In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
September, 2007
Regional Report

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To enjoy grapes at peak flavor, harvest them when the sugar content is highest.

Sweet, Succulent Homegrown Grapes

One of the pleasures of gardening in the Rockies is finally enjoying the fruits of your labors. It has been an interesting year with a very hot summer and little rain, but the grapevines are taking it in stride and now offering up bountiful crops of sweet, succulent morsels. To enjoy grapes at their very best, it's important to harvest them at the right time.

As the grape clusters ripen, the color of the grapes changes, the sugar content increases, and the acids decrease. The timing will vary from year to year, so be observant as you check the grapevines. You can sample a few berries daily as harvest time approaches to determine if the sweetness is right for your taste buds.

Pick With TLC
It's best not to jerk or pull the clusters from the vines as this will crush berries and many will fall to the ground and get bruised. My favorite tool for harvesting grapes is hand shears, even though you have to be a bit patient. If you detect shriveled, diseased, or insect-infested fruits, remove them during the harvesting process and discard. Gently place clusters of ripe grapes in a shallow cardboard box, or recycle those strawberry containers with the little ventilation holes.

The nice aspect of growing grapes in the home garden is they will keep for several weeks after maturing on the vine. As long as the berries are not dropping, it's best to leave clusters on the vine and pick as you need them. However, if birds, raccoons, skunks, and bees are invading the grape crop, you must decide whether or not to let the mature crop stay on the vines. Once picked, grape clusters will store for several weeks if kept in a very cool, dry, well-ventilated spot.

Foiling Birds
My greatest nemesis is birds that compete with me for the sweet clusters of fruit. They tend to eat the entire berry, or worse yet, peck out pieces and then move on to the next fruit. The severity of damage seems to be related to the degree of ripeness, amount of foliage hiding the fruit clusters, and proximity to bird-roosting sites.

Those scare devices such as plastic owls, scare eyes, and rubber snakes have had very little effect on repelling birds. Bird netting is the most effective method for keeping birds out of the vines. Even though it can be a bit expensive and cumbersome to use, netting will keep your crop from being consumed by creatures other than you.

Maybe I should put out more bird feeders and keep them stocked with bird seed to divert the birds from pursuing my sweet grape crop!


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