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.
HAVING selected a proper site for the vineyard, and examined the nature of the soil, it becomes important next to prepare it for the reception of the vines by some thorough mode of preparation. There is, naturally enough, some difference of opinion as to what should be considered a thorough preparation of the soil, what is esteemed good preparation by one being regarded by another as very indifferent work. We may say, however, that all experienced vineyardists are agreed that the soil should have some considerable depth, and be properly enriched. The results will correspond with the preparation. We have already insisted that moisture in excess should be got rid of by underdraining or otherwise, the best mode of doing which will be considered in a chapter by itself; we shall also treat separately of manures and composts; the present article, therefore, will be confined to the mechanical operations necessary in preparing the soil.
The depth to which the soil is recommended to be prepared by different writers varies from almost nothing to Jive feet or more. We very much doubt the necessity of preparing the soil to this great depth, except under very peculiar circumstances; insisting upon such needless extremes, moreover, has proved a great drawback to a more general cultivation of the grape as a source of profit We always insist that all work in Horticulture shall be done in the most thorough manner, but we have no faith in works of supererogation; and there is nothing in our experience or convictions to favor these excessively deep borders; on the contrary, we believe them to be, as a general thing, an evil, in as far as they are not indispensable to the health and fruitfulness of the vine, and their great cost frightens the great mass of people from the cultivation of the grape at all. The point we make is this, that borders five feet deep are not in the least necessary, under ordinary circumstances, for the production of grapes of the very best quality. We shall show, hereafter, that the roots which make the best fruit are usually about four inches beneath the surface, and it is quite possible to keep them there.
We, notwithstanding, consider a reasonably deep border quite necessary, not only for the health and longevity of the vine, but to counteract the disastrous effects of drought, and heavy, long-continued rains. On this point, our general rule is, maximum depth, three feet; minimum depth, eighteen inches. There may be occasional exceptions to this general rule, but the nearer the approach to our maximum point, the more satisfactory will be the results.
Some soils will require more mechanical manipulation than others; as, for example, a stiff clay will need to be more thoroughly stirred and broken up than a sand or light loam. Both, however, should be worked and enriched equally deep; the capillary powers of both should be made as nearly equal as possible. The labor of accomplishing this purpose, however, will be much less in the one case than the other. What we wish to impress upon the reader is this, that thorough preparation is indispensable, no matter what the nature of the soil may be.
There are two modes of preparing the ground: the one is called trenching, the other subsoiling; the first being usually confined to the garden and small plots, and the latter to the vineyard or field. Subsoiling is a less perfect mode of trenching, and is a cheaper and less laborious operation. Trenching is performed by the spade; subsoiling by plows of different kinds. In all preparation of the soil, the nearer it is brought to the condition of trenching, the better.
We shall first describe the operation of trenching. This, though quite a simple operation, and well known to the gardener, is very imperfectly understood by the great mass. We shall endeavor to make it so plain that all may comprehend it. We will take, for example, a piece of ground to be trenched three feet deep and six feet wide, of which the figure appended is a section, on a scale of a quarter of an inch to the foot. A, B, C denote the surface, B, C being divided into two equal parts of three feet each. The figures, 1, 2, 3, denote the feet in depth. Begin by marking off with a garden line the section B, three feet wide, along the length of the border; then remove the earth from B to the depth and width of three feet, as shown by the shaded lines, and throw it upon A. We now have a trench three feet wide and three feet deep the whole length of the border. The next operation is to transfer the earth of the section C into the trench B. This is done in several ways. The usual practice is to take the top soil, indicated by the figure 1, and place it in the bottom of the trench; on this is put 2; and on the top of all 3. The effect of this is to place the best soil at the bottom and the poorest at the top, to which there are some serious objections.
A better way is to take small sections from top to bottom, as indicated by the dotted lines, which has the effect of thoroughly mixing the soil, and making it of uniform texture throughout. While the operation of trenching is going on, the compost must be mixed with the soil. Though we have shown only two trenches, the operation is to be continued by marking off three feet more and throwing it into C, and so on till the work is done, the earth thrown out at A being used to fill up the last trench. If the trenching is to be two feet deep instead of three, the operation is substantially the same, as will be quite apparent. A good plan, in trenching two feet, is to loosen up a third foot without throwing the earth out.
We usually, however, pursue a method somewhat different from the above. Spring a line and mark off a trench four feet wide. Then begin by digging a hole four feet wide and six feet long, throwing the earth out on the side not to be trenched. The operation is continued by cutting down the earth from top to bottom, (as indicated by the dotted lines in the figure,) and placing it at the end of the hole just made. The operator stands in the trench; and as he works before and throws the earth behind him, he always has sufficient open space to stand in. The sides of the trench must be kept perpendicular. When the end of the trench is reached, another, four feet wide, must be marked off parallel with it. The unfinished end of the first trench is then filled in from the second trench, and the latter is worked along like the first, and so on back and forth to the end, when there will be a hole, about four feet by six, to be filled up by the earth thrown out at the beginning. The trenching may be begun by a hole of any convenient size.
Some of the advantages of this method are, that the men (part in the trench and part out) can labor to greater advantage; the earth is more thoroughly pulverized and mixed, and the compost more completely and easily worked in; and there is little wheeling of earth.
We will now describe the other mode of preparing the soil, called subsoiling; and we again remark, that in this operation, the more nearly the soil is brought to the condition produced by trenching, the more satisfactory will the result be. The implements to be used are the common plow and the subsoil plow. For heavy soils and sod, the Michigan plow is a good one; for ordinary soils, the improved Eagle and the Knox plows are efficient'implements. Of subsoil plows, the Lifting Subsoil is the best. For side-hill work, a lefl-handed plow is best, unless the off-hand ox should be a very tractable animal. Different individuals, however, have their preferences in the matter of plows, and each may indulge his preference, provided the work be well done. What is wanted is a surface plow that will turn and mix the soil a foot in depth, and a subsoil plow that will stir it at least a foot more; the deeper the better. The compost is first evenly spread over the surface. The surface plow is then to be put in, and the subsoil plow is to follow it immediately in the same furrow. In preparing a vineyard it is desirable to avoid dead furrows; and this is done by turning the furrows all one way, which involves the necessity of returning without a furrow.
Unless this is done, it is better to plow around the lot than in "lands." To enrich the soil deeply and thoroughly, it is a good plan to have a cart follow by the side of the first plow, and throw some compost in the furrow, in front of the subsoil plow. If the plowing is done in the fall, the land should be left rough, to be acted on by the frost If in the spring, and it is not intended to plant at once, a hoed crop may be grown with advantage. Where the time and labor can be afforded, the land may be plowed and cross plowed"two or three times with decided benefit. The object is to get the ground into as fine tilth as possible. The best implement that we have seen for pulverizing and mixing the soil is Mapes's Digging Machine. This, run through the soil once a fortnight during the summer, will reduce it to the fineness of good garden soil. The best harrow to use is one with "cultivator" teeth.
Side hills, if very steep, will have to be terraced by manual labor. The terracing may be done by cattle, however, more cheaply in all other cases. The ordinary side-hill plow is not stout enough, works too shallow, and mixes the soil imperfectly. A narrow, deep left-handed plow is probably the best thing that can be used in terracing. The furrows must all be turned down hill, the plow returning in the same furrow. There will always be some finishing to be done by hand. The wails may be made of stone or sod; on steep hills, however, stone walls are quite necessary. We are trying a new plan, which we think will save no inconsiderable labor, but have not progressed far enough yet to speak confidently. We aim at the same object in terracing hillsides as elsewhere, the formation of a deep, well-prepared border for the vines. The work presents more or less difficulties, according to circumstances; to describe fully the process of forming the terraces would require an article of itself. We have indicated pretty clearly what is to be accomplished, and hinted at the best mode of doing it.
We are ready, however, to give any further information that may be asked for.
The reader must remember, that in preparing a border or a vineyard, he is doing something, not for a day or a year, but for a century, and the preparation must be correspondingly thorough. We put corn and potatoes in the ground, and in the short space of a single season enjoy their full fruits, the process to be annually repeated. We plant a vine, and, provided it be well planted and wisely cared for, generations unborn may partake of its luscious fruit.