A Prairie gardener’s dream may be to grow grapes to the same perfection as those grown in milder climates. Although overwintering the larger, seedless, table varieties on the Prairies is still a bit uncertain due to our colder growing zone, we can still raise a wide selection of hardy grapes that rivals any other for superb juice and jelly making. Every year, plant developers are surprising us with many new varieties that prove hardier, larger and sweeter.
My husband Tommy and I have wintered over a few hardy, old-favourite varieties for many years. After allowing a few plants to get out of hand at one end of the garden, I decided they could no longer dominate the spot they had overtaken, though they did make an attractive, lush, two-foot-high jungle ground cover by re-rooting themselves as the branches touched the earth. Picking the fruit was not only time consuming, but annoying, as we trudged along throughout the rambling canes searching for the well-hidden fruit within the rambunctious foliage.
Finally, we decided to build
BETA GRAPES: This variety produces a dark, black-blue juice.
some trellis for our vines. We chose a sunny location with well-drained soil and went to work. Three-inch pipe fit in well for the framework on the first trellis, and we used four-inch-square posts for the second. Both proved to be satisfactory. The posts and pipes are three feet deep into the ground so are strong enough to hold up heavy vines. Between these pipes and posts we attached heavy four-inch- square mesh fencing panels. This made a sturdy fence and arbour for our vines. Nursery stock plants were planted two feet apart and pruned to two feet in height. The plants quickly climbed upward and produced fruit on the third year, with more profusion on the fourth.
We grew Beta and Valiant grapes because of their Prairie hardiness, and kept each variety on separate arbours.
Valiant grapes are light to medium blue in colour, and although they have a first-rate taste similar to Beta, my preference is Beta because of its darker black-blue-coloured juice. These delightful grapes do have seeds, but I use the berries only for extracting the juice, so seeds are not a problem.
After picking and washing the berries, juice is easily extracted by adding water to barely cover the fruit. Bring to a boil for a few minutes, shut off the heat, cover and leave overnight. The following day bring to a boil again for one minute, strain and allow the juice to drip through a colander and cheesecloth. With a little sugar added to taste, this makes excellent juice or simply follow the Certo recipe to make scrumptious jelly.
My next project is to try making homemade wine. I’m told that the finest of wines are made from fruit picked after a light frost, as this sweetens the grapes. So here’s hoping the birds don’t raid the remaining grapes in our vineyard before the frost.
– Lillian Deedman writes from Killarney, Manitoba