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 operations of the vine-dresser for spring work are about over; the pruning, the staking, the tying, and hoeing are all done, and the young buds have burst from their winter cerements, and the bloom is waving in the balmy breeze; but how changed is my vineyard this season at this time, from what it was last year in May. Then every bud had opened its green bosom to the dew and the sunbeam, and the young branches were covered with the rich blossom of future joy; now, not more than one-half the buds have shown signs of life; the cases look dry and fruitless, so that under the most favorable circumstances not more than half a crop may be expected. What is the cause of this failure? Why is it the present should be worse than the past season? The vines are older, and the spring season has been more favorable than the last year's vernal months were; why do these young buds not start into life at the voice of spring?
Let us examine for a moment their outer covering; let us see whether the vital principal is extinct or not, under its tender sheath. We open the covering, but the life is gone; the gummy sheath which nature gave to it before winter set in, is broken, and instead of the glossy mail which shielded the young germ, a sponge-like substance is found, an evidence of death. Such was the prospect that greeted our steps into the vineyard in the opening of the merry month of May, and now the scene is but slightly changed.
I purchased of Ellwanger and Barry, during last fall, several varieties of new and much-lauded grape-vines, among which were the Delaware, Anna, Rebecca, Union Village, Clara, etc., all of which were planted with much care and attention, in the hope of passing securely the winter; but judge my surprise when I found them all dead to the earth line, and not much hope of a resurrection; but patience and perseverance triumphed.
How was this done? I went and obtained old glass fruit-cans, from which I took out the bottoms, and with these I made nursing glasses, placing one over every vine. How anxiously did I watch from day to day the first appearance of life in the semi-frozen bud, and how carefully did I aid the expansion of the young leaf from its earthy tomb, until one by one each vine gave evidence of full life, and the glass was full of the young leaves of the vine!
For a few days our last winter was unusually severe; the thermometer stood 10 degrees below zero, destroying all the peach buds, with many of the young trees.
Along the valley of the White Water not a peach blossom was seen this spring, and I am informed that the vineyards in the adjoining counties are as badly injured as my own, so that not more than one-half a crop of grapes or wine will be realized. Last season I made some two hundred gallons to the acre; now one hundred gallons must be the maximum of the vintage.
I regret that I do not live within a few miles of your sanctum, where a bottle of my "Pure Catawba" would moisten your dry "whistle," and attune your voice to the melody of spring; but living so far in the West that the expense of forwarding a few bottles to you would cost more than the value of the wine, I have given only the will for the deed. I have several seedling grape-vines, some of which will fruit this season; but until the second year's fruiting, neither the quality nor the productiveness of the vine can afford a safe criterion of its true value.
I have the Black Hamburgh blossoming in the open air. The leaves are pure and clean, and the berries well set; the bunches indicate large clusters heavily shouldered. These I covered during the winter along with the White Sweet-water, Black Prince, and El Paso, all of which are doing well. My Concord, Diana, and Isabella were all more or less winter-killed in the bud; but, on the other hand, my Lawton Blackberry, Red Antwerp, Cope, Wilder, and Orange Raspberries all survived.
The Apples and Pears in this neighborhood are chiefly safe, but the Cherry, Peach, and Apricot are all gone; and the Plum will soon be, as that felonious rascal, the Curculio, is among our orchards, and robs with impunity our best Gages before maturity.
But by comparing watches I find that my hour is about up in the vineyard, and I understand it to be standing rules with editors and all good writers, to keep within time, avoid prolixity, dulness, and stupidity, and when you have written enough, to stop; hence I close this rambling epistle by subscribing myself your friend.
P. S. - Having several seedling grape-vines now bearing, and many more that must bear superior fruit, I want to employ some noted puffer to bring tbem into notice; that is, after the Ontario, Maxatawny, and Brandy wine have all run their race, and gone to the tomb of the Capulets; but do not think that I will engage your services. I will employ some Peter Funk to do this; a man whose virtue is free and easy, and whose conscience is full of the love of nature and the milk of human kindness.
[J. S. R. has passed his hour pleasantly and profitably. When he can spare the time, we shall be glad to pass another hour in the vineyard with him. We condole with him on the partial loss of his Grapes, Peaches, and Plums; he has been spared, however, to a greater extent than many others, who will eat their "Peaches and milk" this year solely through the medium of the imagination; and those who can relish them in that way will have a good time of it. You are right, R., about your seedling grapes; do not send them to us for the purpose you suggest, unless you are quite sure of them, for we are apt to be very candid about such matters. Much obliged to you for the Wine. Hold on it till called for, which may be sooner than you expect. - Ed].