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.
MANY years ago the practice of mixing considerable proportions of manure in the form of animal excrement, and in some cases animals themselves, into Vine-borders, was very common, and recommended as the right thing to do; but it proved, especially when carried to anything like excess, most unsatisfactory in its results. By such liberal proportions of rank manure no doubt a strong growth was attained; but it was of such a plethoric kind, that the agents necessary for perfecting and consolidating it could not be commanded, and disappointment in the character of the Grapes followed as a necessary consequence. The Vines were certainly not starved, but were, for a time at least, overfed. It is not now considered right or necessary to mix in such manures with the soil used for making up Vine-borders; and though this change must be considered sounder both in theory and practice, there is a danger that Vines may suffer from the opposite extreme of being ultimately starved. It is because we are satisfied that many Vines are suffering from want of feeding that we refer to the matter.
In the fresh organic matter common to turf from old pastures, of which Vine-borders are generally composed, there are for several years all the elements of nutrition needed to produce strong enough Vines and good Grapes. But notwithstand ing the mixing in of the orthodox proportion of bones and sometimes horn-shavings, in the course of years, and especially after the border is completed in width and when the Vines are in bearing from bottom to top, something additional and very substantial is required, in the case of such borders, to enable the Vines year after year to bear the strain of heavy crops of good Grapes, and at the same time not decline in vigour of wood and foliage. With a well-drained border composed of loam and a proportion of crushed bones, we consider this question of proper and sufficient feeding to be one of the cardinal points of successful Grape-growing. It is only necessary to look at the spread of foliage and the weight of luscious fruit on the roof of a vinery, where the Vines are in good order, to suggest to the merest tyro in horticulture that plenty of raw material must be supplied before such a crop can be produced year after year without breaking down the plants.
There are, of course, several ways of supplying the necessary food to Vine-roots in such borders. Where the sap which oozes or flows from farmyard manure can be had, it can be supplied with very good effect in a liquid form; but it is not desirable, in feeding Vines, to hold constantly to the application of one sort of manure. The system we practise is, to fork in a good dressing of fine bone-meal as near to the roots as possible without injuring them, and then to cover the border with 4 inches of the richest manure we can get, and which generally consists of horse, cow, and pig droppings in a fresh condition. This forking in of bone-meal, and this covering of manure, are generally applied in November : the manure is allowed to remain undisturbed until about the time the Grapes are just thinned, and it is removed without interfering with the surface of the border, or taking away any of the bone-meal, and a similar fresh coating of the same sort of manure is again put in - thus making two such dressings in the twelve months. If the weather be dry when the summer dressing is applied, a thorough soaking of water is given. Besides this, a sprinkling of guano is sometimes applied in time of heavy rain; so that the nature of the food supplied is somewhat varied.
Sometimes we have given a dressing of dry fresh soot once in the season; and we think this latter an excellent manure for imparting colour and texture to the foliage.
This may perhaps be considered excessive feeding, but there was no manure except crushed bones put into the borders when made. Besides the actual nourishment such top-dressings afford to the Vines, another most desirable and beneficial result is that the roots are enticed to the surface of the borders, and kept active there.
There are a few cardinal points in Grape-growing which, if attended to, all others are of minor importance. First, never to mix much manure with the border, but to dress liberally on the top as above described; to have the most perfect drainage, and give plenty of water in dry seasons and localities; never to have the rods closer together than 3 1/2 feet, nor the spurs closer than 18 or 20 inches; to avoid an over-moist atmosphere, and to give plenty of air night and day; and last, but not least, to avoid high night-temperatures, especially in the early part of the season. If these points are carefully attended to, there is no more grateful fruit-bearing plant than the Vine; and it is astonishing what heavy crops it will produce for years, always provided the nourishment is good, and the foliage kept in health. In our practice we have never been able to corroborate the teaching of those who advocate a low temperature as being best for setting such varieties as Muscat of Alexandria, and others of a similar habit, for we have invariably found these set best with a brisk, indeed a high, temperature; and we have seen Muscats that have been worked low at the blooming period which were not set at all - stoneless or seedless, in fact.
Hence they swelled more evenly than when partially set - as it is called; and when bunches have all their berries stoneless, it is wonderful to what a size they swell.