Fall brings many tasty harvest treats and among these are the wonderful, delectable fruits of the vine. Grapes have been grown for thousands of years in many countries, and they continue to be among the most popular and useful of all fruits.
One grape devotee is Spence Mortensen, who grows more than a dozen different varieties of these fruits in his own back-yard vineyard. Although his vineyard is not large, he manages to include most of the popular varieties of grapes that do well in our area.Is fruit growing his vocation?
"No, I am an optometrist by profession, but I have always been fascinated by growing plants," Mortensen says. "I particularly like to grow things that taste good. My father is a heart surgeon but has always had a hobby of making different jams and juices and jellies. Because of him, I learned to appreciate what can be done with fruit. I then took that one step further and decided to grow my own."
Mortensen is no stranger to growing fruit. He has many varieties of apples, pears, peaches and plums on his property.
"When I bought the place there was an old red delicious orchard with a lot of abandoned trees that were mostly dead. I removed the worst and then grafted better trees on to the rest. I then planted many new trees with other new varieties," he says. "I wanted to grow fruit and worked with Jerry Goodspeed, the USU Extension hor-ti-cul-turist at the time, to create a small demonstration fruit-growing area. I have used this for the past nine or 10 years to host pruning demonstrations so that others could learn how to grow their own backyard orchards and vineyards."
Visit the Mortensen homestead at this time of year, and it is easy to see and smell why he likes to grow grapes. The fragrant bouquet of ripening Concord grapes floats on the air as a rich perfumed scent. As the master of the vineyard, Mortensen shares his love of these vines.
"Perhaps it was because my dad was a surgeon that I took such a liking to these plants. I just love to prune these vines. Each spring I go out and carefully prune and train these so that I can learn more about the best production system. Unlike trees that sometimes grow in an erratic manner after pruning, grapes are very precise. That is why I am attracted to them. The long straight rows and the precise pruning and training fascinates me," he says.
While others spend their recreational time in other pursuits, this gardener is somewhat different.
"Last year, my wife and I took a trip to Sonoma and the Napa Valley. Although they are growing different varieties for different purposes, I was fascinated by the precise care they were giving the vineyards," he says. "Every detail from pruning to spraying to weeding and to pest control were precisely managed. To me, it was a wonderful sight and a very educational experience.
"I was attracted to these plants because they are so interesting. They are from desert areas and grow best with minimal irrigation. I initially watered them like I did the rest of my plants and found they did not grow well. Some varieties developed iron chlorosis and grew poorly. After I neglected them in terms of watering, they grew much better and did not have chlorosis.
"Another thing that fascinates me is that they will live so long. Grapes can live for hundreds of years if they are well cared for. Although we do not have old vineyards in Utah, in some areas of the world they have carefully tended and handed down the vineyards for generations in the same family."
Grapes deserve a place in the landscape or the home orchard. They need little water or fertilizer and do not require a lot of effort to control pests. They are also beautiful ornamentals and produce a crop with little effort in our area. Use them for fresh eating or juice or dry them as raisins.
Perhaps the next generation will also enjoy the fruits of your labors.