We are determined to make a sustainable home for ourselves and those who live there after us, but as much as we have focused on this goal during this intense building year, we need to step back periodically and remind ourselves that this structure is not just a shelter – it is our launching pad.

It is the base from which we can work on environmental restoration of our prairies, savanna and woods and also establish a vineyard to grow seedless grapes and produce some of the first organic, local raisins in Wisconsin – dried with the excess summer heat from our solar hot water panels.

Raisins are a wonderful way to enjoy the sweetness of sunlight.

To that end, we attended the table grape field day at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station  August 28 during the middle of our moving.  We got an overview of growing seedless grapes and got to taste about a dozen varieties.

And we connected with Judy Reith-Rozelle who established the seedless grape trials at the station a few years ago.  Check out her Seedless Grape Trial Report from 2011 .

Judy came out to assess our vineyard site Monday.

For nine years Doug and I have been listening to our land and hearing it whisper, “prairie and savanna.”  But the south facing slope at the northwest corner always seemed to say, “vineyard!”

Something about its slope and the way light wrapped around the curve of the land was reminiscent of rows of wine grapes we have seen growing on hillsides in both Italy and Wisconsin.

Our prospective vineyard is the clearing in the distance as seen from the end of the drain field near our house.

We had one worry — our portion of the slope might be situated too far down hill – too close to the bottom of the valley, where cool air can pool dangerously in the spring and fall.

Wisconsin has always been considered too frosty for growing seedless grapes. It is barely possible now because of global warming, and is still a tenuous prospect.  It takes pretty ideal conditions to hope for success.

Luckily, Judy thinks that we have a site that, while not ideal, has some very promising features for a half-acre vineyard — and a half acre should be about all we can manage as we learn the ropes.

She gave us our homework for this winter.

We must clear out a patch of brushy trees to the east that are blocking the earliest sun and remove a clump of spruce that were planted further down the slope.  They could act as a dam and trap cool air around the vines at their vulnerable early spring budding phase.

Once we can see the lay of the cleared land, we will have a better sense of how to snug our vineyard into the contour of the hill.  Judy told us to set out high-low thermometers starting next April to get a sense of how the cold air snakes down the slope.

She suggested we replace the cold-holding spruce clump with prairie plants chosen to attract native pollinators.  Judy said she just added a similar strip along the edge of the grape plantings at the test station.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.  “And the butterflies and the insects and native pollinators that have come in just one year is amazing.”

A closer look at our vineyard site. Know anyone who needs an xmas tree?

Know anyone who needs an xmas tree?  Seriously.  We are going to be taking out a few dozen white spruce.

We are over the moon that we have a sporting chance at getting grapes to grow on this sweet little slope and totally enthralled with bordering the vineyard with native plants that will be refuge to beneficial native insects.

That is our goal – to contribute to the local foodshed while encouraging  the native habitat in which our crops are embedded.

2 replies

  1. I stumbled onto your blog tonight as I was looking into sand bed heat storage & saw why you decided not to go with it. The description of the house you were building made me think of the couple I’d gotten talking to at one of the grape field days many years ago in Madison, and I just wandered around your blog until I found this page. Our grapes have been doing pretty well (though I don’t know yet how they made it through this tough winter), but the birds have been eating so many of them that they are unmarketable most years… Hope yours are doing better.

    • Hi Muffy. Thanks for writing. We decided several years ago to not pursue growing grapes. Our goal was to turn them into raisins for our food shed, but several issues ultimately discouraged us. 1. All our research indicated that it would not be possible to grow certified organic grapes because of certain molds that can not be treated organically in this area (too humid). 2. The rules and regs for preparing food for sale would have required far more costly infrastructure to be built for processing than our volume would support. Instead, we are preparing the area for prairie with plenty of nectaring flowers and milkweed for Monarchs. We do have mulberries and elderberries that we planted at the edge of our yard strictly for the benefit of the birds, but I know I would find it frustrating if I was growing fruit for eating and sharing with other humans. Best wishes to you.

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