Muscadines

Plants, whether they be flowers, berries, trees or vines, require patience. The seed you plant today looks considerably different than when it bursts and grows into its mature self.

Planting bulbs in fall will bring tulips and daffodils in early spring. Starting tomatoes from seeds will have us elated when, in just a few days, a tiny seedling pokes its head from beneath the soil. Muscadine will take a little more patience to reap the fruit of your labor.

The objective the first year is to get the vine to grow up to the trellis wire and then down the wire the desired length. Planted at 20-foot intervals, this would make the desired length 10-foot in each direction. As the vine grows down the trellis wire, growing tips are pinched to encourage the “arms” to keep growing down the wire.

Muscadines are planted from late fall through early winter. Pruning, therefore, would begin the following winter, and each winter thereafter, between December and March, though many growers cite February as the ideal time. Pruning ensures vigorous growth and maximizes production.

At the first pruning, lateral branches (the side branches growing from the main arms) should be trimmed back, leaving two to three buds. The bud is a small swelling on the branch where a new shoot will develop. If there is a fork on the lateral, cut back each side, leaving one or two buds on each of the fork tips.

Both branches of the fork have the potential to bear fruit, so cutting them would reduce production. Remove any dead or damaged branches and all branches on the main trunk.

The following winter, pruning will begin by identifying where lateral branches were trimmed the previous year. Now, lateral branches will be trimmed back to leave one or two additional buds from the previous season’s growth. Each winter, remove any dead stubs and any dead or damaged branches.

Eventually, the vine will need to be thinned to remove clutter. Lateral branches on the underside of the arm should be removed. Branches allowed to grow straight down will eventually have its fruit touching the ground, which is not where we want it.

Spurs, the mature shoots that produce the buds, will begin to crowd after four or five years. Thinning the spurs gradually will lessen the likelihood of lower yields due to excessive spur wood removal. A good rule is to thin spur clusters in an alternating pattern on either side of the arm, keeping a distance of 4 to 5 inches between spurs.

All tendrils that are wrapped around the permanent vine parts, such as the arms or spurs, should be removed to prevent girdling, which could kill these important parts of the plant.

Plants will generally begin to bear fruit in the third year. Harvest typically begins in August and will, depending on the variety, continue through late September or early October. Berries will mature at different times, providing multiple harvests on a single plant. A single mature plant can produce as much as 35 to 55 pounds of fruit on a double curtain wire, and about 20 percent less on a single-wire system. So, get your recipes ready for muscadine jellies, sauces, pies, tarts and wine. The following recipe was provided by a friend who grows muscadine on her farm and makes some pretty awesome jelly. Until next week, happy gardening!

Muscadine Jelly

From the kitchen of Christy Jenkins

Ingredients

5 cups muscadine juice (1 pound of muscadines yields approximately 1 cup of juice)

6 cups sugar

2 1.75-ounce boxes pectin

Directions

Wash muscadines and place in upper tier of stovetop juicer.

Fill lowest tier of stovetop juicer with water and stack all three pieces. Cover with lid.

On high heat, steam muscadines for one hour.

Drain off two cups of juice and pour back over muscadines. This helps sterilize the drainage tube.

Remove juicer from heat and mash muscadines with a potato masher just long enough to release extra juice

Drain juice from juicer and pour into clean stockpot.

Place stockpot over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil for 5 minutes. Reduce to a simmer.

Add 1 box of pectin to the juice and stir until well-dissolved. Bring to full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute.

Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Test to determine if juice has “jellied” (I place a small amount on a saucer and set it in the freezer for 1 minute). If not, add more pectin from spare box, as directed on instructions.

Pour jelly into hot sterilized jars. Skim foam off top of jelly. Screw the lids on jars and place into a prepared water-bath canner with enough simmering water to cover 1 to 2 inches above jars. Add boiling water to canner, if needed, to cover jars.

Bring to a boil and boil for 5 to 15 minutes, according to pectin package instructions for your altitude.

Remove from water. Place on towel, leaving about an inch between jars. Do not move the jars for at least 24 hours. Check that each jar has sealed before storing.

Store in pantry, unopened, for up to 1 year. Once opened, store in refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Recipe makes 11 to 12 8-ounce jars. I do not recommend doubling the recipe because it may not set at all. If you have extra juice, you can preserve it for later, or do a second run of jelly after you have finished the first.

— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at kippirland@hotmail.com. For more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners, visit http://mg.aces.edu/limestone.

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