2014-06-05 / From The Garden

Fruit of the Vine

By Cynthia Gibson

One of the most popular backyard grapes is the Concord, which has a strong, distinctive flavor. One of the most popular backyard grapes is the Concord, which has a strong, distinctive flavor. When driving your car north on East Main Road (Route 138) through Middletown, you will happen upon Newport Vineyards, which is on the right just before Chaves Garden Center. From the road you can see acres of grapevines neatly planted in traditional rows. With a view of what seems like miles of flourishing grapevines, we can answer the question of whether grapes can be grown on Aquidneck Island with a simple "yes."

Although often overlooked, grapes are among the easier fruits to grow on a small scale in your backyard or garden. Rather than planting “wine” grapes, you must try “table” grapes, which are simply for eating. One of the most popular types is the Concord, which has a strong distinctive flavor. If you like the taste of store-bought jam, this is the choice for you.

Concords were first grown in nearby Concord, Mass. Ephraim Wales Bull, the “father of the Concord grape,” worked diligently on the development of this variety and felt it was perfected in 1849. However, it was Dr. Thomas Welch, a dentist from New Jersey, who decided to preserve the excellenttasting Concord grape juice mixed with a bit of sugar. After boiling the jars and bottles of juice in water, his project became a success. The boiling process killed the yeast that might have grown in the juice and the end result was Welch’s Grape Juice, which is now an icon. Don’t we all have childhood memories of enjoying this dark purple, tangy drink?

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Growing Concords is really quite simple. They are fairly disease free, except for the occasional small case of powdery mildew. The solution for this problem is to spray organic Spinosad on the vines and leaves, which will kill the mildew but leave the grapes to ripen on the vine in the shade of its massive leaves.

I have found that birds enjoy ripening grapes as much as I do. After the vines have set their first fruit, by about the second or third year, I cover the grape clusters with brown paper-waxed bags and secure them with a twist tie around the stem. I also cut holes in the bottom of the bags so that moisture and rain will fall through and not rot the fruit.

Concord grapes really take their time to ripen. They are best picked or cut off the vine with scissors after the first hint of frost in October. I learned this the hard way.

After birds were attacking my Concords I learned about bagging the clusters, but as with many newbie growers I decided to pick the grapes a bit early. The batch of jam I then made was rather insipid. Not this year!

Grapes are aggressive climbers. They need a trellis, an arch, a fence, or posts with wire to support the vines and fruit. The stems send out tendrils, those lovely green spirals that ultimately turn to wood and are nearly impossible to trim off when you prune in the spring. Grapevines were meant to last.

However, pruning is not complicated. There are methods you can use or ignore. I do both. Trellised vines grow horizontally and are pruned like the grapevines you see at Newport Vineyards. My Concords grow over a trellis with an arch. It is fun to walk underneath and look up at the clusters of dangling grapes before they are bagged.

Concords have a “slip skin,” meaning exactly that. Once you have plucked the grape from its cluster, there is a slight crack at the place of the fruit’s departure from its mother ship. If you give it a pinch, the slippery insides will shoot across the room if you’re not careful.

Concords are edible right off the vine, but there may be few takers. They are not only tangy, but quite sour as well. They are perhaps best in a German breakfast kuchen or in a wonderful jam.

Not all grapes grown in our area are the dark purple Concords. There are fabulous new breeds of sweet thin-skinned grapes that are eaten whole, skin and all. The latest of these selections comes to us from the University of Arkansas and have the most delightful names, such as “Faith,”“Hope,”“Joy,” and “Gratitude.” Hope is a large clustered white seedless table grape that is superb and will grow in our area with little difficulty. Faith is also seedless, but it is blue. Joy is a blue grape as well, but is seeded like its partner, Gratitude, which is green. All of these varieties are delicious.

An excellent, extremely sweet table grape is “Swenson Red,” which ranges in color in one cluster from red to bluish.

Growing grapes is easy, which is perhaps the best reason to include this delightful fruit in your gardening plans. While you will not be producing the latest wine from backyard table grapes, you will have an offering at your table that most of your guests will not have cultivated themselves.

Return to top