Table grapes may be grown in many parts of the country and lend themselves well to part-time farming operations. The initial investment for grapes can be high depending on the production method chosen, land preparation, and initial investment in the vines. A commercial vineyard is expected to be productive for at least 30 years, so this investment will be spread over a longer period of time than for many crops. Depending on the amount of land devoted to the vineyard, production method, and vine training system, equipment costs may be held to a minimum. If the vineyard is a part of an existing agricultural operation, you may already have much of the needed equipment. Because of the narrow rows, investment in large equipment is not necessary.
Grapes have been cultivated in Pennsylvania since the 1600s, and the first commercial vineyard in America was located here in the late eighteenth century. Grapes are produced in many areas of the state, with the majority being various types of wine grapes or processing varieties like Concord and Niagara. The potential to produce and market local table grapes is a niche market that could complement other direct-marketed fresh fruits and vegetables.
Although some farmers in the eastern United States are growing and selling table grapes, currently there is a very limited marketplace for locally grown table grapes. The vast majority of table grapes consumed in the United States are grown in California and South America. These grapes are mostly seedless varieties and have somewhat milder flavors compared to most of the varieties of table grapes that could be grown in the eastern United States. However, tasting panels and farm marketers that have offered locally grown table grapes have met with enthusiastic acceptance. Table grapes are another option for growers to tap into the increased demand for locally grown food products.
While local grocers may be willing to provide space to sell locally grown table grapes, farmers markets and farm stands are the most common and practical outlets. If you are interested in trying to sell though a local grocery store, you need to contact the produce manager to determine the type of packaging they require, the amount they are willing to market, and how and when they prefer to receive delivery of the grapes. Prices at the few markets that have offered these grapes have been significantly above local grocery store prices for both domestic and imported grapes.
Site selection is critical when planning a vineyard. Initial factors to be considered for a particular site include minimum winter temperatures, frequency of spring frosts, length of growing season, and cumulative growing degree days (base 50°F between April 1 and October 31).
Grapes require full sun in order to properly ripen and develop complete flavors. If possible, selecting a sunny hillside location would also provide the advantage of better air drainage to reduce the risk of frost. Vines should be grown in a well-drained soil. Planting in deeper soils has its advantages because it enables grape vines to develop a large root structure, thus decreasing the chances of drought stress in dry years. The proximity to an irrigation supply should also be considered for drought years.
For more information on site selection, consult “Vineyard Establishment I: Preplant Decisions” and Wine Grape Production Guide for Eastern North America.
Because a vineyard has the potential to produce for 30 years or more, properly preparing the site is well worth the investment. A soil test to determine pH, nutrient levels, and organic matter is highly recommended at least one year prior to planting the vineyard. Planting a cover crop is an excellent method to reduce weeds, increase soil organic matter, and reduce erosion. Consider a winter cover crop, such as cereal rye or ryegrass, and a summer cover crop, such as buckwheat, for a year or two before planting the vines.
Soil samples should also be tested for nematodes. Plant-parasitic nematodes can damage the root system of the vine, resulting in poor growth, stunted plants, and generally uneven growth in the vineyard. Some types of nematodes are also known to transmit certain kinds of plant diseases. Managing nematode populations may require soil fumigation or growing brassicas as a green manure crop (green manure crops release nematicidal compounds as they decompose). Any nematode treatments must be completed prior to planting vines. Sources for nematode testing are listed in the “For More Information” section.
Weeds compete with vines for both water and nutrients, and some broadleaf weeds also attract some species of nematodes. Therefore, vineyard weed control is extremely important, especially during the establishment of young vines. Weeds and woody plants should be eliminated well before planting. If the site has any tough perennial weeds, prior to planting is the time to use systemic herbicides to control them.
European varieties (Vitis vinifera) and many hybrids grow best when the soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.0, but Vitis labrusca varieties can tolerate a pH of 5.5 or slightly lower. Apply lime and fertilizers according to soil test recommendations to bring your soil pH and nutrients to levels acceptable for grape production. Soil test kits are available from your local Penn State Extension office.
Numerous table grape varieties are available that will produce adequately in cooler climates for a homeowner’s backyard situation. However, in commercial table grape production, the goal is to produce a consistent, high-quality product. Proper selection of varieties that fit both the planting site and local consumer preferences is important for the success of this enterprise. Thoroughly research the characteristics of the various table grape varieties that suit your production situation before choosing. Consider winter hardiness, time of bud break, and the requirements for proper ripening (it is critical to know the typical length of the growing season and cumulative growing degree days for your location). In addition, it is important to weigh both the positive and negative horticultural characteristics of the varieties you are considering.
In addition to table grape varieties that have been on the market for a number of years, new varieties developed in Arkansas have recently come onto the market. These varieties have proved themselves practical and hardy under a wide variety of growing conditions, so they may be worth trying. The challenge with testing any new variety of grape is that you won’t have any fruit to examine until the third year, and the vines are not mature enough to evaluate their long-term suitability until at least the fifth year. If you are interested in any of these varieties, it is a good idea to limit yourself to small-scale plantings until you have more experience with their production characteristics and market acceptance.
For information on variety descriptions and characteristics and pictures of varieties, consult “Arkansas Table Grape Cultivars,” “Grape Varieties for Indiana,” “Growing Table Grapes,” “Table Grape Varieties for Cool Climates,” and “Table Grape Varieties for Michigan.”
Order your vines from a reputable nursery at least one year in advance to ensure you get the specific varieties you want. Grape crown gall (Agrobacterium vitis) and various viruses can be introduced into a new planting if vines from your supplier are infected. Be sure to consult with your intended supplier about their scouting and pest management programs before purchasing vines.
Layout and Planting
Ideally, rows should be oriented so prevailing winds blow parallel to them to allow the vines to dry more quickly after a rain. Vines that dry quickly are less susceptible to fungal diseases. Although optimal row orientation for grapes in the Mid-Atlantic region is north to south for maximum sun exposure throughout the day, it is usually a compromise between topography and climate. Row length is typically determined by land features, but it can vary from just a few vines to up to 500 feet or more depending on the strength of the trellis system. Shorter rows will increase the cost of the trellis system because end posts and anchors are substantially more expensive than line posts. However, shorter rows are recommended for table grape production to facilitate hand harvesting and other manual tasks. A maximum row length of 300 feet is suggested. Rows need to be straight enough to allow for safe and efficient spraying and mowing.
Once the row pattern and direction are established, subsoiling or ripping the rows is recommended. This will speed the planting process regardless of the method you choose for planting your vines. Vines should be planted as early as possible in the spring. Grape vines should never be planted in low spots in a field to avoid drainage problems and the risk of frost injury. Vines should be planted in holes deep enough to accommodate the existing root system so that roots can be spread out in all directions to avoid crowding and bending. Most table grapes are grown on their own roots; however, if grafted plants are selected, then be sure to keep the graft union 2 inches above the soil surface.
Grapes are commonly planted in rows that are 8 feet apart, but the rows can be closer depending on the mowing and spraying equipment you use. However, to avoid shading, do not plant rows closer together than the height of the intended trellis. Be sure to provide enough room between rows for spraying and mowing equipment even after the vines leaf out. Most table grapes are planted on either 7- or 8-foot spacings in the row depending on the vigor of the plants and the fertility of the soil. If plants are spaced closer, pruning requirements will increase.
Apply fertilizer based only on soil test recommendations. A vegetation-free zone should be established and maintained at least 2 feet around vines in all directions. After planting, mulch can be applied around the vines to inhibit weed growth, stabilize soil moisture, and reduce soil temperature swings. Mulching young plants can greatly improve first-year survival and results in more vigorous plants going into year two. However, mulches can also provide refuge for certain insects (e.g., climbing cutworms) and rodents (e.g., voles) that can injure vines.
For more information on layout and planting, consult “Vineyard Establishment II: Planting and Early Care of Vineyards” and Wine Grape Production Guide for Eastern North America.
Once the vines are planted, the trellis system should be constructed, followed by the installation of a drip irrigation system. Using drip irrigation during the first two years will greatly improve the likelihood of vine survival and healthy establishment during this critical period. For more information on irrigation, consult “ Agricultural Alternatives: Drip Irrigation for Vegetable Production.”
The construction of a trellis system is a considerable expense in the establishment of a vineyard. There are a multitude of trellis systems to choose from, and careful consideration should be given to deciding on a system. A trellis/training system that enables good fruit exposure and optimizes a large functional leaf area is important for the production of high-quality fruit clusters.
The system(s) chosen should be matched to the cultivar(s) being grown. Each grape cultivar has its own growth pattern. American varieties (e.g., Concord, Catawba, and Niagara) tend to grow in a willowy or downward pattern. European and many hybrid varieties have a more upward growth habit. Therefore, growth pattern is a factor to consider when choosing a trellis system.
The end posts used for the trellis should be pressure-treated wooden posts that are at least 6 inches in diameter and set at a 60-degree angle from the ground. The line posts should be either steel or wooden posts with a minimum diameter of 3 inches. All posts should be 8 feet long so that the top wire is at the same height throughout the vineyard. The fruiting wire should be a minimum 12.5-gauge high-tensile wire, and end post wires should be 9-gauge high-tensile wire. Wires will need to be anchored sufficiently at the ends to allow for tensioning. High-tensile wire and related hardware are available through farm supply stores, some building suppliers, fence suppliers, and specialty vineyard suppliers.
For more information on trellis systems and construction, consult The North Carolina Wine Grape Grower’s Guide, “Trellis End Post Assembly Designs for Vineyards,” “Vineyard Establishment II: Planting and Early Care of Vineyards,” and Wine Grape Production Guide for Eastern North America.
Pruning and Training
Grape vines need to be pruned back to a single cane with two to three buds per cane after planting. Once shoot growth begins and the danger of frost is over, remove all but the two strongest or largest shoots. This will establish a double trunk, which provides more options for future production and training methods.
The first two seasons of the vineyard are devoted to establishment. If using grafted vines, mound the soil several inches above the graft union (hilling up) in the fall to prevent winter injury. Remove soil around the graft union in the spring to prevent scion rooting. Remove all flower clusters for the first two years so that all of the plant’s energy can go toward creating a strong root and shoot system. It is very important to be patient and let the vines become well established. Tying the newly planted vines to a wooden or metal stake that is clipped to the bottommost wire will help create straight vines. Straighter trunks will make future pruning, spraying, and general management easier in the many years to come. As soon as the young vines reach the first wire (generally in the first year), clip or tie them to that wire.
During the second year, the vines should reach the second wire of the trellis and also be clipped or tied to this wire. The vines will begin to be trained in the second year. The canes should be loosely tied to this second horizontal wire and run parallel to the ground. Called “cordons,” these will be the frame of the vine for many years. Establishing the cordons horizontally will help promote an even distribution of vigor and nutrients from the soil. Beginning in the third season, leave clusters so there is fruit to harvest that year. However, be sure to match the crop load to the vigor of the vine to avoid overcropping. Prune vines as late as possible (late winter to early spring), but before the buds open, to allow for adjusting the amount of pruning to any winter injury. Pruning is essential to control the size and shape of the vines. Mature vines will produce much more wood (new growth) than they can support or is needed. More harm will be done by underpruning and leaving too much wood than by overpruning. Typically, 90 percent of new growth is removed during the pruning process. The number of buds to leave will depend on the variety, the vigor of the vines, and the extent of winter injury. For a guide concerning the number of buds to retain for table grapes (according to vine size), consult “Growing Table Grapes in a Temperate Climate.”
Because grape vines produce so much new growth every year, changing training systems to a new style is possible if your production and fruit quality goals are not achieved with your current system. This usually decreases production for a year or two, but the vines will adapt quickly to a new system.
Grape vines should only be fertilized if a soil test or leaf tissue analysis indicates deficiencies. Commercial fertilizers or composts can be applied in the vineyard. Apply composts sparingly to avoid overfertilizing the vines. A layer of compost 1 inch deep under the vines should be sufficient for the first two years.
For information on nutrient management and general guidelines on vineyard fertilization, consult “Growing Table Grapes in a Temperate Climate” and Wine Grape Production Guide for Eastern North America.
Cultural Practices to Improve Table Grape Quality
There are a number of cultural practices that growers can use in table grape production to improve fruit quality, including pruning, flower cluster thinning, cluster thinning, berry thinning, girdling, shoot positioning, shoot topping, leaf removal, and the use of gibberellic acid sprays. The proper cultural practices to use will depend on the characteristics of the varieties you grow. For example, flower cluster thinning increases berry set on retained clusters. This practice is beneficial for loose-clustered varieties, but detrimental on varieties with compact clusters.
Data is available on the success or failure of various practices on many table grape varieties, but there are also varieties on which these practices have not been evaluated. Because each grape variety responds differently to a particular cultural practice, small-scale implementation is suggested for varieties on which information is not available.
For more information on cultural practices to improve fruit quality, consult “Growing Table Grapes in a Temperate Climate.”
Vineyard pests have the potential to devastate your crop. Weeds, diseases, and insects will need to be managed in order for you to produce high-quality fruit. An integrated approach using both good cultural practices and pesticide inputs (whether synthetic or organic) is necessary.
Weeds may be the most consistent problem that limits productivity. Strive to maintain a 4-foot wide vegetation-free zone underneath the trellis. Good air drainage, proper pruning, and various other cultural practices greatly assist in disease management. However, a preventive fungicide program will also be needed. Several of the major grape diseases include:
- Black rot: infects berries, leaves, shoots, rachises, and pedicels
- Botrytis bunch rot: infects flower clusters, berries, and, less commonly, young shoots and leaves
- Crown gall: infects the vine (galls develop at injuries on trunks or graft unions)
- Downy mildew: infects leaves, shoot tips, flowers clusters, rachises, pedicels, and berries
- Powdery mildew: infects leaves, shoots, flowers clusters, rachises, pedicels, and berries
- Phomopsis cane and leaf spot: infects leaves, shoots, rachises, pedicels, and berries
Numerous insect pests can attack grapes, but only a handful occur regularly in vineyards. Several of the major grape insects include:
- Grape berry moth: feeds on flower clusters and internally in grape berries
- Grape leafhoppers: adults and nymphs feed on leaves
- Grape phylloxera: feeds on the root system and can cause leaf galls
- Grape root borers: larvae feed on roots
- Japanese beetles: adults feed on leaves
- Spotted wing drosophila: invasive fruit fly that lays eggs inside berries; larvae feed inside berries
For information on pests and identification, consult A Pocket Guide for IPM Scouting in the North Central and Eastern U.S. and NYS IPM Fruit Fact Sheets. For information regarding the management of weeds, insects, and diseases, consult the most recent version of the New York and Pennsylvania Pest Management Guidelines for Grapes. Growers interested in organic production should refer to the Organic Production and IPM Guide for Grapes.
Potential wildlife damage in your vineyard is also important to consider. Birds are a particular nuisance for grape growers, as they will begin feeding as soon as the grapes begin to ripen. Netting is the most effective method of bird management. Noisemakers (e.g., LP gas canons), scare eye balloons, various reflective materials, and bird distress calls are also commonly used methods. Heavy bird pressure will require a combination of techniques. Production on a site with high deer pressure might require fencing. Extensive feeding by raccoons may require the use of a two-wire electric fence.
Harvest and Storage
Depending on the climate in your area, table grape harvest generally begins in mid-August and continues through late September. Table grapes will need to be harvested several times for the best-quality fruit and complete ripeness. Waiting a day or two after a rain to allow the clusters to dry prior to picking will reduce storage rots. Although it differs by variety, most table grapes store relatively well in a cooler for several weeks at 30 to 32°F and 90 to 95 percent relative humidity. Because they have low sensitivity to ethylene and are very low ethylene producers, table grapes can be stored with many other fruits and vegetables. However, grapes will absorb odors, so avoid storing near produce such as onions or leeks.
Grapes are typically harvested directly into plastic lugs that are designed for grapes. These nest compactly when not in use and during harvest can be stacked by simply turning the lugs 180 degrees to keep them from crushing the fruit in the one under it. In addition to producing visually appealing clusters, attractive packaging will assist in marketability. Many packaging options are available, but two possibilities include clear plastic clamshells and perforated polyethylene bags.
In the normal course of operations, farmers handle pesticides and other chemicals, may have manure to collect and spread, and use equipment to prepare fields and harvest crops. Any of these routine on-farm activities can be a potential source of surface water or groundwater pollution. Because of this possibility, you must understand the regulations to follow concerning the proper handling and application of chemicals and the disposal and transport of waste. Depending on the watershed where your farm is located, there may be additional environmental regulations regarding erosion control, pesticide leaching, and nutrient runoff. Contact your soil and water conservation district, extension office, zoning board, state departments of agriculture and environmental protection, and local governing authorities to determine what regulations may pertain to your operation.
Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) are voluntary programs that you may wish to consider for your operation. The idea behind these programs is to ensure a safer food system by reducing the chances for foodborne illnesses that result from contaminated products reaching consumers. Also, several major food distribution chains are beginning to require GAP- and GHP-certified products from their producers. These programs set standards for worker hygiene, use of manure, and water supply quality.
These practices require an inspection from a designated third party, and there are fees associated with the inspection. Prior to an inspection, you will need to develop and implement a food safety plan and designate someone in your operation to oversee this plan. You will need to have any water supply used by your workers or for crop irrigation and pesticide application checked at least twice each year. A checklist of the questions to be asked during the inspection can be found at the USDA website. For more information about GAP and GHP, contact your local extension office or your state’s department of agriculture.
You should carefully consider how to manage risk on your farm. First, you should insure your facilities and equipment. This may be accomplished by consulting your insurance agent or broker. It is especially important to have adequate levels of property, vehicle, and liability insurance. You will also need workers’ compensation insurance if you have any employees. You may also want to consider your needs for life and health insurance and if you need coverage for business interruption or employee dishonesty. For more on agricultural business insurance, see “ Agricultural Alternatives: Agricultural Business Insurance.”
Second, check to see if there are multi-peril crop insurance programs available for your crop or livestock enterprises. There are crop insurance programs designed to help farmers manage both yield risk and revenue shortfalls. However, individual crop insurance coverage is not available for all crops.
If individual coverage is not available for what you grow, you may be able to use the Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program to insure the revenue of your entire farm operation. To use WFRP you must have five years of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Schedule F forms. For more information concerning crop insurance, contact a crop insurance agent or check the USDA Risk Management Agency’s website.
Finally, the USDA Farm Service Agency has a program called the Noninsured Assistance Program (NAP), which is designed to provide a minimal level of yield risk protection for producers of commercial agricultural products that don’t have multi-peril crop insurance coverage. NAP is designed to reduce financial losses when natural disasters cause catastrophic reduction in production. NAP coverage is available through your local USDA Farm Service Agency office. The application fee for this program may be waived for eligible limited-resource farmers.
Included in this publication are three sample fresh-market table grape budgets—one for planting, and two for mature production, one using conventional methods and one using reduced-risk pesticides. The budgets summarize the receipts, costs, and net returns at various stages of a table grape enterprise. The sample budgets should help ensure all costs and receipts are included in your calculations. Costs and returns are often difficult to estimate in budget preparation because they are numerous and variable. Therefore, you should think of these budgets as approximations and make appropriate adjustments in the “Your Estimate” column to reflect your specific production and resource situation.
More information on the use of crop budgets can be found in “ Agricultural Alternatives: Budgeting for Agricultural Decision Making.”
To use these budgets, you will need Adobe reader which you can download for free. You may save these budgets to use each year to track all income and expenses.
You can make changes to the interactive PDF budget file for this publication by inputting your own prices and quantities in the green outlined cells for any item. The cells outlined in red automatically calculate your revised totals based on the changes you made to the cells outlined in green. You will need to click on and add your own estimated price and quantity information to all of the green outlined cells to complete your customized budget. When you have completed your budget, you can print the form using the green Print Form button at the bottom of the form. You can use the red Clear Form button to clear all the information from your budget when you are finished.
Sample Budget Worksheets
For More Information
Barclay Poling, E., ed. The North Carolina Wine Grape Grower’s Guide. Raleigh: North Carolina State University, 2015.
Bordelon, B. P. “Grape Varieties for Indiana.” Bulletin HO-221-W. Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue Extension, 2009.
Carroll, J., and T. Weigle. Organic Production and IPM Guide for Grapes. Ithaca: New York State IPM Program, 2016.
Harper, J. K., S. Cornelisse, L. F. Kime, and J. Hyde. “ Agricultural Alternatives: Budgeting for Agricultural Decision Making.” University Park: Penn State Extension, 2013.
Isaacs, R. A. Schilder, T. Zabadal, and T. Weigle. A Pocket Guide for IPM Scouting in the North Central and Eastern U.S. Bulletin E-2889. East Lansing: Michigan State University Extension, 2011.
Kime, L. F., J. A. Adamik, E. E. Gantz, and J. K. Harper. “ Agricultural Alternatives: Agricultural Business Insurance.” University Park: Penn State Extension, 2004.
Lamont, W. J. Jr., M. D. Orzolek, J. K. Harper, L. F. Kime, and A. R. Jarrett. “ Agricultural Alternatives: Drip Irrigation for Vegetable Production.” University Park: Penn State Extension, 2013.
Maier, B. “Trellis End Post Assembly Designs for Vineyards.” Guide H-331. Las Cruces: New Mexico State University, 2012.
Cornell University NYS IPM Fruit Fact Sheets
Reisch, B. I., D. V. Peterson, and M. H. Martens. “Table Grape Varieties for Cool Climates.” Adaptation of Bulletin 234. Ithaca: Cornell Cooperative Extension, 1993.
Stafne, E. T., and J. R. Clark. “Arkansas Table Grape Cultivars.” eXtension.org, 2013.
Strik, B. C. “Growing Table Grapes.” EC 1639. Corvallis: Oregon State University Extension, 2011.
Weigle, T. H., and A. J. Muza. New York and Pennsylvania Pest Management Guidelines for Grapes. Ithaca: Cornell Cooperative Extension and Penn State Extension.
Wolf, T., et. al. Wine Grape Production Guide for Eastern North America. NRAES-145. Ithaca: Plant and Life Sciences Publishing, 2008.
Zabadal, T. J. “Growing Table Grapes in a Temperate Climate.” Bulletin E-2774. East Lansing: Michigan State University Extension, 2002.
Zabadal, T. J. “Vineyard Establishment II: Planting and Early Care of Vineyards.” Bulletin E-2645. East Lansing: Michigan State University Extension, 1997.
Zabadal, T. J., and J. A. Andresen. “Vineyard Establishment I: Preplant Decisions.” Bulletin E-2644. East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1997.
Zabadal, T. J., G. S. Howell, and D. P. Miller. “Table Grape Varieties for Michigan.” Bulletin E-2642. East Lansing: Michigan State University Extension, 1997.
“Growing Table Grapes for Profit in the Northeast.” Cornell Cooperative Extension (Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program).
- Table Grape Basics, Session 1 (Feb. 3, 2017): overview of grape biology, planning for a new enterprise, site selection, a grower perspective on table grape production and marketing.
- Table Grape Basics, Session 2 (Feb. 10, 2017): cultivar selection and planting, trellis selection and construction, and overview of vineyard management considerations.
- Table Grape Basics, Session 3 (Feb. 17, 2017): plant nutrition and fertilization, pest management overview, and practical consideration from a grower perspective.
Contact sources for cost of out-of-state nematode sample submissions.
Clemson University Plant Problem Clinic
511 Westinghouse Road
Pendleton, SC 29670
Cornell University Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic
334 Plant Science Building
Ithaca, NY 14853
Michigan State University Diagnostics Services
578 Wilson Road, Room 107
East Lansing, Michigan 48824-6469
Rutgers NJAES Plant Diagnostic Laboratory
PO Box 550
Milltown, NJ 08850-0550
University of Massachusetts Plant Diagnostics Laboratory
University of Massachusetts Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Diagnosis
French Hall, Room 3
230 Stockbridge Road
Amherst, MA 01003
Virginia Tech Nematode Assay Laboratory
115 Price Hall
170 Drillfield Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0331
Prepared by Steven M. Bogash, former extension educator; Andrew J. Muza, extension educator; Lynn F. Kime, senior extension associate; and Jayson K. Harper, professor of agricultural economics.
This publication was developed by the Small-scale and Part-time Farming Project at Penn State with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Extension Service.