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7 things a vineyard needs (and a large space isn’t one of them)

by Timber Press on July 24, 2012

in Gardening

If you want to have a home vineyard, lack of space doesn’t have to stop you. Even a few rows of vines can produce enough grapes to make several hundred bottles of wine every year. Photo by Tom Powers.

Tom Powers wrote The Organic Backyard Vineyard to “simplify the process so that an individual with the right conditions can build and manage a vineyard in a sustainable fashion to produce premium quality grapes.” From Tom’s book, here are seven things a vineyard needs (and a large space isn’t one of them).

1. Locate the vineyard so that during the main part of the growing season it gets at least eight hours per day of sunlight.

2. Be sure there are no obstructions to the sun from houses, fences, garages, barns, or other man-made structures, or from trees, shrubs, bushes, or other vegetation near the vineyard.

3. Be sure there are no obstructions from within the vineyard such as rows spaced too closely together so that they shade one another. Do not space rows closer than five feet apart, except in special circumstances.

4. Know your azimuth! The direction the sun moves over your vineyard during the growing season will allow you to determine how to orient the rows in your vineyard. The further north you are, the more important this becomes. Throughout North America, south-facing slopes will receive more direct sunlight than any other exposure. The next best are west-facing slopes, which receive afternoon sun. East-facing slopes get more sun in the morning. One exception here is that in very high-temperature areas you may want to run rows east-west to prevent sun burning the grapes, particularly in the afternoon.

5. Do not plant a vineyard in a spot that is exposed to severe winds. Strong or steady winds can desiccate plants and cause soil erosion. If necessary, install windbreaks to moderate the effects of wind; this may be a tall hedge, a fence, or trees. Windbreaks should not be solid, but allow some air to pass through.

6. Slopes are not necessarily bad for vineyards, but grapevines planted on a slope can be more difficult to care for, especially with mechanical equipment such as tractors or mowers. Also, vines planted lower down on the slope can be subject to colder air that naturally flows down into a hollow. You may also need to consider erosion control. If your property slopes steeply, get advice from a vineyard consultant before planting.

7. Water is an essential element for a successful vineyard, particularly in arid climates. If you have a backyard, chances are you have convenient access to water. One thing about vines is that they need much less water than traditional landscaping. If you are used to a suburban yard with a lawn and landscaping, you may be tempted to water the vineyard more than necessary. This is unwise, as too much water in the vineyard can cause as many problems as too little water.

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