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.
No one, I think, can dispute the fact that late Grapes are better flavoured when ripened early in the autumn, or under a higher temperature than they are generally treated to, as has been forcibly argued by the Editor and Mr Henderson in last month's ' Gardener.' Anybody may convince themselves of this by testing the fruit of the Barbarossa or Trebbiana Grape when grown along with Muscats, and the same kind grown in a Hamburg or Lady Dowries house. The difference in flavour is so great that they are not like the same Grape. With regard to the Alicant and Lady Downes, however, though they too would doubtless be improved in flavour if ripened in August instead of September or October, is it certain that the fruit would keep better and longer? Experience on this point may probably differ; but after giving both plans a favourable trial, I have come to the conclusion that when these two varieties are ripened earlier than the end of September, the fruit does not by any means keep so well; indeed I will go so far as to say that in this respect it is safer to have them ripe by the end of October than the end of August. At one time I was in favour of early ripening, holding the opinion that a berry with its tissues well matured, and its footstalk hard and woody, must necessarily keep best; and in this belief I for two years had our late vinery here started considerably earlier than usual, and had the fruit ripe by the end of August. They were so well up, that I exhibited Alicants and Lady Downes in collections of fruit and Grapes that got the first prize at Worksop show early in September. I also exhibited the same varieties at Warrington and other places.
I state this to show that the fruit must have been pretty well finished at that time. But what about keeping 1 Everything went well up till Christmas - the usual precautions being taken; no plants were stored in the house, and the inside border was covered with mats to prevent evaporation: but after the above date the Alicants began to shrivel at the points of the berries, and later on Lady Downes did the same. Damping also was worse than usual at this season, in spite of increased care and watchfulness; and, upon the whole, the fruit kept much worse than ever it had done before. Unwilling, however, to believe that my theory was wrong, I started the Vines as early the following season, but the result was exactly the same when mid-winter arrived. Since then, we have therefore started late, and brought the crop on leisurely, generally getting the fruit ripe about the middle of October and it has kept as well as could be desired. Last year (1872), owing to the absence of sun, the fruit was not ripe till the end of
October, and it has never kept better. At this date, 12th of February, the half of the house (50 feet long) is hanging untouched; both Alicants and Lady Downes are plump and sound, and we have never had occasion to use the scissors less. We were sending in the yellow leaves off the Vines for garnishing the dessert at the New Year. This has been my experience; but that of my near neighbour here - Mr Batley, gardener to T. V. Went worth, Esq., at Wentworth Castle, near Barnsley - is of a still more decided kind. Mr Batley is rarely an exhibitor, otherwise he would long ago have been conspicuous in the front rank of Grape-growers, for the crops of Grapes at Wentworth Castle are uniformly of high excellence; and the late house of Alicants and Lady Downes there is well worth going to see any time between October and March or April. This house has been cropped six years; and every year the fruit has been left hanging on the Vines until so late in spring that Mr Batley has not been able in many cases to prune the shoots where the latest bunches were hanging, for fear of bleeding; consequently some of the spurs are nearly 2 feet long.
The house is shaded with mats in spring to prevent the rise of the sap while the Grapes are hanging, and the Vines are only started in a regular way, when they begin to move of their own accord; and Mr Batley informs me that the fruit is seldom or never ripe before the end of October - this I can vouch for personally. Though the fruit is allowed to hang so late every year, there is no diminution of vigour in the Vines, except in one or two instances, where the bleeding was severe on a certain occasion; and it is only moderate praise to say that, so far as I know, the crops, whether as regards size of bunch or general finish, are not surpassed anywhere, and the way the fruit keeps is a marvel. I saw the vinery the other day, and there did not seem to have been a berry cut out; and Mr Batley informed me they would probably be hanging just as plump in March on the Vines, or in the fruit-room in April, judging from his past experience. A few years ago - 1868, I think - Mr Batley was induced to send two bunches to South Kensington on the 6th of April. They caused something like a sensation among the committee, were awarded a special certificate, and inquiries were addressed to Mr Batley by the Society, through Mr Barron, concerning his successful practice.
Whether Mr Batley's reply was published in the transactions of the Society, I cannot say. The two bunches were afterwards sold for £4. On another occasion, Mr Batley exhibited two bunches at the Barnsley spring show in April, which would probably weigh 4 lb. apiece at that time; and the berries were as plump, and the footstalks as green, as they were in October. In 1870, he sent his last bunch to table on the 10th of May, in fine condition even then. I cannot say how late he kept them last year, but I know his spare fruit readily fetched 14s. a-pound in spring, and some medium-sized bunches were disposed of at 20s. apiece. These few facts will vouch for the condition of the fruit, and are sufficient to show that late-ripened Grapes keep as well as can be desired. And last, but not least, all horticultural readers are acquainted with Mr Thomson's success in keeping the Lady Downes Grape till late in spring when he was at Dalkeith. I was under him at the time, and had charge of the vinery in question; and in referring to my notes, I find that the house was never started till the Vines were about breaking of their own accord, nor were they ever treated to a high temperature during the summer.
If I recollect, Mr Thomson reckoned upon having the fruit ripe about the end of September or middle of October, and it invariably kept well. Such uniform experience is, I think, conclusive enough. Improved flavour is decidedly a desideratum of no little importance, but if it is at the risk of having shrivelled berries a month or six weeks earlier than usual, it would not pay; for when an Alicant or Lady Downes Grape begins to shrivel, no matter how good the sample may be otherwise, then Raisins are in every respect better for dessert. As regards the late hanging of the fruit being injurious to the Vines, as Mr Henderson remarks - and his opinion is entitled to the highest respect - I can only say, that after seven years' heavy cropping, followed by late hanging, our Vines here increase rather than diminish in vigour; and I can recollect, when foreman at Dalkeith, that the late Vines there went on increasing in strength to such a degree, that it was dangerous to tie the shoots off the glass in the first stages of growth - they were so apt to bound off, which is always a sign of vigour.
[Mr Simpson sent a bunch of his Lady Downes for our inspection on March the 10th. Their condition in point of preservation was excellent, and flavour good. - Ed].