It’s time to consider harvesting those homegrown grapes. But how do you know when they’re actually ready to pick?
Here are a few tips to help you judge when grapes are ready to pick. Oh yeah, and make sure they’re grapes, not virginia creepers. If you’re not sure how to tell them apart, read this post on identifying grapes versus virginia creepers.
When to Harvest Grapes
If you have a large crop of grapes that you’re growing for wine making purposes – you’ll want to get a little bit technical and actually measure the sugar content (BRIX) of your grapes using a refractometer or hygrometer (available at brewmaster stores).
For those of us who are just picking a few grapes in the backyard, we can rely on our senses to get a good handle on whether or not our grapes are ready to harvest.
TASTE is actually the best way to judge your grapes. Each variety has it’s own unique flavor, so it helps if you know what your variety is “suppose to” taste like. If you don’t know, ideally your grapes should be sweet and not too tart. The best day to pick grapes is when they are at their sweetest before they begin to overdevelop and shrivel.
Above all other methods, tasting grapes from various clusters on your vine is the best way to judge their ripeness. Here are some other methods.
LOOK at your grapes carefully. They should be a full, deep color all around. Green grapes will lighten and almost turn yellowish. But take note, grapes will turn the right color even before they’ve fully developed their sweetness – so don’t go by looks alone. Grapes often need another 1 to 3 weeks to develop their full sweetness after they’ve turned the right color.
FEEL the grapes, they should be plump, thick and feel like they are full of juice. They should not look like they’re starting to shrivel – you’ve waited too long if that’s happening.
SEED COLOR is another indicator. Just like in apples, seeds of ripe grapes turn from white to tan to brown.
WILDLIFE eating your grapes is also a sure sign that your grapes are ready. Racoons, squirrels and birds will eat grapes when they’re ripe – if they’re feasting – you can too!
Remember, once picked, grapes will not change in sweetness or colour so it’s important to harvest when they are just right.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to wait until the first frost to harvest your grapes. Having said that, you can still harvest grapes after some light frost. You might even find that the frost sweetens the grapes a little.
How to Harvest Grapes
It is best to pick grapes on a warm, sunny day as the grapes will have the highest sugar content and will store better if they do not have any surface moisture.
Hold a cluster of grapes in one hand and snip the whole cluster off the vine with sharp garden pruners or scissors. Breaking off the cluster is difficult and will damage the plant, it’s best to use a sharp cutting tool.
Gently place each bunch in a pail or bucket.
That’s it! Easy enough for even the little ones to do.
Here’s a video showing the annual grape harvest at my sister’s farm in Southern Manitoba. It’s always a lot of fun.
Now, what are you going to do with all those grapes?
Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.