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Posted on Sep 10, 2015

Concord grapes are unique u-picking opportunity

Ken Toevs recently stood in his Concord grape vineyard and announced its rebirth.
Using organic practices, Toevs and his crew transformed the small, under-producing vineyard into one that now produces nearly twice the state average for Concord grapes.
A Concord grape grower in Washington typically sees results of about 8 tons an acre, Toevs said. Eight years ago, his 56-acre vineyard was producing only 6 tons an acre, he said.
This year, Toevs expects to get 13 tons an acre. That’s following a personal record last year, when Toevs saw his vineyard produce about 16 tons an acre.
“We have rejuvenated this vineyard,” he said.
Toevs will open his Concord grape vineyard up to interested u-pickers this week. U-pickers seeking the grapes for homemade jams and juice will have about a week before the vineyard is harvested by a mechanical picker.
Over the years, the Concord grapes have been popular with a small but loyal group of u-pickers, including a woman from Troy, Mont., who Toevs expects to see this week.
U-pickers should bring their own clippers as well as containers. They must first stop at White Trail Produce, which Toevs opened with his uncle, Jack Toevs, in 2001 just west of Quincy off of Highway 28. Containers must be weighed there before going into the vineyard to get an accurate weighing, Toevs said. Cost is 39 cents a pound for u-picking.
A longtime farmer in the Quincy area, Toevs planted his vineyard in 1968. He added the grapes for diversification. Concord grapes typically don’t see the market highs and lows that come with an orchard crop such as apples, he explained. The vineyard will be harvested and used in products sold by Welch’s.
Toevs knows of no other farmer growing Concord grapes in the Quincy area.
A crop indigenous to this latitude, a Concord grape vineyard can last up to 50 years, Toevs said. He expects his vineyard will thrive several years past that five-decade mark.
After using chemicals on the vineyard for years, it took about four years to turn the vineyard around, Toevs said. He uses no chemicals on the vineyard today but instead relies on compost teas and a winter wheat “trap crop” (the wheat is planted between the rows to trap nutrients for the grapes) that is cut down just before the vineyard blooms in May.
Two years ago, Toevs also started using a fish fertilizer that consists of a ground salmon, crab and shrimp concoction.
“If you feed the biology, the biology will feed the plant,” he said.
After selling off much of his farmland last year, he is enjoying putting much attention into the vineyard. A crew of three people who have worked with Toevs for years and require no supervision also work beside him.
“They make it enjoyable,” Toevs said.


— By Jill FitzSimmons,