This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", 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.
A subject in connection with the formation of Vine-borders which is of no small consequence is the exclusion of wire-worm from them. If the soil is taken from pasture-land, or any land under grass, wire-worm will abound if the soil is taken from the field in fresh weather; but if taken not more than 4 inches deep, and during sharp frost, the worm, and all other insects, will be left in the field, for they descend beyond that depth to avoid the frost. We have always acted on this suggestion, and never have had wire-worm in a Vine-border. When this pest is in the border, pieces of carrot or potato placed at intervals of one foot all over it, and covered with the soil, having a sharp-pointed stick stuck in each by which to lift and examine them daily, will soon clear the soil of them, though in the interval they not unfrequently do much damage to the roots of the Vine; therefore prevention is better than cure in this, as in every other case of the sort. There are many at the present day who are anxious to grow Grapes, yet have no access to parks or pastures where they can get maiden loam, and to whom we say, Do not let this deter you.
Take the common soil of your garden; if it is heavy calcareous soil, mix it with road-scrapings, old lime-rubbish, or burnt clay, and throw it into sharp ridges for the winter. During dry weather mix with it some portion of farmyard manure, a few bones, and wood-ashes if you can get them, and a few bushels of superphosphate of lime. Turn it over in frosty weather, and this will form the staple of your border. Make an effort to get a few cart-loads of fresh loam from the side of some road, ditch, or common; mix this with a portion of decayed stable-manure, a few finely-ground bones, and a little old lime-rubbish. See that the whole is kept dry till wanted, then use it for the immediate planting of the Vines, and it will give them a start. After passing through it, they will thrive well in the soil of the garden made up as described. We have a neighbour who is a keen amateur Vine-grower. His Vines were planted as here described in a few loads of good soil about fourteen years ago. They have ever since then been allowed to ramble at will in the common soil of his garden, which is light and poor.
He covers the border, or rather that portion of his garden which the roots traverse, annually with a layer of cow-manure 4 inches in depth, and allows it to wash into the soil and feed the roots, the consequence of which is, that they are found in abundance close to the surface; and his crops of Grapes, especially his Muscats, are the admiration of all who see them. The house is span-roofed exactly like the woodcut in this paper. During very hot dry weather he waters freely with liquid manure made by mixing sheep and cow dung in water, with a handful of guano added, and sometimes soot.
Our ideal of a Vine-border would be some 12 or 14 feet of a border made of such compost as we described in the first of these papers, terminating in a well-formed Asparagus-plantation, which was not likely to be disturbed for a generation at least, and where the Vine-roots could rove at pleasure. Such a border as that we formed for a Muscat-house at Wrotham Park, in the county of Middlesex, in 1848, with the drawback, that there was a walk between the Vine-border and the Asparagus-brake. We, however, made the walk of such materials that the roots could easily cross it; and in reply to queries we have lately addressed to Mr Edlington, under whose able management the house is at this time, we have the following: "The roots of the Muscat Vines have traversed the border, which is 15 feet wide, passed underneath the walk at a depth of 2 feet, where they are as thick as walking-sticks, and are to be found in abundance at a distance of 60 feet across the Asparagus-brake, in which they seem to luxuriate amazingly.
The Vines are in fine health, and every year they bear enormous crops without a single shanked berry." Our own opinion is, that no house in Britain has produced the same weight of fruit in proportion to its size that the one in question has done within these twenty years, and in great measure, as we think, owing to the access of the roots of the Vines to the Asparagus-ground.
A great deal lias been written about the evils resulting to Vines from the descent of their roots to the subsoil, when that is of a hurtful character. This may in great measure be avoided by kindness to them on the surface of the border, where there is reason to suspect that their tendency is downwards. The surface-soil should be removed till they are reached. A number of the small ones should be carefully extricated from the soil in which they are going down, and a little nice compost laid under and over them; and it will be found that they will grow and branch in this new soil, and become the staple support of the Vine. A little attention of this sort once in two years will keep them near the surface, where they can easily be fed with liquid manure during the season of growth; for be it ever remembered, that when the Vine has plenty of healthy foliage on it, there is little danger of overfeeding it if the drainage is good. Some Vines may be fed till their berries become double their ordinary size; but, on the other hand, we have known the flavour injured by overfeeding. This, however, rarely takes place if the liquid is not stronger than 2 ounces of Peruvian guano to the gallon of soft water.
We once grew a dozen plants of the Duchess of Buccleuch Grape in large earthenware pans about 18 inches deep and 3 feet wide, and gave them an excess of liquid manure, the result being that the berries were double the size we have ever seen them when grown any other way. They were, in fact, like average Hamburgs, and the flavour no way deteriorated. We took two successive crops from them in the same soil, and we believe we might have gone on cropping them for other two years had we been able to give them house-room. We believe that many people water what they call the Vine-border when the feeding-roots are far beyond its boundary, and they might save themselves the trouble for any good it will do.
This house was designed for a Cucumber-house, and has a pit in it 2 feet deep by 5 feet wide. The roots cannot escape from the pit, nor is there any means of shutting off the bottom-heat. The two Vines that have no bottom-heat are planted over a rain-water tank. It may justly be remarked that this is not a fair test of the value of moderate bottom-heat for Vines, as it is to be applied in full force during the whole forcing season, especially as the house is to be the earliest one. Grant it; but it will be one that those who condemn bottom-heat for Vines cannot object to; and the two Vines that will have no bottom-heat will be there to testify against it if it is an evil.