Notes On The Photos Of The Varieties On My List
In taking photos of as many of my grape varieties as possible this year, 2006, I found that many are distinctly different than usual. In most cases the differences aren't enough to be a problem, though it means the photos may look better than they would have in a "normal" year.
For example, "Bronx Seedless" usually has lots of different sizes of berries. Some large ones, some small ones, etc. This year, the berries are quite uniform. So the photo makes the variety look better than usual. The real corker was finding that the "Royal Seedless" wasn't. Oh, it's the right variety, as I've had it for more than 25 years. But this year it has full, normal seeds in all the berries. The berries and clusters look normal in the photos, except they are larger than usual.
How can that be? Because Royal is a parthenocarpic seedless grape.
That is, the berries will set and develop without ever developing any seed. Many old female flowered grapes will do this, though Royal isn't a female. The more common kind of seedlessness is called stenospermocarpic, in which the seed starts to develop, then the embryo aborts and the seed stops developing. In a parthenocarpic grape you won't find any sign of a seed, while in a stenospermocarpic grape, there is always a small seed remainder. Not this year. Something in the conditions allowed the Royal Seedless to develop full, normal seeds. One or two seeded berries can be found most years, but I've never seen this grape produce ALL seeded berries before.
I'll take another set of photos in 2007 when they will (hopefully) be normal again.
"Cascade" Is Back.
A year or so ago I took the French Hybrid wine grape "Cascade" off my list because there was a question if it's identity was correct. I'd had my own vines removed by a road project a few years ago and was using cuttings from someone else who'd gotten the material from another source. Except that it soon became apparent my new source didn't have the same variety I had been growing. Now I have some vines in bearing enough to see that I have the correct Cascade again. Or at least it's the same as my original vines that were removed. I won't have much for a while as the vines have to grow, but at least it will be back on the list this winter, with any luck. And I've taken photos of the "new" ones so they will be included in the photos linked to the variety list.
No Grapes for Florida.
I'm sorry to tell potential customers from Florida that I have no varieties that will succeed there. A few can resist fungus diseases, but because of the mild winter, the bacterial pest Pierce's Disease will devastate them. Varieties with good resistance elsewhere fail in Florida because there is no cold. Even a short winter will retard the PD organism enough to give the vines a chance to "catch their breath", but without it, even highly resistant vines will eventually decline.
For years I've offered a few varieties that I thought would hold up in Florida as they were some of the toughest grapes around - America, Munson, and several others. Now I find that they weren't tough enough.
A study of such varieties done in Florida found that, while such grapes would survive for some while, they eventually died or became totally useless due to Pierce's Disease.
Which doesn't mean there aren't any bunch grapes for Florida, only that I don't have any. There are some developed from native florida grapes, such as Lake Emerald, Stover, Conquistador, and others, that can grow and survive there, and more are being bred. But if you live in Florida and want to grow bunch grapes there, you'll have to look for a source in the state.
So if you live in Florida, buy my book, but don't buy my grapes.
Pinot Meunier and Samtrot
If you have ever ordered Pinot Meunier and gotten something that didn't seem right, read this.
In 2006 a customer contacted me about some Pinot Meunier he had purchased from me several years ago. Seems that a few of the plants were different from the rest. Pinot Meunier has heavy fuzz on the leaves that make them look gray-green. But some of this fellow's plants had no fuzz and were shiny green.
We eliminated the likelihood of a mixup in varieties, especially since the shiney green type seemed nearly identical in every other respect.
To make a long story short, it turns out that Pinot Meunier is what's known as a periclinal chimera. That just means that it has layers of tissue that have different genetics from each other. Most of the time the vine has the Meunier features. But sometimes shoots originate from the other tissues and when that happens, the result is the shiney green type. This is a naturally occurring condition that has been recorded for several centuries.
What makes it more interesting is that this happens often enough that in some parts of Europe this other type is called "Samtrot". What is MORE interesting is that Samtrot is very much like Pinot Noir, except that it ripens about a week later than it.
There's a lot more to this story, but the point here is that it is one piece of evidence showing the close relationship between Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Odd Numbers of Cuttings
Had someone order 6 cuttings each of two varieties, for a total of 12, even though they said they wanted other varieties, but only had room for 12 vines. And since there is a minimum of 5 cuttings of a variety, they couldn't break it up into 3 of this, 4 of that, etc.
This sort of thing happens a few times every season, and to those people I say:
First, the five cutting per variety minimum is at least partly for the customer, since almost no one fails to root at least one cutting of a minimum order, even someone who doesn't really follow the directions.
Second, it's not cost effective for me to package single cuttings.
But most of all, I have to ask "Don't you have any friends who garden?" If you order more cuttings than you actually need, even with a five cutting minimum, the extras can be potted up and make nice gifts for gardening friends. And if you spread the vines around a little, all the recipients can compare notes and share the fruit, if one grower winds up with more than they want.
Try it. You might make someone else quite happy to get a gift of a grapevine. (And while I don't advertise it, you can get grape gift certificates, too)
Try Them, You'll Like Them
We usually think of fashion as something that applies to clothing or cars, but fruit varieties go in and out of fashion too.
On the variety list, there are literally dozens of grapes that are very good, but sell very little because they are out of fashion, in one way or another.
Take Steuben. It has beautiful large berries and clusters, a mild, fruity-spicey flavor, and very good overall disease resistance. In my climate it also has the charm of brightly colored fall foliage. But good as it is, it had the bad luck to be released in 1946, about the time the first hybrid seedless grapes came out. Suddenly, seeded grapes were no longer in fashion and Steuben flopped among home growers, though it was taken up by a few commercial growers for juice.
Then there is "Yates", a large berried red grape that ripens late in the season. Yates' most notable feature is that it will keep in cold storage for several months, much longer than most American grapes, and it resists rain damage. But few people want a grape that late any more, and fewer still want to bother to store grapes.
And there are many grapes that simply fail because something new comes along and the growers figure that the new thing must be better, so they stop trying to grow older varieties.
The constant desire for something new is one of the reasons I quit trying to keep up with many of the new grapes that have come along in the last few years. I'd plant the new varieties and by the time the vines came into full maturity in five years or so, interest had faded and I found myself with grapes that no one wanted, or at least the demand was so low it didn't pay to grow vines myself.
Right now, I have several grapes for which there was a serious demand a few years ago, but now that I've got good supplies for them, almost no one is buying. The new seedless grapes from Arkansas, Jupiter and Neptune, as well as the earlier Saturn, have nearly dropped off the radar. Price, one of my personal favorites, hardly draws notice this year.
So rather than try to keep up with fashion, I only add a variety if I personally like it, or if it shows it will have some real staying power.
There is more to this, but there's not enough room to cover it here.
For now, don't be afraid to try an old variety. Many are very decent.
They have just gone out of fashion.
How Late Can I Start Cuttings?
While I've put the official cutoff date for selling cuttings at June 1, in the past, that doesn't HAVE to be the last day to get cuttings if you want to do a little extra.
The grape cuttings are stored in a cooler at temperatures of about 35 degrees F (1 C) and I know from experience that they will last over a year that way, because I have vines started from cuttings that were 18 months old. Mind you, I don't sell cuttings that old, but it's a measure of how well they will store.
A customer who wanted to do an experiment bought a batch of cuttings in August. They rooted and potted up the cuttings and let them grow outside until the first frost. Then they put the pots in an unheated building where they wouldn't freeze over the winter. They unpotted set the vines out in the ground next spring. At the end of last season I got a letter that those vines, which had been started quite late in the previous summer from cuttings stored for ten months, had grown quite well and most were trained up the posts, ready to have a little bit of crop this year.
So it seems that there is more flexibility in when cuttings can be started, if you are willing to take some extra care of them. I won't say I'd recommend the method for a beginner, but it is worth noting if you want to be a little adventurous.
How My Cuttings Are Made
"Field Run" is a term used by growers to refer to agricultural products as they come from the field, before they are graded. Thus, a bin of field run apples will contain everything that came off the trees - big apples, small apples, misshapen fruits, etc. These go back to the packing shed to be sorted into different grades and sizes.
In this case, though, it refers to how I make grape cuttings. As part of making sure (as much as I can) that the cuttings sent are always true to name, I make most of my cuttings in the vineyard. That is, I prune each vine and make the cuttings as I prune. That means that there are cuttings from the biggest, heaviest canes on the vine, and the smaller canes as well. As I prune, I can judge the health of the vine, the character of the wood, and the amount of cuttings. This allows me to figure in what size cuttings are going to be good from that vine, but it also means that not everything is going to be a "standard" size.
For example, Remaily Seedless has some of the heaviest canes of the hybrid varieties, so most of the cuttings from it are large. At the same time, the wood doesn't harden well towards the ends, so that part of the cane is discarded. The result is that even the smallest diameter cuttings are much larger than cuttings from other varieties with thinner wood. Varieties like "Valiant" for instance, will produce, solid, well ripened wood that may be as thin as a toothpick. Even at that size, that thin wood is mature enough to produce a cutting that will grow every bit as well as a thicker diameter cane.
Then there are varieties like America that were bred in a hotter climate, and simply don't produce thick wood in my cooler climate. It is healthy and grows well, it just seems small to someone who has seen the variety grow farther south.
In short, while the size of cuttings in an order may vary, and some may seem thin, all wood is evaluated on the spot in the vineyard and included only if it's healthy. As added insurance, if some of the cuttings in an order seem a little thin, count them. I often add extra cuttings when some are thinner than usual.
For Grape Breeders
If you have read my book, The Grape Grower, you know I have a soft spot for breeding new grapes, to the extent of having a chapter on how to do it yourself. In connection with that, I'm going to offer something to anyone who wants to try a super-easy way to breed new grapes.
In my material I have collected a number of good female vines. That is, while most grapes have perfect flowers and are self-pollinating, there are grapes with flowers that have only functional female parts.
The anthers are there, but they curve down under the flower and don't produce viable pollen. This is actually the normal condition in wild species of grapes, vines are either male or female, but not perfect flowered.
Anyway, if growers were to plant a few of these female vines among their other grapes, all the seed from those females would be a result of pollination by whatever other vines were around. That means no hand work would be needed to cross the two varieties. Just collect the fruit of the female vines and save the seed. All the seedlings would be the result of a cross between the female and the other varieties planted near it. This is known as open pollination.
The grower then has the option of planting the seed himself, or leaving it for the birds to eat the fruit and spread seedlings around.
In grape breeding, the more seedlings that are grown, the greater the chance is that one of them will have an outstanding combination of traits from both parents. Find a really good one and you can propagate it from cuttings and name it as a new variety.
If this appeals to you, order "Breeders Special" from my website. No extra charge. I'll pick out a variety that should give you a chance at breeding something interesting. And as a bonus, most of the female varieties do have very good fruit, they just have to have something else blooming at the same time to pollinate them.
PLEASE Write It Down!
Every so often I'll get an e-mail in which someone discusses an order, listing the varieties they want and checking availability. That by itself is fine. But then I get a check for an order, but no order in with the money. Problem is, I don't save e-mails of grape inquiries, since I have no guarantee I'll actually get an order. If I'm lucky, I still have their e-mail address. If not, I have to mail the payment back and let them know I can't fill the order without an order.
So if you e-mail to discuss an order with me, please do us both a favor and remember to include an actual order with your payment.
Dealing in a product like grape cuttings, where the customer has to do the rooting, has created a problem I had not counted on when I started: how to handle replacements.
In all the years I've grown grapes, as long as I did it right (like the instructions on how to root grapes found on my website) I never had a problem getting at least 75% of the cuttings to root. There were exceptions, such as species or certain varieties containing those species, that were harder to root than other grapes, but those are rare.
So when I get letters saying that "my grapes didn't root" it usually takes just a few minutes to discover that the person didn't follow directions, or tried to shortcut something. This is why I'm reluctant to offer a specific replacement policy, because I have no control over how the cuttings are handled after they leave me.
One year I did discover that one batch of one variety, which had come from another grower, had been mishandled by him and were not rooting well for anyone. Everyone who had gotten grapes from that batch was contacted and offered replacements.
So far as I know, this sort of cutting failure has never happened any other time.
And more than once, I've set plastic storage tubs full of cuttings out of the cooler and let them sit in the basement at about 60 degrees F for four months or more before until I got around to dumping them.
It's amazing how many times I've opened the tubs to find bundles of cuttings covered with roots and shoots. And those are cuttings that are often in storage six to eight months before they are taken out of the cooler.
The point is, it's so easy to root grape cuttings most of the time, IF THE PERSON SIMPLY FOLLOWS DIRECTIONS, that there has to be some kind of tangible evidence that the failure was due to something that happened before the customer gets the cuttings.
That may sound hard nose, but as a one-man business, I've yet to come up with anything more practical.
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