Grapes have been a well-loved part of the human diet for thousands of years. Records of grape cultivation go back to at least 1000 BC, with references to grapes appearing along the Nile, the Persian deserts, Palestine, and the Mediterranean areas of Europe. The Mediterranean is still a prime grape-growing area. Grapes are grown all over the world because they are among the most versatile and adaptable of all small fruits.
Grapes make an excellent back-yard crop. The vines do not take up much space, and since there are varieties that are well adapted to a wide range of climates, inexperienced gardeners should be able to produce a good crop. Although they do not begin to produce as quickly as some other small fruits, total fruit bearing years of the plant is much longer than other garden fruits. Raspberry and strawberry plants may have to be replaced every 3 to 5 years, grapes are resilient and if properly cared for, they live to a "ripe" old age. Some vineyards in the Western United States have plants that have grown and produced for more than a hundred years, while in other areas, they may be even older.
American and European grapes and their hybrids are the most common types of grapes grown in the Western United States. Each type grows best in certain climatic environments.
The skin slips easily off American grapes and they have soft flesh, seeds, and a distinctive, strong flavor. They are generally not as sweet as European grapes and therefore are not well suited to fresh eating. The best-known American grape is the Concord.
American grapes, such as the Concord, are generally hardier than their European counterparts and make excellent juice and jelly, but because of their seeds, they are not good for raisins.
European grapes are better acclimated to milder locations and may grow in warmer areas of the Western United States. However, they require long, hot summers to mature. Most grapes grown in California vineyards are European types.
The Thompson Seedless Grape is the best-known table grape by name, but the Tokay, Black Monukka, Flame Seedless and Emperor are also popular. Most of these grapes are not well suited to colder climates because they freeze during severe winters.
Some seedless table grapes will grow well in colder areas - most of them are hybrids of American and European grapes. Homegrown grapes are not likely to be as large as those found in grocery stores. Commercial growers treat their grape crops with gibberellic acid, a growth hormone that causes the cells to grow larger and longer than normal. No forms of this hormone are registered for homeowner use.
Insect pests generally do little damage to maturing grapes. Occasionally, you may see the zig-zag hollow pathways of the grape leaf skeleton between the layers of the leaves, but these pest created leaf attacks inflict little damage to the plant and don't get into the fruit.
Grapes will tolerate a wide range of soil types including the alkaline soils, but they grow best in well-drained loamy or sandy soils. Heavy clay soil tends to hold water around the roots, which has the same effect as over watering. Grapes have deep root systems and therefore don't need the same water schedule as shallow rooted plants. Place the plants where they can be watered heavily, but infrequently.
Iron deficiency, or chlorosis is common, especially in overwatered grapes. This problem is readily seen with Concord grapes the receive too much water over time. Chlorosis is characterized by pale, small, yellowed leaves with dark green veins. In very severe cases, the edges of the leaves dry up and turn brown, and vines grow and yield poorly.