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.
Mr. Editor, - A hint is as good as a kick, and your "Hints on Grape Culture" have been of great service to me this year. To show you how I have profited under your instructions, I send you a basket of Isabella Grapes, a fair sample of my whole crop. Without your aid I should never have grown them so large, so fine, so ripe, so delicious. May I be excused for saying that the Isabella Grape is worthy of cultivation, and stands next to the Delaware? When I say cultivation, I do not mean neglect. I am told by those who have more knowledge, that my experiment (query, is it an experiment? I followed your directions as closely as possible) has succeeded this year because my vines are young. The finest grapes of this variety that I ever saw before were grown on a very old vine, planted - may be it grew without planting - away back in my infant years, long ago. My mother had her pretty posy bed under the grape vine, which grew up on a trellis, over the well, into a tree, and ripened its berries fifty to a hundred feet from the roots.
And such grapes! but Isabella was then the grape, and would be now if rightly cultivated.
I have followed your directions, and have ripened the canes in the hopes that I can send you another basket equally as good the next year; for your Hints, if good for any thing - and I think they are - are worth to me a basket of grapes yearly. An old fruit grower who lives near me says that I shall never be able to get as good bunches and ripen them so well again; that when he first began he had fine fruit too; that he dug around his vines, and spent a good deal more time than he can afford to now, for it no longer pays. He can get but two to four cents a pound for his best fruit. Pray tell me, is this so? If he is right, will it not pay (that is the summum bonum in growing grapes, as well as in all other pur-suits) to set out new vines, as we do Strawberries, every year? I think my neighbor's vines have gone to grass in more ways than one. He cuts enough of it to feed his cow, but when the time comes to send his grapes to market he finds them unripe. I heard him inquiring the other day how to make vinegar. He says it is no longer profitable to cultivate them; thinks the climate has changed. Once he could raise as good grapes as any body, but can do so no longer. He thinks the vines have run out.
Do you think the digging around my mother's vine had any thing to do with ripening the grapes so far away from the roots? or was it because they got to the sun, and air, and light at the top of the old plum tree, as some of the neighbors believed? My vines are five years planted; three years ago they were cut down by the severe cold weather. I then grew new canes, and this year they fruited. I allowed but two bunches to grow on a shoot, and pinched in as you directed, growing other canes for the next year's fruiting, and have them ready ripened. All my bunches of fruit are equal to those I send you, weighing more, probably, than if all had been allowed to grow. The ground was kept loose and free from weeds, with carrots and potatoes between the rows.
[The box of grapes was duly received, for which please accept our thanks. We were about to compare them with a sample sent by another correspondent to illustrate his principle of growing grapes; but as the comparison would be no comparison at all, and we do not wish to hurt his feelings, we refrain. Suffice it to say, that your Isabellas were equal to the best we have seen. If generally grown as well, and sent to market in the same ripe condition, the Isabella would be thought more of by the public Such Isabellas you can always grow by regarding our Hints. What we and others have done for many years by following this treatment, you can do. Now a word about your "old fruit grower." If he has grown old in fruit growing only to indulge in such talk, all we have to say is, that he has grown old without knowledge. Old vines, if they hare been well grown, always produce better fruit than young ones. It is easy to see where your old neighbor failed; as his vines grew old, he was afraid to give them as much care as he probably would any of his ordinary field crops, and they resented the neglect by "sour looks," and unyieldingness generally.
The vine is generous, especially when young, and we may rely upon one or two fair crops under neglect; but this will not last long, as your neighbor has discovered. We do not know your neighbor, or the condition or position of his vineyard; but we will stake our reputation (and that is very dear to us) upon our ability to make his vines produce fine grapes in from two to three years. There may be local causes why a vineyard should not succeed upon a particular spot; but all excuses based upon change of climate, vines running out, etc., are without reason. There can be little doubt that the frequent stirring of the soil about your mother's vine had much to do with the perfection of the fruit, though other causes may have cooperated with this, a free play of light and air being among them. Our advice to you is, to keep on as you have begun; so shall you be spared the trouble and vexation of planting your grape vines as you do strawberries. - Ed].