By Gerard Krewer
University of Georgia
Most fruits are now available nearly year-round, because they're grown somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere during our winter season. But not muscadines.
These great grapes are grown commercially only in the southern United States.
Muscadines usually begin ripening in August in extreme south Georgia. The harvest then moves northward and ends in early October. Muscadines grow everywhere in the state except in the high mountains.
About 80 Georgia growers are producing muscadines on about 1,200 acres of vineyards. There is also tremendous backyard production of muscadines in Georgia. Several distant shippers, as well as some pick-your-own farms, are located around the state.
Most of Georgia’s muscadines are grown for fresh markets. But backyard gardeners can enjoy this easy-to-grow fruit, too. The vines are best planted when they are dormant in late fall to early winter.
Southerners have enjoyed eating wild muscadines since we first settled this land.
In the early 1800s, a number of superior wild varieties were selected for cultivation. One of these was "Scuppernong." Found on the Scuppernong River in North Carolina in 1810, it has become the common name for all bronze muscadines.
University of Georgia scientists have been breeding muscadines since the 1920s. Today's table grape cultivars are over an inch in diameter with fantastic flavor.
They come in a range of colors from bronze to red to purple to black. Many varieties have tender, edible skin that makes them prized as table grapes.
Among the bronzes, Fry, Summit, Supreme and Tara are fresh-fruit favorites. Noble and Carlos are noted for their good wine quality. Many others are wonderful in cider, wines, jellies, preserves and syrups.
Studies show that muscadines are rich in dietary fiber and important minerals, low in fat and protein and high in carbohydrates. They’re a better source of calcium, iron, zinc and manganese than many other fruits.
Muscadines also contain significant quantities of ellagic acid, which can lower the risk of colon, lung and liver cancer.
To learn more about how to grow muscadines, contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office. Your local Extension office can also give you a list of local growers for fresh fruit. For a list of Georgia’s wineries, go to www.georgiawinecountry.com.
(Gerard Krewer is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)