I’m not sure if the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station counts as a high place, but I was overjoyed to have a friend there this week.
After returning from a multi-day art show, my husband, Kevin, and I were dismayed to see grape vines trying to overtake the neighbor’s driveway. Before we left I had noted that they needed to be tied. But last weekend’s sunshine and heat had evidently powered a growth spurt, creating long fronds of greenery already weighted down with swelling bunches of baby grapes.
We may have been spared the ravages of Tuesday’s windstorm that dealt such a blow to Seneca County, but it was breezy enough here to snap some of the weaker vines. I knew I had to work fast, but where to begin?
I grabbed my bag of twist ties and, as Kevin supported a main trunk, I gently maneuvered a couple of vines toward the nearest wires and secured them in place. It was sufficient to keep the plant upright, but I wasn’t confident that the right vines were trailing along the right wires.
By the time we moved on to the second grape, which was even more of a riotous mess, I threw my hands up. Despite all I’ve read, I just don’t know how to translate the neat diagrams of pruning suggestions to reality’s chaos.
So I texted my friend, who’s a Ph.D. student at the Station. Earlier in his academic career, he had toiled with a researcher there to tend grapes, so he has a working knowledge of these ungainly creepers.
“If you’re in town today, I could use some pointers with the grapes. I’m lost!” I wrote.
To my delight, he promptly replied “Yep! Will you be home in 45 minutes?”
My own, personal grapevine hotline. How much better can it get?
Within the hour he pulled in the driveway, grabbed my pruners and went to work.
The essential flaw in my system, that was the crux of my frustrations, he explained, was that I was applying vinifera growing techniques to hybrid labrusca varieties. All those diagrams I’ve been following? A pointless exercise.
“They’re natives,” he said. “ You can’t harm them. Just let them go and do their thing.”
Because the vines had gotten so out of control while we were away, we did trim a few of the wilder ones heading away from the fence. The rest we wound or tied to the wires. A few we trained to grow straight up – as safeties, he explained. They’ll be back up main trunks if the originals are harmed by winter weather. They also could be used to correct some of my earlier, misguided pruning efforts – but he didn’t belabor that point.
Soon, he said, the fence will be a solid wall of green. Loaded with full clusters of sweet, fragrant grapes.
With that, he jumped back in his car and headed off do more good agricultural deeds – on behalf of truth, justice and the agrarian way.