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You Deserve A Grape Today

Bluebell is still my favourite variety. They taste great and the plants are hardy; I neither lay down nor cover the vines during winter.

So how are your grapes doing? Some of you are winemakers. I know that to be true from the calls I get. Others prefer to stick with making grape juice and grape jelly. Either way, you know there’s something special about homegrown grapes, plucked from your own vines. They taste great AND they’re good for you.

Research continues to show that regular grape consumption alleviates high blood pressure, improves heart muscle function, and protects the heart. Eating grapes can also reduce joint inflammation and help block colon cancer.

The key ingredients are substances called resveratrol and antioxidants known as phytochemicals. They’re found not only in the inner flesh, but also in grape skin and seeds. One of their major functions is to reduce potentially harmful cell-damaging free radical activity in the body. Scientists are still learning about other key benefits from grape consumption.

The bottom line is grapes are cardio protective. Homegrown grapes are best for sure. You know what they’ve been subjected to and how they’ve been nurtured.

JUICE OR WINE?

Some studies have been done to see whether you get the same benefits from drinking wine as you get from fresh juice. Drinking grape juice appears to provide most of the benefits without the risk that may come with too much alcohol consumption. These include liver problems, heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure and addiction. Most times, store-bought grape juice has been filtered. Such doesn’t usually apply when juice is made in your own kitchen. There will be some settling to the bottom over time and that’s OK. These tailings contain some of the finest micronutrients, so don’t throw them out.

Many folks are actually allergic to commercial red wines and even the smallest intake can cause migraines and gout. This may be due to preservatives, unnatural colouring or flavourings added to many wines. Normally, home-crafted wines are without such additives and so the risk of allergies is eliminated.

Blind tests confirm that Valiant (Zone 2B) is one of the hardiest and best juicing grapes for the Prairies. In a good year, Valiant clusters are ready to harvest in late August. It too is self-pollinating and produces deep black-purple mild-flavoured berries in tight clusters that are also excellent for making grape jelly.

BLUEBELL GRAPE CAKE MADE WITH CANOLA OIL

Very few of us have heard of cake made with deseeded (seeds removed) grapes and Canada’s world-famous canola oil. Bluebell is still my favourite variety. They taste great and the plants are hardy; I neither lay down nor cover the vines during winter.

The basic idea is similar to that of an apple upside-down cake. Fresh or frozen grapes (drained and with the seed removed) are placed on the bottom and batter poured on top. Such a cake can be made ahead of time, then wrapped. It keeps well for a couple days in the fridge. If frozen, consume within three or four weeks to retain the fresh-from-the-oven taste once the cake is thawed.

Grape and canola oil cake is particularly good when served warm at room temperature and goes well with a piece of Canadian cheddar cheese and cup o’ tea. It’s great for when field and harvest workers stop for a refresher, or unexpected company arrives.

SEEDLESS AND SEEDED VARIETIES

Prairie gardeners don’t have much choice when it comes to seedless varieties. Montreal Blues (Zone 3B) is reported cold hardy to -35C. The berries are blue and quite sweet with all-purpose usefulness for making grape juice, wine and eating fresh out of hand. Sounds like these berries would be perfect for grape and canola cake, eliminating the necessity to remove seeds. You may enjoy a measure of success with Montreal Blues grape if you can provide a sheltered location.

For disease resistance to powdery mildew on foliage and on berry clusters, self-pollinating Frontenac (Zone 3B) is good to go. Kandiyohi is also a self-pollinator (Zone 3) and heads the list when it comes to sweetness and giant berry size. But there’s a catch: Kandiyohi requires a longer growing season. Otherwise Kandiyohi berries are not as large nor as sweet in short season areas.

LET’S DO SOME COMPOSTING

Composting is a way of giving back to Mother Nature. The state of our environment has become more than a little disturbing. Landfills are overloaded and pollution abounds. A mass of trash, about 10 metres deep (33 feet) is floating in water near the top of the world. Many people in Third World countries are sick from living near dump sites. We have compassion for our body. Let’s do the same for the land. One solution that addresses many world pollution issues is composting.

As a gardener I constantly feel a close kinship to farmers. We are keepers of the soil, so I’m proud to be a farmer’s close cousin. Many folks are already recycling. As composters, we can turn much of our kitchen and yard wastes into nutrient-rich soil.

When homemade compost is ready to distribute over the soil and lawn, you can stop using commercial fertilizers. A large garden with compost tilled into the top 20 cm (eight inches) removes thousands of kilos of carbon from the atmosphere. Well-composted soils can reduce insect pests and plant diseases and improve drainage.

Composting isn’t the entire answer, but certainly a start in the right direction. Another big issue that’s plaguing the world is plastic bags. They aren’t easily recyclable.

Many have been found floating near the North Pole. Some grocery stores have ceased to use them.

BASIC COMPOST TIPS

Choose an area of your yard that is warm and away from the house to locate your pile, compost bin or container. A simple rule of thumb is about one-third greens to two-thirds browns. Greens are usually anything that’s vegetative from your kitchen or yard.

All fruit and vegetable waste is fair game for composting but absolutely avoid processed foods, dairy products, eggs, meat leftovers and bones. They’ll rot, cause an odour and attract animals. Eggshells are fine. They add calcium, but rinse, dry and crush them first.

If you want to speed results, cut up kitchen waste before adding to your compost pile. Browns include anything of a brownish or dried nature such as unsprayed dried grass, tree leaves and vegetable garden growth. You can also incorporate pieces of cardboard and paper towel plus shredded newspaper. Dog and cat body waste and litter material should not be used.

Too much green material and not enough brown stuff can lead to an odour. Should that occur, add more browns and less greens. Cover each layer with an inch or so of soil. End with browns on top to trap heat inside. Dirt provides microbes needed to initiate the decomposition process. The heap should be a little moist, but not soggy wet. You can cover the pile with a canvas or strong plastic that’s firmed in place.

A compost pile must be aerated and not packed or bound tight. Turn the pile with a fork or rake at least once weekly. This provides circulation and speeds up the decaying process. More greens, a light layer of dirt and browns lastly on top can be added from time to time, or start a second compost heap. Some people actually keep two bins going at once.

Decomposition depends on factors such as outdoor air temperature, time of year and heat generated within the material. Size of the pile and ingredients used are also factors. These determine whether your compost is ready within four weeks or takes several months for material to decompose.

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. Cultivate fields and gardens when the moon is waning during the third and fourth quarters. Ideal dates include October 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14 and 15. October 10 and 11 are good days for making grape juice and jelly. My e-mail address is [email protected]

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