One of my favorite internet forum controversies (next to heavy armor vs light armor or Star Wars vs Star Trek) is whether or not a person should use grow tubes to aid the development of a young vine. Here are the main points of argument from the proponents of grow tubing:
- Protects from all forms of pests: deer, rabbits, birds, la chupacabra
- Protects from many sprays utilized by the grower or nearby farms
- Protects from one of the most devastating foes: ultra-herbivore lawnmower operated by distracted driver
- Keeps plant off the ground where it would be exposed to excess moisture (disease) and whatever else is hanging around down there (snakes, natural enemy to everything)
- Trains the plant upward
Likewise, there are opponents that claim all these positives to be hogwash:
- It’s a waste of time- the tubes are placed in late spring/early summer, and then are taken off just prior to winter to allow the trunk to harden. Just tie them up and don’t worry about pests
- It’s expensive (no denying this point)
- There is no proven benefit. There is truth in this as grape vines will grow with or without them.
- It’s a hassle. Putting all the tubes on takes time, not to mention removing and storing
From the pictures that have been posted, you can clearly see which option we chose. While it is true that it adds an expense, it’s an effective insurance for the first year; added protection from the elements both natural and man-made. We procured grow tubes from the same nursery we ordered the plants from. These are an “easy” two-piece assembly that are blue and made with some kind of special UV-penetrating material. Not sure about the specialness of the material, but it was handier than pockets on a shirt that they could be bundled together with the grape shipment. Not to mention we are having great success with them so far.
The picture one left was taken in early May, quickly after planting, while the picture on the right was taken today (mid-June). For full disclosure sake, this is not the exact same plant, but impressive growth coming out of the top of the tube paints a portrait of the majority of the vineyard at this point!
The instructions called for assembling the tubes in a wind-free environment, rolling up the inner piece like a poster, sliding the “blue-x” sleeve over it, and fastening it with the included zip-tie. Ha! It is the policy at Dale Hollow to laugh in the face of “instructions”. Our strategy was the frustrating and often time consuming method of pulling the two piece assembly in the little red wagon and performing the process on an ad hoc basis as the vines were planted, generally in windy and muddy conditions. Instead of the zip-tie method, we put 5’ bamboo stakes in the ground near the vine, rolled up the inner piece, slid it over the plant, and then pulled the sleeve over both the bamboo stake and the inner piece making for a single tube fastened to a stake; offering protection and upward growth.
This was all well and good when the vines were freshly planted and pruned, making for a fairly seamless process. Actually, Stephanie and Katy proved it could be completed rapidly by one person. Casey and I proved that it could not be just any one person and that with our powers combined it took twice as long.
Just like the dormant winter months for a mature plant, a freshly planted one year old grape plant needs to be pruned. The directions from the nursery and our favorite little book called for pruning all growth from the nursery back to two shoots and 2-3 buds per shoot. This effectively funnels all growth in the first year to the development of the root system. One of these shoots will eventually serve as the trunk that will be trained up and tied to the trellis, from which cordons will extend in both directions. Of course, another wrinkle in the plan is if you wait a few weeks prior to grow-tubing. We had finished the first 600 or so plants and had to return about a month later to finish the process. We had to “heel in” the final 400 plants and transplant from the dirt pile to the vineyard as time allowed. Being our first time at attempting any of this, we didn’t know how the plants would respond (they started budding while heeled in, after all) and wanted to leave them alone for a few weeks. Long story short- a few weeks turned into a month and the plants were granted substantial rainfall and explosive growth ensued before we had a chance for tubing.
This delay got our pruning plan all catawampus as it was late May and you can cause problems by cutting off new growth (stunting the plant, disrupting photosynthesis). We pruned what we could but ultimately had to let the plants be and will reevaluate this winter. It will be interesting to see the difference between the plants that were pruned hard from the beginning and the ones that received the lighter treatment. The lesson Katy and I learned during the weekend in which we spent hours upon hours wrestling these plants into the grow tube was this: don’t wait until there is growth, do it as early as possible when the plants are manageable sticks in the ground. I had to hold the plant in place and carefully prune off everything except the new growth while Katy meticulously assembled the tube and fought off spiders, her mortal enemy. Marschall also proved to be a vineyard Nostradamus, as my greatest fear reared its ugly, slithering head. Children and those afraid of looking at pictures of evil, turn your heads…Click the picture to get a better glimpse of this beast.
Take solace in the fact that if you decide to visit, the vineyard will be mowed and I will personally be installing Ice Cube scarecrows to stave off these creatures (depending on copyright laws to his likeness). Oh, and in the event I need to chase one off I will equip myself with light armor, because everyone knows it affords a person superior agility while still providing more than adequate protection.
It’s hard to describe in words the patience building this endeavor allowed for, but take it from me; it’s not worth it and patience can just as easily be built by waiting for coffee to brew while you read the newspaper. Through all this we were justly rewarded with an impromptu picnic of sorts; the rare experience of eating taco pizza out of a dusty old Jeep. I didn’t ask, but I am fairly positive this made it all worth it for her.
This post in particular has been a great opportunity for reflection, and the continued realization that this girl is a trooper to put up with some of my ideas and shenanigans this early on. All signs point to the fact that this probably won’t change, so thank goodness there is someone who can tolerate it all!
Beings that we are knee-deep in wedding things at this point, I will be taking a break from writing until some time after we return from the honeymoon. Unless Asher makes good on his idea of posting his own ranting, it will be quiet on here for a brief period. After a few refreshing weeks on vacation, starting with one big celebration with family and friends followed by pairing authentic Italian food and wine; I have no doubt the words will once again start flying onto the page in the form of updates, ideas, and learning opportunities.
The vineyards to the north and south will not wait for me to return to make progress, Asher will be working his beard off, and the summer months will provide ALL kinds of new material for writing. Thank you everyone who has been keeping up with these posts. I just love it when someone tells me that they enjoy reading our story, and I can’t wait to have some wine to go with it!