Never 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.
Picture 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 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.
Adams 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!