Growing grapes is possible in Alaska

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The grape 'Interlaken' threatens to take over it's corner of the greenhouse. Photo by Fran DurnerThe grape 'Interlaken' threatens to take over it's corner of the greenhouse. Photo by Fran DurnerNever thought you'd be able to grow grapes in Alaska? Never say never! Mel Monsen has been growing them at his home here in Anchorage for about five years. The vine, a variety named 'Interlaken' regularly takes over and fills the corner of his unheated greenhouse. Monsen says he has to prune 6-7 feet from it annually to keep it manageable and from taking over the greenhouse completely. After all, he needs some room for the peach tree and containers of tomatoes that share the greenhouse space.

'Interlaken' is a seedless white grape that is hardy to -20 degrees F. Monsen grows the vine in a pot and it's been living in a five gallon size container for about two years. He'll check the root ball this fall to see if it needs a new, larger size container.

Mel Monsen gets about thirty pounds of table grapes a year from his vine. Fran Durner photoMel Monsen gets about thirty pounds of table grapes a year from his vine. Fran Durner photoPicture perfect clusters of grapes were hanging from the vines when I visited and an invitation to sample was not refused. The grape was meltingly sweet and warm from the sun, something of a pleasant surprise as I'm used to cool or refridgerated grapes as a norm. Monsen says he gets about thirty pounds of fruit a year from the vine which he shares with the neighborhood kids, going straight from vine to mouth, so-to-speak.

Brenda Adams is trying to start a vineyard of hardy northern climate grape vines on a hillside above Homer. Photo by Fran DurnerBrenda Adams is trying to start a vineyard of hardy northern climate grape vines on a hillside above Homer. Photo by Fran DurnerBrenda Adams in Homer is also trying grapes. But she's trying to grow a small vineyard outside on a gently sloping hill behind her home where it will catch the most sun. Adams is trialing about nine varieties of grapes from cold Northern regions. She received twenty six cuttings in the deep of mid-winter from a grower, Tom Plocher of Minnesota, and set them in pots on heat mats under lights in her home to root them. In May, she put them outside under a floating row cover to harden off but it got too cold and they got "zapped." They took a long time to recover, and Adams said she didn't get the plants in the ground until early June. Rueing the cool weather in Homer this summer, Adams is not sure how this experiment will turn out. One vine that she kept in the greenhouse is doing much better and is now about four feet tall.

The cool spring and summer has not produced much growth in the newly planted wine grape vines. Photo by Fran DurnerThe cool spring and summer has not produced much growth in the newly planted wine grape vines. Photo by Fran DurnerAdams is growing 'Baltica' from the Russian Far East, 'Skandia' from Minnesota, 'Solaris' from Germany, 'Baltic Amber', 'VS1' and 'Toldi' from Latvia, 'Somerset Seedless' from the Baltic region, 'ESN-5-10' and 'ESN-3-12', a very early maturing grape from Minnesota. Adams garden is on a ridge at 1300 feet in Homer so she shared some of the starts with two other growers in Homer who live in different areas of town.

Who knows, but maybe someday Homer will become known for great fishing AND great wine!