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.

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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!

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.

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.

2015 Grape and Muscadine Short Course Update

UPDATE:

The MSU Grape and Muscadine Short Course will be held Tuesday, March 10 in Pontotoc, MS.  The address is: 

MSU Pontotoc Extension Office at 402 C.J. Hardin Jr. Drive

Pontotoc, MS 38863

 

The MSU Grape and Muscadine Short Course originally scheduled for February 26 in Verona, MS is being rescheduled.  The new date has not been established yet, but should be by the end of the week or early next week.  Once that information is in hand, I will update this post and include the new date.

Last week the class was held in Hattiesburg and we had a good and excited crowd on hand to learn viticulture techniques.  We look forward to an even bigger crowd at the next one in Verona.  Keep an eye on this post for more information as it becomes available.

2015 Mississippi Grape and Muscadine Short Courses Announced

Thanks to a grant from the Specialty Crops Block grant program and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, MSU Extension Service will be hosting two short courses for grape and muscadine growers.  One will be held in Verona and the other in Hattiesburg.  Each short course will meet on two dates, one in February and one in July, so that attendees can see and experience the vineyard at different growing seasons.  Because the grant covers all the expenses, the short course will be free to attend; however, pre-registration is mandatory.  Below the schedules and registration form can be downloaded.

Grape and Muscadine Short Course: Hattiesburg

Grape and Muscadine Short Course: Verona

This course is intended for COMMERCIAL growers (and those interested in becoming commercial) only — those who currently grow or wish to grow for markets (farmer’s markets, local retail, wineries, etc.).  Please see the links above for further details and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.  We look forward to seeing you at these great events!

More info here: http://msucares.com/news/farmweek/pages-weekly/2015/2015-01-30msugrapecourses.html

Why the Fear of Unknown Wines?

Later this year I will be headed to Oklahoma to do some consulting for the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council.  The idea is to help growers improve production and quality in the vineyard.  Since I spent 6 years there I have knowledge of the diverse eco-regions within the state and some of the challenges that growers face.  Something that I heard while there and after is that consumers don’t want/won’t try wines they aren’t familiar with.  This means that the winery believes they need a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, etc. to be successful.  While I don’t dispute that wine consumers are narrowly focused, I also don’t buy into the idea that they won’t try or buy anything else.  I look to Minnesota and Missouri, which have thriving wine industries, without any or very little Vitis vinifera grapes being grown.  There are some states that cannot grow these grapes for one reason or another (too cold, disease, etc.).  Many states can grow them, but sometimes I question why.  Does the world need another mediocre/decent/good Cabernet Sauvignon?  I don’t pretend to know the answer to that and can only speak for myself — almost without fail I can find a superior bottle of wine at the store for far cheaper than the winery.  Now, I don’t want to diminish the wineries doing it — they produce a local product that helps the agricultural and tourist economies of the state.  Good for them and good for us.  But some places just shouldn’t be growing certain kinds of grapes when others produce a better product.  Since I work with the grape and wine industry I like to taste different wines to get a perspective on them.  I know I am in the minority, but I would choose a hybrid wine over almost any vinifera wine any day of the week.  Why?  To me vinifera wine is about nuance, the parameters of what the wine can offer is limited in scope.  If one buys 5 bottles of Cab from 5 different wineries in 5 different countries, do they taste the same?  No, but they are all familiar.  I like to seek out unfamiliar wines that challenge me.  Hybrid wines do that for me.  I have had some outstanding hybrid wines.  There are hybrid varieties that can produce excellent wines — Traminette, Chardonel, Frontenac gris, Norton, Chambourcin, Noiret, etc.  I like these wines.  Even a mediocre bottle of these wines has something to offer.  As Americans we like familiarity — every McDonald’s in the U.S. has the same food.  We expect that, we are comforted by that fact.  But, that doesn’t make it good.  I believe hybrid and vinifera wines can co-exist.  The problem is not in the vineyard or the winemaking — it is in the marketing and consumer education.  Until wineries and consumers branch out into the unknown, hybrid wines will be looked upon as inferior.  Unfortunately, that is a fallacy.

Fruit Crops for North Mississippi

Last week I was in Verona and gave a talk on Fruit Crops for North Mississippi at the Northern Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association annual conference.  The weather was cold, but the crowd inside was good.  Lots of interest and excitement about all kinds of fruit and vegetable related topics.  Below is a photo of Dr. Blake Layton, MSU Extension Entomologist, addressing the crowd.

Dr. Layton at the NMSFVGA meeting in Verona

Dr. Layton at the NMSFVGA meeting in Verona

Although I didn’t get a photo with me speaking (should I have done a selfie?) my presentation is available for download at the link below as a PDF.

Fruit Crops for Northern MS 2014

UPDATE:  After posting this I was chastised by Dr. John Clark at the University of Arkansas for not listing the UA peach and nectarine varieties.  My reply was that they were untested in N. MS so I didn’t know for sure how they would perform.  He thought they would do well in that area.  So, this link: http://www.aragriculture.org/horticulture/fruits_nuts/nectarine_peach/default.htm will describe them and offer nurseries where to obtain them.

Powdery Mildew Resistance in Grapevines

Powdery mildew is a problematic disease for growers of winegrapes around the world.  Without control it can be a devastating disease.  As part of the VitisGen project, this video was produced to help educate current and future grape growers on the disease and some of the solutions that are being sought through breeding.