Ruhenstroth residents grow grapes in the desert

When Frank and Stella Murray moved into their home in Ruhenstroth, they wanted to plant something in the 190 feet that stretches from their front door to the street but didn't want that much lawn to take care of so considered growing grapes. It freezes in the Northern Nevada desert, but cold-hardy grape varieties survive in temperatures to 20 below zero and don't need as much water as you might think.

After seven years, the 20 vines that Frank has are producing more grapes than they can use and they are the best tasting grapes I've ever had " so sweet and juicy. A couple of years ago, he tried rooting some of the cuttings from pruning time and they are doing well. He expects to see fruit on them next year.

"The first vines I put in weren't for this area, so I pulled them up. I asked the local nurseries (Greenhouse Garden Center and the Carson Valley Garden & Ranch Center) and they were very helpful. I've now got Himrod (white), Canadice (red) and Black Monukka (dark purple)," Frank explains.

These are known as "table varieties" because they are seedless and aren't used to make wine. They would make great jelly, though.

"You wouldn't think the grapes would grow in all these rocks but the soil is what provides the character (taste) to the grape. The local soil has some of the nutrients they need and I fertilize twice a year " at budding time and again when the fruit appears. The grapes grow on the new growth of last year's canes (branches) and never on the main stalk. It's important to prune properly to develop a canopy of leaves and branches to protect the fruit (from the birds and too much sun)," he continues.

He has them on a drip system that waters for about 45 minutes each day during the peak hot weeks of summer, gradually reducing it to only every three weeks during our coldest months.

"I'm the country girl and he's the city boy but he's the one doing all the growing," Stella says with a smile. "He never built anything until he retired from the Air Force and decided to build our house (in Arizona)."

Frank served 29 years in the Air Force and was one of six pilots chosen to fly the A-12 spy plane missions in the 1960s. They were based at Groom Dry Lake Test Facility, better known as Area 51.

"No, I never saw any aliens," he laughs. Frank has the honor of being the first to fly over North Korea and taking the A-12 Blackbird on its final flight before it was retired in 1968.

"He was always gone and I raised the kids by myself. I never knew where he was," said Stella, his wife of almost 55 years.

Frank and the other members of the elite band of pilots known as the Roadrunners were not allowed to tell their families, or anyone, where they were or what they were doing until the government declassified the Oxcart Project about 10 years ago. After accumulating about 7,000 hours of flying time in the Air Force and CIA before his retirement, Frank now does his flying at the radio-controlled airfield near the transfer station on Pinenut Road.

If you'd like to learn more on starting your own small vineyard, Frank would be glad to answer your questions. You can reach him at 265-2607.

We have another neighbor who is growing grapes for wine and has quite an operation started. His story will appear on Sept. 26.

Have a ramblin' good week.

n To reach Gail Davis, e-mail or call 265-1947.


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