Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Growing Grapes in the Alberta

My first grape harvest. This is from a two year old vine- so bunches are still small.
Grapes are one of those fruits that visitors are often surprised to see growing in our climate. While many locals have heard of the long-suffering Valiant grape, there are at least eight varieties of grape that grow in Zones 2-3. I have four varieties, 2 white and 2 red, and this year I had my first (small) harvest from the Eona vine. Planted two summers ago, the grapes grow on the south side of my stuccoed house. Thanks to the wall radiating heat, its extra hot and sheltered.

 The grapes were each about a centimeter in diameter and packed with the flavour of Welches Grape Juice. Picked at the end of September, they had survived (and possible thrived?) through one hard frost. The skin was soft, the fruit juicy. Then there were the seeds: Two! Two 2 mm seeds in each grape! The taste and value made the seeds worth the work- but they definitely slowed my consumption speed. Perhaps this is nature's way of reminding us where life comes from? Perhaps this is creation's way of imposing discipline in these times of fast food and eating on the run?

"Every prairie fruit you find will have a seed or pit," Shannon says. My wee grapes had 2 seeds per fruit! 

The process of food-scaping my yard has been long and slow; most plants require at least three to four years before they produce a harvest of significance (damn it, once again I am forced to be patient!). Shannon at Shallow Creek Nurseries- sadly now closed- has been a wealth of information and source of many varieties of fruit. Here are some of her recommendations for growing grapes in regions with hot summers and hard winters:

1. Where you place grapes is crucial- they need a sheltered spot with full south exposure. Be particularly careful to choose a home out of the wind.
2. Fall pruning should always be done to protect the plant from winter kill. Prune each vine down to the fourth bud.
3. In preparation for winter, shovel lots of snow on the remaining plants.
4. Don't expect fruit until the third season. Let the plant focus on its root system for the first few years.
5. After the third year, if you want to encourage fruit production then keep the vines pruned at about four feet high. If you want leaves for a trellis, of course let it grow, but don't expect a lot of fruit.
6. If the grapes are tart, you've picked them too early. Water them and wait another week or two. The fruit should get plumper and sweeter in this time.

While Shallow Creek Nurseries are no longer open, their website is a wealth of information on local fruit for the Prairies and can give you an idea of the possibilities for fruit in your yard. Read about the 8 different kinds of grape, 11 types of cherries, and 6 kinds of saskatoons. They also sold hybrid fruit varieties like Chums and Jostaberries, and unique cuttings from the Goji bush.

The greenhouses offer a disappointing number of varieties of berries. But I believe that the more people ask for them, the more likely that a market will grow- so ask ask ask!

Here are a few nurseries and garden centres that carry berries and fruit (there is still time to plant a clearance shrub or tree before winter!):

Greenland Garden Centre
- Sunstar Nurseries
Address: (780) 472- 810 167 Ave. NE (Not as great a selection but they do have: apples, pears,  plums, honeyberry, saskatoons, currants, grapes, cherries)
- Arrowhead Nurseries- (780) 472-6260, Address: 2503 211 Ave NE (graft their own plums, apples, cuttings for honeyberries and cherries (romance series, sour cherries), grapes (valiant and beta), currants, josta berries, and pears))
DNA Gardens (for black currants and hardy apples/plums/pears- Southeast of Red Deer.)
- Holes Greenhouse

Also, the online service at T& T Seed's is very good and their selection is better than most.

If you find other sources of great, hardy fruit, please let me know!


how to grow grape said...

If you decide to grow your own grape vines, you will have to learn how to prune them. If you neglect to do this, the vines will start growing out of control. This will not only hurt the look of the plant, but will also reduce the amount and quality of the grapes that you'll eventually grow.

Lisa said...

Wow, who knew these could work in Edmonton--something else to consider adding to my yard! ;)

Great blog, btw--I've linked you on my own WP blogroll now! :)