying back now and some clusters along with it (from PD).  I suspect they may die back to the ground over the winter and come back, but it is no way to get a viable amount of grapes.  Too bad too, as the clusters don’t have any rot and they look nice.  Other OSU cultivars, Rubaiyat and Sunset are also in the vineyard but have little to no fruit and exhibit PD symptoms.  They are non-starters too.

In the coming weeks I will be harvesting more fruit — even hope to crush some of the Blanc du bois, Miss blanc, and Villard blanc (and perhaps a couple others).

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal for July-Aug 2015

The latest edition of the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal is now available. In this issue topics include a new survey on mechanical harvest, fruit splitting, careful use of herbicides, insecticides and rain, an upcoming GAP/GHP workshop opportunity, a few photos of the Blueberry Jubilee, and Road Trip! MS blueberries go to India.

Download the newsletter here in PDF format: Mississippi Vaccinium Journal volume 4 issue 3

As always you can access this issue and all past issues at http://msucares.com/newsletters/vaccinium/index.html

If you have any suggestions, questions, or feedback please feel free to contact me!

Netting Grapevines Against Birds

Last year I had problems with birds destroying some grapes before I had the chance to harvest them (full disclosure: I had several conferences last year that I attended while it was close to harvest time.  I rolled the dice that the fruit would still be there when I got back — no such luck). This year I am taking no chances!  Last week the bird netting went up on two of the four rows in the vineyard and this week the other two will be covered as well.  Since the vineyard is so small, it was relatively easy to put the netting over the rows and secure it.  Below are a few photos (taken by Richelle Stafne) of the process.

Throwing the netting over the row.  It helps to be tall.

Throwing the netting over the row. It helps to be tall.

Pulling the netting over the vines to make sure it covers the canopy.

Pulling the netting over the vines to make sure it covers the canopy.

Securing the netting by using zip ties. Other materials can be used such as string, twine, or bread ties. The netting was tied to the irrigation wire with the zip ties.

Securing the netting by using zip ties. Other materials can be used such as string, twine, or bread ties. The netting was tied to the irrigation wire with the zip ties.

The job is finished and we admire our efforts while sweating in 90+F heat and humidity.

The job is finished and we admire our efforts while sweating in 90+F heat and humidity.

The netting will remain on until harvest.  Once all fruit is harvested it will be removed and stored for next year.  Netting is an added expense to the vineyard and it makes management more difficult, but it is a necessity to protect the fruit from birds. There are different kinds of netting, some will last longer than others (and hence are more expensive), so it depends on an individual managers needs which kind to purchase.  Tractor implements are available to help with this process in large-scale operations.