August 8, 2013
Our grapes have started to reach veraison, as the berries change color and begin to ripen. Although this is a good sign for the grapes, it also makes them more interesting to birds and as the berries develop their dark color the birds start to peck at them. They aren't very tasty yet but the birds seem to try quite a few, and even a tiny hole pecked into a berry will ruin it. Here are some of the Leon Millot berries:
Fortunately they're just beginning to go through veraison so most of the grapes are still green and undamaged. Based on the condition of the ones that have turned blue/black, we would expect very few of them to be left intact by harvest time (probably about 4 weeks away). In order to keep the birds out we decided to install Plantra diamond mesh bird netting. The top wires of our trellises are 7 feet off the ground, and the shoots extend well above the wires so it's a bit of a jungle up there. Here's how the top of the Frontenac trellis looks:
To get the bird netting up and over the top, Jay used a pair of Pentagon Tool drywall stilts to get enough height to work over the canopy. It took a bit of practice to walk on them over the soft mulch and sloping ground of the vineyard, but once he got the hang of it they worked really well:
Meanwhile Liz, keeping her feet firmly on the ground, used a broom to pull the net over the other side. The net went up pretty quickly this way, and the double yellow stripes down the middle helped to get it centered on the trellis.
We tried several techniques in order to secure the net at the bottom, and settled on stitching it together using some surplus telephone cable that we had left over from house construction. The phone cable is very smooth and slides easily through the holes in the net. We cut it into pieces about 18 feet long, so that it's possible to remove it in just a section of the trellis if we need access to a particular vine without having to undo the whole thing. The cable holds it together well at the bottom so the birds can't get in.
Before installing the netting we went through and picked off all the damaged berries, so what's left are in good condition and should stay that way until we harvest them. The first photo below shows the Leon Millot grapes that are looking pretty ripe although they still have quite a few green berries and on some of the vines they're still all green. The second photo shows Frontenac grapes, looking up inside the bird netting before we closed it at the bottom. These are all on one vine, and you can see that some have turned quite purple while many are still totally green. This depends a lot on how much heat the berries receive, and those exposed to more sun tend to get warmer and ripen a bit sooner. They should all be completely ripe in a few weeks and they should be free of bird damage if the net holds up.