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Monday, May 30, 2011

Victorian Kitchen gardens II grapes, & So Coast Table grapes

The Victorians loved their glasshouses and some are still in operation like the one at Blenheim, which still produces enough grapes for the ducal family every year--- until January.

 This gardening feat requires a glasshouse (warm ), and a fruit house (cool). In addition, the bunches of grapes are supported in a mesh bag as they mature, and shaped by hand to be pleasing. (You can read about Blenheim's present  inhabitants in this month's Vanity Fair Magazine. A new duchess has enlivened the place and repaired the ducal fortune, and hopefully--the roof.)

Once the grapes are harvested from the glass house, each bunch is racked with a wine bottle of water in which the grape stem is placed  (same idea as our florist bottles used to keep cymbidiums fresh.) This method, and the cool fruit house will keep the grapes fresh for 6 months after harvest.
You might yearn for such a set-up growing table grapes on the Central Coast. It can be done, but not as easily as you might think, given the wine producing grapes that grow so well here ---Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay. Table grapes need a lot more heat to mature to the required sweetness.

The interior valleys are table grape heaven, and along the coast is wine grape heaven, but growing edible table grapes along the coast is a crap shoot. If you are going to try it, now is the time to plant. First find a warm, south facing wall, if possible.

Or, if you plant a grape arbor, and sit under it, the grapes are a decorative bonus, even on the sour side. (Having grown Thompson Seedless in the foothills at 1000 feet,  I can attest Thompson’s are edible and pretty, but not very sweet.Crisp! ) If you are serious about growing table grapes right along the coast, a greenhouse is your best bet. Or a 15 gallon pot along a south wall.....

Thomacord growing on an arbor
You can, along the coast grow wine grapes very happily. See, and even have your grapes made into wine. Home vineyards are popular from San Francisco to San Diego. All over Europe people grow wine grapes in their backyards . We can too.

Posted by PicasaThis beauty is a Chardonnay wine grape. A quarter of an acre and you've got a crop that can be made into wine. Along the coast there are wine collectives for small vineyard owners which will make your grapes into wine  This looks like a good place to start:

But we  still want a table grape for our backyard. It's going to take a hybrid of European and our native American grapes. ( Vitis viniferax= European; Vitis labrusca is a native, of which there are a couple more: Vitis bouquiniana, native to Texas** and  Muscadina rotundafolia, native to SE US.) What we need has to be mildew resistant, and ripen either very early or very late to catch the autumn heat. Mid-season grapes are going to hit May Grey and June Gloom---they won't ripen until fall, and may sulk as a result. A sulky grape is a sour grape. Here's one that won't be.

Local  nurseries carry Himrod, a cross between a native grape and a Thompson Seedless. It ripens in late August or September. A man up in San Luis Obispo has a Concord x Thompson cross with a six inch trunk that has borne heavily and sweetly every year for many years .Another of the same native parentage is Niagra ( Vitis labrusca 'Niagara' ) a white seedless.

The University of Washington recommends Black Monukka Seedless Grape which requires less summer heat than Thompson Seedless. It's an EMS*** which U WA considers the best grape for home gardens.Self fruitful, good zones 6-10. This European variety has been in cultivation forever and was brought to California early. (It is also blamed for taking the dreaded  Phylloxera aphid to Europe--which is probably unfair, but the French had to blame somebody!) Steamships were the most likely cause, as they travelled so much faster than the sailing ships, the Phylloxera  aphids didn't die  en route as they had before.

Black Manukka

Shocked, shocked to discover commercial growers treat their grape crops with gibberellic acid.  It's a plant hormone used to  increase the size of the grapes. Backyard grapes are not going to easily achieve the glamour of supermarket grapes.

 Local nurseries carry Flame, Ca. Concord, Thompson Seedless, Perlette  and Ladyfinger . Ladyfinger is good zones 6-10. My well-informed readers know ladyfingers are sweet, and elongated green grapes--- named variety is Lady Patricia. Last but not least is Black Rose.

 "Black Rose is a table grape that was produced from a crossing of the vinifera Ribier with a separate crossing of Damas Rose and Black Monukka. The grape was developed  in 1941." (W). It was created by the legendary Dr. Harold Olmo in 1941 at UC Davis. Black Rose a rather hard grape to find but this nursery carries it . (.  ). Since Olmo was such  a genius at hybridization think I'll have to try it. Who could resist a grape named Black Rose?

Best advice: hedge your bets with an early variety and a late variety. Chances are one of them will do well in hot years, and the other one in the cold.  


 ** see *** Early Midseason