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 our former article we have thrown out, in as few words as possible, some necessary hints in regard to exposure and shelter. The latter is a matter of the first importance, to which little attention has heretofore been given, and which we shall enlarge upon more fully at another time. We shall now give our attention to some hints on the Soil and its Preparation.
There has been no little discussion, and some difference of opinion very naturally, as to what is the best soil for the vine. In general terms, it may be said that it will grow in almost any soil, from the lightest sand to the heaviest clay; but of course with varying results, and these, in many instances, far from satisfactory. There is a preference in soils, and in some cases this preference is of a very decided character, A pure sand and a stiff clay are almost equally to be avoided; the latter, however, in some respects, is to be preferred. They are both nearly equally expensive to be put in good condition for growing the grape. Between these two extremes there are many kinds of soil well suited for our purpose. The soil best adapted for the grape is one that is light, open, and warm, and what is usually termed a sandy loam naturally answers to these conditions more nearly than any other. Whatever is done to the soil artificially, in the way of preparation, should be with a view to assimilate it as nearly as possible to this character. There are some soils which, in respect to their constituents and mechanical condition, are naturally in a good state for the successful growth of the grape, except, perhaps, they may not be sufficiently deep.
What is needed, in precise terms, is this: a soil that is light, moderately rich, deep, warm, and porous, and that contains a due proportion of carbonaceous matter. It should be light, because the roots will more readily take possession of it, it will be easier to work, and more largely benefited by necessary top-dressings, as will subsequently be shown; moderately rich, that the vines may have sufficient food for the production of good wood and the best fruit, but not so rich as to produce rank wood at the expense of the fruit; deep, not only that the roots may have ample room to ramble in, but that the injurious effects of drought and heavy rains may be avoided; warm, to insure as far as possible the health of the vine, and promote the early ripening of wood and fruit; indeed, ripe wood and ripe fruit are almost convertible terms; porous, that water may never lodge in it, and that it may readily absorb dews and atmospheric moisture, the latter never being entirely absent even in our arid climate; the soil should contain carbonaceous matter, because, in our opinion, it not only gives warmth to the soil, but is intimately concerned in the production of fruit of the highest excellence for the table.
It will be perceived that the above conditions bear such an intimate relation to each other, that one can not be removed without materially impairing the others; and this fact presents a strong argument of their necessity. To elucidate these points fully would alone require several pages; but our present purpose, as already stated, is mainly to throw out suggestive "hints " as we go along, lingering a little from time to time at some particular point, as the importance of the subject may seem to demand.
The subsoil is scarcely less important than the surface soil; for if, in any particular spot, this can not be brought within our conditions, it must be abandoned, no matter how good, the surface soil may be. It becomes, therefore, a matter of the first necessity, in locating a vineyard, to examine the character of the subsoil, and see whether, by trenching, draining, etc., it can be brought within the conditions named. In a majority of cases this can be done; but it may be well to men-tion some in which it can not. For example, a soil immediately underlaid by beds of marl, as in some portions of New Jersey, should not be selected as a site for a vineyard. The vines will-grow finely for a few years, but as soon as the roots penetrate the cold, damp strata of marl, mildew and rot appear, and render a crop of grapes entirely hopeless. Rocky subsoils sometimes, owing to their formation, hold water; and it being difficult or impossible to drain them, they should then be avoided. A subsoil of stiff clay, unless it can be under-drained, can not be brought within our conditions, and must also be avoided. All subsoils, in short, which can not, by drainage or otherwise, be rendered dry, are unfit for the growth of the grape; depth and dryness must- be regarded as axioms in grape culture.
If we were compelled to choose between a stiff clay and a light sand, we should take the latter, as being the least expensive and troublesome to ameliorate and put in suitable condition for the production of good grapes. A stiff clay, unless well drained, is very wet and cold during heavy rains, and dry and baked during a drought. A light soil, deeply worked, and incorporated with proper materials, seldom exhibits either extreme. Columbia county, with its heavy clay, is parched up before the light soils of Long Island begin to feel the effects of a drought. It will be readily seen, therefore, why a light soil is better for the grape than a heavy one, a somewhat uniform temperature being essential to the successful cultivation of even our robust native vines. It is the sudden and extreme changes of our climate which make it impossible to grow here the varieties of Vitis vinifera, none of which are constitutionally fitted to withstand the vicissitudes of our changeable climate, and the effect of which is chiefly seen in the form of mildew and rot. A heavy clay may be ameliorated by the addition of sand, just as a light sand may be ameliorated by the addition of clay; but the operation is expensive and laborious, unless the material is near at hand.
There is nothing, however, of equal value to muck for improving the condition of a sandy soil, if, indeed, there be any thing more valuable to add to any soil not already rich in vegetable matter. What heavy clays need first and most, however, is thorough under-draining; and we do not believe that a permanent and good vineyard can be made on such soil without it. The addition of sand and other matters to lighten its texture will form valuable accessories, but it can not be brought within our conditions until all surplus moisture shall have been got rid of. A stony soil is not in itself objectionable, only in so far as it is troublesome to cultivate and keep clean. Such soils often make the best vineyards when prop-erly prepared.
Some allusion may be made to the mineral constituents of the soil. It is supposed that a limestone formation is peculiarly favorable to the production of the. best grapes; the remark, indeed, will hold good of all fruits. The presence of lime in the soil is indispensable. Quartz and granite soils are also good, and lava districts are famous for producing grapes of peculiar excellence. But the geological aspect of the subject may very well be dispensed with for the present, with the simple remark, that no other fruit-producing plant will grow in such a diversity of soils as the grape, though, of course, as already remarked, some soils are decidedly better than others, especially where fruit of the best quality is desired.
But we have filled up our allotted space, and not one word has been said about the preparation of the soil. We must make it the subject of our next article.