Spray-Free grape varieties?

jerseytom(z6 Central NJ)December 8, 2007

Next spring, I plan to plant a grape arbor (for table grapes for fresh eating...not wine). I want to plant disease/mildew resistant varieties that require NO SPRAYING. Based on personal experience, can anyone recommend any varieties that have done well without spraying, and still produce a decent crop? Thanks in advance for any comments!

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The need to spray grapes is more related to climate than variety. Try and get your information from your local county extension service which will be more useful for you. Al

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 11:59AM
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Here in Michigan, which is a slightly drier, but probably not much drier, climate than New Jersy (our average annual precipitation here is about 32"-38", depending upon the part of the Metro Detroit area you're in, a little dryer north and inland, a little wetter south and closer to the Great Lakes), very few American grapes, such as Concord, Niagra, Delaware, etc. have disease problems. The European and European x American crosses which are hardy here have some powdery mildew issues, but usually have a nice crop anyway.

Remember, even if you don't have to spray for diseases, you WILL have to spray for insects, or you'll got a whole lot of wormy grapes which aren't good for anything.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 2:24PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

It can be very hard to grow grapes without any spraying at all. It may work for a couple years and then black rot can set in and you are not getting anything anymore. Or maybe you will have good luck for a long time. Same for the bugs. I have been relatively fortunate on the bugs in that I need only an occasional spray, but not on the diseases. If you want to look for disease-resistant varieties go to Double A Vineyards and look at the disease chart and pick out a variety that is not suceptible to black rot, downy mildew, or powdery mildew. Steuben for example is a very disease-resistant one. It is seeded.


Here is a link that might be useful: Double A charts

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 2:55PM
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No spray grapes is indeed a very local proposition. Like Scott says, check out Double A Vineyards at rakgrape.com. Give yourself better odds by double planting a wide selection of varieties, and removing the poor performers in 4-5 years. Alwood is another very disease resistant variety.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 7:00PM
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jerseytom(z6 Central NJ)

Thanks for the comments! Regarding spraying...I'm wondering what folks did in earlier times, before sprays were invented? Surely, in ages past, they didn't spray, yet they still harvested some good grape crops? I'm wondering what were their secrets.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 9:34PM
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Some of the sprays used by our forefathers and foremothers were Bordeaux mixture (lime/copper sulphate), lime/sulfur, dormant oils, and, as an insecticide, arsenate of lead.

The first three are still used today, but I wouldn't recommend arsenate of lead. Fruit growers have been using sprays for a long, long time.

Unfortunately, international commerce and travel has also resulted in the introduction of many new diseases and imported pests over the past century. A good example is the plum pox virus (sharka) that appeared in Pennsylvania only a few years ago. There are many other examples.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 3:06AM
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It was 120 years ago that John Bean perfected a sprayer that would reach the top of an almond tree and saved the California Almond industry. His design was so simple and robust I am still using one and they are still being made to the original design today. Al

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 10:16AM
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It was just a different world then, Jerseytom. About a month and a half ago I had a most interesting conversation with a third generation grape farmer and vintner, whose new house I was working in the middle of a vineyard west of Lodi Ca (wine capital of the world?). Note that Lodi has shut down several municipal wells due to toxic levels of pesticide in the groundwater. I camp out in a trailer on my jobsites, many of which are commercial orchards and vineyards, so I see what's going on 24/5. Generally, cherries and grapes are sprayed with something at least once a week ( often only 2-4 days) from March through October. Sprays include pesticides, herbicides, mildewcides, growth hormones, bud-break stimulators, etc. Chemicals range from the benign (sulfur dust compounds) to extremely toxic miticides (Omite). Needless to say, I no longer buy much produce.

Back to the conversation between carpenter and farmer. C- You sure waited long enough to harvest those grapes. F- Yeh, this is the last day the winery is open. Next year they won't even take them at all. C- What variety are they? F- Kerrigans. The winery uses them to blend. C- So are you going to rip them out? F- Nah, We're going to bottle them under our own label. Those vines have been there a hundred years. This was the third vineyard ever planted in Lodi. C- A hundred years! I didn't know grapes lived that long! F- Those grapes will never die, well they'll go for at least another hundred anyway. ( On walks through the ancient head trained vineyard, I had found no vines of lesser maturity and no blank spots in spacing- zero disease loss in 100 years). C- Hey, how do you water them anyway, there's no water system. F- They didn't even have irrigation around here, back then. The roots go down 30 feet! I watered 'em once just for the heck of it. C- I never saw you spray, don't you even sulphur them? F- Are you kidding me, nothing bothers those Kerrigans. Why do you think I built my house in the middle of this vineyard? I could be happy living here forever. C- So does the wine taste cr@#$%? They sure look really productive. F- The wine tastes fine. This is some of the most productive land I've got. C- Are you going to sell the wine as organic? F- Nah, too much trouble. We're gonna sell it as natural.

A little internet research reveals that Kerrigan is really Cargane, currently the most widely grown variety in France. Yes, I've bought a bottle of decent wine at a small grocery in France for a buck and a half, and wondered, how do they do it? (everything else costs about triple). Try finding Cargane in any list of varieties anywhere- UC Davis , L. Rombough, internet, etc. Not seeing them being sprayed, I ate them for several months. Purple, mild flavor, seedy, tightly bunched. I can't quite recommend them for table grapes, but you get the idea. The US had a great wine industry based in New York made from v. labrusca grapes until consumers were convinced they had have the latest high maintainance variety. There are wild grapes growing virtually everywhere in the US that could be used to develop disease free table and wine grapes grown locally. Maybe the rise in demand for local and organic will spur that development. Until then v. labrusca grapes (Jupiter, Glenora, Steuben, Alwood, Reliance, etc) are a good place to start in temperate climates.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 12:02PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Tom, as others have pointed out spraying is a longstanding practice. I am not sure when it started but I think it was in the 1800s sometime. Before then it was just hit-and-miss growing grapes in the US, and they tended to do better more in New England than the hot disease-prone mid-atlantic. Here is a quote from Downing, a new England (not mid-atlantic!) author writing in the mid 1800's: DISEASES AND INSECTS. The mildew and rot are diseases which
most affect the success of grape culture in this country. Many theories
and suggestions as to their origin, cause, etc., have been promulgated
and printed, but we feel that as yet no clear and full explanation or
cause has been adduced. Sudden changes of temperature, a cold night
or two in the month of August, a few days of foggy warm rain, followed
by clear sunshine, often producing the disease, with serious results, with-
out regard to the most thorough practices of prevention as advised by

In short, they suffered. They were also probably much much more picky as to site selection in terms of getting maximal airflow and sunshine, and ditto for pruning.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 12:24PM
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jerseytom(z6 Central NJ)

Everyone, thanks again for your valuable input. Some interesting reading here! Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 8:22PM
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