Growing Grapes in Guyana

Devon Gilead

Farmer Hope to Expand Cultivation

By Leon Suseran

Devon Gilead is popularly known as “Bee Man” around the East Bank of Berbice (EBB), since for many years, he braved the task of removing and controlling Africanized and honey bees in the Berbice community. These days, however, the 41-year-old is popular for another reason: growing grapes — plump, purple, tasty grapes — just like the ones we know and love here in North America.

Recently, The West Indian visited the now-booming vineyard of Gilead, at New Glasgow Housing Scheme, EBB, where Gilead is embarking on something that was tried a few times in the 70s and 80s, but never really gotten significant or was done on a large scale. Gilead is hoping to expand his vineyard by growing seeded grapes and other varieties of fruits endemic only to North America and colder climates — strawberries, black and blue berries, etc.

Upon entering his little farm, the grapes — some of which were green — were covered in a netting material, to protect against insects and other nibblers.

A bunch of purple grapes in Devon’s farm.

Reminiscing as a young boy, being limited to a handful of apples and grapes when he received US visitors, he always wondered why Guyana could not produce such crops. “I sat down and studies this thing. We have one Earth, why apple and grapes can’t grow in Guyana?” He said recently he stumbled upon the knowledge that grapes were growing in Africa, and “I said snow doesn’t fall in Africa, how come they grow there?”

A friend of his then brought him some ‘cuttings” from the U.S. and he planted them. “So I tried a thing—and in the space of eight months, I see like blossoms shooting out—small buds coming out from the stems and they started getting bigger and bigger and bigger!”

“In the space of eight months I was having grapes,” declared Gilead. “I realized grapes don’t need cold places to grow—place gotta be hot before—because in Winter time, nothing grows—it is in the Spring and Summer …” he reasoned.

Devon and his wife Allison

The entrepreneur pointed out how loaded the bunches were — some containing over fifteen plump grapes. He ensured the plants have good quality soil and showed that he encased an area in concrete and placed the main root in from where the vine sprung into other places around the farm, with bunches and bunches of grapes. He showed how some grapes were already sampled by birds in the area—there were bite marks on some of the fruits.

He noted how amazed Extension Officers attached to the Ministry of Agriculture were when they saw that he was able to achieve the near-impossible on Guyana’s soil.

Gilead said his only and immediate need right now is more land. And this would be the only thing in his way to growing the fruit on a commercial scale. “I don’t have land…so if the government can give me part of this cane field here (pointing to a portion of the Sugar cane fields that are located aback his property) …it would be nice, because, remember when you’re planting grapes, you want it to be somewhere close by so you can monitor and care for it.”

Some of the products being made by Allison Gilead

He wants to explore ways to grow strawberries, dragon fruit, “sooner or later I’ll get raspberries and blackberries, blue berries and all the berries.”

Gilead has truly defied the climatic and agricultural norms that many Guyanese have not been able to over the past decades and said that the people were “deceived all the years” by being left to believe these crops were not achievable in Guyana’s tropical climate. He noted that one grape vine can contain up to 250 bunches of grapes, “as older the vine gets, the bigger the grapes would be and sweeter too… and if cared for, the vine can last over 400 years.”

Sampling some of the grapes, they were juicy, sweet and you would not even know the difference, when compared with the purple, seeded varieties that sell in the U.S., Canada and other countries.

Devon’s wife, Allison Gilead is also doing her thing as a young entrepreneur by making and marketing her beeswax products that include soaps, scented candles and body scrubs, lip balms, all locally made from locally-sourced ingredients.

Devon Gilead