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.
Sir, - In reply to the practical questions of your correspondent R. M. S. in the last month's number of the ' Gardener,' as to whether I would, under certain circumstances named by him, "commend cropping" vine-borders with vegetables, I beg to say that it would depend upon circumstances. In my former article I advocated the practice of cropping our fruit-tree borders as a necessity, the discontinuance of which would not be justified by the result - i.e., the extra crops of fruit obtained - and I would be guided by the same considerations with regard to vine-borders. "Suppose," as your corespondent puts it, "I had to make vine-borders, and plant young Vines in a place in which I had just entered on the duties of gardener, and had a reputation to make, would I commend cropping the borders?" In answer to this I would say, that if I was so situated, and was short of cropping space, I would crop the vine-borders without hesitation, and not fear the result; that is, the late vineries, for of course the necessity of protecting the borders of the earlier houses would prevent their being cropped. I did not mean it to be inferred from my former statements, that we cropped all our Vine-borders here, but only the one spoken of.
When I came here five years ago,I found as usual that the vine-borders had been protected and mulched regularly, and the roots consequently near the surface. To have dug them, of course, would have been madness, and as the vineries which have been planted since have inside borders, we have not had an opportunity of cropping them: but the border of the vinery in question (a late Hambro' house) had evidently been dug regularly, and we continued the practice. The Vines have improved every year, and I think I may say the crops hitherto have been remarkable both for weight and finish, and the prospects for another year are all that could be desired. This winter we have widened the border, as we found the roots had encroached under the asphalt walk in front, the crust and drainage of which we have removed, and filled up with common garden-soil. As it will, however, be necessary to divide the house, and force one half earlier in future, the border will be protected, and for that reason not cropped till later, but the other half will be cropped as usual; and if R. M. S. will honour us with a call about the end of July, and again about the end of September, he will be able to judge for himself.
Digging vine-borders may be root-pruning under another name, as R. M. S. says, or it may be whatever anybody likes to term it. I state facts; but, as I stated before, the damage sustained by the roots, when the borders are dug regularly, is imaginary - if the trees are planted deep enough at the first. This I have proved to my own satisfaction at least; and I can assert, that if digging the borders of fruit-trees be only another way of root-pruning, I never in any case knew it to prevent the necessity of root-pruning in the usual way.
J, Simpson, Wortley.