Behold, the magnificent grape

Ding! The Niagara grapes (Vitis labrusca) are ready. Time to harvest and process them.

Step one: Send child off for a day with her Nana. (This step is not really necessary; the circus, fortuitously, was in town. Believe me, the child will have other grape opportunities yet this year.)

Step two: Grab pruners and the wheelbarrow. Yes, the poop hauler/coop cleaner/dirt slinging wheelbarrow: I am of the school that, with a little effort, anything can be clean again. It’s the only form of redemption I truly believe in. Now go out and hit the vineyard!

Step three: Shocking, but true: the first two vines made a wheelbarrowload! Egads. This here is about 60 pounds. Sixty pounds will yield about 5 gallons of juice. Considering I am working solo today, it’s time to process the first barrow. (Notice Penny, ever wanting you to please, please throw her frisbee for her.)

So, over the next three hours, I hose off, then de-branch, this load of grapes in ten- to fifteen-pound increments. I take them inside, run them through the food mill, then squeeze the resulting juice through two cheesecloth-lined flour sack towels (one at a time). The juice goes in the fridge until I get a big batch. Then, I put the juice into freezer bags and pin the bags closed with clothespins to do a first freeze in the basement freezer. I will haul them out tomorrow and seal them for the final time.

A bit of background on the vines here: our farm is called Old Vines. It’s an old fruit farm, one of thousands in this area; ours hasn’t been a working farm for probably 30 years. The grapes, though, still produce; they’re 80-90 years old. We have been organic since we started with them. Our method the first year was nothing, just to see what cooties came and ate them. Well, Japanese beetles were our pest of note. So that fall Tom started applying milky spore to the ground by the grapes. Last year was a no-harvest summer, as a very late frost wiped out the imminent fruits. This year? Bonanza. It was a near-drought year then tons of rain in August, so, um, we’re overwhelmed. Tom sprayed kaolin clay on the leaves and fruit twice during the Japanese beetle push (late June through July). Kaolin colloidal clay is just that: clay, the kind you’d use in facial masks, interestingly. Well, it sure made for some pretty and mostly critter-free grapes, I will say. The leaf canopy was undamaged by the bugs, so the fruit production was enhanced.

You’re just making juice, you ask? Yes, partially. Niagara grapes are the #1 grape used in this country for white grape juice. We’ll thaw the bags in the winter and dilute the contents slightly for a morning beverage. Anyway, this is the simplest way that I process these growing things. I mentioned that for the September Eat Local Challenge, which emphasizes food preservation, I would start simple and move my way up to more “complicated” preservation methods. Dang, though, I am beat, as I did another wheelbarrow load after this one! Another 60 pounds, another five or so gallons. And this, quite frankly, is JUST THE WHITE GRAPES! Only 4 vines out of 44!!!!

(Yes, I will be getting help with the next batches…)

10 responses to “Behold, the magnificent grape

  1. Wow, that’s a lot of grapes and a lot of work. My ONE grape vine provided me with more than enough grapes this year. Most I gave away, but some I used to make grape jame.

    Good luck with the rest of the grapes. I bet that juice is good!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  2. You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

  3. OK, I gotta ask… Why not make some wine? I come from Italian folks where everybody made enough wine for their own family from their backyard grape vines. It really wasn’t all that difficult & the wine was good.

  4. So why are you not canning the juice? Five (or more) gallons of juice is taking up a *lot* of freezer space.

    wine, wine, wine! 🙂

  5. Heh… I didn’t notice Penny until you pointed her out. (Maybe I was distracted by the gorgeous barrowfull of grapes?) Smart pooch, to stay in the shade of the wheelbarrow. 🙂

    I haven’t had too much trouble with Japanese beetles here in general (knock on wood) but can you tell me more about this kaolin clay spray? I am a science geek: how/why does it work, just because they don’t like a dirt taste with their leaves?

  6. Carol, yes, it is a LOT of grapes. Yum.

    CC: I’m going to need a bigger navy to man the bigger boats.

    Artemisia: I guess wine would qualify as a more complicated method of food preservation! But ever since Father Miceli, a rector of a men’s dorm at my college, had me sample wine he made from grapes he grew outside his window I have been very intrigued by winemaking. And then I lived in Calabria for a while, where everyone made wine from their own vines…

    Liz: I guess I am a bit worried about what cooking will do to the flavor of the juice. But our freezer is huge, and, as you know, a fuller chest freezer is a more efficient one! I move the blocks of frozen water out and put these little bags of juicy juice in as I go. No worry for space for the rest of the veggies. (But you are right; I can just about anything I can…)

    And winemaking will be in the category of “next year.”

    Kim: sorry; I forgot to post the link for the clay. The link is for a “product,” but we used straight clay. Basically, it works two ways: the bugs find it annoying, and they don’t recognize the white leaves as something to eat. With Japanese beetles, my worry is not the fruit really but the leaves. They swiss cheese them, which stresses the fruit production. But somehow I am noticing a lot less of the usual suspects (spiders and fruit flies) in the grapes, too. We got a 30# bag of the clay shipped to us, and Tom puts some in the sprayer and goes to town. It’s on our trees, too, where it seems to have worked well. I kept him away from the gardens, though, preferring to pick the bugs off by hand (to then feed to the happy chickens).

  7. Wow. Those are beautiful. It sounds like a lot of hard work. But, I bet the juice is well worth it!

  8. El, thanks for the info. Sounds like it might work for my dwarf sour cherries if they ever get inundated with them like they did last year, so I’m going to keep that idea tucked in my back pocket.

    And now I’ll shut up so I don’t distract you further–you have a lot more fruit to harvest! 🙂

  9. That wouldn’t be Father John Miceli of Boston, by any chance, would it??

  10. Artemisia, nah, this was Fr. Matt Miceli, CSC. A veritable legend. Supposedly he didn’t like women but he took a shine to me. Maybe that was because I was dating one of his favorite RAs.

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