How to Grow Chemical Free Grapes

Do you enjoy a glass of wine, or a bunch of sweet grapes? Did you know that Grapes make the top 10 list of most pesticide laden foods in both Australia and America? Today I am pleased to welcome Guest writer Mackenzie Fox, who describes why that is, an how you can avoid using pesticides and fungicides on your own grapevines.

Grapes - Sweetness by Marina Del Castell (Flickr) | Sustainable Suburbia

Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, everywhere you turn our food is sprayed with these harmful chemicals for little to no regard for your health, or for the environment.

Although it may make economic sense for the big food producers, poisoning fruit you grow for yourself and your family would be ridiculous. This is a subject near and dear to my heart, as I have recently started growing my own grapes and having a go at producing my own wine. It has been a highly engaging and rewarding experience, but I inevitably came to a crossroads where I had to decide how to protect my vines.

I learned the hard way that grapes are a very sensitive fruit, extremely susceptible to a variety of crippling diseases, mildew diseases in particular. According to the professionals (PDF), you have to spray your grapes at least eight times if you want them to thrive. Eight times, and this is regardless of how many vines you have! Needles to say, these chemicals will hang out on your fruits for at least a couple of weeks since their half life is that long. So, multiply this by eight and you get the idea how long these berries are going to be poisoned.

As you know, any chemicals you use to protect your grapes from disease will inevitably end up in your final product, whether it be wine or just grapes. Not on my watch.

Eco-friendly crop protection is often viewed as a noble but ultimately ineffective, difficult and expensive undertaking. I can tell you from personal experience that this could not be further from the truth. Eco-friendly solutions are often not only cheaper than conventional chemicals, but can last longer as well.

Truth be told, implementing them can be a little trickier than walking around with a pesticide sprayer and will require a little more work and dedication. However, saving the environment and being secure in the knowledge that your grapes are healthy and chemical free is well worth the extra effort. Here are my top tips for chemical-free grape protection.

Everything Is Coming Up Roses

Mildew is the number one enemy of the grape vine, and this is all too apparent during wet weather. So, to prevent mildew from affecting your crop a great deal, it’s always a good idea to pick a place for your vines that has a lot of air circulation and exposure to direct sunlight.

If only a vine or two are infected by fungal disease, you can nip the problem in the bud, so to speak, by removing them. If, however, you do not react on time, your whole crop could get infected. Vigilance is key to combating this menace, and roses are my secret weapon. Believe it or not, they serve as a particularly effective early warning device for fungal attack, as they are even more sensitive to fungus than grapes. It is not a coincidence that the most famous vineyards in the world are picturesquely dotted with roses.

If your roses develop a downy or powdery mildew, you will have enough time to act before your precious vines fall victim to the disease. Having beautiful roses blooming in your garden is reason enough to plant them. Now that you know how important they are to a healthy grape, it would be foolish not to.

Choose the Right Grape Variety

There are hundreds of grape varieties available on the market, and you have to be smart and practical when choosing the variety you wish to grow. There is no shortcut to choosing a variety that works best for you, you will simply have to go online and do your research. Luckily, there is more than enough information available, all you need to do is be thorough and patient in your search. Every vineyard is different, with different soil and climate conditions and what works for me might not work for you. One thing we can agree on is that you should opt for a grape variety that is resilient to fungal diseases. This will save you a lot of frustration and money and also save your soil and family from harmful pesticides.

Mulch: Recycle Plants and Vine Cuttings

Recycling is about the most eco-friendly thing you can do, and your vineyard is no exception. You will be glad to know that there is a way to both recycle and strengthen your vineyard at the same time. I am of course, talking about mulch. Mulch is essential for keeping your soil and plants healthy. It provides essential mineral nourishment, conserves moisture and combats harmful weeds. It prevents weeds from growing by cutting out their light source and stopping germination. So it’s win-win, no weeds no chemicals. On top of all that, mulch also enhances the visual appeal of your vineyard.

Although there is a large variety of ready-made mulch on offer from suppliers, nothing beats home-made mulch. Making mulch is so simple that you have no excuse not to make your own. It is easy and cost effective to make. Save your vine cuttings, dead leaves and plants and chop them up into mulch – you can even use your lawnmower to do this. If your neighbors have fallen leaves they do not need, tell them you will be happy to take them off their hands. Recycled paper can also be used to create mulch, as can vineyard waste, natural refuse and chicken manure.

Bugs Can Be Useful

Knowing your insects is just as important as knowing your vines. Some bugs can be devastating to your vineyard, while others can be extremely useful. There are various insects that are natural predators to bugs that can harm your precious vines, and are nature’s insecticides. A ladybird is a perfect example of this, as it hunts and prays on lice.

Why mess with chemicals and other harmful materials when nature has taken care of it for you?

You must, however, pay close attention to ladybirds if you wish to press your own wine. They may be a gift in the vineyard, but are also a plague in your wine. Make sure to remove ladybirds from your grapes before pressing them, as they are the main culprit for unpleasant smells in wine.

Using these, and many other, eco-friendly methods will benefit the quality of your wine, the environment and even your bottom line. Removing chemicals from the process requires a slight change in your mindset and some research, but once you have perfected your system you will wonder why pesticides are necessary at all.

Profile image of guest writer Mackenzie Fox | SustainableSuburbia.net Mackenzie Fox is an advocate of organic agriculture, and is in a constant search for eco-friendly ways of growing fruits and veggies. She is a passionate wine lover. If you don’t find her in a vineyard, she’s probably sipping some wine. Find her on Twitter here.

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This post has been shared with the many lovely souls who read Essentially Jess.

  12 comments for “How to Grow Chemical Free Grapes

  1. March 10, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Ah chemical-free! That term is one of my pet peeves! Everything is made of chemicals so if it exists, it can’t be chemical free! 🙂 However, I have no issue with anyone reducing their pesticide intake of course. I remember reading that washing your fruit and veg really well considerably lessens the pesticide residue but I also love the idea of complimentary planting so that you use less in the first place. I’m slowly planting vegies in out garden and seeing what works- a very interesting read 🙂
    Amy @ HandbagMafia recently posted..Mummy Makeovers…By MedicareMy Profile

    • Kirsten McCulloch
      March 10, 2015 at 8:15 am

      Yes, good point on the chemicals Amy – I suppose I should have said “Artificial Chemical free” but somehow it doesn’t have the same ring to it. 🙂

      And yes, definitely washing things well can help. Although with things like grapes and berries that can be tricky to do!

      That system – slowly planting and then seeing what works, for you, i your space – definitely the way to go. I hope you are enjoying the journey 🙂

      • March 10, 2015 at 5:58 pm

        “Harmful Chemical Free” is even more accurate- a chemical is the same composition whether it is lab made or naturally occurring, like salt for example. It’s sodium chloride whether made in a lab or found on rocks at the beach- the main difference being that man made salt is usually more pure. It’s all part of what’s called naturalistic fallacy- the idea that just because something is natural, it is good and/or safe and anything that is synthetic is bad/dangerous- this is just not the case. Just food for thought 🙂
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    • Mackenzie
      March 10, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      I hear you Amy, but avoiding chemicals is possible if you look for the right alternative, though it looks like an insurmountable task. Perhaps this option might not be suitable to everyone, but one should strive to minimise the chemical usage.

      • March 10, 2015 at 5:54 pm

        Erm, no, it isn’t- that’s what I was getting at- even water is a chemical- we are literally made up of chemicals ourselves. “Chemical free” is an oxymoron. “Harmful chemical free” makes much more sense 🙂 Just a pet peeve of mine!
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        • Mackenzie
          March 10, 2015 at 6:12 pm

          I see your point, but it’s just the wording. The meaning, I believe, remains clear. Obviously water isn’t a threat to our health unless it has the presence of certain ‘chemicals’, arsenic for example or other pollutants. I’m talking about man made chemical mixtures though. I will not discuss lexical issues 🙂

          • March 10, 2015 at 7:51 pm

            That was the point of my comment- a common lexical issue, if you like- the idea of chemical free when such a thing is impossible and the naturalistic fallacy I mentioned also- if something occurs naturally that does not mean it is good or safe- and the opposite is also true- man made does not mean intrinsically bad or dangerous. Also as I said above, the the composition of a chemical is the same regardless of original- just that lab made ones are usually less tainted with impurities.
            Of course we should be aware of dangerous chemicals- but we also should not fall prey to such fallacies or perpetuate them through even something as innocous as incorrect terminology. it just leads to paranoia and confusion that can become me all consuming for some people. Hence why it’s a pet peeve of mine.
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          • Kirsten McCulloch
            March 11, 2015 at 11:18 am

            Thanks for your perspective Amy. I take your point about the naturalistic fallacy – it’s like when people assume essential oils are safe because they’re natural (whereas some are very toxic!).

  2. Mackenzie
    March 10, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    I’m glad I was inspirational, one way or the other 🙂

  3. March 11, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I’ve never tried to grow grapes, but I find growing decent tomatoes – without using a pesticide of some sort – to be impossible; so I’ve given up for now. Except for the cherry tomatoes; for some reason the bugs don’t bother with them!

    Visiting today from #teamIBOT x
    Janet aka Middle Aged Mama recently posted..Roast CeleryMy Profile

    • Kirsten McCulloch
      March 11, 2015 at 11:20 am

      I find the same thign with cherry toms Janet. I don’t know why, but they do just seem immune to most problems! Something of a pain to pick and work with, but then my kids LOVE them, so it balances out 🙂

    • Mackenzie
      March 11, 2015 at 11:37 pm

      Janet, have you tried companion planting? For instance, you can pair up garlic with tomatoes to reduce the number of pests. Perhaps diseases bother you more than pests do?

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