February 1989

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Incidents in the Early Settlement of Pulteney

Selections on Grape Growing


J. W. Prentiss

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Part 2

The Hammondsport Herald, October 25, 1876

It was about the fifth year of the fruiting of Mr. Reisinger's scientific effort at grape growing that there appeared diseased grapes. The same treatment had been given the vineyard from the first planting. High cultivation had produced great growth of vines and immense quantities of grapes. It was stated in my last that the second year of bearing there were three tons of grapes on the first acre; but the compositors probably thought the amount too large and curtailed it to about 900 lbs.; but I wish to be understood that the amount, three tons, was not above the mark as many will recollect.

The manner of trimming this vineyard was strictly according to the German science. To each vine there was formed at the ground, what was called the head, ("Der Kopf"). To this head the wood was cut back every year, except two canes, which were left long enough to tie to the first trellis, about 18" from the ground. On these two canes the buds were cut out from the top down to two buds on each cane next the head. These two buds on each cane were for fruit canes. Below these fruit canes at the head other canes were allowed to grow; two of which were trained for fruit canes for the next year. In the above description I have been thus particular to try to connect cause and effect in grape growing after the German method.

During the five years of this vineyard's fruit bearing before the grape rot appeared there was probably not a pound of what we now call ripe grapes. Here were rows of vines only four feet apart each way, but by the fourth of July the canes were from six to nine feet long. Consequently the vines had to lap over each way before summer trimming took place, which was on a certain day about the fourth of July. The ground being completely shaded, even after the summer trimming, the sun could not see the ground. It would seem that no one need be surprised that mildew and rot should follow such treatment. Had the ground been in poorer condition or had there been less cultivation, it is more than probable that part of the trouble might have been avoided. But it should be stated that before the second crop of grapes there had been over 52 loads of barnyard manure put on that acre.

Of course I was a close observer of Mr. Reisinger's scientific culture of the vine, and when those dirty, brown spots appeared on his grapes, I did not wait long before trying to learn what German skill had accomplished. To my enquiry of Mr. Reisinger, "What is the matter with your Catawbas?" the answer given was, "Grapes were sick in the old country, they were sick in Ohio, and they would be sick here." But, I asked why are not my grapes sick? His reply was, "You'll catch it bye and bye." Up to this time I had never seen a "sick" grape, though my lake vineyard was not a hundred rods from Mr. Reisinger's.

Before the method of renewing every year at the ground was introduced, my plan had been what is called the spur system; leaving old wood up to the top trellis, which was nine feet high; cutting back the new wood similar to heading back apple trees, when too much wood was made. As I had been very successful in producing large crops of choice fruit, I did not care to give up my plan. I write from memory, but it must have been ten or twelve years after grape rot appeared on the Wagener vineyard, before any appeared on mine; and not until some years after when my vines, trimmed by more scientific hands than mine, did "sickness" show itself.

The Catawba grapes are more liable to mildew than the Isabellas. So is the yellow gage more liable to the same trouble than the green gage plum. I do not despair that we shall yet be able to avoid the worst feature of this "pull back" on "our first love." I do not know that the Catawba grape does rot on its native ground, on the Catawba River, but from satisfactory evidence, aside from theory, am fully convinced that the grape disease, so far as yet developed here, may be generally avoided by proper treatment; for the cultivation now given the vine is calculated to exhaust its vitality to little purpose. As I have before remarked, there is no other vine, tree or shrub that would make any pretentions to healthy growth with the same treatment that is given the grape vine. We should hardly expect the apple or pear to flourish and bear fruit every year. Yet is is as natural for the grape vine to extend its wood from year to year, even to twenty, fifty and an hundred feet, as for the apple to form a tree as it is now allowed to grow.

Proper cultivation and training can do much to promote the growth and increase the fruit, but like everything else it can be overdone. Nature will accommodate herself to moderate and gradual reclamation from uncultivated habits; but we cannot carry these diversions too far from nature's law with impunity.

We are yet in the infancy of grape culture in this country; and before perfection shall be reached, experiments will be in order, and no one need be considered visionary who tries some experiment every year. Much of our national prosperity is do to "Yankee" curiosity to find the best place to make some improvement on the past, and not only make the old new, but to create something original. Why not let grape growing come in for a share?

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
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