Saturday, May 26, 2012

Growing Dessert Grapes in Kihei

The 1st Flame Grapes

Wine grapes are grown Upcountry but I don't know if grapes have been grown successfully anywhere else on Maui. Flame and Thompson grapes are grown in the low desert areas of Arizona and California and require a long hot summer. I thought they would be ideal grapes to trial in Kihei.

Grape, fig, pomegranate and olive trees are noted to require chill hours. I've been successful growing fig and pomegranate trees in Kihei where we have no chill hours but olive trees do require them in order to fruit. I won't know until next spring if chill hours are also required for grapes.

A budding grape cluster 4 weeks from transplanting.

In February, my order of bare-root trees arrived from Bay Laurel Nursery. Bay Laurel has a good selection of bare-root plants, including grapes. I purchased a Flame grape and planted it in a large container in early February. In 2 weeks the plant started to show signs of life and within 4 weeks it produced the first grape cluster.

Although I considered planting in the ground, I decided to plant in a 30 gallon container as I didn't want to construct a grape fence or trellis until I determined that grapes really could be grown in Kihei.

I put the container at the end of an 18 ft x 5 ft wire fence that I use for tomatoes. Grape plants vine vigorously. There are lots of YouTube videos on how to construct a basic grape fence and the techniques for training the vines for best fruit production.

What's eating the grape leaves?

I haven't figured out what insect has been eating the grape leaves at night. I've gone out with a flashlight a few times but the bugs fly off before I can ID them. I have lots of rose beetles everywhere - I suspect they're responsible. No insects bothered the fruit.but I recommend covering the grapes when they get close to ripening as they can be damaged by birds. 

Grape leaves are used in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Some pickling recipes call for grape leaves.
How to Preserve Grape Leaves
From a bud to a cluster of ripe grapes in 75 days.

The individual grapes didn't grow as large as the Flame grapes at the market. From my research into growing grapes in a home garden, that seems to be normal.

In April, I found baby Flame and Thompson grape plants at Wal-Mart for $5. That's the first time I've seen grape plants at any of the Kahului garden centers. Although I did find out that Kula Hardware has grape plants available during the spring. They keep a call list and there's no obligation to purchase if you put your name on the list.

Vegetables & Small Fruits in the Tropics A-J
(Scroll down to "Grapes In Warmer Climates")

3 months from pruning

In November, after reading the information about growing "Grapes In Warmer Climates", I decided to hard prune the Flame and Thompson plants. Within a few weeks they were producing leaf buds..In late December the Thompson grape plant was growing more vigorously than the Flame and had produced 3 baby grape clusters.

By March, the plant had not produced any additional buds so after I harvested the grapes I pruned the plant back again.

3 Thompson Grape Clusters

The Thompson grape was larger than Flame but the clusters were smaller. Thompson needed close to 90 days to ripen.

Both grape plants grew okay in a container for about a year and produced fruit one time. But growing Flame and Thompson in containers isn't realistic. Their root systems are wild and aggressive and they need to be planted in the ground.

Wine grapes have been grown successfully at sea level in an experimental garden at the Natural Energy Lab in Kona using ColdAg technology. ColdAg involves a closed pipe system buried beneath the soil that circulates cold deep ocean water. The pipes chill the soil to 45 degrees and moisture from the air condenses into the soil.

If the soil can be cooled and regulated with technology, we could grow just about any fruit tree or vegetable year round in Kihei. This technology is fascinating and there are other systems being developed that don't require access to ocean water. More info about ColdAg can be found here:
ColdAg - DOW (Deep Ocean Water) Technology


  1. Your grapes so yum! For the bug eating your leaves... I suggest you try spraying some neem oil diluted in water. This has helped me get rid of even asphids and since it has a pretty strong odor it will keep the flies away and since it is organic you will not have to worry about your plants' health in the long run.

  2. Hi Sri! Thank you for the recommendation - I'll try neen on the leaves and see if that helps. The bugs like the grape leaves more than anything else in my garden.