This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", 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.
"While much is being written in some of our contemporaries of the changes and fluctuating habits of the Vine, we have many important facts before us this season. I have reason to believe that the season of '79 will long be remembered as one which aroused all the energies of the cultivators of early-forced fruits. We have letters from many parts of the country, north and south of the Tweed, regarding the difficulties in starting early Vines, Strawberries, and Peaches. With the two latter we have ourselves little to complain of, they having done remarkably well, although they moved very slowly. But as it is the Vines we are considering, I may say that I never had a more difficult matter on hand than to get the early house to break into growth. They, in fact, would neither lead nor drive. Muscats started two months later than Hamburgs set their crops nearly as early, and required thinning at same time. They both came away rather weakly at first, but have now made up for it by good wood and plenty of large leathery foliage; the crops are also abundant.
The early house was covered with stable litter, and boarded over to throw off rain; but as we had somewhat severe frost in October, just before this covering was placed over the border, which was no doubt greatly cooled by such severe weather so early in the season, the Muscat-roots were covered by dry soil only; and in March the soil seemed much more kindly and healthier than the manure-covered border: besides, the influence of the little sun we had at long intervals was shielded off by the littery covering; and I have no doubt whatever but the early house was rather a sufferer from the covering than benefited by it. We have, over a course of many years' successful forcing of Vines to ripen by end of April and early in May, used dry materials, such as leaves and manure, to help (?) the roots into action - but we have been more successful in starting them when covered with dry ferns, over which have been placed rushes or straw. When such covering has been removed we have found the surface of the soil dry, dusty, and healthy, but never in any case have we seen a surface from which manure coverings were removed but they were sodden and on the sour side.
Charcoal-dust mixed with dry soil, and lights of frames placed over this to keep it dry, after being spread over the Vine-roots, is our favourite protection; and this placed over later vineries (say when started in January and February), without glass protection, answers admirably. While we do not condemn warm manure over Vine-roots, we believe the system has been sadly abused. It would be difficult for us to number the Vine-roots we have untombed as being ruined (this extends over a period of twenty-five years) by the abuse of fermenting materials. A few years ago we turned up two borders which had supplied remarkably fine Grapes for exhibition and market by the Vines planted in them; but being soured and ruined at the beginning, the roots either were killed or never went into the soil at all, as scarcely any were found in the border, they having found their way to the foundation of the front walls, and there they remained, probably from twenty to thirty years. But to hear the older labourers on the place tell how carefully "our old master" had his manure prepared, added to periodically, heat-sticks carefully pulled out and replaced, and when the covering was removed a small portion left over the border, keeping "roots " intact, and mixed with a little fresh surfacing of bones, lime-rubbish, and loam, - believing that this was the secret of success, the industrious man of mysterious knowledge spent time, talents, and a deal of expense, to secure crops of fine Grapes. I counted seventeen or eighteen layers of the surfacing when removing the border, but did not even find skeletons of roots in the soil.
There is a better system required than the littery one for starting Vine-roots, though difficult to get at. But I heard one of the greatest of Grape-growers once say that he preferred glass covering to all others for roots, - viz., to throw off the water - harvest sun-heat - air could be admitted - the soil is not soured - the rough appearance is avoided - and the glass can be applied for other purposes during spring and summer. Midland Gardener.