Its spring and plotters are gearing up for a frenzy of sowing, and planting. But while the usual veg is good, why not pause to consider grapes? Grapes (Vitis vinifera) have grown well in Scotland since the first Roman landed, pulled a twig from his tunic and stuck it in the ground. Indeed, the legendary Kippen vine (variety Gros Colman) from a village near Stirling (1891 - 1964) was so healthy its owners harvested 2,000 bunches a year. Despite so much ‘expertise’  associated with growing vines the truth is if you keep things simple, they can be very easy. 

Go for it now
Vines should be planted between November and March when they’re dormant, so now is perfect. Either bare rooted or potted vines work well, but planting can be stretched into April or May for the latter. For bare roots: wake them up in a bucket of water for an hour, dig a hole, place the vine in and spread out the roots. Then fill in with soil and water well. For potted vines do the same but water the pot and tickle the roots beforehand. 

A good meal
Vines are easy going about soil providing it’s free draining and not waterlogged, so adding grit and organic matter helps because a vine with wet feet will be miserable. These plants manage well for a long time without feeding but you should probably add some general fertiliser, seaweed, or rotted manure in early spring. Be restrained though, because giving them too much food or feeding into summer can result in less fruit. There is absolutely no need to plant your vine in the carcass of a buried dead ox (or committee member) as in olden days, but a sprinkling of dried blood is said to help. Vegetarians look away.

Scottish Gardener:

Indoors and out
A grapevine is happiest with cool feet and a warm face which ripens the fruit. The best way to achieve this is plant the roots outdoors and direct the rest of the vine under the bottom of a polytunnel or greenhouse to keep all top growth under cover. If your greenhouse is sitting on concrete, you could grow it in a huge pot for a few years, but not forever. Those who don’t have a greenhouse or tunnel can grow vines outdoors providing a sheltered sunny spot is chosen, such as a south facing wall or fence and you should choose the hardiest variety you can get hold of. Phoenix and Golden Champion produce good white grapes, and a good yellow is Early Van Der Laan. For green grapes try Solaris and for juicy black fruit try Boskoop Glory or Brant. All these fit the bill nicely as hardy outdoor varieties which grow well under cover too.  Finally, Black Hamburg is another extremely tasty variety but it’s more unpredictable outdoors. 

Giving support
Pruning vines should be done in early winter. Finesse is overrated, so the pain free method is recommended here. If you don’t like that “go bonsai”. The key is being able to identify three types of vine growth. The first type is old wood. This is 2 years or more in age, has a greyish colour with a rough surface, and just looks old. The second type is last year’s wood. This is smoother, a more golden shade, a bit more bit bendy, and looks newer. You will know the difference when you see it. Grapes grow on the third type of growth, which is new growth. This will emerge from a bud on last year’s wood. Pruning should therefore focus on cutting back the previous season’s growth (the more golden wood) back to one or two buds from which the fruiting shoots will emerge. Always support your vine by tying it to the frame of a tunnel, along a fence or over an arch. Growing a vine is a truly wonderful thing and it should happen more on allotments. The sense of achievement from your first bunch of grapes beats growing turnips hands down every time.