How to Harvest Grapes in the Home Garden

Care and How-To

When it comes to cultivating cold-hardy hybrid grapes, enthusiasts often find themselves navigating a unique path. Unlike European grape varieties, official recommendations on how to grow these grapes and determine the right harvesting parameters can be scarce. Fortunately, institutions like Iowa State University have taken up the mantle of research, providing valuable insights into the world of wine parameters and grape cultivation for these unique hybrids.

Determining Ripeness  |  Harvesting  |  Storing  |  Using Grapes  |  After Harvest Considerations  |  More Information

Randall Vos, extension specialist, harvesting grapes.

Determining Grape Ripeness: An Art and Science

Knowing when to harvest your grapes is a crucial skill for any grape grower. Unlike some fruits that continue to ripen after being picked, grapes reach their optimal ripeness on the vine. Therefore, it's essential to ensure they're ready before you start harvesting.

Judging the ripeness of grapes can be a nuanced endeavor. While table grapes might be more straightforward – a taste test revealing their sweetness – wine grapes possess a complex interplay of sugars, acids, and flavors. Brix readings, which measure the soluble sugars in fruits and vegetables, become indispensable tools for grape growers. Utilizing a refractometer to determine the Brix readings provides a scientific basis for harvest decisions. Most table wines are harvested between 14- and 25-degrees brix depending on the cultivar, so make sure whatever refractometer you purchase can make readings in that range. For more information, Iowa State has prepared an article entitled: Estimating Grape Maturity by Total Soluble Solids.

Another crucial factor to consider is pH, or the amount of acidity in the grapes. For those venturing into winemaking or canning, a pH meter can become a valuable investment. Precise pH levels are vital for the quality and success of wines and preserved products. It can be the difference between a mediocre batch and an exceptional one. For more detailed information on pH and wine, visit Estimating Grape Maturity with the Potential Power of Hydrogen (pH).

For hobby winemakers looking to elevate their game, titratable acidity measurements offer a window into the grape's overall flavor profile. While this might be more advanced, it promises significant improvements for those seeking the utmost refinement in their homemade wines. If you want to take your home winemaking to the next level, visit: Estimating Grape Maturity by Titratable Acidity.

For more detailed information on harvest parameters in general, check out the Iowa State article entitled Grape Sampling for Maturity Analysis.

The Right Tools for Harvesting

Harvesting grapes is an art that requires the right tools. Needle-nose pruners, often called "snips," are the go-to choice for delicate grape clusters. They allow for precise cutting without damaging the fruit or the vines. Larger pruners can also be used, though they might feel more cumbersome.

Some grape growers swear by grape razor harvest tools, which offer a different approach to harvesting. However, preferences vary, and what works best for your grapevines might depend on personal preference and experience.

Olivia Meyer, PhD student in Horticulture, and Randall Vos, extension specialist, harvesting grapes.

Preserving and Storing Grapes

Once you've successfully harvested your grapes, proper storage becomes essential. Unlike many other fruits, grapes do not continue to ripen after being picked. Instead, they start to deteriorate. To extend their shelf life, it's crucial to follow proper storage techniques.

Start by washing your grapes and patting them dry. Then, store them in a well-ventilated container in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. This method can keep your grapes fresh for up to three weeks. Avoid sealing them in airtight containers or plastic bags, as this can impede air circulation and lead to a quicker decline in quality.

Recipes and Post-Harvest Considerations

After successfully harvesting and storing your grapes, you might be wondering what to do next. Whether you're looking to turn your grapes into wine or other delicious treats, reputable sources can provide guidance.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers official recipes for various canning endeavors involving grapes. Additionally, institutions like the University of Georgia and North Dakota State University have published valuable resources for those interested in home winemaking.

After Harvest Considerations

As the harvest season comes to an end, the question of what to do with the grapevines arises. Fortunately, fall clean-up is relatively straightforward. Removing dried-up, dead grapes and raking the leaves can help prevent disease carryover. It's also an excellent time to explore resources on pruning, which will be essential as you prepare for the next growing season.


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Last Reviewed: 
February, 2024