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Concert to help fund fruit, wine research

Another lesson in be careful what you ask for came Saturday. An innocuous phone call to fruit grower Neil Guard on East Orchard Mesa turned into a wide-ranging and thoughtful lesson in peach and grape management, politics, research funding and several other topics, including using a safety pin as a low-tech but effective cleaning tool for drip-irrigation nozzles.

“Hey, Neil, whatcha doin’?”

Fruit grower Neil Guard of East Orchard Mesa checks on some of the ready-to-pick Red Haven peaches in his orchard. In addition to 6 acres of peaches, Guard also grows nine acres of wine grapes, including both red and white wine varietals.

“Fixing sprinkler heads in the vineyards, come on out and enjoy the fun,” came Guard’s answer against the background scream of his recorded hawk calls, designed to keep marauding starlings from eating his peach and grape crops. In addition to his nine acres of grapes, Guard raises peaches on six acres of trees, all of which are heavily burdened as picking time nears.

“It’s crazy,” said Guard, pictured at right, as we walked down one row where ready-to-pick Red Haven peaches bent the branches like a thousand Japanese lanterns. “I’ve got a fantastic crop and just down the road they were hit hard by the April freeze.”

Such are the challenges of raising fruit in the Grand Valley, where spring frosts (damaging frosts this year hit in late April and early May) only compound the injuries from severe winters and blistering summers. It’s part of the terroir, that combination of environment and sense of place, that makes Colorado fruit stand out from that grown elsewhere.

While weather extremes save Colorado from the host of bugs and disease plaguing other fruit and wine-making areas, sub-zero cold and plus-100 temperatures bring their own challenges. Because fruit growing is a year-round contest, it requires year-round answers. Growers across Colorado often turn for answers to the knowledgeable but understaffed and underfunded crew at the Colorado State University Orchard Mesa Research Center.

Some larger programs in other fruit-growing areas, such as the University of California – Davis, offer answers but these typically are for California-centric problems, which may or may not apply to Colorado.

The local research station, which isn’t local at all but answers to wine-makers and fruit growers from Cortez to Sterling, is funded largely by CSU, and you know how tight school budgets are today.

To augment the state funding, some of the money that ensures there will be peaches, apples and wine grapes to enjoy comes from the fruit-growers themselves through the Western Colorado Horticultural Society.

Finally, here’s where you come in. The Hort Society and Grande River Vineyards are hosting a benefit concert Saturday at Grande River Vineyards by the Beatles tribute band “Imagine.” It’s part of the winery’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” series of concerts and the second year of benefit concerts (last year, Marcia Ball played the only night it rained all August) to raise money for the Hort Society and the Orchard Mesa Research Center.

“Things are changing all the time and we need research all the time,” said Guard, showing where various bugs, birds and blight have damaged fruit, making it commercially useless. He said one growing concern (though not yet confirmed in Colorado) is the brown mormorated stinkbug, a hardy and voracious Chinese invader you probably haven’t heard of before but for which there currently is no control.

First confirmed sighting in the the U.S. was in Pennsylvania in 2000. Researchers say the stinkbug attacks fruit trees and vegetable crops, including just about everything you have in your garden. A researcher from Rutgers University’s Pest Management program says the brown mormorated (marbled) stinkbug threatens to “throw growers out of business.”

Your dollar can fund research to keep Colorado in fruit and you in wine. Concert tickets, available at Grande River Vineyards and Fisher’s Liquor Barn, are $20 advance, $25 at the gate. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., music starts at 7:30.

Also, a locavore barbeque featuring locally grown ingredients will be available separately for $12 (dessert – Palisade peach cobbler and lavender ice cream – $3 extra). Buy a ticket, eat a peach, save a fruit grower.

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