The Challenges of Growing Grapes

I have been pondering some of those important life questions . . . what is the meaning of life, how can I learn to live with less, why do the grapes ripen just before our vacation?

The grape arbor is lush with splendid purple orbs of surpassing sweetness and fragrance – the arbor smells like a huge kettle of Concord grape jam. And we will leave for Maine in two days.

It’s not the first time – two years ago I was canning grape pie filling two days before our vacation and passing off bushels of grapes on friends. (Yes, grape pie filling – it’s a Finger Lakes thing. As bizarre as it sounds, a grape pie is absolutely scrumptious, especially warm with vanilla ice cream melting over it. It’s like late summer on a fork.)

This year we were lazy – froze the grapes on a cookie sheet. We’ll make pie filling when we return.

Actually, last week the clusters were practically ripe, but there were a few grapes persistently green in each cluster. And I decided to wait a week to harvest, being the perfectionist that I am. It’s entirely my fault that we are out snipping clusters of grapes the day before we leave for Maine. At the same time, we are shooing away every variety of bee and wasp attracted to the overly ripe grapes.

The bees are buzzing around our ankles and feet, feasting on the sweet pulp of fallen and mashed grapes. They are swarming on the clusters and becoming rather agitated that we are messing with their grapes.

Maybe I will remember that lesson for next year. Or maybe we could just schedule our vacation for a time that does not coincide with something coming ripe in the garden. Hard to do, I admit, when you vacation after Labor Day.

My grapes do like to frustrate me in manifold ways. One year they produce a bumper crop. The next year, many fruits are set, but they fall or shrivel by mid-July. I prune heavily one year and get a huge harvest; I prune the same way another year and get only a few grapes.

Japanese beetles skeletonize the leaves one year when the vines looked to make a beautiful crop and the grapes, deprived of their means of sustenance – the leaves – all wither. One year I pruned according to a grape-growing acquaintance’s detailed instructions and had the best crop ever.

These past two years I missed that late winter opportunity to prune and oddly got only a few grapes last year, but a good crop this year. I can’t say I understand these grapes. They are kind of like children. Just when you think you have them figured out and are sailing in calm waters, your boat gets swamped. You wonder if you know anything at all about parenting. At least, my grapes behave like that (maybe yours behave better); I call it the wrath of grapes.

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