As Philip and I get closer to making Kowalski Mountain our permanent home, we strive to prepare the homestead for the self-sufficient lifestyle that we are pursuing. Since grapes take about 3 years to bear fruit, now is the time to begin planting the homestead vineyard.
Philip has been dabbling in grapes for several years. When we moved, he dug up most of the immature plants and brought them with us. He is still kicking himself for not digging up the last two plants that we left behind. We have been maintaining the grapes in the container garden since we sold the house. This year, we have finally found fruit on our grapevines!
Location of the Vineyard
When planning the homestead, we try to consider the overall flow and best use of the property. At Kowalski Mountain, we have 68 acres of property. About 15 acres of the homestead is cleared. 15 acres is a lot of land to maintain! Pastureland must be mowed regularly so that it does not revert to a wild state. Clearing land is expensive and labor-intensive, therefore maintenance is a big priority!
One of the first areas on the homestead that we developed was the garden area. We’ve been planting gardens on grace for several years. I call it gardening on grace because we plant, and then the garden is completely on its own. We don’t water or provide any pest control or care. Some years we harvest, other years, the deer and rabbits enjoy the sweet young seedlings that we plant.
The garden is a small, cleared area along the property line. The creek borders the garden on the other side. About half of it is flat which is where we plant the garden. The remaining area is on a slope. When driving the ranger on the slope we must be very careful, especially when hauling water as not to tip over. Because of the slope and difficulty in mowing this area, we want to use this area in a way that would minimize the mowing required. We decided this was a great place to plant the homestead vineyard. Conveniently, grapes prefer a sloped area that leads to good drainage and planting conditions. The full sun that the garden and slope area receive is ideal for grapes.
Designing a Homestead
“The Biggest Little Farm” is a documentary that has inspired our homestead design. They took a barren landscape and artfully designed a beautiful, thriving farm. We have tried to be mindful of the design and development of the homestead. Philip is very utilitarian in his thought process and efficiency usually wins over artful design.
When designing the homestead vineyard, we talked about a variety of layouts. Eventually, we want to fence the entire area to protect it from the deer. Most importantly we considered the area needed to drive equipment and turn the equipment around. We were leaning towards a diagonal design for our rows. However, a diagonal design was limited along the fence line and the proposed greenhouse location. Because of the limited space, managing equipment in the area would be difficult. I kept reminding Philip that we needed the space to allow the equipment to turn around at the end of each row easily, and safely. Ultimately a horizontal design won out.
Over time, we will gently terrace the area, which will allow the ranger to safely travel through the vineyard. However, we don’t want to terrace the area aggressively or we will need to reinforce the banks to prevent erosion.
Spacing the Plants
When planting the grapes in the homestead vineyard, we reference the Farmer’s Almanac to get some guidance on planting the rows. Most varieties of grapes should be planted 6 to 10 feet apart. Muscadine grapes need to be planted at least 16 feet apart. They can grow vines over 20 feet long!
The Grape Varieties
We have planted a variety of grapes in the vineyard. Philip likes to experiment with everything we do. We will see how the varieties do and it will likely influence how we will plant the remaining area.
Concord grapes are one of the most popular and well-known varieties of grapes. Native to New England, they were developed from wild grapes. They are a robust grape, that ripens early, and they tolerate cold well. Concord grapes are mostly seedless. Due to their deep and sweet flavor, they are primarily used for juice and jelly. We planted two Concord grape dry root starts.
Mars grapes are a blue grape that is a cold-hardy variety. They are perfect for all types of food products, juice, wine, and jelly. Mars are a seedless grape. Like concord grapes, they have tough skins that easily separate from the fruit called a slip skin variety. It has a flavor very similar to the concord grapes. We planted three Mars dry root starts.
Niagara grapes are green grapes that are best known for fresh eating and making wine. They are a seedless variety. They are the most popular variety of green grapes in the United States. Niagara grapes are an heirloom variety that was developed in New York. We planted two Niagara dry root starts.
Muscadine grapes are another native plant of the United States. They grow well in the southeastern parts of the country, thriving in hot and humid conditions. They are very popular due to their insect resistance. Muscadine grapes have a variety of cultivars. A plant variety that has been produced through selective breeding is called a cultivar. The fruit comes in a variety of colors.
Muscadine grapes are either female or self-pollinating. The female variety contains imperfect flowers that only have female pistillate flowers. Self-pollinating muscadines have a perfect flower that contains both the stamens and the pistils. While the female plants require a self-pollinating plant nearby, they do produce more fruit than the self-pollinating variety.
Join Us as We Begin Planting the Homestead Vineyard
Getting Started Planting the Homestead Vineyard
As you can probably guess, we only got started on the vineyard. We have quite a bit to finish to allow the grapes the space they need to grow properly. While we had grand plans to finish it, there just wasn’t time to get it done. We did plant all the plants we had purchased. In addition to grapes, we planted raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Philip had to finish the planting and watering himself since I got sick.
We used the Titan PDG2875 Post Driver to drive in the end poles. These poles will be used to anchor the wire strung across the arbors. They were set on an angle to provide leverage. If you missed the video, be sure to check it out, we used the post driver for the first time and both of us were totally amazed by it!
We wrapped most of the large plants in wire to protect them from the deer. On a future trip, we need to install the arbor poles and string the wire. It’s doubtful that most of the plants will need the arbors this year, but a few of the larger ones may. Eventually, the entire garden and vineyard will be fenced with likely 8-foot fences. The garden I envision will look much like a medieval castle with raised beds built around the perimeter and an 8-foot fence built on top of the raised beds so add height to the 8-foot fencing.
As we continue planting and developing the homestead vineyard, we will bring you along for the journey. Only time will tell how our dry start plants fare.
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.