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.
WE have as yet said nothing specially relating to the food of the vine. We remarked in one of our early articles, that the vine would grow in almost any soil; yet it has its wants, special and otherwise, which can not be neglected without detriment to its health and productiveness. Un-less food of the proper kind is placed within immediate reach, the roots wander off in search of it, finding perhaps only a meagre supply, and that often under conditions very unfavorable to its proper appropriation. Not un-frequently, in this search for food, the roots penetrate a cold and uncongenial soil, where they sometimes perish, and often communicate disease to the vine itself, which thus becomes incapable of maturing its wood and its fruit. In this condition the vine becomes susceptible to the attacks of various forms of disease, and we may frequently find here the fruitful source of mildew and rot: these attacks might often be measurably prevented by a judicious management of the soil and food, whereas the vine is only too often prepared, as it were, for their entire possession. In these things we are usually more tender to our domestic animals than to our plants. The roots of the vine may, to a considerable extent, be kept at home by a judicious system of feeding.
This we shall endeavor to explain when we come to treat of the nature and functions of the roots.
We propose now to offer some hints on Composts and Manures. Manures are usually, but not very happily, divided into Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral, as they happen to be derived from either of these sources; it is only the last, however, that are usually kept distinct. Under the first head we place all animal matters, such as flesh, hair, leather, hoofs, woolen rags, wool, bones, horns, etc. Under the second, muck, sods, green crops, leaves, weeds, etc. Under the last, lime, marl, ashes, plaster, etc. Barn-yard manure is of a mixed character. Liquid manures are variously composed. Composts are made by mixing any or all of these together, and are of especial value. As we can not at present treat of these in detail, we shall confine our remarks to those most valuable for the grape, which, unlike many other plants, is almost omnivorous.
We have often expressed a most decided opinion as to the value of muck, or vegetable matter reduced to the carbonaceous form. This we make the basis for all composts for the grape. It is important that it should be well mixed all through the soil, unless the latter already contains a duo proportion of vegetable matter, which is seldom indeed the case. There is no other substance whatever within our knowledge that will give such permanence to the soil: and permanence is of the very first importance in the formation of a vineyard. This importance will be enhanced, if possible, when we inform the reader the reader that, contrary to the common practice, we banish the plow from the vineyard after the third or fourth year, since it then becomes a dangerous implement in any except very careful hands. There are other implements much better and safer. The simple reason for this is, that the best roots of the vine are within from four to six inches of the surface, (at least that is where we propose to keep them,) and the plow, except very carefully used, destroys them.
After a vineyard becomes established, we must necessarily, therefore, depend upon surface manuring and surface culture.
We will now state briefly the best mode of forming a compost to be applied at the time of trenching or subsoil ing. The materials we name somewhat in the order of their importance. Barn-yard manure, muck, lime, bones, (broken bones, bone chips, and bone dust,) ashes, charcoal dust, horn shavings; to which may be added, leather chips, pond mud, road sweepings, sods, potash sweepings, lime rubbish, decayed leaves, etc. Any or all of these may be used; but muck, manure, lime, bones, and ashes, are most important. It is a common practice to mix the manure with the muck at the beginning, but this is not a good plan unless the muck is already in a tolerably fine condition. If the muck is coarse and full of fibre, it should be laid up to dry, then treated with quick lime to hasten decay, and turned from time to time till it is quite broken down. There is much waste in having barn-yard manure in contact with lime for any length of time. Muck should not in any event be used in compost till it has been dried. The manure, which should always be pretty well decomposed, can very well be added when the compost heap is turned for the last time. Bones, as commonly bought, have often been boiled, and have thereby lost much of their value.
For agricultural purposes, bones, whether broken or not, should contain as much as possible of their fatty and gelatinous matter, which greatly enhances their value. The compost heap should, if possible, be made under cover, or in some way protected from heavy rains. If it is not convenient to cover it, let it be made in some spot where it will not be washed away.
Let us now suppose the muck, manure, etc.; in proper condition for being mixed. The reader will want to know the proportion of each material to be used; this need not be quite as exact as a medical prescription, nor is it necessary to measure the materials out. A very good way to form a compost heap is as follows: mark out the dimensions of the heap, and spread on the ground about three inches of muck, on which sprinkle quick-lime till it is quite white; then spread on a couple of inches of manure; next about three inches of muck; then a good sprinkling of bone dust or bone chips; then again three inches of muck, sprinkled with ashes; and here may be added, if you have any of them, charcoal dust, horn shavings, leather chips, etc., with a layer of muck between them, finishing with a layer three inches thick, on which begin the course again, and repeat it till the heap is four or five feet high, if necessary, the top being covered with a good layer of muck. In a few days the heap will begin to heat, and when it becomes warm it should be turned. This is best done by working down from top to bottom, which commingles the materials thoroughly. The turning should be repeated several times, when it will be fit for use.
If muck be abundant, the quantity we have named may be greatly increased, while the other materials remain the same. The heap may also be watered with liquid from the barn-yard. This compost should be spread on the surface of the new vineyard from three to twelve inches thick, according to the nature of the soil and one's own circumstances. If the soil is a good loam, such as will grow good corn and potatoes, from two to four inches will be enough. Soils varying from a light loam to lean sand and gravel, should have from four to twelve inches of compost. After being spread on the surface, the compost is to be worked in as described in a former article, the object being to get it as deeply and thoroughly mixed with the soil as possible.
A compost similar to this may be made by using muck as an absorbent in stalls, etc. This may be thrown into the barn-yard with the manure that is made, and more muck added to the manure as it is thrown out daily. At proper intervals it is jemoved from the yard and laid up in a heap, and turned from time to time as it becomes warmed through. If the muck is fibrous, it will require from one to two years to rot it down thoroughly. To this heap, the other materials, or such of them as can be procured conveniently, may be added a couple of months before the compost is wanted for use. No one, however, need be deterred from making a vineyard for the want of them; for though valuable additions, a good compost may be made of simple muck, manure, and lime; or, if the soil is rich in vegetable matter, the muck may be omitted, or may be replaced with leaves, sods, weeds, etc.; but to all light soils we deem the muck essential, not only to give permanence to the soil, but quality to the fruit. If the other materials are omitted, the quantity of barn-yard manure must be increased.
In our next we shall continue the subject of composts and manures this article being now sufficiently long.