Category Archives: Bonsai Orchard

Bonsai Vineyard: Drip Irrigation

With ten grape vines in pots, and another ten fruit trees, I’ve been doing a lot of hand watering. It’s become quite a chore, so I’ve decided to put in a drip irrigation system. This will have water coming from a garden hose, through a pressure reducing fitting, into a feeder bottle so that I can fertilize, through a half-inch hose, and out of quarter-inch drip lines that run to each pot. Instead of a seemingly endless cycle of fill the watering can – water the vines/trees, I would just be able to turn on the water and go read a book. With a timer, I might not even have to turn the water on and off.

I had an abstract idea of what a drip system was and how it worked. What I needed was some hands on knowledge – what were the various components of a drip system? what did they do? how did they fit together? For a crash course in Drip Irrigation 101, I went to three hardware stores. I struck gold at Lowes with a clerk who had been a plumber and installed many a drip system. Now I have most of the equipment I need and a much better idea of how to put that equipment to use.

    Basic equipment for a drip irrigation system

  • half-inch tubing – delivers low pressure water to the drip system
  • quarter-inch tubing – delivers water to an individual vine or tree
  • 25 PSI Pressure Regulator – keeps pressure from overwhelming the system
  • 3/4″ hose to 1/2″ tubing adapter – connects the system to a garden hose or tap
  • quarter-inch double barbed connectors – connects quarter inch tubing to the half inch tubing
  • 50 quarter-inch hole plugs – plugs holes in the half inch tubing

    Other equipment that might be needed

  • anti siphon device – prevents back flow from the drip system to the water supply
  • filter – keeps dirt from clogging the drip system

You can buy this equipment at a garden center as a kit or as separate pieces. I had planned to buy a kit, and use it as a learning tool, but the clerk at Lowes assembled everything I needed for the system I had in mind. If all goes well, I’ll be putting it all together into a working drip irrigation system for use this summer.

Summer Heat And Water Stress

I wrote before that watering my bonsai vineyard can be tricky. Too much water reduces the quality of the fruit and can delay dormancy. All plant life needs water, however, and too little can harm the vine. If you’re growing grape vines in pots, none of the local knowledge about climate, soil, and irrigation apply. All the research, that growers have access to, wont help you. I had been watering once a week, and keeping an eye out for water stress. Well, yesterday I found it. The one and only cluster on my Swenson Red is shriveled, dry, and dead. Maybe I just don’t have a good eye yet, but I didn’t see any signs of trouble; the leaves and tendrils looked fine. The other vines look to be in good shape, but I took this as a warning and I now intend to water twice a week. I learned something about my bonsai orchard too.

I had been treating the fruit trees, I also grow them in pots, just like the grape vines. I’m still curious about how some viticultural techniques; like leaf pulling, cluster thinning, and withholding water during fruit maturity; might apply to other fruit that’s being grown for wine. My fruit trees haven’t been doing well on the strict watering regimen, though, so even if they can benefit from the ways of grape growers, I’ll have to be careful to give them enough water.

Montmorency Cherry

When selecting my cherry trees, I was thinking in terms of making red and white wine from sweet and tart cherries. I need clear juice to make white cherry wine and red/black skins to make red cherry wine. That means at least four different cherry trees: two tart and two sweet, and at least one of each has to have clear juice. Montmorency is the tart cherry with clear juice, making it an amorelle type. Since it has red skin, I’ll be able to make red wine as well. That means I could have managed with just three trees and skipped the tart cherry with red juice. I don’t know of any dark skinned sweet cherries with clear juice, so I still needed two sweet cherry trees.

White Wine From Cherries?

Isn’t cherry wine is supposed to be red?

I mentioned white cherry wine in passing here, but most people think of cherry wine as a red. The only commercial cherry wine I’ve tried is a red – crushed, fermented on the skins, then pressed. Every recipe I’ve seen involves either fermenting on the skins or fermenting red juice. When I first made cherry wine, last year, I wanted to make it like a conventional grape wine rather than a “country wine” (4-6 lb of fruit per gallon, with added water, sugar, and acid). I made a red cherry wine. In fact, it never occurred to me that I might make a white.

So why a white cherry wine?

There’s a story about white Zinfandel, and how difficult it was to get it accepted. Reviewers reviewed harshly and judges judged skeptically because everyone knew than Zinfandel was supposed to be red. Eventually this new white was judged on it merits and has become a popular wine. Now, I’m not sure if this story is actually true (anyone out there know?), and I don’t even drink white Zin, but why not a white cherry?

How do you make white cherry wine?

Two of the cherry trees I grow, Montmorency and White Gold, will produce fruit with clear juice. I was looking for that specifically, because I wanted to make white wine from them. The idea is to keep the process as close as possible to a conventional white wine from grapes. Crush and press the fruit, adjust the sugar and acidity of the juice, then pitch the yeast. I’m open to diluting with water if the acidity is too high, but I’m hoping that won’t be necessary. I’m also willing to be flexible about what “too high” is. If the acid profile looks like Riesling, I may just treat it like one rather than “correct” it to more normal levels. If I get enough fruit from each tree, I’d like to ferment them separately. That way I can see how each tastes on its own, then try different blends. Plenty of ideas, not enough cherries!

Surefire Cherry

Surefire is one of four cherry trees growing in my bonsai orchard, and the only one that will produce fruit, if just a handful, this year. It’s a tart cherry with red skin, flesh, and juice; I can’t wait to make red cherry wine and liqueur from it.

Surefire cherry fruiting on 5/30/07. The young cherry is green with some dried flower petals still visible.

I bought the tree this year, so I wasn’t expecting fruit. That little tree gave me a terrific surprise though! I took the above photo at the end of May, and it shows the young cherries, still green, with some of the flower petals visible. By June 12, the fruit began to change color. I never imagined that I’d be so excited about five or six cherries!

Surefire cherry fruit changing color on 6/12/07

You can see the color change in the above photo, and that will get the birds just as excited as I am. I think I should have first crack at them, so I’ll be putting up bird netting soon.

Why I Picked The Surefire Cherry Tree

I wanted both sweet and tart cherries because wanted to see how different cherry wine, made from sweet cherries, is from tart cherry wine. Of the tart cherries, I wanted both morello (red flesh and red juice) and amorelle (yellow flesh and clear juice) types. I plan to make white cherry wine from the amorelles and red wine from the morellos. Surefire is a morello type of tart cherry that is productive and bears at a young age. It also has some resistance to cracking and bacterial canker, two of the three problems cherries face in western Washington. There’s only one solution for the third problem, birds, and that’s netting.