Tips for growing grapes 

Ham Ahimbisibwe shows some of the ready for harvest grapes at his farm in Itaaba, Nyakayojo, Mbarara. Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • In grafting, the ridges must be properly cut and budded prior the roots being planted in the field for proper growth.
  • Usually planting is done at the onset of rain season to avoid drying of the vines and the trenches of holes are dug prior to planting. 

There is growing demand of grapes in Uganda especially in hotels that are serving the fruit as dessert. However,  not many farmers are engaged in growing grapes to meet the overwhelming demand.

Of recent though, the ministry of agriculture, jointly with the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro), have been encouraging farmers into growing grapes as income earning initiative particularly for processing wine.

Experts say grape is one of the most important crops grown across the world and is an important ingredient in the processing wine, preparation of raisin (dried grapes) consumed mainly in Asian countries and as fresh table fruit.

Grapes cultivation is believed to have originated near Caspian Sea situated close to Black Sea between South Eastern Europe and Western Asia during times of the Roman Empire.

In Uganda most farmers growing grapes hail from western part of the country with a few in West Nile though most missionaries of Roman Catholic origin have been growing grapes in their backyards as fresh fruit consumption.

Most farmers from the districts of Kanungu, Mbarara and Rukungiri grow three varieties namely Vintus Vnifera, American Cultivars and Hybrid Cultivars.

Climate requirements
Grape vines grow well during hot and dry period where the temperatures are between 10 – 40 degrees Celsius.
Otherwise highly humid and cloudy weather invites fungal diseases leading to yield loss. 

Soil requirements 
Grapes can be grown in various soil conditions but good quality yield can be obtained in fertile soils of pH 6.5 having medium water holding capacity.

Propagation and planting
Grape vine is commonly propagated by hard word cuttings, layering and grafting and budding can also be applied. Farmers can also plant unrooted cuttings directly in the field.

In grafting, the ridges must be properly cut and budded prior the roots being planted in the field for proper growth.
Usually planting is done at the onset of rain season to avoid drying of the vines and the trenches of holes are dug prior to planting. 

These trenches must be filled with manure mixed with required single supper phosphate and bio-fertilisers before planting. 
The spacing between two rows must be 3 metres by 3 metres between vines while the distance between vines is I meter wide. This will enable between 2000 – 5000 vines to be accommodated in a hectare.

Farmers can also carry out gap feeling after one month from planting because some vines can fail to grow.
It is advisable for farmers to support the vines with bamboo trees or any other strong tree sticks.

Farmers are expected to water the vines regularly and they can weed three times after two months of planting at a specified interval depending on the weed density. 

Care of the orchard 
Grapes take between one half years and two years from the date of planting to bear fruits and during this period farmers are expected to keep the vines well on trellis for them to adopt well.
Pruning should be done occasionally and organic manure must be applied around the roots for proper growth.

Pests and diseases
Grape shots, leaves and berries are attacked by a number of pests and diseases. The insects include flea beetles, mealy bug, red mites, thrips, caterpillars, nematodes and white ants among others. The major fungal diseases are Antracnose, powdery mildew, dowry mildew, fan leaf disease and xyantomones blight.

Farmers are expected to take control measures using required fungicide and pesticide sprays.
Besides pests and diseases the crop must be protected against weeds including dangerous grass growth. Grape bunches must also be protected from hot sun, cold waves, dry air spell, storm.

Harvesting and post-harvest handling 
Once the fruits are ready usually in purple or light green colour depending on the variety, the bunch can be cut using a sharp knife.
There are seedless varieties which can yield between 20 to 30 tonnes per hectare per annum and seeded varieties can yield between 40 – 50 tonnes per hectare per annum.
Harvested grapes are usually packed in four-kilogramme corrugated boxes and grape guards are kept inside the boxes for distance marketing. 
For cold storage it is important for farmers to improvise pre-cooling system and use grape guards as cold storage mechanism to keep the fruits fresh.  

In Uganda most grape vendors package it in plastic containers with each going at Shs15,000 or more mainly vended on streets but one can also find grapes in various supper markets across the country.

In Uganda, all the grape cultivars are propagated by cuttings. For this purpose, hardwood cuttings from 1-year-old shoots are prepared. Only healthy cuttings must be planted for rooting purposes to get healthy vines for planting. Cuttings must be prepared from the pruning wood during January.