On Gardening: Muscadines — A sweet fruit for late summer

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This week I began harvesting and eating muscadine grapes from my home orchard. The vines are loaded and may produce my best and biggest crop ever.

My bumper crop is likely due to having mature plants, receiving plenty of rainfall (at least early in the season) and installing a brand new varmint fence.

If I can stop eating them, there will be lots of muscadine jelly this year. Success never tasted so sweet.

Muscadine grapes are one of the easiest fruits to grow and should be a staple in everyone’s home garden. Unlike bunch grapes, muscadines are native to the Southeastern United States and have little to no pest problems. They need very little attention, and there is usually no need to spray for pests.

Muscadines do require a trellis system to grow upon, but the only required chore is annual pruning each winter to manage growth and improve fruit production.

The unique thing about muscadine grapes is the wide selection. Muscadines can be black, bronze or red in color. Both the black and bronze types are of the same species and are called muscadine grapes. The first bronze variety was Scuppernong, named after the area where it was found in North Carolina.

Today, the newer developed varieties are much bigger and better than the small native berries. Some of the popular black varieties are Black Beauty, Supreme, Sugargate, Black Fry, Cowart, Noble and Ison.

Popular bronze varieties are Pam, Darlene, Early Fry, Sweet Jenny, Pineapple, Carlos and Janet.

New red varieties include Big Red, Scarlet and Dixie Red. The variety you choose to grow should be based on how you intend to use the grapes – fresh eating, juices and jelly, or winemaking – as some are better-suited than others.

Most muscadine varieties are females and require cross-pollination from a different variety. At least two vines are usually planted. However, if space is limited, you can get away with having just one vine by selecting a self-fertile variety.

Like other fruit crops, muscadines should be purchased and planted in the fall or winter in order to become established before spring.

Muscadines are quick to bear fruit, usually in two to three years. A mature vine can produce 50-80 pounds of berries per season. Keep this in mind when deciding how many vines to plant and how you will use them come harvest time.

Muscadines are basically problem free, but animals and insects like the sweet fruit, too. I installed a fence this past spring around my orchard and garden due to deer, rabbits, armadillos, etc. The last two seasons, deer picked my muscadine vines clean, stealing my harvest at night and leaving me hardly a bite. A real bummer.

Warning! While harvesting ripe muscadines, keep a sharp lookout for wasps, yellow jackets and hornets. These pesky insects like ripe fruit in late summer and can be found feeding on the muscadine berries. They do not like being surprised or disturbed while feeding on your berries. Wasp and hornet spray should not be used to kill them, since the berries are ready for picking.

Also be sure to closely inspect all berries before popping one in your mouth, as there could be a yellow jacket feeding inside. That would not be a pleasant experience.

If you are looking for a homegrown treat around Labor Day each year, give muscadines a try.

Shane Harris is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For more information, contact your local county Extension office or visit us online at www.aces.edu.

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