This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
In the July number of the Horticulturist, page 311, Mr. Cleveland says: "A controversy has arisen of late years relative to the use of slaughter-house manure, carcasses of animals, etc., as a material in the composition of vine borders." Now, sir, I would respectfully ask Mr. C., if, after nine years experience with his border, composed of sods, shoe makers' chips, oyster shells, and all the bones and carcasses he could get hold of, whether he has succeeded in growing better grapes than his neighbors who have not had the advantage of the same material ? If he has, the controversy is ended and every practical gardener will be glad to avail himself of Mr. C.'s experience. But on the contrary, I believe it is the opinion of the majority of practical gardeners that animal matter is not necessary as a material in the composition of vine borders; for this reason the best grapes grown in England and America are produced without its aid. Then, if this is true, where is the economy of using a material that is more expensive to obtain, and, when obtained, is two or three years before it is of any material use to the vine, even supposing it is not injurious while in the state of decomposition.
Mr. C. says, "the best authorities I have seen in favor of the practice, do not recommend a direct application of such material to the roots of a growing vine, but only that it should be placed where the roots would find it when it was properly decomposed and fit for their use." Here is an acknowledgement from Mr. C., and the authors he quoted, that animal matter, in a decomposed state, is not fit food for a vine. Then why apply it! I have no objection to animal matter, when properly decomposed, forming a part of the material that is to compose a vine border, as I believe it is good strong food for vines when properly used; but I object to burying whole carcasses to decompose in a vine border, and, when decomposed, to lay them in a bulk. This is. my reason: At the time of the decomposition of the carcass, the ground becomes impregnated with the effluvia arising from this mass of animal matter, and renders the ground so affected incapable of sustaining the roots of a vine.
But, according to Mr. Cleveland, roots have the power of selection, always seizing upon anything valuable, or to stop short if they meet with any injurious matter. Here I must plead ignorance as it regards the stopping short; do they cease growing, or do they turn around and go another way ? or do they mount the beast and get rode to death! Now, as far as my experience goes, they neither stop short or go around, but continue in a straight course without any power of selection. If this is not so, why do we turn up dead roots in a vine border in the neighborhood of unwholesome matter, caused by the decomposition of dead carcasses. I have never seen an instance yet where good wholesome vegetable compost was used in the formation of a vine border, that it ever had to be taken out, or the vines become unhealthy; but twice I have seen all the compost taken out of vine borders where green slaughter house manure had been used in making the borders, and three years lost to the growth of the vine. Mr. C. likewise says, "experience is the best teacher." That I admit; and I must say that my experience teaches me never to use animal matter in the formation of vine borders but in a decomposed state, then to be thoroughly incorporated with the rest of the material.
This is the only way, in my opinion, it can be used with safety.
"But," says Mr. C, "my vines have done well - they never have been troubled with indigestion or dyspepsia." That may be true; but they might have done better if there had been no green animal matter in the border. We have here a living proof of the truth of your note to Mr. C.'s letter, where you say that good grapes and heavy crops can be obtained without dead carcasses.
I must here state, that in April, 1851, we commenced the building of two vineries, each 50 feet long. These are lean-to houses, with good flues, cisterns, and every other convenience; the front wall and the foundation of the flues being on arches, giving the vines a space of 50 ft. by 30 ft. to grow in. The borders have been walled, paved and drained; floor, 14 ft.; back wall, 16 ft; front, 2 ft. - giving a rafter of between 19ft.. and 20 ft. The borders are made as follows: the top spit from where the houses now stand, which would be 1500 cubic feet of good maiden soil, about twenty wagon loads of charcoal to each border, leached ashes, lime, rubbish, and stable manure, with about twenty loads of leaf soil from the woods, the whole being well incorporated. There is not a bone or any animal matter in these borders, and yet here are as good vines as ever revelled in the carcass of a dead horse. I have bunches of grapes from 2 lbs. to 4 lbs. weight. The largest of the vines are 4/2 in. around a foot from the ground, and berries of the Cannon Hall Muscat 3f in. around and not yet ripe.
Mr. Rives, of Louisville, saw these grapes this spring and pronounced them to be the finest vines he ever saw, and that I had more grapes on six of these vines than he had in a house of eighty feet that had been planted four years. This was after they had been thinned. I give this statement as a proof that good grapes and heavy crops can be grown without dead horses.
[We thank Mr. Meston for the very instructive account he has given us of his successful grape culture. There is not, however, a wide difference of opinion between him and Mr. Cleveland. Both admit the necessity of animal matter (dead carcasses) being in a decomposed state before the roots of the vines reach it or can derive benefit from it That roots of vines or any other living plant will soon perish in contact with fresh animal substances, no one can doubt].
I imagine it will be found on trial, under certain conditions, that the most economical and convenient situation for the roots to ramble in, is the ground-floor of the structure in which the vines are grown. And now for the "conditions:" heat is indispensable; but it must be applied to the surface, and not under the roots; concrete in any shape is not required; neither is it requisite that the borders should rest on paving stones, supported by walls of masonry. By applying heat to the surface, this is rendered unnecessary. With me the roots penetrate through bricks and mortar, in order to obtain heat, and with heat I could lead them any where; therefore there need be no fear of their descending into unfavorable soil; deep and rich borders must be avoided; as must also carrion or other nostrums of the day; the natural soil of the Vine should be imitated as far as is practicable; and tepid soft water, and clear liquid manure, applied freely, when necessary. For supplying heat, leaves or tan answer very well; and if hot water or hot air is used, then all may be covered permanently with gravel, or anything most convenient, for the border will never afterwards want to be disturbed.
Something similar to what I have attempted to describe has been in practice for the last 16 or 18 years; and the plan has produced fine crops every year, and at all seasons of the year; two crops of grapes could easily be taken from the same vines in one year; but for permanent vines, that should not be put into practice.- Gard. Chron.
S. R. You should drain your vine border thoroughly; the state of it, according to your description, is quite enough to account for your grapes never ripening. In opening your border, cut of all roots you find which have got down into the heavy soil at the bottom.
S. W. - We can give you, perhaps, no better advice than the following, which we clip from Dr. Lindley's newspaper: Were I to make a Vine border, the following would be my plan: First, I would commence inside the house near the front wall, and excavate to the depth of twenty-one inches and to the width of nine feet I am supposing the front wall to be on arches, which I should stop for the present with rough brickwork. On the surface of this excavation, which should have a fall of at least six inches, I would place a good layer of some hard material - cement, concrete, broken slates bedded in mortar, or in fact anything to prevent the roots from going downwards. A trench nine inches or a foot should be dug here the whole length of the house, thus securing good drainage. At this point, nine feet from the front of the house, and at the side of the trench nearest the border, I would run up a brick on edge wall, leaving openings in it through which any superfluous moisture might pass into the trench.
In this way a box would be provided nine feet wide and eighteen inches deep, with good drainage the length of the house; this might be filled with a compost something like the following: Fresh turfy loam, rather stiff than otherwise (but not clayey), about a third flakey leaf mould and good dung, not too rotten; also a liberal supply of brickbats, broken stones, or charcoal By, say March, this would have settled, when I should plant the young Vines, one to each rafter, first soaking their balls and carefully washing all soil from their roots, which should be barely covered with compost and watered slightly with a rosed pot. I should now cover the whole border a few inches in depth with droppings from an old Mushroom bed. As the Vines commenced and continued growing the border should be watered occasionally with weak liquid manure, giving enough at each watering to wet the whole mass. I need scarcely add that the atmosphere should be kept moist. In autumn at pruning time the droppings and loose soil should be raked off down to the roots, when I would substitute a top dressing of good fresh loam and a moderate sprinkling of gunno, mulching with droppings as before.
This I would do annually until I found that my border was either too full of root or the Vines required more to feed upon, when I would add three feet more to the border outside the arches in front of the house, or at the back inside, of course filling up the trench and making another if required. It will be observed that I have not given over stimulating food to the young Vines or in great quantities, because I hold that a moderate amount well digested is better than a larger quantity and of a richer kind than the system requires. My chief object is to keep the plants and soil in a healthy state, and to have complete control over the whole, both root and branch. If these instructions are followed there need be no fear of the result. D. D.