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Grape Meeting Series to spur more growth

By Staff | Feb 10, 2009

Above is a portion of the 800 grape vines Paul and Sheila Thomsen planted on their farm near Linn Grove. The grapes were planted in 2008

LINN GROVE – A history of Iowa agriculture shows that in 1919 Iowa ranked sixth in grape production. At that time, Iowa had more grapes in the ground than California, relayed Jerry Chizek, director of Calhoun County ISU Extension.

Several factors came together to cause the demise of Iowa’s grape industry. Prohibition, the 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard, 24-D along with the biggest bullet – when Iowa decided to become the nation’s Corn King.

Grape grower Norm Lewman, of Sac City, is secretary of the Northwest Iowa Grape Growers Association. Calling himself a serious hobbyist, with 70 vines on his parent’s farm, he encourages anyone interested in growing grapes to visit one of a series of workshops to be scheduled throughout the year, designed to encourage more growers to get involved with a fast-growing niche market.

The hands-on workshops are held every third Tuesday at the month. The site locations vary, usually at a grape grower’s home. The workshops are designed to benefit the beginning grape grower as well as the veteran viticulturist.

Some folks just come to learn the basics of grape growing, to see if it is feasible for them. Such was the case for Jerry and Lori Wickman, of Curlew. The latter is a master gardener who has enjoyed making a “lot of jelly from wild grapes.” She is curious as to whether grapes are a good mix on their family farm, and a way to involve their two children, ages 9 and 13.

At last week’s meeting, at the home of beginning grape growers Paul and Sheila Thomsen, of Linn Grove, the Wickmans had some of their first questions answered.

The Thomsens, who have just planted 800 vines with plans to plant more next spring, shared their experiences.

More questions were answered by Bill and Cindy Bush, from Gowrie, who described themselves as experienced, but not experts. From Vice President Bill Bush, the Wickmans were provided estimates for the number of yellow pine posts they’ll need for trellising per acre of grapes, as well as the needed linear feet of high tensile wire and quantities of sprays.

As an association, the growers plan to do cooperative purchasing of supplies, including posts, wire and chemicals and to share equipment that is needed only occasionally.

Interest in growing grapes is definitely growing in Iowa, Chizek noted. ISU has “an excellent horticulture program,” which is developing a viticulture Web page and is networking with other grape growers.

“Talk with us, attend our meetings,” encouraged Black. “We can help you avoid some of the mistakes, we made early on.” The Northwest Iowa Grape Growers Association has a wealth of information and experience to help anyone get started growing grapes. At these meetings they continue to learn from each other.

“If you like growing plants, you will like to growing grapes,” said Black.

Contact Renae Vander Schaaf by e-mail at renaefarmnews@gmail.com.

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