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Your Very Own Grape
by Lon Rombough

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Would you like to have a grape that is yours alone?
One that no one else has ever had before?
It's not only possible, it's surprisingly easy.
How? Plant a grape seed.

Plant the seed of any given grape, and the seedlings will always be different from the variety that produced that seed. The fruit of that seedling may be larger, smaller, earlier, later, different colored, different flavored, more (or less) productive, and a lot of other possible variations from it's parent. That's because the offspring of a grape (or most plants) always get a new combination of traits due to genetic reassortment.

For example, in the 1800's, Concord was so popular that nurseries sometimes grew seedlings of it and gave them out with orders, like prizes. The nurserymen may not have realized then that seedlings would be that different from the parent, and while many of these "gifts" weren't much good, some were new varieties. There were seedlings with white fruit, some with red fruit, and some with blue fruit like the parent.

"Lady" was a white-fruited seedling that was considered one of the finest grapes of the time, though it was too capricious and shy bearing to be more than a hobbyist's grape. "Worden" is a blue grape that is larger, earlier, and more cold hardy than Concord and is still grown to some degree for those traits.

Both of these have only genes they inherited from Concord, rearranged in new combinations. The same thing happens when you plant seeds of any grape - you will get seedlings that will show the family resemblance in some ways, but will be entirely new in other ways.

How to grow grape seeds? Got a refrigerator? Got a couple spoonfuls of moist peat moss? A small plastic bag? All you need then is the seed and you can start. Seed fresh from the grape is best and will give a higher germination rate. Put it in the peat moss in a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator. After three months the seed has had enough cold to have stratified it - removed the built-in inhibitors that keep it from sprouting.

In Nature, it has to have those inhibitors removed by going through the winter, which insures it won't grow until the weather is good. Plant your seed in a small pot, at least two by two inches (5 cm x 5 cm) in a warm, sunny window. Keep it moist but not too moist, and with luck, the seed should sprout in a month or less.

After the plant has at least six true leaves, and frost danger is over, the little vine can be planted out in a garden spot to grow for the summer before transplanting it to it's final location when it is dormant in the fall. With care, the new vine may be able to bear crop in two to seven years from the time you plant it in it's permanent location. The length of time depends on the parent, and the conditions you give the vine.

When you choose the seed you want to grow, be sure it comes from a grape that grows in your area. That way you have more chance of getting something that is adapted to your conditions. Unless you live in California or a similar climate, commercial grapes from the store give only vines that are adapted to the California type climate.

Keep in mind that seedlings will usually stay true to type in some ways - plant a seed of a wine grape, and seedlings will have wine grape type traits. That is, don't plant seed of a soft, juicy wine type grape and expect a firm, crisp, seedless table grape. Or vice versa.

The chances you will get a vine that is good enough to be worth introducing as a new variety are small, but the chances you will get something good enough for your own uses are pretty good. Of course, the more seedlings you grow, the more chances you have of finding at least a really good vine, though there is never any guarantee. Remember, once you grow that first seedling, you are officially a grape breeder.

© - Lon J. Rombough, B.S., M.S., ATM
No reprinting without permission of the author.

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