More and more households are turning to backyard gardening these days, hoping to raise their own crops and become more self-sufficient. One area that has seen a lot of interest lately is the ‘backyard vineyard’, providing green thumbs with the opportunity to create their very own vintages! The process can be a little intensive at first but, if you’re ready to put in the work, we’ll walk you through the steps you need to know to start your own vineyard.
Location and Size
There are many things that go into choosing the right location for your new vineyard. Of course, the most important factor is sunlight! Grapevines need at least eight hours of sunlight each day in order to grow strong. If the field has trees, hedges, and buildings creating shade, your plants won’t thrive and you’ll have fewer grapes. We also recommend choosing a flat piece of land, in order to help make harvesting, pruning, and maintenance easier. Keep in mind that the size of a proper vineyard is subjective, but it does take quite a few grapes to make a single bottle of wine. It takes roughly 120 vines to produce enough wine to fill a 60-gallon barrel; meaning you will need an area of about 50’ by 50’. This is also the time you should be checking the soil of your intended plot of land. Luckily, grapes aren’t overly particular about the soil they grow in and you’ll find that if the area has been able to produce healthy plants in the past, your grapevines are probably going to be just fine.
Choosing Your Grapes
In order to make wine, you need to choose one or two varieties of grapes that you want to grow. As you may have guessed, the most important factor is the climate your grapes are going to be growing in. Here in Canada, you probably won’t be making too many Cabernets and Zinfandels, because they need an average temperature of 30˚ – 35˚C. Merlots and Chardonnay thrive in moderate climates where temps range between 15˚ and 30˚C so you may be able to get away with those. Our recommendation is to try Riesling grapes for your first time; these grapes do exceptionally well in cooler climates with an average temperature of 10˚ – 15˚C.
A trellis is the structural support for your grapevine. This is going to make sure your vines get all the sun and air flow needed to stay strong and healthy. A fence-style trellis (featured in the picture) is the most popular choice for backyard grape growers. These allow the vines to wrap easily around the posts and rails, providing lots of room between the two so that the vine still has access to the sunlight and water. This design also simplifies pruning and harvesting because you can work from both sides of the trellis.
Watering grapevines can prove to be a little more difficult than usual plants. Luckily the water from your garden hose will be more than enough for these thirsty plants; however it is not as simple as spraying across your crop. A drip irrigation system is the most efficient and effective way of making sure your backyard vineyard receives the right amount of water at the right time. This type of system will deliver water to the roots, where it is most needed, and leave the vines and fruit dry thereby avoiding potential mould, mildew and rot problems.
Planting and Growth
So now that you’ve staked out the area and chosen the right species of grape, it’s time to start the planting process! Your biggest task here is to remember that the plants need room to grow so they can receive all the good airflow and sunlight. Be sure to space your rows so that you can move easily during harvesting and maintenance, as well as preserving those eight hours of sunshine. For example, if your trellis is six feet tall, you should be spreading the rows at least five feet apart to prevent one row from casting a shadow on the next. Once the vines are planted, your next step is going to be training them to grow on the trellis. As it grows, wooden stakes can be used to support young vines; snipping off weaker shoots to allow the plant to put more energy into growing the trunk straight and strong. Try to avoid tying the main trunk to anything as the string or plastic ties can become embedded in the trunk as it grows. You can use ties for new shoots to encourage them to curl around the supports but, once they start clinging, the strings should be removed.
The first year of growth is going to be the most important for your backyard vineyard when it comes to pruning. Some growers prefer to let the grapevine grow naturally during the first year so there’s more of a selection the following year when shaping the plant. Of course, as always, be sure that the vine doesn’t become overly bushy during this period, otherwise it won’t get the proper air and sunlight. About a month before spring arrives, trim your plant back so that it has only one or two strong canes (vines that have lost their leaves during the winter) to establish the main trunk. It’s only at this point that you may secure your trunk cane to the training post and trim away any weak or unwanted shoots (aim to let four to six healthy shoots develop).
Pests and Disease
During the first few years, before fruiting begins, pests and diseases probably won’t be too much of a problem. Luckily, both issues can be dealt with good ‘canopy management’! Throughout the summer, make sure to thin and position the plant so that the whole canopy has good air flow and receives the proper amount of light. This maintenance prevents many fungal diseases that can take hold when the vines are overcrowded. Also, remember that not all insects are bad. You will need to determine if the insects you have are beginning to cause damage. We recommend going around to other local vineyards to ask them about pests they’ve encountered and what to look out for. When it comes to birds, simple netting over the vines will protect your fruit.
Growing a vineyard in your backyard certainly is a bit of an undertaking but it’s not as daunting as it may seem. If you follow these guidelines, do your research, and talk to other local growers we’re sure you’ll be staring out over your very own crop in what seems like no time at all! We hope you enjoyed this quick rundown from SkyHomes; now get out there and start planning for your next vintage.