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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. It?s 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, you?ll enjoy a long harvest of fresh fruits.

[SUBHEAD_RAG_]<IP0>A few choices

<MC><CF103>Interlaken Seedless:</CF> If you have a taste for the popular Thompson Seedless, plant Interlaken Seedless, an early-ripening white grape that?s ready by about midsummer. It is actually a hybrid of Thompson Seedless though not quite as sweet, and it performs better than its parent in our cooler summers. An easy-care grape, Interlaken resists powdery mildew enough that it rarely requires any spraying.

<CF103>Perlette: </CF>Another early-ripening variety, this large white grape has crisp, pale shimmering green skin almost yellow or straw-colored and true to its French name, ?little Pearl.? Perlette is not quite as sweet as Interlaken but is very juicy and one of the best for local gardens.

<CF103>Black Monucca: </CF>This is a good alternative to the tasty Red Flame that we find in supermarkets nearly every month of the year. Black Monucca is a large grape that ripens nicely in our relatively cool summers in August or early September. Fruits are very dark purple in large bunches, crisp skinned, and sweet.

<CF103>Suffolk Red: </CF>This is another alternative to Red Flame but closer to its color and fruit size. A cross between a European and American grape, it tolerates cold winters and cool summers, ripening somewhat earlier than Black Monucca.

<CF103>Muscats: </CF>There are several varieties of these large berries, either green or black, all with seeds. They ripen early or mid-season with a distinct but delicious flavor.

Fresh or dried

<MC>Most grapes will last on the vine for about two weeks and are best harvested at their peak of ripeness. They must ripen fully before picking; they will not ripen further or improve off the vine.

If you harvest a bumper crop of Interlaken Seedless, consider drying the extras. These fruits are fairly small and one of the best home varieties for raisins because of their high sugar content.

Raisins, the most popular of all dried fruits, probably originated in the Mediterranean Basin. Even now, nearly all in this country are grown and dried in the high heat of the Central Valley near Fresno. There, Thompson Seedless grapes, also called Sultana, produce golden raisins.

A final word or two

<MC>You may have noticed the photo in The Press Democrat several weeks ago during the grape harvest of a grower offering grapes to his dog. As innocent as the gesture appears, it could have serious consequences.

Both grapes and raisins are potentially lethal to dogs (see ASPCA.org). The degree of an illness can vary from lethargy and abdominal upsets to more serious cases of complete kidney failure. Dangerous amounts ingested vary, but one bunch of grapes or a handful or raisins is enough for a visit to the vet.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author, writes the weekly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910, Santa Rosa, 95402; or send fax to 664-9476.