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.
The observant remarks, and questions asked, respecting the culture of grapes, by your correspondent S. Miller, in the June Horticulturist, reminds us that established rule is not always a sure guide although it may be the best in the majority of cases.
As to trenching, when rightly performed, and also a moderately rich soil, we have demonstrated fact of the good and permanent effects, but this does not assist any argument in favor of deep and over glutted beds for the roots. With regard to the roots creeping " between wind and water," as he intimates, the cause is clearly seen if we take a right view of the subject. No plant feeds directly upon a mass of undecomposed matter, however rich it may be as a compound, but does so from the liberated elements in a gaseous state and different proportions, in combination with water. The stratum through which the network of fibres has to penetrate need not of itself contain originally the required pabulum for permanent nourishment, but should always be of such a character as to enable them to penetrate through it in search of the required nutriment. Consequently a proper matrix, even though it be deficient in fertility, is, so far, better than an improper one that is gorged to repletion with what, under other circumstances gradually administered, would support the most healthy action.
We may admit that according to the different constitutional properties of distinct genera the soil needs to be of various mechanical textures, and to a certain extent composed of different chemical combinations, but this does not alter the subject. We may preach as much as we like about our superior skill,' yet, depend upon it, if we do not copy from nature's best workings we only grope in the dark; now we find her invariably giving fresh material from above, the decay of surface vegetation, the falling of leaves from the trees, and, no doubt, the percolation of carbonic acid from the atmosphere down and into the soil; these two former compose a covering of material for the protection of the roots, and all three are eventually resolved into suitable food, and in proportions as may be periodically required. Again when the land is well drained, either naturally or artificially, there is always a capillary attraction going on, excepting during severe frost or rain, which draws the moisture upwards.
From this we may readily perceive why mulching is so beneficial provided it contains the required elements, because decomposition is continually at work immediately beneath, and where the oxydizing and liquifying properties of the atmosphere and water can act, and furnish to the spongioles their just need, while they, obeying the law of self preservation, follow, the same as an animal by instinct, and increase proportionately.
It is high time that we begin to discard all such set notions as glutted and deep beds for the grape vine; they belong to an age of nostrums, dogmas and ignorance. The reiterated recommending of such things has done more to retard the successful cultivation of this plant than all other mischievous pretensions put together. In my Grape Growers' Guide I have endeavored to break down this evil system, and in my own practice even for the glass grapery, the borders are not sunk more than eighteen inches below the surface, neither are they made more than in a medium way rich in fertilizing matter; but each season there is applied a good dressing of half decayed leaves and vegetable refuse, mixed with a portion of barn yard manure, by which the roots are kept near the top, and absorb the whole of the annual dressing during the season.
Your correspondent further suggests, that in connection with mulching, "less trimming "would pay better. I believe we have ample evidence in the truth of this in most instances as the thing is too often practised, but the experience of all good cultivators tends to show that a judicious shortening, and thinning out of a portion of each season's growth, so as to allow a continual increase of surface, is of service, and improves the quality of the fruit; while on the contrary we have many examples of untimely imbecility in many grape establishments which testify of the injurious effects of the stumping in systems that are frequently adopted. I have for many years contended against this barbarous principle, and am glad to see it mooted. In addition to the importance of pruning, is a proper care for the healthful-ness of the foliage; no fruit bearing plant will ripen first quality produce, when these are deficient in quantity, or become prematurely injured.
My experience advises, to make the basesoil fertile, but not too rich or deep. Drain below, and mulch above. Let the head gradually cover more surface, but shorten in a portion. And, above all things, endeavor to keep the leaves healthy and in sufficient quantity to shade the fruit from the sun.