This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
If it be correct, as stated, that the past season has been the most unfavourable on record for the ripening and development of all kinds of fruit-trees, the suggestion seems to offer itself whether it would not be discreet policy to defer forcing Vines and Peach-trees for a month or six weeks later during the coining year.
It is not at all improbable that some one may write and tell us that their Vines and Peach-trees are in grand condition - that they never looked better, - and that, in fact, everything looks flourishing for another year.
I hope there are many cases of this kind. I know, indeed, there are many excellent cultivators, with modern facilities for forcing, such as well-appointed houses, who have been able to discern, during the early part of what we may now almost call the past year, that especial care would be necessary in order to bring about a thorough state of ripening in Vines, Peaches, and other fruit-trees. But it is to be hoped that those who are so favourably circumstanced will not forget the scores of places where fruit has to be grown in low, old-fashioned houses, with every square of glass no larger than a biscuit, and wooden rafters thick enough to make sleepers for a line of railway.
These conditions, together with perhaps insufficient means of ventilation, have been great drawbacks during the past summer; and say what people may, they are sure to have left their mark behind them - more especially where thick planting is adopted, and in gardens where an adequate staff is not allowed and work has fallen into arrears, and in the struggle to make the best of a season beset with great difficulties, the work of pinching and thinning to the necessary degree has been unavoidably neglected.
The wood in our earliest Peach-house is greener now, at the beginning of October, in Dorsetshire, than I have ever seen it in Lancashire at the same period,with the balance of favour, as regards structure, being in every respect on the side of the former.
Pot-Vines and Peach-trees in pots are so wonderfully cheap nowadays as to render the suggestion I have thrown out practicable in every garden of ordinary pretensions.
A dozen Pot-Vines, and a like number of Peach-trees in pots, of the early kinds - the latter of which might be brought forward in any house with a night temperature of 45°, and be pushed along afterwards when the fruit is set - would yield a few dishes of fruit at the commencement of the season, and spare the early-forcing until the first day of the new year dawns upon us, and which, I hope, will bring the advent of a more happy augury for fruit prospects in succeeding years.
It is for pot work that such varieties as Early Beatrice are worth growing, as in a pot it is always a portable subject, and can be made amenable to any condition that occasion may requre. Amongst Nectarines Lord Napier is a grand pot variety: it grows to a large size, and forces well.
A better quality of Grapes might also be procured from the pot-Vines by dividing them into two batches; and by cropping the last half rather lightly, and starting them a little later, finer berries and better finish would be obtained.
Where it is proposed to grant this short period of grace or recuperation to hard-forced subjects, the situation should be taken advantage of to renew the borders partially ; and, where it is necessary, if pos sible, also to renew very old trees that are showing signs of decay, with younger ones of appropriate kinds, or good bearing trees - where they can be spared - by economical thinning out on the outside walls. This work should be undertaken at once, - first, by rooting out all worthless trees, and thoroughly cleansing everything inside the house - the trees themselves included - and removing all the surface-soil off the borders from 6 to 9 inches deep carefully with forks, preserving all the feeders by tying them in bunches, and suspending them with a "soft" piece of matting to the bole of the tree. Of course, if there is any suspicion of the drainage of the borders being wrong, the better way would be to lift the trees altogether, rectify the drainage, make new borders, and replant; but in the majority of cases, a good addition of fresh soil, with an admixture of crushed bones and lime rubble, will answer the purpose.
In laying in the roots, they should be set thinly between the layers of fresh soil; and "knotty"-looking roots which produce suckers in great quantity will be better removed altogether. After the borders are made up to the required height, and made firm, according to the condition of the soil, they should be mulched over with short, rotten manure; and if forcing be conducted slowly, until the roots lay hold of the fresh food supplied to them, the trees will take out a fresh lease of life, and increase their fruit-producing power threefold. The same remarks will apply equally to early-forced Vines, except that in the event of their being far wrong at the root, and new borders have to be made, it is preferable to start with young Vines afresh, as I think it is more cheerful to contemplate a prosperous future than to live upon the thoughts of past achievements. W. Hinds.