Over the years, gardening has made me more and more aware of our planet’s annual track around the sun. How quaint. It gives me a certain kinship with the peasants at work in the 15th century painting for the month of September of Les Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry.
Picking grapes, 15th and 21st century
As with those peasants, September is a month when I have abundant fruits for harvest. Like the peasants, I’m harvesting grapes; it’s been a bumper year. Unlike the peasants, my grapes are destined for fresh eating rather than being sullied by fermentation into wine. (Okay, okay, just kidding, although I am not a fan of drinking wine.)
First to ripen here were the varieties Somerset Seedless and Alden. With an abundance of varieties and fruits, I can afford to be picky, so this will be the last season here for Somerset …
Today I put the finishing touches on pruning my grapevines. Yes, it’s late: The buds have already swollen and expanded into clusters of small leaves. But there’s “method in my madness,” or, at least, my tardiness.
My vines often experience some winter damage, some varieties — New York Muscat, Reliance, and Vanessa, for instance — more than others. Waiting to prune until I see some green saves me from cutting off too many living canes and saving too many dead canes. In winter it’s not so easy to tell them apart.
So I do mostly rough pruning in winter, lopping back canes that have to go whether they’re living or dead. Canes also need to be shortened, even those that are to be eventually saved.
Which brings me to another reason I left the final pruning until today. Plants generally make their earliest growth in …
Everyone wants to prune this time of year. And rightly so. It’s a good time to prune most trees, shrubs, and vines, as it was a couple of months ago and, looking forward, will be until about when these plants come into bloom. Or, finished blooming, in the case of those plants whose pruning gets delayed until after we all get to enjoy their early blossoms.
A reader wrote me about her Japanese maple, which needed to have one of its multi-trunks cut off. Should she do it now or in autumn? If lopped back now, would the tree bleed to death? Would the gaping wound get infected, possibly leading to the demise of the whole tree?
Japanese maple in fall
Bleeding sap generally does more harm to gardeners’ psyches than to plants’ physiologies. My grape and hardy kiwi vines bleed when I prune them this time of year, …
I thought the reason for the bags was obvious, but the eyes of just about everyone who steps out on my terrace turn upwards and then a quizzical look comes on their face. “Why are those bags up there,” they
ask. The bags enclose bunches of grapes hanging from the vines, and their purpose is to fend off birds, bees and other insects, and disease.
The payoff for tediously fitting slit paper bags around individual bunches, then stapling the folded over opening down around the stem, has come. Usually, not always; sometimes I open a bag and find nothing inside. But while many unbagged bunches are marred with bird pecking and black rot, the bagged bunches, at their best, reveal perfect bunches of plump, juicy grapes. We bag about 100 bunches each spring.