The Home Acre by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter III. The Garden
We now approach that part of the acre to which its possessor will probably give his warmest and most frequent thoughts--the garden. If properly made and conducted, it will yield a revenue which the wealth of the Indies could not purchase; for whoever bought in market the flavor of fruit and vegetables raised by one's own hands or under our own eyes? Sentiment does count. A boy is a boy; but it makes a vast difference whether he is our boy or not. A garden may soon become a part of the man himself, and he be a better man for its care. Wholesome are the thoughts and schemes it suggests; healthful are the blood and muscle resulting from its products and labor therein. Even with the purse of a millionaire, the best of the city's markets is no substitute for a garden; for Nature and life are here, and these are not bought and sold. From stalls and pedlers' wagons we can buy but dead and dying things. The indolent epicure's enjoyment of game is not the relish of the sportsman who has taken his dinner direct from the woods and waters.
I am often told, "It is cheaper to buy fruit and vegetables than to raise them." I have nothing to say in reply. There are many cheap things that we can have; experience has proved that one of the best things to have is a garden, either to work in or to visit daily when the season permits. We have but one life to live here, and to get the cheapest things out of it is a rather poor ambition.
There are multitudes who can never possess an acre, more or less, and who must obtain Nature's products at second hand. This is not so great a misfortune as to have no desire for her companionship, or wish to work under her direction in dewy mornings and shadowy evenings. We may therefore reasonably suppose that the man who has exchanged his city shelter for a rural home looks forward to the garden with the natural, primal instinct, and is eager to make the most of it in all its aspects. Then let us plunge in medias res at once.
The ideal soil for a garden is a mellow, sandy loam, underlaid with a subsoil that is not too open or porous. Such ground is termed "grateful," and it is not the kind of gratitude which has been defined as "a lively appreciation of favors to come," which is true of some other soils. This ideal land remembers past favors; it retains the fertilizers with which it has been enriched, and returns them in the form of good crops until the gift is exhausted; therefore it is a thrifty as well as a grateful soil. The owner can bring it up to the highest degree of fertility, and keep it there by judicious management. This sandy loam--Nature's blending of sand and clay--is a safe bank. The manure incorporated with it is a deposit which can be drawn against in fruit and vegetables, for it does not leach away and disappear with one season's rains.
Light, thin, sandy soil, with a porous or gravelly subsoil, is of a very different type, and requires different treatment. It is a spendthrift. No matter how much you give it one year, it very soon requires just so much more. You can enrich it, but you can't keep it rich. Therefore you must manage it as one would take care of a spendthrift, giving what is essential at the time, and in a way that permits as little waste as possible. I shall explain this treatment more fully further on.
In the choice of a garden plot you may be restricted to a stiff, tenacious, heavy clay. Now you have a miser to deal with--a soil that retains, but in many cases makes no proper use of, what it receives. Skill and good management, however, can improve any soil, and coax luxuriant crops from the most unpropitious.
We will speak first of the ideal soil already mentioned, and hope that the acre contains an area of it of suitable dimensions for a garden. What should be the first step in this case? Why, to get more of it. A quarter of an acre can be made equal to half an acre. You can about double the garden, without adding to it an inch of surface, by increasing the depth of good soil. For instance, ground has been cultivated to the depth of six or seven inches. Try the experiment of stirring the soil and enriching it one foot downward, or eighteen inches, or even two feet, and see what vast differences will result. With every inch you go down, making all friable and fertile, you add just so much more to root pasturage. When you wish to raise a great deal, increase your leverage. Roots are your levers; and when they rest against a deep fertile soil they lift into the air and sunshine products that may well delight the eyes and palate of the most fastidious. We suggest that this thorough deepening, pulverization, and enriching of the soil be done at the start, when the plow can be used without any obstructions. If there are stones, rocks, roots, anything which prevents the treatment which a garden plot should receive, there is a decided advantage in clearing them all out at the beginning. Last fall I saw a half-acre that was swampy, and so encumbered with stones that one could walk all over it without stepping off the rocks. The land was sloping, and therefore capable of drainage. The proprietor put three men to work on the lower side with picks, shovels, and blasting-tools. They turned the soil over to the depth of eighteen inches, taking out every stone larger than a walnut. Eight or ten feet apart deep ditches were cut, and the stones, as far as possible, placed in these. The rest were carted away for a heavy wall. You may say it was expensive work. So it was; yet so complete a garden spot was made that I believe it would yield a fair interest in potatoes alone. I relate this instance to show what can be done. A more forbidding area for a garden in its original state could scarcely be found. Enough vegetables and fruit can be raised from it hereafter, with annual fertilizing, to supply a large family, and it will improve every year under the refining effects of frost, sun, and cultivation.
It should be remembered that culture does for soil what it does for men and women. It mellows, brings it up, and renders it capable of finer products. Much, indeed, can be done with a crude piece of land in a single year when treated with the thoroughness that has been suggested, and some strong-growing vegetables may be seen at their best during the first season; but the more delicate vegetables thrive better with successive years of cultivation. No matter how abundantly the ground may be enriched at first, time and chemical action are required to transmute the fertilizers into the best forms of plant-food, and make them a part of the very soil itself. Plowing or spading, especially if done in late autumn, exposes the mould to the beneficial action of the air and frost, and the garden gradually takes on the refined, mellow, fertile character which distinguishes it from the ordinary field.
In dealing with a thin, sandy soil, one has almost to reverse the principles just given. Yet there is no cause for discouragement. Fine results, if not the best, can be secured. In this case there is scarcely any possibility for a thorough preparation of the soil from the start. It can gradually be improved, however, by making good its deficiencies, the chief of which is the lack of vegetable mould. If I had such soil I would rake up all the leaves I could find, employ them as bedding for my cow and pigs (if I kept any), and spread the compost-heap resulting on the sandy garden. The soil is already too light and warm, and it should be our aim to apply fertilizers tending to counteract this defect. A nervous, excitable person should let stimulants alone, and take good, solid, blood-making food. This illustration suggests the proper course to be taken. Many a time I have seen action the reverse of this resulting disastrously. For instance, a man carts on his light thin soil hot fermenting manure from the horse-stable, and plows it under. Seeds are planted. In the moist, cool, early spring they make a great start, feeling the impulse of the powerful stimulant. There is a hasty and unhealthful growth; but long before maturity the days grow long and hot, drought comes, and the garden dries up. Therefore every effort should be made to supply cool manures with staying qualities, such as are furnished by decayed vegetable matter composted with the cleanings of the cow-stable. We thus learn the value of fallen leaves, muck from the swamp, etc.; and they also bring with them but few seeds of noxious vegetation.
On the other hand, stolid, phlegmatic clay requires the stimulus of manure from the horse-stable. It can be plowed under at once, and left to ferment and decay in the soil. The process of decomposition will tend to banish its cold, inert qualities, and make the ground loose, open, and amenable to the influences of frost, sun, and rain.
Does the owner of light, warm soils ask, "What, then, shall I do with my stable-manure, since you have said that it will be an injury to my garden?" I have not said this--only that it will do harm if applied in its raw, hot, fermenting state. Compost it with leaves, sod, earth, muck, anything that will keep it from burning up with its own heat. If you can obtain no such ingredients, have it turned over and exposed to the air so often that it will decay without passing through a process approaching combustion. When it has become so thoroughly decomposed as to resemble a fine black powder, you have a fertilizer superior to any high-priced patent compound that can be bought. Further on I will show how it can be used both in this state and also in its crude condition on light soils with the best results.
It is scarcely possible to lay too much stress on this subject of fertilizers. The soil of the garden-plot looks inert: so does heavy machinery; but apply to it the proper motive power, and you have activity at once. Manure is the motive power to soil, and it should be applied in a way and degree to secure the best results. To produce some vegetables and fruits much is required; in other growths, very little.
In laying out a garden there are several points to be considered. The proprietor may be more desirous of securing some degree of beauty in the arrangement than of obtaining the highest condition of productiveness. If this be true, he may plan to make down its centre a wide, gravelled walk, with a grape-arbor here and there, and fruit-trees and flowers in borders on each side of the path. So far from having any objection to this arrangement, I should be inclined to adopt it myself. It would be conducive to frequent visits to the garden and to lounging in it, especially if there be rustic seats under the arbors. I am inclined to favor anything which accords with my theory that the best products of a garden are neither eaten nor sold. From such a walk down the middle of the garden the proprietor can glance at the rows of vegetables and small fruits on either side, and daily note their progress. What he loses in space and crops he gains in pleasure.
Nor does he lose much; for if the borders on each side of the path are planted with grape-vines, peach and plum trees, flowers and shrubs, the very ground he walks on becomes part of their root pasturage. At the same time it must be admitted that the roots will also extend with depleting appetites into the land devoted to vegetables. The trees and vines above will, to some extent, cast an unwholesome shade. He who has set his heart on the biggest cabbages and best potatoes in town must cultivate them in ground open to the sky, and unpervaded by any roots except their own. If the general fruitfulness of the garden rather than perfection in a few vegetables is desired, the borders, with their trees, vines, and flowers, will prove no objection. Moreover, when it comes to competing in cabbages, potatoes, etc., the proprietor of the Home Acre will find that some Irishman, by the aid of his redolent pig- pen, will surpass him. The roots and shade extending from his borders will not prevent him from growing good vegetables, if not the largest.
We will therefore suppose that, as the simplest and most economical arrangement, he has adopted the plan of a walk six feet wide extending through the centre of his garden. As was the case with the other paths, it will be greatly to his advantage to stake it out and remove about four inches of the surface-soil, piling it near the stable to be used for composting purposes or in the earth-closet. The excavation thus made should be filled with small stones or cinders, and then covered with fine gravel. A walk that shall be dry at all times is thus secured, and it will be almost wholly free from weeds. In these advantages alone one is repaid for the extra first cost, and in addition the rich surface soil obtained will double the bulk and value of the fertilizers with which it is mixed.
Having made the walk, borders five feet wide can be laid out on each side of it, and the soil in these should be as rich and deep as any other parts of the garden. What shall be planted in these borders will depend largely on the tastes of the gardener; but, as has been suggested, there will assuredly be one or more shadowy grape-arbors under which the proprietor can retire to provide horticultural strategy. This brings us to that chef-d'oeuvre of Nature--
The vine. It climbs by its tendrils, and they appear to have clasped the heart of humanity. Among the best of Heaven's gifts, it has sustained the worst perversions. But we will refrain from a temperance lecture; also from sacred and classical reminiscences. The world is not composed of monks who thought to escape temptation--and vainly too--in stony cells. To some the purple cluster suggests Bacchanal revelry; to others, sitting under one's own vine and fig-tree--in brief, a home. The vine is like woman, the inspiration of the best and the worst.
It may well become one of the dreams of our life to own land, if for no other reason than that of obtaining the privilege of planting vines. As they take root, so will we, and after we have eaten their delicious fruit, the very thought of leaving our acre will be repugnant. The literature of the vine would fill a library; the literature of love would crowd many libraries. It is not essential to read everything before we start a little vineyard or go a-courting.
It is said that about two thousand known and named varieties of grapes have been and are being grown in Europe; and all these are supposed to have been developed from one species (Vitis vinifera), which originally was the wild product of Nature, like those growing in our thickets and forests. One can scarcely suppose this possible when contemplating a cluster of Tokay or some other highly developed variety of the hot-house. Yet the native vine, which began to "yield fruit after his kind, the third day" (whatever may have been the length of that day), may have been, after all, a good starting-point in the process of development. One can hardly believe that the "one cluster of grapes" which the burdened spies, returning from Palestine, bore "between two of them upon a staff," was the result of high scientific culture. In that clime, and when the world was young, Nature must have been more beneficent than now. It is certain that no such cluster ever hung from the native vines of this land; yet it is from our wild species, whose fruit the Indians shared with the birds and foxes (when not hanging so high as to be sour), that we have developed the delicious varieties of our out-door vineyards. For about two centuries our forefathers kept on planting vines imported from Europe, only to meet with failure. Nature, that had so abundantly rewarded their efforts abroad, quietly checkmated them here. At last American fruit-growers took the hint, and began developing our native species. Then Nature smiled; and as a lure along this correct path of progress, gave such incentives as the Isabella, the Catawba, and Concord. We are now bewildered by almost as great a choice of varieties from native species as they have abroad; and as an aid to selection I will again give the verdict of some of the authorities.
The choice of the Hon. Norman J. Colman, Commissioner of Agriculture: "Early Victor, Worden, Martha, Elvira, Cynthiana." This is for the region of Missouri. For the latitude of New Jersey, A.S. Fuller's selection: "Delaware, Concord, Moore's Early, Antoinette (white), Augusta (white), Goethe (amber)." E.S. Carmen: "Moore's Early [you cannot praise this too much. The quality is merely that of the Concord; but the vines are marvels of perfect health, the bunches large, the berries of the largest size. They ripen all at once, and are fully ripe when the Concord begins to color], Worden, Brighton, Victoria (white), Niagara (white), El Dorado. [This does not thrive everywhere, but the grapes ripen early--September 1, or before--and the quality is perfection--white.]" Choice of P.J. Berckman, for the latitude of Georgia: "White grapes--Peter Wylie, Triumph, Maxatawny, Scuppernong. Bed grapes--Delaware, Berckman's, Brighton. Black-- Concord, Ives."
As I have over a hundred varieties in bearing, I may venture to express an opinion also. I confess that I am very fond of those old favorites of our fathers, the Isabella and Catawba. They will not ripen everywhere in our latitude, yet I seldom fail to secure a good crop. In the fall of 1885 we voted the Isabella almost unsurpassed. If one has warm, well-drained soil, or can train a vine near the south side of a building, I should advise the trial of this fine old grape. The Iona, Brighton, and Agawam also are great favorites with me. We regard the Diana, Wyoming Red, Perkins, and Rogers' hybrids, Lindley, Wilder, and Amenia, as among the best. The Rebecca, Duchess, Lady Washington, and Purity are fine white grapes. I have not yet tested the Niagara. Years ago I obtained of Mr. James Ricketts, the prize-taker for seedling grapes, two vines of a small wine grape called the Bacchus. To my taste it is very pleasant after two or three slight frosts.
Our list of varieties is long enough, and one must be fastidious indeed who does not find some to suit his taste. In many localities the chief question is, What kind can I grow? In our favored region on the Hudson almost all the out-door grapes will thrive; but as we go north the seasons become too cool and short for some kinds, and proceeding south the summers are too long and hot for others. The salt air of the sea-coast is not conducive to vine-culture, and only the most vigorous, like the Concord and Moore's Early, will resist the mildew blight. We must therefore do the best we can, and that will be very well indeed in most localities.
Because our list of good grapes is already so long, it does not follow that we have reached the limit of development by any means. When we remember that almost within a lifetime our fine varieties have been developed from the wild northern Fox grape (Vitis labrusca), the Summer grape (oestivalis), Frost (cordifolia), we are led to think that perhaps we have scarcely more than crossed the stile which leads into the path of progress. If I should live to keep up my little specimen vineyard ten years longer, perhaps the greater part of the varieties now cultivated will have given place to others. The delicious Brighton requires no more space than a sour, defective variety; while the proprietor starts with the best kinds he can obtain, he will find no restraint beyond his own ignorance or carelessness that will prevent his replacing the Brighton with a variety twice as good when it is developed. Thus vine-planting and grape-tasting stretch away into an alluring and endless vista.
When such exchanges are made, we do not recommend the grafting of a new favorite on an old vine. This is a pretty operation when one has the taste and leisure for it, and a new, high-priced variety can sometimes be obtained speedily and cheaply in this way. Usually, however, new kinds soon drop down within the means of almost any purchaser, and there are advantages in having each variety growing upon its own root. Nature yields to the skill of the careful gardener, and permits the insertion of one distinct variety of fruit upon another; but with the vine she does not favor this method of propagation and change, as in the case of pears and apples, where the graft forms a close, tenacious union with the stock in which it is placed. Mr. Fuller writes: "On account of the peculiar structure of the wood of the vine, a lasting union is seldom obtained when grafted above-ground, and is far from being certain even when grafted below the surface, by the ordinary method." The vine is increased so readily by easy and natural methods, to be explained hereafter, that he who desires nothing more than to secure a good supply of grapes for the table can dismiss the subject. On the other hand, those who wish to amuse themselves by experimenting with Nature can find abundant enjoyment in not only grafting old vines, but also in raising new seedlings, among which he may obtain a prize which will "astonish the natives." Those, however, whose tastes carry them to such lengths in vine-culture will be sure to purchase exhaustive treatises on the subject, and will therefore give no heed to these simple practical chapters. It is my aim to enable the business man returning from his city office, or the farmer engrossed with the care of many acres, to learn in a few moments, from time to time, just what he must do to supply his family abundantly with fruits and vegetables.
If one is about to adopt a grape-culture as a calling, common- sense requires that he should locate in some region peculiarly adapted to the vine. If the possessor of a large farm purposes to put several acres in vineyard, he should also aim to select a soil and exposure best suited to his purpose. Two thousand years ago Virgil wrote, "Nor let thy vineyard bend toward the sun when setting." The inference is that the vines should face the east, if possible; and from that day to this, eastern and southern exposures have been found the best. Yet climate modifies even this principle. In the South, I should plant my vineyard on a north- western slope, or on the north side of a belt of woods, for the reason that the long, hot days there would cause too rapid an evaporation from the foliage of the vines, and enfeeble, if not kill them. In the limited space of the Home Acre one can use only such land as he has, and plant where he must; but if the favorable exposures indicated exist, it would be well to make the most of them. I can mention, however, as encouragement to many, that I saw, last fall, splendid grapes growing on perfectly level and sandy soil in New Jersey.
A low-lying, heavy, tenacious clay is undoubtedly the worst ground in which to plant a vine; and yet by thorough drainage, a liberal admixture of sand, and light fertilizers, it can be made to produce good grapes of some varieties. A light sandy soil, if enriched abundantly with well-decayed vegetable and barnyard manures, gives wider scope in choice of kinds; while on the ideal well-drained sandy loam that we have described, any outdoor grape can be planted hopefully if the garden is sufficiently removed from the seaboard.
As a general truth it may be stated that any land in a condition to produce a fine crop of corn and potatoes is ready for the vine. This would be true of the entire garden if the suggestions heretofore made have been carried out. Therefore the borders which have been named are ready to receive the vines, which may be planted in either spring or fall. I prefer the fall season for several reasons. The ground is usually drier then, and crumbles more finely; the young vine becomes well established and settled in its place by spring, and even forms new roots before the growing season begins, and in eight cases out of ten makes a stronger growth than follows spring planting; it is work accomplished when there is usually the greatest leisure. If the ground is ready in early spring, I should advise no delay. A year's growth is gained by setting out the vines at once. As a rule I do not advise late spring planting--that is, after the buds have started on the young vines. They may live, but usually they scarcely do more, the first year.
In ordering from a nursery I should ask for vigorous, well-rooted two-year-old vines, and I should be almost as well contented with first-class one-year-olds. If any one should advertise "extra large, strong vines, ready to bear at once," I should have nothing to do with him. That's a nursery trick to get rid of old stock. The first year after the shock of removal a vine should not be permitted to bear at all; and a young vigorous vine is worth a dozen old stunted ones.
Having procured the vines, keep them in a cool, moist place until ready to plant. Never permit the roots to become dry; and if some of them are long and naked, shorten them to two feet, so as to cause them to throw out side fibrous roots, which are the true feeders. Excavate holes of ample size, so that all the roots may be spread out naturally. If you have reason to think the ground is not very good, two or three quarts of fine bone-dust thoroughly mixed with the soil that is placed on and about the roots will give a fine send-off. Usually a good mulch of any kind of barnyard manure placed on the surface after planting will answer all purposes. Before filling in the hole over the roots, place beside the vine a stout stake six or seven feet high. This will be all the support required the first year. Cut back the young vine to three buds, and after they get well started, let but one grow. If the planting is done in the fall, mound the earth up over the little vine at the approach of winter, so as to cover it at least six inches below the surface. In spring uncover again as soon as hard frosts are over--say early April in our latitude. Slow- growing varieties, like the Delaware, may be set out six feet apart; strong growers, like the Concord, eight feet. Vines can not be expected to thrive under the shade of trees, or to fight an unequal battle in ground filled with the roots of other plants.
Vines may be set out not only in the garden borders, but also in almost any place where their roots will not be interfered with, and where their foliage will receive plenty of light and air. How well I remember the old Isabella vines that clambered on a trellis over the kitchen door at my childhood's home! In this sunny exposure, and in the refleeted heat of the building, the clusters were always the sweetest and earliest ripe. A ton of grapes may be secured annually by erecting trellises against the sides of buildings, walls, and poultry yard, while at the same time the screening vines furnish grateful shade and no small degree of beauty. With a little petting, such scattered vines are often enormously productive. An occasional pail of soapsuds gives them a drink which eventually flushes the thickly hanging clusters with exquisite color. People should dismiss from their minds the usual method of European cultivation, wherein the vines are tied to short stakes, and made to produce their fruit near the ground. This method can be employed if we find pleasure in the experiment. At Mr. Fuller's place I saw fine examples of it. Stubby vines with stems thick as one's wrist rose about three feet from the ground, then branched off on every side, like an umbrella, with loads of fruit. Only one supporting stake was required. This method evidently is not adapted to our climate and species of grape, since in that case plenty of keen, practical fruit-growers would have adopted it. I am glad this is true, for the vine-clad hills of France do not present half so pleasing a spectacle as an American cornfield. The vine is beautiful when grown as a vine, and not as a stub; and well-trained, well-fed vines on the Home Acre can be developed to almost any length required, shading and hiding with greenery every unsightly object, and hanging their finest clusters far beyond the reach of the predatory small boy.
We may now consider the vines planted and growing vigorously, as they will in most instances if they have been prepared for and planted according to the suggestions already given. Now begins the process of guiding and assisting Nature. Left to herself, she will give a superabundance of vine, with sufficient fruit for purposes of propagation and feeding the birds. Our object is to obtain the maximum of fruit from a minimum of vine. The little plant, even though grown from a single bud, will sprawl all over everything near it in three or four years, if unchecked. Pruning may begin even before midsummer of the first year. The single green shoot will by this time begin to produce what are termed "laterals." The careful cultivator who wishes to throw all the strength and growth into the main shoot will pinch these laterals back as soon as they form one leaf. Each lateral will start again from the axil of the leaf that has been left, and having formed another leaf, should again be cut off. By repeating this process during the growing season you have a strong single cane by fall, reaching probably beyond the top of the supporting stake. In our latitude I advise that this single cane--that is, the vine--be cut back to within fifteen inches of the surface when the leaves have fallen and the wood has well-ripened--say about the middle of November--and that the part left be bent over and covered with earth. When I say "bent over," I do not mean at right angles, so as to admit of the possibility of its being broken, but gently and judiciously. I cover with earth all my vines, except the Concords and Isabellas, just before hard freezing weather; and even these two hardy kinds I weight down close to the ground. I have never failed to secure a crop from vines so treated. Two men will protect over a hundred vines in a day.
In early April the young vine is uncovered again; and now the two uppermost buds are allowed to grow and form two strong canes, instead of one, and on this new growth four or five clusters of grapes may be permitted to mature if the vine is vigorous. If it is feeble, take off all the fruit, And stimulate the vine into greater vigor. Our aim is not to obtain half a dozen inferior clusters as soon as possible, but to produce a vine that will eventually almost supply a family by itself. If several varieties have been planted, some will be found going ahead rampantly; others will exhibit a feebler growth, which can be hastened and greatly increased by enriching the surface of the soil around them and by a pail of soap-suds now and then in May or June--but not later, unless there should be a severe drought. There should be no effort to produce much growth during the latter part of the summer and early autumn, for then both the wood and roots will be immature and unripened when frost begins, and thus the vine receive injury. For this reason it is usually best to apply fertilizers to vines in the fall; for if given in the spring, a late, unhealthful growth is often produced. Throughout all subsequent years manure must be applied judiciously. You may tell the hired man to top-dress the ground about the vines, and he will probably treat all alike; a vine that is already growing so strongly that it can scarcely be kept within bounds will receive as much as one that is slow and feeble in its development. This is worse than waste. Each vine should be treated in accordance with its condition and habit of growth. What would be thought of a physician who ordered a tonic for an entire family, giving as much to one who might need depleting, as to another who, as country people say, was "puny and ailin'?" With even an assortment of half a dozen varieties we shall find after the first good start that some need a curb, and others a spur.
Stakes will answer as supports to the vines during the first and second seasons; but thereafter trellises or arbors are needed. The latter will probably be employed over the central walk of the garden, and may be constructed after several simple and pretty designs, which I leave to the taste of the reader. If vines are planted about buildings, fences, etc., trellises may be made of anything preferred--of galvanized wire, slats, or rustic poles fastened to strong, durable supports. If vines are to be trained scientifically in the open garden, I should recommend the trellises figured on pages 120 and 142 of Mr. Fuller's work, "The Grape Culturist." These, beyond anything I have seen, appear the best adapted for the following out of a careful system of pruning and training. Such a system Mr. Fuller has thoroughly and lucidly explained in the above-named book.
Unless the reader has had experience, or is willing to give time for the mastery of this subject, I should advise that he employ an experienced gardener to prune his vines after the second year. It is a brief task, but a great deal depends upon it. In selecting a man for the work I should require something more than exaggerated and personal assurances. In every village there are terrible butchers of vines and fruit-trees, who have some crude system of their own. They are as ignorant of the true science of the subject as a quack doctor of medicine, and, like the dispenser of nostrums, they claim to be infallible. Skilful pruning and training is really a fine art, which cannot be learned in a day or a year. It is like a surgical operation, requiring but little time, yet representing much acquired skill and experience. In almost every locality there are trustworthy, intelligent gardeners, who will do this work for a small sum until the proprietor has learned the art himself, if so inclined. I should also employ the same man in spring to tie up the vines and train them.
If one is not ambitious to secure the best results attainable, he can soon learn to perform both the tasks well enough to obtain fairly good fruit in abundance. It should be our constant aim not to permit long, naked reaches of wood, in one part of the vine, and great smothering bunches of fruit and foliage in another part. Of course the roots, stem, and leading arms should be kept free from useless shoots and sprouts; but having reached the trellis, the vine should be made to distribute bearing fruit-spurs evenly over it. Much can be learned about pruning from books and by watching an expert gardener while giving the annual pruning; but the true science of trimming a vine is best acquired by watching buds develop, by noting what they will do, where they go, and how much space they will take up in a single summer. In this way one will eventually realize how much is wrapped up in the insignificant little buds, and now great the folly of leaving too many on the vine.
In my next chapter I shall treat briefly of the propagation of the grape, its insect enemies, diseases, etc.; and also of some other fruits.