Grapes for the Home Vineyard

Friday, January 16th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Apples and pears are the easiest fruits to grow in our area. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a continuous harvest from late summer into winter.
    • Fill your winter garden with color from primroses and pansies.
    • Witch hazels bloom in the middle of winter with their interesting and showy, fragrant yellow or red blooms. One might look good in your garden.
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.
    • Fruit trees can be pruned this month. If you’re not sure how, take advantage of one of the fine classes being offered this month.

Grapes for the Home Vineyard

An age-old fruit, grapes have been cultivated for over 6000 years and continue to grow in popularity today. Grown for fresh eating, juice, jelly or wine, grapes are widely recognized for their health benefits as well as for the production of fine wines.

Wine grape varieties represent only a small portion of the more than 600 kinds of grapes, and only about 60 varieties are suited to produce fine quality wine. The rest are considered table grapes, which are seeing a surge in popularity with today’s home gardeners.

Seedless table grapes are the most popular and Thompson Seedless and Flame make up the majority of table grapes sold in California. But both of these varieties require a considerable amount of heat to reach their finest quality. The Willits area just doesn’t get the amount of heat that the Central Valley does where these varieties grow to perfection. But there are many delicious grapes that are well suited to our climate.

There are two basic types of grapes, American and European. Our familiar table grapes and most wine grapes are derived from a single European species, Vitis vinifera. They have relatively thin skins that adhere closely to their flesh, and seeds that can be slipped out of the pulp quite easily.

American varieties, Vitis labrusca, are sometimes called slip-skin grapes, as their skins separate readily from the flesh; their seeds are tightly embedded in the pulp. The most familiar American variety is the Concord grape. Our area is suited to American grapes and to selected European varieties with lower heat requirements.

In 1999, several new cultivars were released. Princess is a large green grape that rivals Thompson with berries of excellent eating quality that have a satisfying crunch. Summer Royal grapes are medium-sized, and blue-black in color. These round seedless grapes have a pleasant aroma and a sweet flavor, and are ideal for snacks and salads. Summer Muscat has green, seedless muscat-flavored berries that are excellent for dry-on-the-vine raisins.

Some American grapes that ripen early in the season include these seedless varieties. Himrod is an excellent quality golden yellow grape that bears large clusters of crisp, sweet fruit. This seedless variety is reliable and productive. Canadice is a beautiful rose-colored grape that is sweet with a somewhat spicy flavor. Interlaken has pale green berries that are sweet and crisp.

Suffolk Red is a seedless grape with round, firm, pink to red berries and a pleasing, spicy-sweet flavor. It makes a really delicious table grape. Golden Muscat has pale golden berries with a characteristic muscat flavor. Its large, well filled clusters are juicy and sweet.

The best known purple grape is Concord, whose fruit has a distinctive “foxy” flavor. Used widely for grape juice and jelly, it may be America’s favorite grape.

Several European grapes do well in our area. Perlette is a pale green grape that is sweet and juicy. Black Monukka, which has a deep, purplish-black skin and is very sweet and rich flavored, and Flame, a crisp, sweet red grape, are both excellent for fresh use and for raisins. These varieties do not need the high heat that Thompson does to ripen.

Grapes are so abundant and easy to grow, that no family vineyard should be without them. Plant several varieties to enjoy their distinct flavors and a long harvest.

Growing Table Grapes

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Fuchsias will bloom all summer if you remove faded flowers and seed pods and fertilize every ten days with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Gro.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming well throughout the summer. Watch for pests and treat immediately to prevent infestations.
    • Check for squash, or “stink”, bugs on squash and pumpkins. Hand-pick grey-brown adults and destroy red egg clusters on the leaves. Use pyrethrins to control heavy infestations.
    • Prune rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas to shape them now. If you wait much longer, you will be cutting off next year’s flowers.
    • Birdbaths will attract our feathered friends to your backyard so you can enjoy them close-up. Place them a few feet from a bushy shrub to give the birds protection.

Growing Table Grapes

Grapes have been cultivated since ancient times. Many European grape varieties, brought to California in the 19th century, have provided the basis for today’s thriving grape industry. Home gardeners can still grow some very old European varieties, such as Muscat of Alexandria, but there are some outstanding new varieties to grow as well. Grapes are some of the most versatile and adaptable of all the small fruits.

Grapes make an excellent backyard crop. The vines do not take up much space when trained against a fence or arbor, and there are varieties that do very well in our climate. Even an inexperienced gardener should be able to produce a good crop.

American and European grapes and their hybrids are grown throughout California. Each type has its climatic preferences.

American grapes are distinguished by their skin which slips easily off the soft flesh. They usually have seeds and a strong, distinctive flavor reminiscent of Concord, the best known American grape. They can be eaten fresh and make excellent juice and jelly. Other fine American grapes are Interlaken, Himrod and Golden Muscat, which are all very sweet.

European grapes are firm with nonslip skin and relatively mild flavor. They do better in warmer areas of the state because they need long, hot summers to mature. Thompson Seedless does very well in the Central Valley, but seldom ripens here. But there are some European varieties, like Perlette and Flame, that will do well here.

Most wine grapes are European grapes, so many of them will not ripen here. But you can try Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot or Zinfandel particularly if you have a warm, sunny, southwest-facing slope. Sunlight is the key to producing grapes high in sugars which, after fermentation, become alcohol. These varieties are successfully grown in Redwood Valley, Potter Valley and Ukiah.

Homegrown grapes are not likely to be as large as those found in grocery stores. Commercial growers treat their table grape crops with gibberellic acid, a growth hormone that causes the cells to grow larger and longer than normal.

Grapes will tolerate a wide range of soils. They have deep root systems and therefore need deep but infrequent watering. However, they should not be allowed to dry out. Watering prior to harvest will increase fruit size. Keep weeds pulled or hoed, especially when vines are young.

Grape vines can be grown on fences, trellises or arbors. A standard 8’ x 8’ arbor will support one vine nicely. Grapes can be grown unpruned, forming a thick mass of canes and dense shade. Or they can be carefully pruned to a cordon that runs across the middle of the arbor. Arbors are a nice way to incorporate a grapevine into your landscape design, and they lift the vines up to receive maximum sunlight and air.

Grapes are one of the easiest fruits to grow in our climate and make “good-eating” in the summertime.

Delicious Grapes

Monday, July 18th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Colorful petunias will brighten up any flower bed. Their purples, pinks and reds make a real splash when planted in groups of the same color.
    • Prune rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas to shape them now. If you wait much longer, you will be cutting off next year’s flowers.
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool-season crops now. Transplant them to the garden next month and they will be producing for you this fall.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming well throughout the summer. Watch for pests and treat immediately to prevent infestations.
    • Feed annual blooming plants and hanging baskets every two weeks for prolific bloom. Keep dead flowers pinched off.

Tastes of Summer

Local grape grower and aficionado, Richard Jeske, is offering a dozen varieties that do particularly well in the Willits area. Most are American grapes rather than European grapes. American grapes have a looser skin that slips off the grape more easily with soft flesh and a distinctive aroma and flavor. American grapes are hardier; resistant to many insects and diseases (powdery mildew, etc) and mature earlier in the season, so they ripen in milder climates.

European grapes usually require a long, warm growing season and have firm fruit with nonslip skin and a smooth flavor. There are also many hybrids that are crosses between the two types.

Grapes can also be seeded or seedless. Many people prefer seedless grapes for fresh eating, but many of the best tasting varieties have seeds. The seeds, by the way, are good for you.

Himrod is a white, seedless grape that is dependable and delicious. Grapes are sweet and vines are very productive. Use them fresh or for raisins.

Venus is a blue grape that hangs in large, beautiful bunches. Very vigorous and productive, it is good fresh and for making grape juice. Glenora is another seedless blue grape with small grapes like blueberries. It is delicious for fresh eating.

Reliance is a productive red grape that ripens over a long season. It is very dependable and one of the best in our area. Eat them fresh or dry them for raisins.

Delight is the most popular European, seedless grape in this collection. It is a white grape, similar to Perlette but with more flavor. Eat them fresh or dry them for raisins.

Sweet Seduction is an appealing white grape with outstanding muscat flavor. It is a favorite in taste tests and is also good for raisins and juice.

If one does not mind seeds, Concords are of course a classic choice. But Muscat grapes are also very good in this area. Golden Muscat is a long time favorite for home gardeners. This white grape is sweet and juicy and a heavy producer. New York Muscat is a blue grape with an outstanding flavor. Use it fresh or for juice or wine. Muscat St. Vallier is another white muscat with great muscat taste.

Seneca is one of the first grapes of the season. This mouth-watering white, seeded grape is delicious fresh or for juice. And Suavis is one of the later grapes. It is a red, European grape with a unique and delicious flavor. Use it fresh or for juice or wine.

Grapes are a wonderful fruit for the home garden. They are easy to grow and very productive. Protect your crop from birds and other critters and enjoy the delicious tastes of summer.