Our Grape Arbor is a Stacking Function Fail


Grapes on an arbor over patio furniture: what could possibly go wrong? It’s the very embodiment of the permacultural notion of “stacking functions.” The grapes provide both shade and food. The fantasy was to spend the summers like a Roman emperor, reclining on a couch and occasionally reaching up to grasp a succulent cluster of grapes.

Let me, however, add a few a few unsavory slices to this permacultural sandwich (in addition to the delusions of grandeur): rats, mice and squirrels. All day and night hungry mammals rain down half chewed grapes. And the freak rain over the weekend, combined with a few days of heat and humidity, got some very funky fermentation going. It’s like something out of my inner Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare.


A poster by Benjamin Dewey. Available in his Etsy store.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post with a miraculous solution, like say specially trained roof Chihuahuas. I don’t. I do wish that the non-fruit producing Vitis californica vine that grows along our northern fence could be swapped with the prodigious one on the arbor. If fruit grew on the fence vine I could more easily net or cage it, or it least thin it out without having to move a ladder and patio furniture around.

As always, I’m open to reader suggestions or just commiseration . . .

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  1. Okay – that is absolutely hilarious. The grape trellis/shade block thing is one of the #1 permaculture “show-off” stories. HA!!!

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. This is such a valuable post. Like the “mythical chicken coop greenhouse”, the grape arbor is a solution that creates its own problems. I’m quite curious to see what solutions you come up with, (and what problems those solutions create, ha ha).

  3. I use passion fruit vines. Provides a thick cover, cooling shade, lovely flowers, and lots of tart fruit that doesn’t seem all that attractive to the critters – great for juices and teas. The vines are currently loaded with fruit, and on hot days, it seems like it’s a good five degrees cooler on the deck. Only downside: occasionally you have to go in and trim out the dead stuff.

  4. Yeah – a lot of things I like *in theory* until I think about the mess of fallen stuff tracked into the house by blissfully happy-go-lucky dogs and/or kids. Grapes are also a no-no for canine consumption, so I can’t just brush it off by thinking that the dogs would/could eat the extra.
    I second the passionflower idea. All kinds of pollinators have been so happy with the flowers on ours, and the leaves and flowers are good medicine (as a tea or tincture) in addition to the tasty fruit. And yeah, it’s medicine used for people with frazzled nerves, you know, like from sleepless nights due to having to listen to all night bacchanalian rat parties 😉

  5. Did you buy and plant the grapevine growing up the arbor? I’m asking b/c in vineyards grapes are almost always grown on rootstock. And rootstock only occasionally produces a cluster. If you want a fruitless grapevine perhaps you could just cut off the existing trunk. With an established root system the plant should grow quickly. You’d probably have shade in two years.

    • This particular vine, Vitus Californica is used as rootstock. The reason we are growing it is that Pierce’s disease is endemic to our region and not many other kinds of grapes will grow.

  6. I know it’s bad form to laugh at others’ misfortune, but this was really funny. You’re totally right, a classic example of “looks good on paper”. At least your heart and intentions were in the right place.

    If it was me, I’d look at wisteria over passionflower vines, I’ve had one too many of those get unruly and require trimming multiple times a year.

    • Not sure how it does in dry LA, but in the wet eastern US, wisteria is terribly invasive. It requires constant pruning one established. I have seen so many places where a “healthy” vine turned into a tree-devouring monster with just a few years’ neglect. On the way to becoming a monster, it’ll pry boards off your house too.

      Looks mighty pretty and smells good, though.

  7. Unforeseen secondary (and tertiary, etc., etc.) effects are so often the downfall of even the most hopeful plans. Everyone flushes the low-flow toilets twice, after all.

  8. Been there. Done that. Even worse, we had raccoons sitting up there all night, trying to eat the inedible unripe grapes, spitting them out, then getting their revenge by pooping copiously on the deck.

    The only solution that we found was to abandon all idea of having actual grapes and snipping off all the flowers as soon as they appeared. We still had the shade but no grapes, raccoon poop or vicious wasps fighting us for the harvest. The grapes were Vitis labrusca and barely edible in any case.

  9. What a heart-breaking sight!

    I had to laugh at Peter’s comment. I have almost exactly the same issue, except for the poop part. Or do I just not see it? Fingers-crossed. The grapes are almost gone (he made a visit last night again) and I hope I’d at least put this problem aside for this year, until some magical solution is offered on this site. 🙂

    BTW, I’m starting some passion fruit plants from seeds. Not sure if it will work out. But if it does, the leaves and flowers will be good medicines for when my grapes are lost to the raccoons again. 😉

  10. That truly is hilarious (disillusioning one of my lifelong fantasies). And your photograph is strangely beautiful. I take it that debris includes rodent droppings?

    • We don’t see droppings, thank goodness! Just the grape skins and other assorted grape trash. Of course, I’m not looking too close….

  11. It is such a waste to scrap the vines, but maybe there is some other sort of workaround. Could you put up shade cloth or clear panels beneath the grapes, to at least keep the debris off the patio? This can be removed to be cleaned (another thing on the to do list). Use this in conjunction with rat traps, the tin can with peanut butter in a large drum barrel is a popular trap. Try a scarecrow water motion sensor for the squirrels. Maybe Mr. homegrown can take up falconry… 😛 Also, where are the vines located? Is it possible to create a physical barrier that prevents any rodent to climb up there? I have a friend with a similar problem, only it is a peach tree that was planted along a wall. He didn’t harvest a single peach this year cause the pests got to them first.

    • On that note, I wonder if there is some sort of spicy chili oil spray you could try to coat the grapes with. When you guys harvest them to eat, just use a v eggie wash. Worth a shot.

  12. And here I am with the materials for an arbor out in my driveway. I may rethink what I plant there!

    • If you’re in a warm climate I’d second the suggestions for passion vine. I think the hard shell is less likely to be attractive to critters.

  13. I still have the kittens. They are tame, friendly, outdoor cats trained to hunt.

    • Hey Cathy, Kelly would kill me if I adopted another cat. Of course, she is out of town right now . . .

  14. I’d say to tell her it was a feral cat that just showed up, except that she’ll have read this.

  15. I remember sitting at a picnic table under my great-grandmother’s arbor in the summer, and dodging yellow jackets while the grape juice dripped.
    A few of you mentioned planting wisteria vines instead. While they are beautiful, I understand the seeds can be poisonous to cats, dogs, chickens, horses, and children. For example, the ASPCA warns against planting them for those reasons.

  16. How about planting bitter melon seeds. Using them young will prevent the animals from going after the ripe fruit. You can also make a ‘cooling/cleansing’ tea from the leaves. I could not help myself…………had to get a good laugh. But I do understand the frustration at not having grapes to eat.

    • A great suggestion! Many of my neighbors have bitter melon on their fences. I guess I’d have to develop a taste for it!

  17. Chayote might work. It looks really bad when it dries out, but, if watered well, it can potentially produce hundreds of squash, which can be used in young tender stage like a watery zucchini, or can be left to mature to become more potato like in texture. They can fill in a trellis well, and are perennial. I’ve witnessed vines with 6-7 inch diameter woody “trunks”, on seven year old plants. These plants have produced crops with a few deep waterings some years. Amend well if your soil is clay though. They die on me every time I try, usually on the hottest days of summer, but they usually resprout. But two miles down the road, the soil is more loamy, and they do great. Take inventory of the neighborhood, see if anyone has them growing.

  18. Gather the grapes put them in a pot with some water, simmer and make juice.Strain out the unwanted stuff and sweeten it up. Add vodka?(Need to kill any germs!)

  19. Thanks so much for posting this. You have helped us avoid a mistake at our Community Garden where we just built an arbor over picnic tables and were planning to cover it with grape vines to provide shade.
    Attracting wildlife into the garden would not be helpful! And, the site is also a popular dog walking area….Also grapes falling on people’s heads??

  20. Oh how I wish I had read a thread like this three years ago . . . dial up the way-back machine . . .

    Rolling down the aisle of “trying to promote the greener life” Vons with their “organic” plants – tomatoes – got ’em . . . blueberries – got ’em . . .. blackberries – got ’em . . . OOOH – grapes! What a great idea! Fast-forward to three years of scrawny vines, finally one great season of flowers followed by runty, mildewy rat/coon/possum buffet . . . oh how I wish I had those years of growing back! All I can say is I can’t wait for winter – those vines are coming out and the passionflower vine is getting an “I told you so” moment of its own.

    So – what’s the best passionflower? We have a mystery vine with dry inedible fruit (flowers are lovely). I will just relocate that if I must, but if there’s a variety I might benefit from a little I’m open to suggestion.

    • Coincidentally enough, one of the best edible varities of passiflora edulis is the variety called “Frederick” 😉

  21. Oh geez, and here I am, painstakingly coaxing two-year old vines up our arbor over the patio… They’re still just a few feet–I think next year they’ll probably take off. Any recommendations for a more patio-friendly vine in the Puget Sound area? Pretty sure passionflower’s not going to make it. 🙂

  22. I have the same problem in the front of my house with a 20′ x 8′ pergola with himrod table grapes. For me it is the raccoons and possibly a weasel or two. It is profoundly frustrating to have cavorting coons chowing on the grapes and worse yet cleaning up the mess they drop. My solution was to buy many mouse traps and tack them onto the pergola posts where the critters are climbing up. It is not particularly attractive, but the grape canopy covers up most of them. It has been a relatively inexpensive solution and quite effective. It does take some time to re-set the mouse traps (I also snuck a couple rat traps up there). I get to giggle as I envision the coons climbing up and getting snappity snapped.

  23. You have just saved me from moving my concord grape from the wall it now trellis’s upon to my vision of having it go up and over a small table and chairs outside in my kitchen garden. Many thanks. I’ll stick to making grape preserves harvested all once from right where they grow now.

  24. Hey Homegrowers, I may have stumbled onto a half-solution. I had some spare sheet metal lying around, and made a sheet metal collar, about knee height, for each pillar on my arbor. Seems to stop my resident racoon (he’s tailless, so we call him Stumpy). I hear a fair amount of scratching and sliding as he tries to scramble up the slick sheet metal, but it seems to do the trick.
    However it doesn’t solve the problem of him (or his ratty friends) coming in from the roof and jumping onto the trellis.

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