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.
This important matter, though a very old story, is being ventilated, and all the light which can be thrown on the subject can scarcely be overdone, especially when backed by the experience of such successful growers as have already expressed their opinions in the 'Gardener.' I think, however, most practitioners will endorse Mr Henderson's experience against Mr Simpson's; and before casting my quota for the press I would mention that position of borders, whether elevated or low, inside or outside, have a good deal to do with the best time for ripening the fruit for keeping. Heavy and light soils also change, in a measure, circumstances. Early ripening and thorough ripening I think is what one generally aims at when they have to supply Grapes as late as April or May, or to keep the old till the new are fit for use; and if I were called upon to supply Grapes very late I would have them coloured by the end of August and well fired with abundance of air on, back and front, well into September, thus filling the berries well with saccharine matter, expelling watery substance, making the berries firm, sweet, and crackling, at same time keeping all laterals closely stopped or rubbed off, thus securing foliage like leather, wood as firm as whalebone and as brown as filberts.
Very strong wood never was in high favour with me when high-flavoured late Grapes were to be supplied in the spring months. Practice being generally more tenable then theory, however well based, I may be pardoned for trespassing on valuable space by giving briefly my experience. Early ripening of Grapes to have fine flavour and to keep well was first impressed on my mind when a foreman in Wiltshire many years ago (I often saw it mentioned in calendars then and long before that time when I was a schoolboy, I think in the 'Gardener and Farmer's Journal'). A Hamburg house at that place in Wilts which was intended for late work (but could not be kept back, as the hot-water apparatus was out of order and worked to some extent with the earliest house which supplied fruit in May) ripened their fruit in August, which were always finely coloured and highly flavoured, and they kept better than those ripened a month or six weeks later; but then, like foremen generally, I could not go far with experiments. When growing on my own account some years later in East Anglia I observed that a neighbour, a very successful grape-grower (the late Mr Allan, then gardener to Lord Rendlesham), had his Grapes which were to give supplies in February, ripe early in September. The kinds were Black Hamburg, and splendid fruit they generally were; Lady Downes was then little known for its keeping quality ; Barbarossa was out of favour; West's St Peter were among the latest keeping kinds of Blacks, and Muscats were valued most among whites.
I remember how well Mr W. Thomson kept these at Wrotham Park when I was under him there. I do not remember the time of year they were ripened, but their golden skins showed that they were " thoroughly ripened".
My first attempt to keep Grapes late was in 1860, when I managed to have Black Hamburgs in good condition in second week of March: they were plump, very large in berry, and high flavoured. When at Balbirnie I was able for eight years running to have Lady Downes as late as April in as sound condition as they were in September - footstalks green, bloom quite fresh, and those who ate them spoke in high terms of their sugary flavour. Five or six years running I exhibited Lady Downes at spring shows held in Edinburgh, and always held good positions. These were generally well advanced in colouring by August, and were exposed to free currents of air night and day with heated pipes during September. It is no uncommon thing for growers to finish firing when the berries have finished colouring. The fruit under such circumstances do not retain a good flavour late in the season, even if they should keep well. On 9th June 1869 I exhibited a bunch of Lady Downes which was ripe early in the September previous (see 'Gardener' for July 1869, page 332), and which were as plump on the exhibition table as ever they were. Golden Hamburgs I had ripe in August were kept in sound condition till February with less trouble than those ripened later.
Two seasons I kept till April Muscat Hamburgs, Trebbiano, West's St Peter, White Muscats, Royal Vineyard, Black Hamburgs, Burchardt's Prince, and several others, with very little trouble, after being ripened with a high temperature in August. One season I sent Grapes to the Royal Horticultural Society of London in April and May which were awarded a special certificate (but I have not yet seen it), and two letters sent for inquiries as to their treatment, etc., stating that they were the finest flavoured late Grapes which had been sent to South Kensington after being cut and hung up with their wood in bottles of water. These were the earliest ripened late Grapes I ever had. It is only fair to state that if I had last winter been called to keep Grapes from these Vines late in the season, I could not have done it so satisfactorily as formerly. The cold, wet, and sunless season was so trying for Vines which had their roots entirely outside, that thorough ripening was a difficult matter: fortunately for the earlier lots an extra demand early in autumn consumed them without loss.
I have at present, 14th April, some very fine Alicantes, as fresh in berry and footstalk as ever they were; they were cut late in February and hung up in a cupboard in my dwelling-house (our fruitroom being more like a drill-hall for size, I preferred having the Grapes in smaller quarters). These were ripened (as far as I can learn) early in September under rough plate-glass. I am much in favour of rough plate-glass for Grapes, and other purposes. "We never had to cut out a single berry from decay this year, except a few in January, when a quantity of plants had to be crammed in the late houses: these houses are very flat and about six feet high at front. A more trying time for wet I never knew. These Alicantes were grown by Mr John Austin, my much respected predecessor, who did much to improve the Vines here. It will be seen from these fragmentary remarks that I am inclined to support Mr Henderson, and have given an outline of my experience for what it may be worth. M. Temple.
[How doctors differ ! We wish we were in a position to exchange rough plate-glass for clear sheet with Mr Temple; but then Mr T. is in Oxford, we in gloomy Dumfries. - Ed].