Of all cultivated fruits the most interesting to professionals, the Grape is perhaps the most tantalising to amateurs. The latter see splendid clusters exhibited at the shows, and think with chastened sorrow of their meagre bunches at home. They read learned discussions in horticultural papers, and feel themselves outside the pale. I doubt if there is any real ground for all this, and even where very limited glass accommodation is possessed, some very tolerable Grapes may be grown, as it will be my business to prove.
From the time when, an eager youngster, I imbibed lessons in making and striking "eyes" from a marvellous old grower who could make Vines out of any odd chips, I have been accustomed to seeing Grape growing elevated into a mystery by that much criticised being, the local gardener. The great growers - the men who exhibit the splendid black or golden bunches which we see on show - very rarely make any secret or fuss about it. They just prune, thin, manure, syringe, and pocket the prize money, that is all. Those of us who have been behind the scenes at establishments where a good deal of exhibiting is done know that there is a little more than this in it; but the fact remains that the highly successful grower is generally more subdued than the "triton amongst the minnows" who overawes the local cottagers on meeting nights.
If nothing else had arisen to reduce Grape growing to its proper proportions, the wonderful developments in market culture would have done it. Those huge fields of glass where Grapes are grown by the acre have taken the conceit out of many a grower. It would be difficult for any horticulturist to survey the long vista of straight rods, huge leaves, and countless bunches without being impressed and silenced. No deep secrets here, no wagging of complacent heads, no loud boasting; just plain food, plain treatment, and cleanliness.
I propose to discuss a few of the difficulties which stand in the way of the would-be Grape grower, and see if they cannot be smoothed away. Touching on sources of failure may point the way to success.
A, portion of firm, thoroughly ripened wood of the previous year's growth, called a cane, with well formed firm and round, not flat and broad, buds, such as are found on gross and immature wood. The dotted lines show the cuts to be made for making various forms of eyes.
B, eye formed by a slanting cut above the, bud and another transversely below it.
C, eye made by a cut above the bud and a slanting cut below from a point opposite the bud.
F, the eyes B and C properly inserted in Cocoanut fibre refuse, reduced to mould and mixed with a fourth of sand, in a propagating bed over bottom heat: a, bed; b, buds just level with the surface. Root formation from respective eyes: G from eye B, H from eye C. Callus and roots are shown in each case.
M, a cane from an eye, B, inserted in a pan or bed, and, after striking, potted off.
N, eye and growth (in outline) inserted in a piece of reversed turf 6 inches square and 3 inches thick, for securing a cane to plant out the same spring, the roots not being coiled as in a pot.
The reader may be taking up Grape growing under one of three sets of conditions. He may be making a start with a new house or houses and new Vines; he may be commencing with old houses and new Vines; or he may be taking up the culture where houses and Vines already exist, and where he simply has to adapt himself to existing material. By turns we can give consideration to all of these circumstances, and thus provide information that will be applicable to every case. Perhaps that person is the most to be congratulated who is in the position of making an entirely fresh start. He will have more work but greater pleasure. It is frequently a thankless business to take over an old culture.
It is worth while to pause for a moment and consider this question. It is very doubtful whether it is worth while for an amateur to attempt to raise his own Vines. In my opinion he is wise if he saves himself the time and trouble and goes to a nurseryman. Trade growers have both the convenience and the practical experience required; amateurs usually lack both. Most market growers raise their own, as do many professional gardeners. In any case the inclusion of remarks on propagating is justifiable on the score of completeness. I want to show Grape growing from the eye stage to the finished bunch.
Things have changed very much in Grape growing since, just about the time when our Jingoes were singing "The Russians shall not have Constantino-o-pull," I began to learn lessons in Vine making. We used to consider two years a fair time to allow for making a first-rate planting Vine; nowadays, if one may believe all one hears, some feverishly up-to-date growers have taken several hundredweights of fruit off their Vines before they reach that age. Our old-style canes may have been rather slow, but beyond all question they were sure. They were cut down to a good bud near the surface of the soil in November of the same year that they were struck, and they then pushed a strong, thick cane, firm, well ripened, and studded with bold buds. This was the planting-out cane, and a grand specimen it was.