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McCreary: Climate is key for table grapes

With the increased trend for growing our own food, more and more home gardeners will be purchasing bare-root fruit trees and grapevines after the first of the year when dormant plants begin to appear in nurseries.

Before then, however, it would be wise to spend some time selecting a variety that best suits your tastes and garden space. Its easy this time of year to sample apples, pears and persimmons found at farmers markets, roadside stands, and even in supermarkets.

With grapes, however, there are fewer suitable varieties for home growing available for sampling. The reason is that most table grapes sold commercially are either imports or are grown in the Central Valley where high heat is a dominating influence. We need to grow different varieties that favor our coastal climate that is so much cooler due to our proximity to the Pacific Ocean.

Most other kinds of fruit are more forgiving of variations in climatic conditions, but with grapes, disappointment is a common result when the wrong variety is planted. Real success here is limited to American varieties and certain European grapes.

You can find a chart that identifies various characteristics of varieties suited to Marin and Sonoma counties at cesonoma.ucdavis.edu/gardener/pdf/table_grape_varieties.pdf and a brief discussion of a shorter list in Fruit Trees & Vines for Home Use, by UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Paul Vossen, at cesonoma.ucdavis.edu/gardener/pdf/fruits_nuts_berries_grapes_sonoma.pdf.

Once you select a variety, the next challenge is finding it. Most of our local nurseries carry bare-root plants, but chain and big-box retailers may not stock ones that are best for our local conditions. Neighborhood specialty nurseries are better sources. Urban Tree Farm in Santa Rosa and Sonoma Mission Gardens on Arnold Drive in Boyes Hot Springs, for instance, always carry some of those that Vossen lists.

The frequency of our cool days, as winemakers know, slows sugar development and delays ripening for most grape varieties until August thru September. By planting an early- and late-ripening variety, youll enjoy a long harvest of fresh fruits.

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