Garden Detective

Who stole her grapes? Suspects range from foxes to turkeys

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: My daughter has some beautiful grape vines covering her fence. They were there when she moved into the home in early 2011. Every year we have enjoyed the fruit of the vine – beautiful, delicious small red grapes. About two weeks ago, we picked an abundance and there was a lot we left on the vine that still needed to ripen. This Saturday was our day to pick the remaining grapes to share again with friends and family. When we started looking for them, there was not one bunch for us to gather. Every branch that had bunches was totally stripped. Each and every little grape was off all the branches, not one for us to pick. We have never seen any sign of this in all the six years she has lived in her home. Any idea what could have eaten all the grapes, one grape at a time? A squirrel, opossum, rat, a skunk?

Laura Courson, Sacramento

Bee garden writer Debbie Arrington: Don’t you love garden mysteries? Rodents are the most likely culprits, but several critters may be suspect, including turkeys.

A couple of years ago, Sacramento County master gardeners experienced a similar invasion of their vineyards at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park. After much work and speculation, they discovered wild turkeys had been grape munching in their vineyards when no one else was around. The birds walked under the grape trellises, reached up and plucked one grape at a time until there were none.

The master gardeners solved such turkey thievery by covering the vines and trellises with bird netting that reached the ground. That same netting approach will deter other animals and birds, too.

Turkeys have long been suspected of stealing grapes in California’s commercial vineyards. That’s a bad rap, says the National Wild Turkey Federation.

In a wildlife study, 39 remote cameras were set up in vineyards where damage had been observed. Although turkeys made up 45 percent of the wildlife observed in the vineyards, only 7 percent of the turkeys were seen actually eating grapes. According to the NWTF, the turkeys were most likely eating bugs, not fruit.

Of the other animals observed, 70 percent of ground squirrels and racoons ate grapes, stripping the bunches grape by grape. Also with big grape appetites were foxes and deer.

Who ate your grapes? Look at what wildlife has best access to these vines. A flock of wild turkeys, which are common throughout the Sacramento area, can consume a lot of grapes at one time. But so can racoons or deer.

To learn more about grapes, click on “Growing Table Grapes” at the Sacramento Master Gardener website, http://sacmg.ucanr.edu/

Bee garden expert Debbie Arrington is a consulting rosarian and longtime organic gardener. 916-321-1075, darrington@sacbee.com, @debarrington.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

  • Sacramento: 916-875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
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  • Sutter, Yuba: 530-822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
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