Preparation For Planting

It is impossible to put too much emphasis on the necessity of thorough

preparation of the land before planting the grape. Extra expenditure

to secure good tilth is amply repaid by increased growth in the grape,

and all subsequent care may fail to start the vines in vigorous growth

if the land is not in good tilth preparatory to planting. The vineyard

is to stand a generation or more, and its soil is virtually immortal,

two facts to suggest perfect preparation. The land should be

thoroughly well plowed, harrowed, mixed and smoothed. The better this

work is done, the greater the potentialities of the vineyard. Here,

indeed, is a time to be mindful of the adage which comes from Cato, a

sturdy old Roman grape-grower of 2000 years ago: "The face of the

master is good for the land."

Preparation is a series of operations in which it is wise to take

advantage of time and begin a year before the vines are to be set. The

land must be put in training to fit it for the long service it is to

render. The two great essentials of preparation are provision for

drainage and thorough cultivation. Both, to be performed as the

well-being of the grape require, take time, and a year is none too

short a period in which to do the work. Moreover, newly drained and

deeply plowed land requires time for frost, air, sunshine and rain to

sweeten and enliven the soil after the mixture by these operations of

live topsoil with inert subsoil.


The ideal soil, as we are often told, resembles a sponge, and is

capable of retaining the greatest possible amount of plant-food

dissolved in water, and at the same time is permeable for air. This

ideal, sponge-like condition is particularly desirable for the grape,

especially native species, because the vines of all are exceedingly

deep-rooted. Moreover, grapes thrive best in a warm soil. While,

therefore, the roots may make good use of nutritious solutions, if not

too diluted, in an undrained soil, they suffocate and do not receive

sufficient bottom heat. It must be made emphatic that the grape will

not thrive in water-logged land.

Unless the land is naturally well drained, under-drainage must be

provided as the first step in the preparation of land for the

vineyard. Tile-draining is usually best done by those who make

land-draining their business, but information as to every requirement

of land and detail of work may be secured from many texts, so that

grape-growers may perform the work for themselves. In concluding the

topic, the reader must be reminded that high and hill lands are not

necessarily well drained, and low lands are not necessarily wet even

if the surface is level. Often hilltops and hillsides need artificial

draining; much less often valley lands and level lands may not need

it. To assume, too, that gravelly and shaley soils are always well

drained often leads directly contrary to the truth. Sandy and gravelly

soils need drainage nearly as often as loamy and clayey ones.

Following tiling, if the land has had to be under-drained, the

vineyard should be graded to fill depressions and to make the surface

uniform. Usually this can be done with cutaway, tooth or some other

harrow, but sometimes the grader or road-scraper must be put in use.

Fitting the land.

Preparatory cultivation should begin the spring preceding planting by

deep plowing. If the land has been used long for general farming so

that a hard plow-sole has been formed by years of shallow plowing, a

subsoil-plow should follow in the furrow of the surface plow, although

it is seldom advisable to go deeply into the true hardpan. Fitting the

land must not stop here but should continue through the summer with

harrow and cultivator to pulverize the soil almost to its ultimate

particles. Such cultivation can be sufficiently thorough, and be made

at the same time profitable, by growing some hoed crop which requires

intensive culture. If the soil lacks humus, a cover-crop of clover or

other legume might well be sown in early summer to be plowed under in

late fall. Or, if stable manure is available, this generally should be

applied the fall before planting. Stable manure applied at this time

to a soil inclined to be niggardly puts an atmosphere in the

forthcoming vineyard wholly denied the grower who must rely on

commercial fertilizers.

The land should be plowed again, deeply and as early in the fall as

possible, harrowed thoroughly, or possibly cross-plowed and then

harrowed. The land must go into the winter ready for early spring

planting and the fall work must be done promptly and with a sturdy

team and sharp, bright tools. The grower must keep in mind that no

opportunity will offer during the life of the vineyard to even up for

slackness in the start and that a vineyard of dingy, unhappy vines may

be the result of neglect at this critical time. Good tilth should

proceed until the earth is fairly animated with growth when the vines

are planted. Plate II shows a piece of land well fitted for planting.

Marking for planting.

Given level land, a well-made marker, a gentle team and a careful

driver with a surveyor's eye, and a vineyard may be marked for

planting with a sled-marker, a modified corn-marker or even a plow.

Some such marker method is commonest in use in laying out vineyard

rows, but it is patent to the eye of every passer-by in grape regions

that the commonest method is not the best to secure perfect alignment

of row and vine. The combination named for good work with any of the

marker methods is found too seldom. If the marker method is used, it

is put in practice as follows: The rows being marked at the distance

decided on, a deep furrow is plowed along the row by going both ways

with the plow; this done, small stakes are set in the furrow at the

proper distances for the vines, taking care to line them both ways.

Planting holes are thus dug in the furrow with the stakes as a center.

Marking by means of a measuring wire or chain is the best method of

locating vines accurately in a vineyard. The measuring wire varies

according to the wishes of the user from two to three hundred feet or

may be even longer. The best wires are made of annealed steel wire

about an eighth of an inch in diameter. At each end of the wire is a

strong iron ring to be slipped over stakes. The wire is marked

throughout its length by patches of solder at the distances desired

between rows of vines; to make these places more easily seen, pieces

of red cloth are fastened to them. Sometimes this measuring wire is

made of several strands of small wire, giving more flexibility and

making marking easier, since by separating the strands at the desired

points, pieces of cloth may be tied to mark distances.

In using the wire, the side of the vineyard which is to serve as the

base of the square is selected and the wire is stretched, leaving at

least one rod from road or fence for a headland. With the wire thus

stretched, a stake is placed at each of the distance tags to represent

the first row of vines. Beginning at the starting point, sixty feet

are measured off in the base line and a temporary stake is set; eighty

feet at a right angle with the first line are then measured off at the

corner stake, judging the angle with the eye; then run diagonally from

the eighty-foot stake to the sixty-foot stake. If the distance between

the two stakes is one hundred feet, the corner is a right angle. With

the base lines thus started at right angles to each other, one can

measure off with the measuring wire as large an area as he desires by

taking care to have the line each time drawn parallel with the last,

and the stakes accurately placed at the marking points on the wire.

Still another method which may be put to good use in laying out a

vineyard, especially if the vineyard is small, is to combine measure

and sight. The distances about the vineyard are measured and stakes

set to mark the ends of the rows around the area. Good stakes can be

made from laths pointed at one end and whitewashed at the other. A

line of stakes is then set across the field each way through the

center, in places, of course, which the two central rows of vines will

fill. When these are in place, if the area is not too large or too

hilly, all measurements can be dispensed with and the vines can be set

by sighting. A man at the end of the row has three laths to sight by

in each row and a second man should drive stakes as directed by the

sighter. Accurate work can be done by this method, but it requires

time, a good eye and much patience in the man who is sighting.

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