Wednesday, September 19, 2007

First Post! It's grape jelly day!

Hello there!

It’s a beautiful sunny day in Northwestern PA. I can’t believe I’m taking time out from my busy busy to spend time on the computer.

As this is my first post, here’s kind of a mission statement:

I’m really interested in the traditional ways of doing things. I picked the name “Folk School” because it’s funny. You figure out why. And because I hope someone actually reads this thing and learns something from it.

I hope to include recipes, how-to’s, pictures, and craft ideas. I’m also a political junkie, and I can’t keep my mouth shut. I’ll try to avoid alienating all three people who read this. But, I apologize in advance.

I’m located in Northwest PA Amish country in Erie County, about 150 yards from Crawford County and three quarters of a mile from Warren County. I don’t have a “real” farm but I do have two dogs, a cat, and two Angora goats.

Now that that’s out of the way:

It’s grape season in NW PA. Finally, all the trimming and japanese beetle flinging and covering the vines from last spring’s late frost is paying off! Two years ago, the first year I lived here with my grapevines, the vines were stressed from neglect and drought. They had not been trimmed off, and there were too many grape bunches. The grapes fell off the vines before they were even ripe. I got one good bucketfull and made one little measly batch of jelly.

Here comes the school part:

How to manage grape vines

In early winter, trim off about 80 per cent of what they call the fruiting wood. That’s the wild viney stuff that is really leafy and hanging all over the place by the end of summer. Be aggressive. They are forgiving, and too much is better than not enough and having messy, stressed vines. We get snow, ice, and cold temperatures down to minus fifteen or so in the winter, and the vines have been fine. If your winters are colder and you’ve lost grapes, it is possible to train your grapes to come off the prop wires. You can lay them on the ground and mulch them with straw or dirt. This is a lot of work and really, only do it if your weather has a track record of getting so cold you’ve actually lost grapes.

Okay, two years ago this winter, I did all of the above, except the laying down and mulching thing. Everything was just fine until last year, a week before Memorial Day, we had a freaky late May hard freeze. The temperature was in the low twenties two nights in a row. It snowed. This happens here about once every five years or so. that bad part about this was the fruit on the grapes was already set, and I lost every single bunch. No grapes and no jelly last year.

Last fall, I did the 80 per cent trimming thing. In the spring, I really watched the weather and moves about every sheet and blanket in the whole house out a couple different nights to cover up the grapes during the late frost. The fruit set, and I had tons of little bunches of grapes.

More school:

Thinning grape bunches

After the fruit sets, you can’t just let every bunch grow. You have to pinch them off. After trimming back the vines over the winter, you get to know your vines pretty well. Follow each strand and pinch off little bunches until there is about one per cane. Again. Be aggressive. If you decide to let too many grow, your grapes get stressed, and you lose the fruit before it gets ripe.

This year, my work paid off, and I had bunches and bunches of sweet Concord grapes. I lost a lot to bug and bird damage, but I still have plenty. I’m doing three batches of jelly today and about two gallons of juice tomorrow. All yummy and free of any chemicals and sprays! And (kind of) free of money cost, too, though I did have to buy sugar and jar lids.

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