( Originally Published 1909 )
THE fact that so much has been written about the grape and its culture goes to prove its popularity. But this fact also acts as a discouraging factor with the amateur who is inclined to attempt its cultivation, for, as soon as he begins to "read up" on grape culture, he finds himself facing so many theories that he soon gets sorely. bewildered, and the result generally is that he. abandons his plan because he feels himself incompetent to decide which of the many theories advocated he would be justified in following. In this connection I quote a paragraph from a recent article by E. P. Snell which I consider very pertinent to the subject in hand, and in which the writer fully expresses my. opinion :
" So much has been written and said on the question of pruning that people have come to think it a matter almost beyond ordinary comprehension. The many different methods advocated are simply the opinions of many different persons, all aiming at the one object, but differing in methods and correspondingly in results. The one object of pruning is to keep the vine in a thrifty, healthy condition from year to year, by removing all of the superfluous growth of wood. The true method, and the one I try to follow, may be described as an ounce of good judgment combined with all the experience one may have at command. A vine, to be profit-able, must be so pruned as to be able to mature and ripen perfectly the greatest amount of fruit possible without injury to itself from overloading. And to determine the capacity of the vine, we must take into consideration conditions resulting from last year's growth. If the wood is short, the canes spindling, and they have not matured more than three feet of their growth before frost, we may be sure that the vine was overloaded, and next season at least a third less fruit buds should be left. So, also, if the vine has made an abundant growth of wood, we may know that a greater number of fruit buds may be left on for the following season, for it is reasonable that a strong and healthy crop of wood indicates the vine's ability to produce a larger crop of fruit."
All of which means, when you come to sum it up, that an overloaded vine will make but poor growth of wood each season, and that the appearance of a vine at the end of the season will tell you whether you have asked too much or too little of it.
This simplifies matters very much for the amateur, for it gives him something definite to base an opinion on. Let him discard theories, and plant his grape-vines, treat them in what he considers a commonsense way, and wait for results, watching them carefully, and he will soon gain the facts from his experience which will enable him to make a success of his undertaking. Anybody can grow this delicious fruit who sets about it, and grow it well, too, and that without being a "scientific" grapeculturist.
My advice as to pruning is this : Watch the vines carefully as they make their annual growth, and rub off all but three or four of the strongest canes that start. Allow no others to grow during the season. This throws the strength of the plant into a few branches. In fall, when the vines are laid down for winter, cut away all but three or four feet of this growth. Or, if you choose to do so, you can nip off the ends of these vines after they have made four or five feet of growth, during the growing season. The only objection to this plan is, that if done quite early side branches are sometimes set out, and this is not desirable. Some prefer to let pruning wait until spring. I do not think it makes much difference when it is done. The object is to shorten the branch, and it is well to do this at a time when it will bleed least. In spring, when fruit buds appear, rub off at least half that start. Apply the ad-vice given above by Mr. Snell as to the number you leave, basing your action on the general appearance of the vine. These things you must determine largely for yourself, for no advice can be given which will fit all cases fully.
" In pruning, remember that it is the new wood which bears the fruit. Remember, also, that the root can support only about so much stalk, and the less wood you have the larger the bunches' of fruit. Little wood means full bunches. Long, straggling canes mean clusters bearing only a few berries each." That is what Green's "Fruit-Grower" has to say on this subject, and it strikes me as putting the whole matter in a nutshell.
The grape does very well in most soils, but it seems to have more of a liking for a gravelly loam than for a heavier soil. It likes liberal applications of manure yearly, but my experience goes to show that it does not care to have-it worked very deeply into the soil. Spread manure on the surface, cover it with a mulch, and let' the plants get the benefit from rains which will extract its nutriment and carry it down into the earth about their roots. I am inclined to think that anything which disturbs the roots of a grape interferes with its vigor, temporarily at least, and that deep working of the soil is not advisable. But this will not pre-vent you from keeping the ground clean about the plants. Allow not a weed to grow there.
Train your plants on a wire trellis, spreading the canes out horizontally, and tying them well as soon as they are lifted from the ground in spring.
In fall, just before cold weather seems likely to set in, cut the vines loose from their trellis, and lay them flat on the ground, and cover with five or six inches of earth. Do not be in too great a hurry to uncover them in spring. Wait until the weather is warm enough to encourage growth.
The best general purpose grape for culture at the north is the Concord. This succeeds everywhere and under almost any conditions.
Delaware is a red grape, sweet, and deliciously flavored.
If you have a dealer in small-fruit plants in your locality, it might be well to consult him before setting out grape-vines. He will doubtless be able to tell you what kinds do best there.
I have advised covering grape-vines in fall. In many sections of the north, this is not necessary. In many localities, however, this must be done, if one would have his vines come through the winter in good condition. The practice which prevails in different sections of the country will enable the reader to decide this matter for himself.