This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Judging from the scarcity and inferior quality of grapes found in our markets and growing on so many places, there seems to be yet a want of proper understanding of the matter, which is the more difficult to account for, as it might appear, that enough of advice and instruction had been given by letter, word, and practice for all interested in the production of plenty and good grapes. Seeing so many failures in viniculture, it struck me that, if not the majority, at least a great number of experimentors, are still laboring under some erroneous impressions, one of which is, that graperies must be planted on dry land, and that they must have a rich soil and be manured, the more the better. As this is all wrong, I beg to state some facts and make some suggestions, trusting they will not be void of interest to those who would like to produce either a good grape to eat, or a good wine to drink.
To raise good grapes for the table, is comparatively as cheap as it is an easy matter, being entirely under the control of man, very different however from that for the purpose of making-wine. The former may be had almost anywhere, while the latter requires natural conditions, which man cannot procure or change at will. The vineyards in which the grape for the finest wines, the Riesling, is grown have a westerly exposure, on steep hils, with a river at the foot of them, which sends nightly its vapors up, furnishing heavy dews. The sun warming the soil to the greatest depth possible in the latitude of middle Europe, and the winters being through the Gulf stream, milder than ours, the region in which grapes may ripen in the open air is extended to the 52d degree, and by way of exception even, as far north as the 60th in Sweden. The ground on which they are planted is nowhere dry, but well drained, either naturally or artificially, and well protected against cold, dry winds. To plant a grape vine or a vineyard on dry land is so contrary to the nature of the vine, that it is hard to understand how so fallacious an idea ever could become so general.
As to soil, we find no plant so indifferent as the grapevine, and in its natural selection it evidently shuns dry land, but chooses the banks of streams often overflowing, and luxuriates in rather shaded positions overhung by trees; the fruit ripening where it is screened from the direct touch of the sun by both the vine and the tree to which it clings. Thus the foliage never suffers from dryness of the air, nor the roots from dryness of the soil, and this circumstance ought to be a hint and guide to vine growers; the more so since they always find on their own vines, the best grapes hidden under the leaves, whilst those that are exposed to the sun invariably are smaller in size of bunch and berry, thick skinned and often sour. It appears, therefore, that to grow the vine on dry soil, fully exposed to the rays of the sun and the current of dry winds is altogether wrong, and if we look for information to Europe, we will find that where the summers are hot and dry, like ours, the vines are allowed to grow to trees, and such varieties selected as are unsuitable for the manufacture of such wines as are preferred by modern and refined lovers of a good glass that gladdens the heart.
It is just that same access of heat and dryness of the atmosphere, though not as great as with us, which is the predicament under which the vineyeardists in California labor, and which makes their wines so harsh and strong, that nobody ever will like nor conscientiously can recommend them to convalescents. This has, nevertheless, been done by so-called doctors, who knew perhaps as much of wine as they did of the disease their patients were afflicted with.
To insure a good native wine, and we have them, we must secure a juicy, not pulpy variety, whether it recommends itself as a table grape or not; then select a locality where the soil is not dry, but is either naturally or may be artificially drained. Then have the vines pruned or trimmed according to some one of the various good systems, but always kept from crowding. How to select a favorable situation, is a question not so easily decided. A western slope on the banks of a river as is best in Europe, with us exposes the vines in summer to too fierce a sunshine and the dry winds coming from that direction. An eastern or southeastern exposure will modify these extremes, presenting the benefit accruing from the moisture the eastern winds carry with them; but, in the New England States, this eastern wind often produces a too sudden and considerable lowering in the temperature of the atmosphere, which gives a check to the growth, thereby causing mildew. With respect to the selection of exposure, a uniform rule for America is, therefore, out of the question, and the adoption of the same has to be made according to the local conditions.
Since planting trees for the vines to grow on cannot be thought of, but the upper roots near the base of the vines seem to demand some protection, I would suggest mulching, and to have the trellises constructed somewhat different from what they generally are. I would have them at least five to six feet high, one foot from the ground, a fence board or rail well fastened to the posts, another one on the top of them, and wires not more than one foot apart between them. Close under the top rail, a piece four feet long across, standing out two feet each way, firmly braced to the post, and a lath about two inches wide fastened to the ends of this cross-piece, serving as a rest for the end vines to overhang, and thus shade the vine, forming a canopy over four feet wide. This will prevent an excessive evaporation of both vine and soil during the middle of the day, and too great a radiation of the latter during the night, and besides greatly diminish the evil consequence of the dryness, the premature dropping of the leaves and consequent exposition of the bunches to the sun, which always deteriorates the quality of the fruit. If water could be given when the drought lasts too long, during the growing period before ripening commences-soaking the soil well -so much the better.
That so many possessing but a few vines in their garden, generally on rickety trellises or arbors, get but poor grapes to eat, if any, will never be remedied, as long as these people will not learn what little there is to know about it, but employ men excellent as "coachmen," "useful," etc, to do the good work. These men may be very handy about a place-milk a cow and beat a carpet -but can never do satisfactory work in a garden, unless directed by intelligent gardeners, properly educated in their profession, and who of course, expect to he both paid and treated differently from common laborers and domestics. I live in a section of the country-New Jersey, Essex county-where both soil and climate seem to be especially favorable to the grape vine; for there is hardly a house without its grape arbor or trellis, and thousands of them may be counted in one day's tour; but incredible as it may appear, it is an undeniable and stubborn fact, not one is attended to after it has received its annual clipping by one of the above named class of men in the spring of the year. Not much better is it with regard to other fruit.
Is it not an anomaly that, to such a place, with thousands of acres fenced in but lying idle, apples and grapes are brought from fifty miles away, and Concord or Delawares sold at ten cents the pound, and Rhode Island Greenings at two cents apiece? Does that look like pro.