This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol3", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
Grape growing as a commercial undertaking has come into existence within the last forty years, and in that time has passed through all stages - from small production and high prices to the enormous output of the present time, with the keenest competition, both home and foreign, a trade can well experience. In the early days of the industry, grapes could be made to pay grown on any soil and, one might almost say, anyhow. In places where the natural soil did not suit the Vine, it paid to make the most elaborate preparations for its culture, even to concreting the bottoms of the borders, and to restricting the roots to soil carted from a distance and carefully mixed and prepared before being placed in position. Such times have all passed, and unless a soil is in itself suitable for Vines, it will no longer pay to go to the expense of such special preparations. The Vine is a most accommodating subject, and will put up with very different treatments and yet give a fair return. Some growers devote houses entirely to them; many utilize the space under early Vines for Arums, and again in autumn for Chrysanthemums; while some may be said to make a catch crop of their Vines, and use the space underneath for forcing Spiraeas, growing bedding stuff and Ferns, and for storing stock plants during the winter. It is very doubtful whether it can possibly pay to grow grapes under such conditions at the present day. Vines will grow well on a variety of soils. The Worthing soil is probably the best for the purpose in all England, and consists of a deep strip of good loam on a substratum of chalk or chalky marl full of flints. Here the roots have in many places fully 6 ft. of good loam to rove in, with good natural drainage into the bargain. A large grower in the north of London thinks the most suitable soil to be an old turf on a good loam with a brick-earth subsoil. The main point to consider is the natural drainage of the situation, so long as the soil is fairly good in other ways. Judicious manuring and cultural treatment will produce a good crop if the roots are running in a sweet medium. It may be said, therefore, that anyone starting in the glass industry with a view to making Vines a special crop should do his very best to get a really good soil and subsoil; and failing the best of soils as far as fertility is concerned, to make the natural drainage of the site the most vital point. Strict enquiries should be made as to the height the water stands at in the wells in the district, and the place should certainly be visited in the winter, and holes be dug on the proposed site to see if water lies within a short distance from the surface.
Having decided on the land, the first thing to be done is to drain the ground most thoroughly. If the lie of the land admits, a main drain should be carried along just outside the ends of the houses when they are up. This arrangement serves a double purpose, for provision is thus made for carrying off the waste water from the tanks and gutters and the drainage from the borders at the same time. It is not good practice in draining to take side drains into a main at right angles; but in such a case it cannot be helped; the fault can be minimized by having the last pipe of the branch drains curved. The main drain should be put at a good depth to allow of the branch drains down the site for each house being set at the depth of the border. Three feet would be sufficient for most soils, but if the subsoil is at all stiff and retentive, and lies nearer the surface than this, the pipes should be covered with clinker to the beginning of the surface soil, thus allowing free drainage without bringing the pipes too near the Vine roots. In the case of a stiff retentive subsoil it is a good plan to build the walls of the houses rather higher than usual, to allow of the borders being made up 1 ft. or so with extra soil. Where early work is to be attempted this is always an advantage, as the roots are much more under control. The number of drains to lay will depend entirely upon the nature of the soil and the width of the houses. The more retentive the soil the closer must be the drains. One drain down each border should be sufficient.
The question as to what is the best size of house for grape growing is the next to arise. Probably there are more vineries built 25 or 30 ft. wide for market purposes than any other width, though houses of 15 or 16 ft. are common, find Vines do very well in them. Above 30 ft. wide houses tend to become unwieldy, and the expense of building is considerably increased. Most of our leading nurserymen have, at some time or another, gone in for building giant houses, but in nearly every case they have returned to the more workable sizes. In the same way, the length of a house should not exceed 200 ft., as excessive length creates difficulties in the keeping up of uniform temperatures in all parts of the house, and also in the ventilation, and even the working of the ventilators themselves. In Worthing the favourite size appears to be 160 ft. long by 25 or 30 ft. wide. In the north of London the houses run somewhat longer, especially in the big nurseries, 200 ft. being common. From all points of view the most workable size is the Worthing standard. Another important point is whether the houses should be built separately or in blocks, ridge and furrow, with no party walls. Here, again, the two great grape-growing districts differ: the Worthing men building separate houses to a large extent, and the North London men building huge blocks of thirty or forty houses enclosed by four walls, all the gutters resting on piers. If the writer may state an opinion, no house should ever be built without at least a thin partition dividing it from the next house, and full control over the hot-water pipes for each house. Some expense may be saved in the building, but the want of economy in the working of a block of houses all communicating soon outbalances the initial gain. For a grower in a very large way the system may have its advantages, but for the beginner in a small way it must be absolute folly.
A MODERN VINERY.
One of Messrs. T. Rochford & Sons' Vineries at Broxbourne. This house produces 8 tons of grapes annually.
Plioto, E. J. Geary.
Another great disadvantage in the working of these ridge-and-furrow houses is the increased cost of fumigating, for if one house starts a pest the whole block must be treated unless the house is temporarily divided. Again, the spread of insect and fungoid pests is greatly facilitated by the absence of division walls; and, last but not least, the very important matter of bottom ventilation crops up. There can be no question that the bottom ventilators in a detached vinery are more suitably placed than in the ridge-and-furrow system, where the bottom ventilation, if any, is in the gutters, or on or above that level. Taking everything into account, then, the best all-round house is one about 150 ft. to 200 ft. long and 25 ft. wide, built detached.
With regard to the heating of vineries, a house 15 ft. wide would want four rows of pipes; one 25 ft. wide, six rows; and one 30 ft. wide, eight rows - 4-in. pipe in all cases. The boiler chosen should have power enough to be capable of working 25 per cent more pipe than the house or houses contain.
Although single houses are advised, this does not mean that each house must have its own boiler. It should be possible to cut out any of the houses without affecting the others heated from the same boiler; and there is no reason why several houses should not be heated from the same source. A favourite arrangement is to build houses in fives - four long ones and one short one in the middle. The space so left is occupied by the stokehole, containing two boilers for heating the whole. The boilers can be worked together, or, if it is only required to keep the damp out of the houses, one at a time; and, of course, one or two houses can be started before the others. Where each house has a considerable amount of piping, it is advisable to have larger mains from the boiler to ensure a free circulation.
The question of the cost of building glasshouses for grape growing is not particularly easy. So much depends on the style of house, and the situation, and the boiler chosen for the work. Without advocating the expensive style of building in vogue in Worthing, and considering the construction of houses in blocks, the following figures may be interesting. Houses 30 ft. wide, suitable for growing "Colmars" and built in blocks, would cost from 24s. to 32s. per foot run; fully equipped houses 25 ft. wide, fitted with iron-tube standards and cross stays, six rows of pipes, boiler, and ventilating gear, about 31s. per foot, and never less than 30s. per foot. All firms are willing to give estimates for any buildings contemplated, and the simplest and most satisfactory thing to do is to write for estimates after the site is decided upon, as this may make considerable difference to the cost.
Nothing but the soundest wood should be used, as the depreciation of a glasshouse is very rapid. Strength must not be sacrificed to cheapness, or a single gale may cause destruction. To be in a long glasshouse when a gale is blowing will impress this point more than any writing. Even when the house has every appliance for strength, the wind will cause waves to run along the glass, and if the purlin standards are not tied down properly they will be lifted from the piers with every gust.