When you think of grapes, warm regions like France may come to mind, or the sun-filled fields of California. But a warm climate isn’t absolutely necessary to enjoy the delicious fruit. With the right technique, grapes can be grown as far north as Alaska. All you need are some glass bottles for this ingenious farming technique to grow grapes in cold climates.
In the autumn of 2018, I visited my friend, Greg Hook, and his family near Anchorage, Alaska. Having heard many intriguing stories about him and his technique, I was excited to learn how he cultivates grapes in the cold climate. So, there I was, in the midst of the grape harvesting season, eager to learn.
He warmly greeted me at the door and led me inside the house. There his wife and children were busily washing lots of just-harvested fresh grapes. A delightful scent filled the room, crates upon crates of juicy grapes stood nearby. Honestly, I was surprised; I barely managed to get a decent harvest of grapes on my farm in Montana, while here in Alaska, their harvest was unbelievable.
Greg promised to explain to me his remarkable cold-climate farming secret after we celebrated the harvest. “Some five hundred miles up and you can meet a polar bear,” joked seven-year-old Jimmy, as we sat at the table overfilled with fruit, happily munching the fresh harvest. And he had a point; it was truly not a likely place for such a grape feast.
After we’d had our fill, Greg explained to me his technique as promised, while Jimmy, Mary, and another son, Fred, fed some grape leaves to a goat through the window. “It is very simple”, he said, “I use glass bottles to warm up the grape roots. Here, look,” he said, taking a piece of paper and drawing to make it clearer.
“I bury them upside down near the grape roots, leaving the bottom just at the surface of the ground. The shiny glass bottoms of the bottles warm up in the sun and transfer the heat to the surrounding soil.” Grapes, similar to many other crops, like to have their roots warm; it is most important for them. The only problem he explained, was getting all the bottles. “The whole town helped us collect them”, chuckled Greg. The children even organized a bottle collecting party at school.
We continued our talk outside as I helped them catch the runaway goat that had somehow climbed over the fence. As we walked, I looked at the grape fields. About four bottle-bottoms reflected the sunlight near each grapevine, like lots of small greenhouses to warm the soil near the roots. An easy, brilliant technique to harness the sun’s rays to keep the roots warm in the coldest of climates.
Even better, this method is not limited to cultivating grapes; almost any warm-loving fruit or vegetable would benefit from it and could be grown in cold climates. “You can’t imagine what a fine crop of tomatoes I got using this method”, explained Greg. “Bright red and very big and juicy”. The technique could probably even be used for staple crops like corn or wheat. This would likely increase the harvest while opening interesting possibilities for farming in cold climates. One idea that I will try on my homestead is to bury the bottles near fruit trees, but the possibilities are many when employing this unique method. The bottles require some care though, as Greg explained. Regularly dusting or washing them keeps them shining and absorbing the sun at their most.
Something that interested me very much was if Greg had learned the method, or did he invent it himself? He told me that it had come from Russia. When traveling on the outskirts of Moscow, a friend of Greg’s saw a farmer selling fresh grapes on a roadside. The friend, much surprised by seeing locally-grown grapes, asked him how he managed to grow them in the cold climate. After Greg’s friend had purchased a large bushel of grapes, the farmer was happy to explain his method.
We don’t know where the Russian farmer learned this method, or whether he invented it, but it is remarkably interesting how a farming secret can pass thousands and thousands of miles for the benefit of distant farmers and gardeners.
Greg was very eager for me to publish his method for those same reasons. He and his family commonly read homesteading magazines and he was glad that others could use his bottle technique. After the goat was safely grazing grass in its pen, it was time to go, my plane would be leaving soon. I bade goodbye and left the lovely farm. It was a great day; I was truly surprised at what a remarkable farming technique I’d learned while simply enjoying the countryside lunch. A good farm table can be worth a lot
How To Grow Warm-Loving Crops In Cold Climates
Old glass bottles can be used to warm up the soil in cold climates. This method works great for grapes, but can be used for many other warm-loving plants. This technique also has the advantage of extending the growing season by warming the soil faster in spring and keeping it freezing further into autumn. You can also try experimenting by combining this method with other warming techniques like cloches, hoop houses, and greenhouses to achieve even more warming effects.
Using Glass Bottles to Warm Up Soil
You will need:
Old glass bottles, about 4 per plant.
Bury the glass bottles upside down near the plant roots. The shiny glass bottoms should be flush with the surface of the soil. The upside-down bottles will act like small underground greenhouses, effectively warming the soil around the plant’s roots. Care for the bottles by dusting or washing them once in a while, keeping them shiny, to warm the soil most efficiently.
Plants that will benefit from this method:
Though almost all plants will benefit by having their soil warm, these crops need and appreciate it most.
- Melons (this method is ideal for farmers and gardeners who want to grow melons in colder climates but don’t have the space for a greenhouse).
- Sweet Potatoes
- Swiss Chard