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Grow Tubes Reconsidered | Project Sunlight - A Winemaker's Education

Grow Tubes Reconsidered

June 22, 2011 | By | Reply More

Those of you who have been following this blog know that I recently offered some unkind words about grow tubes, which many vineyards use to nurse along young vines. My criticism was based partly on research and partly on personal experience.

The Nelson vineyard vines, (do seven vines make a vineyard?) after removal of the tubes, leave a lot to be desired.

As I recounted, we had been told in one vineyard management class to use grow tubes, and then, in another, to get them off the vines post-haste. We had two points of reference.

First, our Fairfax vines, which were planted and nurtured without benefit of grow tubes, are doing spectacularly well. It’s possible, of course, that we’re just kidding ourselves, and the growth we’re seeing is the result of overly vigorous vines. While vigor is no

The Fairfax vines (all seven of them) seem to be flourishing, perhaps because Phoenix, the Vineyard Dog, stands guard over them.

doubt welcomed by farmers raising soy or corn, overly aggressive vines produce low-quality fruit. We want the vigor to go to the grapes, not the vines.

Be that as it may, the Fairfax vines appear strong and healthy. By contrast, the vines on our Nelson County property, which were planted with the protective shelter of grow tubes, seem, well, frail. They have holes in the leaves. Lots of holes. And scrawny, brown-looking leaves. Not what we had hoped for at all.

We wondered if the grow tubes were the problem.  One of our friends who manages a large vineyard, urged us to take the tubes off, warning that, in this heat, all we were doing was baking the vines.  We did some investigating on our own, and much of the research we looked at suggested that the only reason for using grow tubes is to facilitate the use of herbicides – the tubes protect the vine while Roundup or something like that clears vegetation out of the rows of vines.

So, we swore of grow tubes, and I wrote an angry rant about them.   I haven’t changed my mind, but in fairness, I have to say that it appears that almost everyone else in this business loves grow tubes.

On a recent trip to Sonoma, we saw vineyard after vineyard where young vines were

New vines at Stinson Vinyeards, sheltered by grow tubes, appear to be doing quite well.

protected by grow tubes. And last weekend, our Canopy Management class took us through four vineyards, each of which had at least some young vines protected by one kind of tube or another. Some were half-height, which we feel better about since our primary concern was that the tubes were amplifying the 100-degree plus temperatures we’ve been experiencing, and killing the young vines.  Half-height shelters permit greater air flow and make it possible for the vines to escape the protective confines of the tubes much sooner.

One example: Stinson Vineyards in Crozet was using shelters fashioned from milk cartons, which it turns out, can be ordered from vineyard supply companies. These cartons have never carried milk so far as I can tell.  They are about half as high as the shelters we used, and I think I’d be a lot more comfortable with the milk cartons than the 30-inch high “Blue-X” shelters that we placed over our vines.

In several of the vineyards, the vines sheltered inside the tubes appeared vigorous and healthy, so it seems obvious that grow tubes can be used successfully.  Since my post, however, I’ve heard from a few others who also experienced problems with grow tubes and have sworn off them forever.  I suppose I’ll continue to research the subject, but I am still leaning against grow tubes, particularly since we will be working with a small enough vineyard that we can cultivate the soil during the first year, rather than spray herbicides to keep the rows clear of grass and weeds.

Below are pictures of two other vineyards we visited Saturday, both of which had new vines sheltered in grow tubes.  We checked them out, and they could not have been any healthier in appearance.  For what it’s worth, the two vineyards in the pciture, King and Veritas, are two of our very favorites, and I have no doubt that the wine from these vines will be superb.

 

New vines at King Family Vineyards, Crozet, VA

And new vines at Veritas Vineyard and Winery, Afton, VA

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Category: All Posts, Virginia Wineries, Viticulture

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