Grapevines

How to Guide All About Grape Vines, Grape Juice,Grape Jelly.

Fresh concord grapes from the backyard 2019.

This post is actually 2 years in the making. Last summer (2019) was the first time in years the Japanese Beetles did not destroy my chances of getting grapes from the Concord grape vines on our property. We treated for them (more about that later) so I was lucky to get about a half bushel of grapes. I chose to make juice from the grapes. I canned the juice ASAP. The plan was to make jelly over the winter. Then the old trelles crashed to the ground about mid Jan and I just forgot about the jelly until about a week ago. So we started all over by cutting the vines back building a new trellis and making jelly from canned juice.

To begin with if you have older vines or like us we had a very old trellis system that did not function well for two large heavy vines you might consider pruning your grape vine back. Grape vines produce much better when the vines are short and pruned regularly. In my case the trellis collapsed before we got time to replace it, forcing me to prune back the vines in the cold weather to get the old trellis out. When I was done our vines were about 4 feet long compared to 16 feet.

Old grape vine with fence style trellis.
New Grape Vine Trellis in place with short vines on the ground in April 2020.

Tom and I talked about how beautiful a grapevines could be even if you didn’t use the grapes. I wanted something that was just as pretty in the yard as functional. I also wanted to be able to walk under the trellis if we were working in the near by vegetable graden. So this is what we came up with. The Trellis is 6 foot 6 inches high made 8 feet apart on the inside. We cemented the 4×4 posts into the ground so they would not move.Everything is pressure treated and we used 2×4 hangers to create the top. After this stage I added some recycled garden wire to the top to give the vines something hold onto as they grow. Then we waited for the vines to get long enough to put on the trellis. In about 4 mouths they had grown 5 or more feet and I could begin to train the vines using zip ties and string. After a couple hours the longest vines were secured and ready to grow for the rest of the summer. Next year I should have a nice place to pick my grapes.

for more info about the pruning a old grape vine check out this grapevine post.

Training the grapevines over the new trellis 2020
Weaving the grapevine over and through the wire of the trellis 2020

As I said before we treated for Japanese Beetles. We also have a huge sugar ant problem in the house. So I used our fertilizer spreader to spread a yard pest insecticide in the back yard and around the foundation of our house. It was a game changer, very few bettles … stopped the mole damage we were getting from them looking for the beetle grubs and reduced the ants in the house. I don’t plan to treat again for several years. I would like to see if we can keep the beetle problem under control with a more natural soap and water treatment for a while but this brought a balance back to my yard for a while.

Part two: The best part of having grapes is grape juice and jelly. Both are easy to make at home and do not require a pressure canner. We follow The Ball Jar Company recipes to cann our juice and make jelly

Grape Juice: Wash all the grapes, removing all stems and leaves. Then place all the grapes in a large stock pot with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan by a inch or two. Around a cup per gallon of grapes. Bring grapes to a simmer crushing the grapes with a potato masher as the heat rises. Simmer 10 minutes. Don’t boil this releases the bitterness from the seeds into the juice. Strain through a couple layers cheesecloth to remove seeds. Let juice stand 24 hours or overnight to cool if possible before straining a second time. Prepare for the rest of the process by gathering up either a jelly bag or using several layers if cheesecloth. For this batch of juice I used 4 layers of cheesecloth, rinsing between about every two cups of juice. I think I spent more time rinsing out the clothe out then straining the juice. In the end I had 6 quarts of juice with no sugar and nothing artificial. It was worth it in the end. If you want to cann the juice as a cocktail add 1 or 2 cup sugar per gallon of juice.

Canning the Juice: I planned to make Jelly from the juice so I did not want to add any sugar. If you were going to drink the juice like a cocktail you would need sugar to make it taste good enough to drink.

As always wash and sterilize your quart jars, lids and seals as you heat your juice to a hot simer. Remove from heat and fill jars with hot juice. leaving a 1/4 inch head space wiping the top lip of jar. Place jars in a boiling water bath canner. Make sure each jar is covered fully with water and follow the directions in the Ball Canning Blue Book. Mine is a 1949 version and a 1991 version…. They both say the same thing.

Reheat to a simmer, pour into clean hot jars. Process 30 minutes in hot water bath at 185 -190 degrees.

1949 Ball Canning Blue Book

For a great online store link to all things Ball Mason Jar.

Making Jelly: Canned juice is good for up to a year but your grape juice may look clouded in the jar… don’t worry you still get beautiful clear Jelly.

6 month old juice with cloudy appearance.

To quote my ball guide it is better to us canned juice then fresh!

The use of unsweetened, canned juice prevents the formation of Cream of Tartar crystals from forming in the jelly. After the juice is canned the crystals form and fall to the bottom. The canned juice should be strained through cheesecloth before using and the sediment at the bottom should not be used.

The Ball Blue Book of Home Canning , Preserving and Freezing Recipes CR 1949.

Cooking the Jelly: As always prepare lids rings and jars by washing and sterilizing. If using prepared juice, measure exact amount of juice into a 6 to 8 quart stockpot. Add water if necessary to get exact measurement. measure exact amount of sugar into a separate bowl with a dry measuring cup. Add juice to a large stock pot then sugar and mix well. Add 1 tsp butter to help reduce foaming( I do not do this with grape jelly but I do with others). Bring mixture to a rolling boil, one that cannot be reduced when stirred, boil 1 minute stirring constantly. Quickly add pectin and return to a rolling boil 1 minute, then remove from heat. I personaly do a sheeting test before I remove from the heat. if when a teaspoon of jelly sheets from the spoon it is ready. Sheeting is when you scoop up a teaspoon of jelly and slowly pour it back into the pot but some jells to the spoon and slowly slides off in a sold sheet. Then I remove from the heat and scrape as much foam off as I can before ladeling into prepared jars. filling jars leaving a 1/4 inch headspace.Wipe jars with a damp rag and add seals and rings. Place in warm water in canner until 1 to 2 inches of water covers jars. Bring water to boil, process at a boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars from water and let cool 24 hours before deciding if there is problem with the jelling.

If everything goes according to plan you should have about 7 half pint jelly jars of homemade Concord grape jelly.

Homemade grape jelly from backyard grapes. 2020

Well, it has been a long journey from picking our first grapes to making a new trellis, canning juice and finally making the jelly. I hope you find this helpful and it makes it possible to make your own Jams and jellies. My family loves homemade jelly so I am happy to have the vines.

Categories: Ball Mason Jar, Grape Jelly, grape juice, Grapevines, Jelly, pruning grapevines | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures of Pruning an Old Grape Vine.

Over the last 25 years trying to live close to the land in West Virginia, I have had several adventures with grape vines. I love the vines for their wildness. I sometimes wonder if the wild muscadine vines here are kin to roaches or coyotes because of their staying power. I think one day they will take over the world after some crazy annihilation of the human race. They are truly the winding, twirling, fast growing vines of folktales and do real destruction if left on their own.

Twisted grape vine hanging in tree. Webster County, West Virginia

Twisted grapevine hanging in tree. Webster County, West Virginia.

Tom in front of broken tree covered in grape vine, Lewis County West Virginia

Tom in front of broken tree covered in grapevine. Lewis County, West Virginia

Grapevine taking over ball catch at Jane Lew Park 2013

Grapevine taking over ball catch at Jane Lew Park,West Virginia  2013.

They also produce an easy to grow fruit that almost everyone likes, grapes. Grapes make so many wonderful tasting things that is almost impossible for me to picture my country life with out them. So when we bought the “new to us house” last year, one of the things I wanted to grow was concord grapes. We had been able to take care of the family farm for several years and Tom’s dad had several concord grape vines established when we moved in. I quickly learned how to make grape jelly and concord grape juice from the old vines. So, some kind of grape vines were on my wish list when we were looking for a new home. The exciting part for me is that this house had a grapevine… what kind of grapes no one knew. The vine was over grown and not well staked. So I had part of my wish answered but a lot of work to get it into shape.

A Single tangled grapevine at the house in Buckhannon

A single tangled grapevine at the house in Buckhannon,West Virginia.

I started my pruning at the recommended time ( late fall to late winter) after the vine had gone dormant. The temperature outside was around 50 degrees when I started working on getting the single vine back in shape. The vine had been let go so long that I found several vine tendrils had re-rooted on their own over the years.These sprouts needed to stay attached to the ground if I wanted over half the vine to remain alive. This complicates things, none of the gardening guides or books said anything about this problem.It often happens and is natures way to reproduce another grapevine. I did the best I could with the off shoot and attempted what the guides offered for advice(not much on old vines by the way). I followed the main vine and marked off with tape three main branches from the original root-stock and tried to keep them and remove the rest. One of the re-rooted shoots was from the main three branches so I really needed to keep it. That shoot was going to make trellising the vine almost impossible.

The vine had grown so long that it was actually attacking a small ornamental tree in the yard. When we moved in I had cut all of the vine from the little tree in the early spring to stop it from covering it and knew I would need to do more work this winter. In the course of 6 months the tree was under attack again. Tendrils had reached to top of the 10 foot tree and covered half of the trees branches.In a matter of 3 years the tree would die from lack of light reaching the leaves and the choking action of the vine. Even domestic grapevines can be destructive if not maintained.

Knowing grapevines only fruit on year old stems, I had to keep some the young shoots if I wanted any fruit at all next year. I literally pulled, tugged and untwisted most of the vine on to the ground to find were each branch went. Most of the vine had no outside support so this made pruning easy. I started to cut back everything that was old, dead or just to long. I removed about 3/4 of the old growth off the vine. The photo below shows the freed end of the arbor, ready for new growth.

Pruned concord grapevine

Pruned concord grapevine.

I will likely only get five or six bunches of grapes this year because I removed so much of the vine this winter. Then the following year ( year 2) I should have 20 bunches of grapes if the weather allows.  After the third year I will be back to prune the vine again. My local extension office suggests pruning  almost every year on wine grapes or grapes that have been well-tended. I think in my case every two or three years should keep the vine healthy and looking full.

I plan to add another vine to the other end of the arbor this summer. A grape that could be used for fresh eating and wine making. Concord grapes are hardy in the cold but grow small and sour fruit. Just try eating the beautiful purple fruit raw…ooo… it takes a heck of a person to chew the tart skin and chew up the large seeds. I am hoping that adding a pink or red grape will add to what I can do with them.

In the future I hope to write a post about my home-made concord grape jelly made from the fruit of this very vine. I will be working hard to remove all the weeds and briers that moved in under the vines.I will be using our bunnies for fertilizer to help them grow stronger.I just hope the summer proves my pruning was a successful, that the vine is now healthy and providing my family with fresh fruit and juices.

Categories: Country life, DIY, Grapevines, Homestead, Jelly, pruning, rabbits | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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