MSU Workshop to Teach Grape Pruning Basics

The Mississippi State University Extension Service invites grape growers in the state to a pruning workshop to be held Feb. 3 in Beaumont.

The event will cover the basics of vine anatomy and pruning techniques for bunch grapes and muscadines. After the presentations, in-field demonstrations will show participants correct pruning techniques. Novice and seasoned growers are invited to attend.

The event will be held at the MSU Beaumont Horticultural Unit in Perry County from 10 a.m. to noon. There is no cost to attend, and no preregistration is required. Registration will begin at 9:30 a.m. Participants are encouraged to dress for the weather expected, as part of the workshop will be spent outdoors.

The Beaumont Horticultural Unit is located at 478 Highway 15 in Beaumont. Contact Eric Stafne at 601-403-8939 or eric.stafne@msstate.edu for more information.

What is Your Marketing Plan?

You might be surprised to find out that this is usually my first question when someone says they wish to put in a planting of fruiting crops.  Not soil types, not cultivars, not cultural management, and not diseases.  All of those things are critically important, and believe me, I would I could stick only to those things (because that is my knowledge arena).  However, the world of growing and selling fruit is not an easy one to navigate. Overproduction and excess supply of some fruit make selling it difficult.  Sure, you can be a great grower, but if you are not a good marketer then you might as well forget it.

I don’t know how many times I have talked about marketing to the many, many growers I have dealt with. It is so crucial to understand that growing the fruit is not enough. The thought is, “If you build it, they will come.”

Wrong.

It should be, “If you build it, you better hustle and work to make sure they can find you.” Upfront education and the willingness to develop a marketing plan that is adaptive to change is key, because doing the same thing year after year (also called stagnation) is also a losing proposition.

I’m not a marketer. It is not my area of expertise. But, if you are planning to get into fruit production you need to become an expert or have the help of one in order to survive.

Curious Galls on Muscadine Vine

Recently, a muscadine vine cane was brought into the lab after pruning. It had galls along the cane at nearly every node. Grape cane gallmaker (http://nysipm.cornell.edu/factsheets/grapes/pests/gcgm/gcgm.pdf) may be the culprit, but there are other types of gall making insects around as well that could cause similar injury.  We were not able to find any evidence of larvae, frass, or any other trace of the insect. The injury to the cane is quite extensive, but luckily only a very few canes were harmed.  Thus, it is not worth trying to control this insect, as it would not create economic-scale damage to the vine or to yields. See the photos below.

Galls on cane of a muscadine vine

Galls on cane of a muscadine vine

Closer image of the galls. No evidence of the pest was found (aside from the swelling).

Closer image of the galls. No evidence of the pest was found (aside from the swelling).

Winter is a Great Time for Education

Most of us are quite content to ignore our fruit plantings during the winter. At least I know I am guilty of that. Winter brings about other challenges for me — end of year reporting, conferences to attend, data to analyze, papers to write, etc. I know that everyone has their own stuff to deal with too making it difficult to keep your mind on something that isn’t growing (or at least appears that way). Of course there are a myriad of things that could be done to improve the planting, of which pruning and sanitation are some of the most important. However, I believe the most important thing to do during the time when it is too cold to get outside and you would rather bundle up in a blanket next to a warm fire is to learn. Education is a never-ending process. New things are discovered every year about fruiting crops. New pests, new varieties, new methods of management, etc. The great thing is that you no longer need to drive somewhere during sleet, snow, or icy drizzle to get to a meeting. Extension is starting to embrace online education techniques like webinars and blogs to keep clientele apprised of new discoveries. I would also encourage social media interaction. There are lots of Extension specialists and agents on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.  These are all platforms to interact with us. If you don’t know how, just ask and any of us would be happy to help you learn these new things.  The world is digital and not going back. If we can find common ground with our learning environments we can all be so much better informed. So, what to do during this winter? Try something new and learn, learn, learn.

Growing Bunch Grapes in Mississippi

Last Friday I gave a presentation at the Fall Flower & Garden Fest entitled “Growing Bunch Grapes in Mississippi”. This festival is held every year in Crystal Springs, Mississippi at the Mississippi State University Truck Crops Experiment Station. I usually attend and give a talk on some aspect of fruit crops. This year it was bunch grapes. Of course one cannot cover all aspects of growing grapes in a 30 minute block, but the link below will take you to the presentation (as a PDF file). It gives some of the very basics when considering bunch grapes in our climate. So, take a look and if you have any questions feel free to ask!

Growing Bunch Grapes in Mississippi

Measuring Grapevine Growth

For three seasons I have had a study going on how grapevines respond to producing a crop in the season after they were planted.  In 2013 I planted three cultivars — Blanc du bois, Villard blanc, and Miss blanc.  In that first season I was able to get them trained onto the cordon wire (single wire high curtain system). In season two I had three different treatments: removal of blooms, removal of fruit at veraison, and harvested fruit.  In season three, all vines were harvested (some even going to produce a commercial product, but that is a discussion for a later post) and today I measured trunk calipers.  I have not analyzed the data yet, but I will look at cultivar and treatment effects on vine trunk size.  Below is a photo of the process:

Caliper measurements on a grapevine trunk

Caliper measurements on a grapevine trunk

I have a little more data to collect and then I will be able to start analyzing the data and writing up the results. This study was also done in Oklahoma before I moved to Mississippi, only with different cultivars. It will be interesting to see how the results compare. Growing grapes is expensive and growers need to start recovering expenses quickly. If grapes can be harvested starting one year earlier then the time to recover initial capital outlay will be shortened.  However, we need to make sure that has no lasting impact on vine health, thus this study. Since I couldn’t find any other studies like it in the literature I decided to answer the question myself.  And soon, I will find out the results.  It is exciting!

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

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.