Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/The First Fruits of the Land (Part 1)
THE FIRST FRUITS OF THE LAND.
A Brief History of Early Horticulture in Oregon.
By Dr. J. R. Cardwell, Portland.
For many years president of the Oregon State Horticultural Society.
The first settlers found here in the indigenous fruits, a promise of the abundant yield of the cultivated varieties which they were not long in introducing with most gratifying results. There were here the apple—pyrus rivularia; the plum—prunus subcordata; the grape—vitis Californica; two elderberries—sambucus glauca and sambucus pubescens; the blackberry—rubus ursinus; four raspberries—rubus nutkanus, rubus leucodermis, rubus pedatus, and rubus spectabilis; the strawberry—fragaria Chilensis; several wild currants—ribes aureum, and others; three gooseberries, edible—ribes Menziesii; four or more cranberries—vaccinium parvifolium, vaccinium ovalifolium, vaccinium macrophyllum; the barberry—berberis aquifolium, known as the Oregon grape, our State flower; salal—gaultheria myrsinites; Juneberry or service berry, black haw—cratægus Douglasii; filbert—corylus rostrata; chinquapin chesnut—castanopsis crysophylla, and others perhaps not enumerated.
The introduction of the first cultivated fruits in the country in 1824 by employees of the Hudson Bay Company is a pretty story with a touch of romance. At a dinner given in London, in 1824, to several young men in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company bound for the far distant Pacific Coast, a young lady at a table, beside one of the young gentlemen, ate an apple, carefully wrapped the seeds in a paper and placed them in the vest pocket of the young gentleman, with the request that when he arrived in the Oregon Country he should plant them and grow apple trees. The act was noticed and in a spirit of merriment other ladies present from the fruits of the table put seeds of apple, pears, peach, and grape into the vest pockets of all the gentlemen. On their arrival at the Hudson Bay fort at Vancouver the young gentlemen gave the seeds to the company's gardener, James Bruce, who planted them in the spring of 1825. From these seeds came the trees now growing on the grounds of the Vancouver barracks, as transferred to the Government on the disbanding of the company. This story we have from David McLoughlin, the son of Dr. John McLoughlin, Mrs. McLoughlin, Mrs. Whitman, in part, and others.
Mrs. Whitman, in September, 1836, in a letter to her mother, writes of her visit to Vancouver, and her admiration of these fruit trees and their fruits as follows: "On arriving at Vancouver we were met by several gentlemen who came to give us a welcome. Mr. Douglas and Doctor Tolmie and Doctor McLoughlin of the Hudson Bay Company who invited us in and seated us on a sofa. Soon we were introduced to Mrs. McLoughlin and Mrs. Tolmie, both natives of the country, half-breeds; after chatting a little we were invited to take a walk in the garden. What a delightful place it is, what a contrast to the rough barren plains through which we had so recently passed: here we find fruits of every description, apples, grapes, pears, plums, and fig trees in abundance; also cucumbers, melons, beans, pease, beets, cabbage, tomatoes, and every kind of vegetable. Every part is very neat and tastefully arranged with fine walks lined on either side with strawberries; at the end of the garden is a summer house with grapevines."
The apple and the pear trees, and the grapevines from these seeds are yet annually bearing fruits on the grounds of the government barracks at Vancouver. Not long ago I visited these seedling trees, now eighty years old, hoary chroniclers of time, yet showing a vigorous growth. Mrs. Gay Hayden, of Vancouver, informed me she had eaten fruit from these trees for fifty-four years. The fruit is not large, but of fair quality. Fortunately Government does not allow a tree to be removed or destroyed without an order from the department. Capt. Nathaniel Wyeth, in his diary of 1835, speaks of having grafted trees on his place, Fort William, on Wapatoo Island, now called Sauvies' Island. Grafts and stock must have come from the Sandwich Islands, then the nearest point to the cultivated fruits which early missionaries had brought to these islands. As Captain Wyeth left the country soon after, we have no record of his success with these fruits. As Indians and trappers had little care for trees or cultivated fruits, this venture can not be considered in any historical record of the introduction of grafted fruit in Oregon.
The Hudson Bay Company introduced the first cultivated rose, as early as 1830, a pink rose, with the attar of rose aroma. An occasional Hudson Bay rose may yet be seen in the old yards in Oregon City and at Vancouver. It is sometimes called the Mission rose. Miss Ella Talbot, on Talbot Hill, just South of Portland Heights, has one more than forty years old. The Biddle rose—the Chinese Daly—1852, probably the second importation. The Gillette rose, 1853, the third and most valuable, is now widely distributed. The cut-leaved Evergreen blackberry came from the Sandwich Islands. I first saw it early in the fifties, covering a thirty-foot trellis in the dooryard of J. B. Stevens—"Uncle Jimmie Stevens," as he was known. From him I learned that it came from the Sandwich Islands, reported to be a native of one of the South Sea islands. One of the Feejee islands is covered with it. Seth Lewelling originated the Lewelling, the Black Republican, and the Bing cherries, in the sixties. The Bing was named after a faithful old Chinaman. He also originated the Golden prune in 1876. The Silver prune was a misnomer of Coe's Golden Drop, perpetrated by a nurseryman about 1875. The Lambert cherry was grown by J. H. Lambert and presented by him to the Oregon State Horticultural Society at the annual meeting of 1896. The Bremen prune, the Imperial Precose, the Ickwort plum, Reine-Claude, Vert, and the favorite French table plum, the Merabel, were in my importations from Germany in 1872. The Bullock prunes were seedlings of the seventies grown by Mr. Bullock near Oswego. A. R. Shipley, some time in the sixties, imported from the Eastern States forty-five varieties of grapes, American and European varieties. For some years he grew quite a vineyard, was an enthusiast in grape culture—a business man retired to the country for love of horticulture. A close observer and a good cultivator, he did valuable work for the grape industry, and was the acknowledged authority on the subject. He discarded all European varieties, and advised the cultivation of only the American varieties for the Willamette Valley. In answer to my request to name the three best varieties for the market, he said, "If I were setting out three hundred grapes to-day, I would first set one hundred Concords, then another one hundred Concords, then another one hundred Concords," adding, "that is, to make money."
In early days we had agricultural literature. The first paper was the Oregon Farmer, August, 1858, published at Portland by W. B. Taylor & Co, Albert G. Walling, editor. A file of that paper in the rooms of the Oregon Historical Society reads well today. It was published from 1858 to 1863. Then came the Oregon Agriculturist, Salem, 1870 to 1872, by A. L. Stinson. E. M. Waite published a paper for a time in Salem. The North Pacific Rural Spirit, W. W. Baker, publisher and editor, Portland, started in 1867, is now published and edited by M. D. Wisdom. To-day we have the Rural Spirit, Portland, Pacific Homestead, Salem, and Oregon Agriculturist and Rural Northwest, Portland, published and edited by H. M. Williamson, and the Northwest Pacific Farmer, Portland, published and edited by Frank Lee.
The early history of fruit-growing presents to the student at once, a most romantic and a thoroughly practical and matter-of-fact series of interesting pictures. It is related of some of the earliest settlers in the Willamette Valley that nothing more thoroughly and painfully accentuated their isolated condition than the absence of fruit trees on their newly-made farms. Half the beauty and pleasure that brightens the life of youth and childhood, it is not too much to say, is found in the orchard of the old homestead—the sight of the trees in bloom, the waiting and watching for the first ripe fruit, the in-gathering of the fruit in the fall, and the storing of it away in bin and cellar for use in the winter around the ingleside.
Is it any wonder, then, that when some of the early settlers were called to southern Oregon to aid their fellow-countrymen in repelling the attacks of Indians, and finding there wild plums and wild grapes, they brought with them on their return, roots of the former and cuttings of the latter, in the hope that these foundlings of the southern forest would take kindly to a more northern soil? In this act of transplanting was illustrated the world's hunger for the fruit of the vine and tree, so beautifully illustrated by Whittier in his poem commencing with these lines:
- "The wild grape by the river side
And tasteless ground-nut trailing low,
- The table of the woods supplied."
The old Puritans could not have been such terribly stern and uncompromising foes of the good things of life, after all, since they knew enough to find gustatory delight in such fruits as kind mother Nature provided for them in their exile.
Fruit culture is most fascinating and ennobling, as well as the most profitable branch of horticulture, and the advance in the fruit product is evidence of the culture and civilization of a people. It is hard to overestimate the beneficial influence on health, morals, and manners of a generous fruit supply. The ornamental grounds and orchards of the homestead do much in childhood to strengthen that love of home and pride of family which is the foundation of all patriotism. The cherished memories of home thus enriched are, in after life, the strongest bond of family to bring back the absent and wandering to the roof tree; and the erring one is not wholly lost as long as these sacred memories of home and childhood sometimes come to swell the heart and dim the eye with the tear of repentance and contrition.
The fruit industry as a business, in its variety, extent, and commercial importance, as we find it to-day, is of recent origin and within the memory of the present generation,—a worthy tribute to the brain and muscle of men of our time. National and international communication over water and land, the use of railroads with cheap freight rates and rapid transit in fruit and refrigerator cars created the supply; conversely the supply increased creates the greatest demand—an inexorable law of trade. The intelligent foresight and patient labors of those who inaugurated this industry in the far-off wilds of Oregon, are worthy a place in the archives of the State, and should be kept green in the memory of those to come after us.
In the summer of 1847, Mr. Henderson Luelling, of Iowa, brought across the plains several hundred yearling grafted sprouts—apple, pear, cherry, plum, prune, peach, grape, and berries—a full assortment of all the fruits grown in the then far West. These were placed in soil in two large boxes, made to fit into a wagon bed, and carefully watered and tended on the long and hazardous six-months' journey with an ox team, thousands of miles to the banks of the Willamette just north of the little townsite of Milwaukie, Clackamas County.
Here a little patch in the dense fir forest was cleared away with great labor and expense, and the first Oregon orchard was set that autumn with portent more significant for the luxury and civilization of this country, than any laden ship that ever entered the mouth of the Columbia. A fellow traveler, William Meek, had also brought a sack of apple seed and a few grafted trees; a partnership was formed and the firm of Luelling & Meek started the first nursery in 1848. Roots from seedling apples planted at Oregon City and on French Prairie, and sprouts from the wild cherry of the Vicinity, and wild plum roots brought in from Rogue River Valley, furnished the first stock. And it is related that one root graft in the nursery the first year bore a big red apple, and so great was the fame of it, and such the curiosity of the people, that men, women, and children came from miles around to see it, and made a hard beaten track through the nursery to this joyous reminder of the old homestead so far away.
Ralph C. Geer also came in 1847 and brought one bushel of apple seeds and half a bushel of pear seeds, and was one of the first to plant an orchard in the Waldo Hills.
People in those days in this sparsely settled country knew what their neighbors were doing, and in the fall of 1848 and spring of 1849, they came hundreds of miles from all over the country for scions and young trees to set in the little dooryard or to start an orchard; so that the trees were soon distributed all over the settlements of the valley—yearlings selling at fifty cents to one dollar each.
The first considerable orchards were set on French Prairie, and in the Waldo hills and about Salem. Of apples the following varieties were common: Red Astrachan, Red June, Talman's Sweet, Summer Sweet, Gravenstein, White Winter Pearmain, Blue Pearmain, Genet, Gloria Mundi, Baldwin, Rambo, Winesap, Jennetting, Seck-no—further, Tulpahockin, American Pippin, Red Cheek Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, Virginia Greening, Little Romanite, Spitzenberg, Swaar, Waxen, and a spurious Yellow Newtown Pippin since called Green Newtown Pippin—a worthless variety which has since caused much trouble to nurserymen, orchardists, and fruit buyers, and brought by mistake for the genuine—and other varieties not now remembered.
Of pears, the Fall Butter, Pound Pear, Winter Nellis, Seckle, Bartlett, and others.
Of cherries, May Duke, Governor Wood, Oxheart, Blackheart, Black Tartarian, Kentish, and others.
Peaches, the Crawford, Hale's Early, Indian Peach, Golden Cling, and seedlings.
Of plums, the Gages, Jefferson, Washington, Columbia, Peach Plum, Reine Claude and Coe's Late Red were leading varieties.
Of prunes there was only one variety, our little German prune, a native of the Rhine, sometimes called the Rhine Prune, and from which our Italian is a lineal descendant—a sport from its native country.
The grapes were the Catawba and Isabella.
The climate was propitious, and the soil fertile, and there were no insect pests. Trees grew rapidly and they were prolific of such fruit as had never been seen before.
About 1850, a Mr. Ladd started a nursery near Butteville, and in the same year Mr. George Settlemier arrived by way of California with a good supply of fruit-tree seed, which he planted on Green Point, and afterwards removed to his present home at Mt. Angel, where, as fast as his limited means would allow, a large stock of fruit and ornamental trees were accumulated, making in all the largest variety in the Territory. Mr. Settlemier wisely interested his large family of sons in the business by giving them little blocks of ground for side nurseries of their own. J. H. Settlemier tells, with pride, how he started, at ten years of age, in three fence corners, and at thirteen had one thousand trees and sold one bill of $60.
Another nursery was started near Salem and the pioneer fruit industry was fairly inaugurated. This year Mr. Luelling went back East and selected from the extensive nurseries of Ellwanger and Barry, and A. J. Downing, a large variety of young trees and plants, which he brought back via the Isthmus of Panama, carried across by Indians and mules. This time Mr. Luelling, to correct his mistake in the Yellow Newtown Pippin, had Mr. Downing personally point out the trees as they were dug. Strangely the same mistake occurred again, and again Luelling brought out the Green Newtown Pippin, and it was not for some years that the real Yellow Newtown Pippin was introduced into Oregon. The first box of apples placed upon the sidewalk in Portland, by Mr. Luelling, was eagerly purchased by the admiring fruit hungry crowd that gathered about at one dollar per apple, and returned the neat little profit of $75.
The home market now showed many of the above mentioned fruits, which were eagerly sought at fabulous prices. Apples brought as high as one dollar per pound by the box, and in Portland retailed at one dollar and fifty cents per pound readily, and all other fruits nearly as much.
Californians, fruit hungry, with plethoric purses, bid high for the surplus, and in 1853, a few boxes, securely bound with strap iron (as was the custom in those days for protection against fruit thieves), were shipped to San Francisco and sold for two dollars per pound.
In 1854 five hundred bushels of apples were shipped and returned a net profit of from one dollar and fifty cents to two dollars per pound. In 1855 six thousand bushels were shipped and returned $20 to $30 per bushel. Young trees were now in full bearing and the export of 1856 was twenty thousand boxes. This year one box of Esopus Spitzenberg paid the shipper a net profit of $60, and three boxes of Winesap were sold in Portland at $102. From this time to 1869 the fall and winter shipments bimonthly to San Francisco, per steamer, was from three thousand to six thousand boxes.
In those days the foundation for many a princely fortune was laid, and to-day many of our fellow citizens are enjoying the merited reward of their enterprise in a luxurious competence and the "glorious privilege of being independent." But California with her proverbial enterprise, took in the situation and imported across the Isthmus of Panama thousands of young trees and root grafts, which multiplied into millions, and orchards, which had been set out all over the fertile valleys and hillsides, were now coming into bearing; thus her local market was supplied because she was an exporter.
The business decreased from 1860 until 1870. Only a few boxes per steamer of the late winter varieties were sent. These were the Yellow Newtown Pippin, Winesap, Red Cheek Pippin, Genet, and Red Romanite, which, grown in our cooler climate, kept until the California varieties were gone. This marks the decadence of the fruit industry in Oregon. California sent us apples, pears, cherries, plums, prunes, apricots, grapes, and berrries a month or two earlier than we could produce them; and with them came many of the insect pests which she had imported from Australia and the Eastern States, which hitherto had been unknown to us. In our isolation we had no outlet by rail or water for our surplus products. Transportation, such as we had, was enormously expensive. We could not even ship dried fruits. Our elegant orchards were neglected and the fruit allowed to fall to the ground and decay, thus furnishing breeding grounds for the green and woolly "aphis" and the "codlin moth."
To recapitulate: the establishment of orchards in California; the fall of prices to something like a normal standard; over-production, perhaps, on our part—at any rate the lack of demand at remunerative prices for the fruits peculiar to this section—led to carelessness on the part of growers, neglect of the most ordinary precautions, inattention and wastefulness, which resulted not only in spontaneous breeding of insect pests, but also to such conditions of ground and trees that made them favorable to the immeasurably rapid propagation of them, when the establishment of communication with infected points made their introduction not only possible but certain. The natural result of this much-to-be-deplored condition of affairs is too well known to need elaboration. In this respect we were confronted with a condition, not a theory; and while leaving this condition an open subject for further reference before concluding, I pass on to a new era—premising that the establishment of one, two, and three transcontinental railways,the rapidly growing population of the Northwest extending back to the valley of the Mississippi, the limited fruit area for the few hardy varieties, present conditions to which we must now adjust ourselves.
The Department of the Interior, recognizing the fact that the vast "waste places" of the great Northwest, destined to be the homes of thousands upon thousands of hardy and adventurous home-builders, would be found unsuitable for the propagation of our fruits, ordered the importation of apples and other fruits acclimated to the regions of Russia and Siberia and arranged for the establishment of experiment stations to plant and test these trees in the cold, desolate regions north of us. Prof. J. L. Budd, of the Iowa Agricultural College, and Mr. Charles Gibb traveled through Russia and made a very full collection, consisting of hundreds of varieties of wild and cultivated fruits. These were distributed widely over the Northwest and were also tested by Professor Budd on the college grounds. All experiments, practically, have proven failures. To give some idea of the result of these experiments, and the present status of "orcharding" in the West and Northwest, I quote from an article in the November American Garden, from the pen of Prof. J. L. Budd:
The summers and winters during the past six years have been the most trying known to the history of the West on orchard fruits. So far as I know, the wreck of western orchards had known no parallel in the world's history. On the college grounds, the old orchard of 1,200 trees, planted prior to our experimental work with Russian fruits, was totally wrecked, and is now a clover field. Of the 118 varieties, the hardiest of the old list, the Duchess, Whitney's No. 20, and Tetofsky were the only really sound trees left when the orchard was grubbed out. In like manner our pear, European plum, and cherry, of the old list have been destroyed and the stubs dug out. Over a large part of the State east of the Missouri divide, this orchard wrecking has been as complete as with us.
In those snowy and ice-bound regions before referred to will in a few years be found vast aggregations of people. Let the experiments of planting acclimated fruits be ever so successful, all that can be grown either for ornament of their bleak homes, or for the supply of the local markets will be but a fraction, and an insignificant one at that, of the amount required.But to follow up the line of thought from the virtual blight and vital paralysis of this industry in our own borders, to illustrate the spirit of the times, California now leading off, had gathered enormous crops from her immensely large orchards. The problems of rapid transit, safe packing for long distances, transportation and reasonable freight rates, had not received the attention they deserved from orchardists and railroad men. Things were in a chaotic state. The facilities for canning were entirely inadequate. The fruit could not be handled, and thousands of tons were left to rot, or taken to an unremunerative market, and dumped into San Francisco Bay. There was a flurry among fruit growers; outspoken, indeed clamorous expressions of alarm were heard on all sides. The timid prophesied wreck, ruin, and disaster. Newly planted orchards were given over to neglect; large tracts set aside for tree planting were left to native pasturage, or sown to wheat, oats, clover or grass. A vast, important, and promising industry was in great jeopardy. The press of the Golden State, the common carriers, the far-sighted men who saw what the possibilities were in this direction, came to the rescue with well-considered presentations of the true facts in the premises. They discussed the subject at issue in the light of well-established and fully-recognized business principles.
The geographical position of the country, its peculiar climatic surroundings, its adaptability to the production of certain fruits, and the lack of similar climatic conditions in vast areas certain to be the homes of vast populations, were pointed out and dwelt upon, and the certainty that these vast populations in the nature of things, would require immense supplies of our fruits, green, dried, canned, and preserved, was made apparent. This view of the case struck the country press forcibly. It was restated, reiterated, and continuously kept before the people with results, which, in their magnitude and importance, can only be hinted at in this article. But, much that was said, and all there was to say, applied as well to Oregon, and our practical thinking men took up the subject. The scare was over—the spirit was contagious. Old orchards were trimmed and cultivated and new ones set. All the fruits of the temperate zone, so far as tried, had done well in Oregon. Our Italian prunes, Bartlett pears, and Royal Ann and Black Republican cherries paid best, and were attracting favorable attention abroad. The last few years trees of these varieties had been set out by hundreds of thousands all over the State, but mostly through the Willamette Valley. The trees when properly cared for make a vigorous, healthy growth; and five years from the setting make pecuniary returns.
As these to-day are our leading varieties and of considerable importance and great promise in the future commercially, they seem to deserve some historical record. The prune, as before stated was introduced in 1847 by Henderson Luelling of Iowa. Our little German prune—Luelling prune—is the true German prune, a native of the Rhine, propagated from the seed, and cultivated more extensively in Germany and over the continent of Europe than any other fruit, and is the "butter" and the condiment of the peasantry and a principal source of revenue. The prune has always done well with us.
In 1857 Mr. Henry Miller, of the firm of Miller & Lambert, of Milwaukie, who had purchased the orchard of Luelling & Meek, sent to Ellwanger & Barry, of Rochester, N. Y., for the best drying prunes; and in answer received scions of the Italian (Fallenburg), and a little oblong purple prune called the d'Agen, but not the prune grown now as Petite d'Agen or French prune. These scions were worked on bearing plum trees, and soon bore heavy crops. The d'Agen, though a sweet, palatable prune, when green proved to be a poor shipper and watery and unsuitable for drying; so after being pretty extensively tested over the State, was abandoned. The Italian was a large palatable fruit, a good shipper, and yielded thirty-three per cent when dried; making a showy black prune—excellent as a "confection" to eat out of hand; requiring little sugar and of the finest flavor when cooked. The tree is free from all pests, stocky and vigorous; is a regular bearer, carrying its fruits well distributed,and requiring no thinning; remarkable in the respect that it sheds all fruit it can not perfect to a good large size according to the dryness of the season. The tree responds to good treatment but does tolerably in the grass plot and under neglect, and has been called "the poor shiftless man's tree."
About the year 1858 Mr. Seth Lewelling, a brother of Henderson Luelling, set the first Italian prune orchard, five acres, near Milwaukie. Others, noting the elegance of the fruit, in quality, size, and flavor, and its fine shipping and drying qualities, began setting trees in different localities over the State for home use, and as an experiment to test locality, and as a basis for business calculation. About 1870 there was much talk and speculation about prunes and prune growing as a business, for and against, those favoring showing facts and figures, those against claiming that our prunes were not the true German and Italian prunes, and that the prune in this country would, as they had in Eastern States, degenerate into a worthless, watery plum not fit for drying, and, at any rate, that the curculio would soon come and destroy them. Solid business men considered the prune business a visionary scheme, not worthy a serious consideration.
To verify our plums and prunes, in 1872, I ordered from August Bauman, of Bolwiler on the Rhine, one of the largest and most reliable nurserymen in Germany, scions of fourteen varieties of plums and prunes. These came by express at a cost of $11 per package. After five orders and five packages in various shapes had been received in worthless condition, the sixth package enveloped in oil silk and hermetically sealed in a tin can, came in good order. These were grafted on bearing trees, and the third year bore fruit. The Italian prune, German prune, the Petite d'Agen, Coe's Golden Drop, and all other varieties—just such fruit as we had been growing for these varieties—thus settling the matter of varieties beyond dispute. Whereupon, from 1871 to 1881, I set eighty acres to orchard near Portland; six thousand prunes and plums, one thousand Royal Ann and Black Republican cherries, fifteen hundred Bartlett pears, five hundred Winter Nellis, and other pears and winter apples.
This, I am told, was the first commercial prune orchard on the coast. In 1876 I built a three-ton box drier, dried several tons of pitted peach-plums, sold at sixteen cents per pound in fifty-pound boxes. The first yield of prunes dried in 1876 brought twelve cents and for some years did not drop below nine cents.
It was in August, 1853, in the then little village of Portland, we met our first surprise in the fruit product of Oregon. A small basket of peach-plums had attracted a crowd of fruit-hungry admirers. They were handed out, five for a quarter, the smallest change offered or accepted in pioneer days.
To-day you can not understand the sensation of this occasion, or how, later, the first boxes of Italian prunes on a country wagon collected a crowd of merchants, clerks, and street people to the marketing, and how voraciously they were eaten out of hand on the spot. The price, though extravagant, was not considered. You can not understand, for you were never young a thousand miles away from home, in a new country, isolated, without transportation, and without fruit. The peach-plums referred to were highly colored, large, and beautiful, as we know them in Oregon, but then they looked much larger and more beautiful, the aroma was most appetizing, and the melting, juicy pulp of the ripened fruit was enjoyed with a keen gustatory satisfaction.
In our distant home in the West, then as far out as Illinois, we only knew the little wild red plum, stung by the curculio, and wormy. We boys ate them at the risk of the worms, which we no doubt often ate with the plum. The cultivated domestic plum had not been introduced; we had never seen it, scarcely heard of it, hence the surprise.
Citizen P. W. Gillette was then a nurseryman, near Astoria, and had imported from his father's nursery in Ohio a fine stock of fruits and ornamentals. It was in 1855 I made my first considerable order, and I have been ordering and setting trees ever since, as I have been told I "had the tree-setting craze, and had it bad." In the sober reflections of the present I must acknowledge it was true. I had to set trees. For many years I cleared our heavy timber land, and set out ten acres a year. Moderately speaking, I have set over two hundred acres in trees—not a large orchard now. The time had not come for the large commercial orchards of to-day.
I was not alone; the mania was infectious; seemingly nearly everybody was setting fruit trees and plums; the front yards and the back yards of the towns had them. Shrewd business men set orchards to plums—Meek & Luelling, George Walling, Seth Lewelling, and others; later, P. F. Bradford, Dr. O. P. S. Plummer, S. A. Clarke, Dr. N. G. Blalock, and a multitude of others too numerous to mention.
It was not until 1871 I put out twelve hundred peach-plum trees. There was then a great demand for large-pitted plums in the eastern market, and our grocerymen called for them in considerable quantities at home, and often said to me, "Set out pitting plums and peach-plums, and don't set anything you can not pit, for the American people don't want a prune with the pit in it. They don't like them. A few of our large-pitted plums had reached the Saint Louis market, and were selling readily at thirty-five cents per pound. We figured two hundred pounds to the tree, then thought to be a conservative estimate, one hundred and sixty trees to the acre, and forty acres in plums, at fifteen cents a pound, dried. This was good, better than a quartz mine; divided by two it seemed good enough. Time passed. Market reports East showed active demand for pitted plums. Leading wholesale grocers ordered, and said we need not fear an oversupply of plums as per sample sent, and that there was nothing so fine on the market. We sold at sixteen cents per pound, and were assured that they could not drop much below that price.
A correspondent, a grower, Mr. S. J. Brandon, of New York, had discovered, or thought he had, that a heavy clay soil, very like our hilled lands, was unfavorable to the curculio, the blighting pest of the East that had discouraged plum and prune growing in the States east of the Rockies. Mr. Brandon, however, was growing successfully a forty-acre orchard of Reine Claude plums on heavy clay land in New York State, and was reaping a golden harvest from the green products in New York City market.
Another correspondent, Prof. C. V. Riley, then State Entomologist of Missouri, afterwards Government Entomologist at Washington, had written me that the curculio did her work at night, and Only when the thermometer was above 75° F.; lower, she was chilled and could not work. This enthused us. As our nights are uniformly below that temperature, I concluded, and yet think correctly, we should not be troubled with that pest, the one pest that had discouraged the growing of plums and prunes in the East. We have no doubt often had the curculio imported from the East in soil about plants, but up to date I have not seen or heard of a curculio on the Pacific Coast.
I set one thousand Italian prunes, and—with the idea of filling in the drying season from the early peach-plum to the Italian prune—successively for some years I set out the following varieties: Five hundred late peach-plums, five hundred Washington, five hundred Jefferson, five hundred Columbia, five hundred Pond's, five hundred Reine Claude, fifteen hundred French prunes, twelve hundred Coe's Golden Drop; cultivated—plowed twice, hoed around trees twice, harrowed four times, and finished with clod-crusher and leveler, made of six-inch fir poles, five pieces six feet long, spaced six inches apart, 2x4 scantling spiked to ends, which has to this time proven the best implement for this purpose, and seems to me almost indispensable as a finishing tool in cultivating our clay hill soil.
The winter of 1878 was cold, the thermometer falling to zero, with stormy northeast winds for weeks, ending with a heavy snowstorm. The cambium wood froze and turned dark, almost black, the bark burst loose almost entirely on many trees, particularly the peach-plums. Over in Clark County, Washington, and about Portland we thought our trees were killed; yet, in the spring, to our surprise, they nearly all grew and seemed not injured, excepting on the southwest the bark of the peach-plum died, as judged, on account of the warm 2 o'clock sun while the trees were yet frozen. In a few years the damage was scarcely noticed.
The first year of bearing I sent two carloads of peach-plums, wrapped in papers and carefully packed in twenty-pound boxes, to the Chicago market. The weather was warm in transit, they were delayed, and arrived in bad condition, and were sold for about the freight bill, commission, and other charges. I made other ventures of this kind and learned in the clear school of experience that the peach-plum did not carry well, and could not be profitably shipped so far east. Our commission merchants tried many such experiments, and I do not know that any one ever made anything shipping peach-plums East, and I do know there were many losses, and the business was abandoned.
Early in the seventies I built the Acme fruit evaporator, bought a Lily pitter, which pitted three thousand five hundred pounds in ten hours, and, after the failure of my shipping scheme, dried the entire product of my orchard. For some years, starting at sixteen cents per pound, the business paid nicely, then prices dropped to fourteen, twelve, ten, and down, until 1890 they were a drug in the market at six cents, unsalable, and were held over, some for three years, and were then reprocessed and sold at a loss. The fashion had changed, the fad was off, people were tired of pitted plums, the trade turned to prunes, the call now was for prunes with the pit in, as it was claimed to give the true prune taste, which the pit alone could do. This was disastrous. What should I do with my plum orchard? Here was a condition serious. I was theorizing: "Was it possible to graft new heads on these trees successfully?" This was questioned; orchardists shook their heads and thought it too big an undertaking. Some advised digging up the trees to set prunes. I was selling prunes at twelve and one half cents per pound in fifty-pound boxes, faced. Our Italian prunes led the market, and were readily salable at that figure. This was paying fairly well; a legitimate business, so to speak. We were then possessed of the idea that we had a little neck of the woods in western Oregon and Washington—the only spot in this great continent that could grow successfully the Italian prune. We were led to think this as they had failed in California, the East, and other localities, and, presumably, they required a heavy clay soil, and a cool, damp climate, and we didn't know of any other such country, and we were growing them successfully, and we had the verdict of the markets and all comers to that effect.
In 1871 I secured an experienced top-grafter, started in April and grafted twelve hundred twenty—year-old peach-plums into the Italian prune, putting ten to thirty grafts in a tree. It looked destructive. Orchardists looked wise and said it was an experiment; some thought it would not succeed. I had tried a few trees the year before with my own hands, and was hopeful. It did succeed. Fully ninety-five per cent of the grafts grew; enough so that no further grafting was necessary, while some trimming out was necessary. I did not lose a tree—this at a cost of ten cents a tree. I trimmed back the new wood annually, and in three years had a good bearing top, which thereafter bore the largest, finest prunes grown in the vicinity. These I wrapped, packed in twenty-pound boxes, and shipped East. They carried well and gave very satisfactory returns. I shipped seven cars one season. They averaged me $1.25 per box in the eastern market, leaving a nice profit. Continuously every year after this gratifying result I thus worked over about one thousand trees, until forty-four hundred plum trees were all worked over into Italian prunes, with like success and with a loss not exceeding fifty trees. It was said and believed by many that the union would not be good at the graft, and trees thus treated would break down under a heavy load of fruit or from our occasional heavy sleets. This has not proven true—only a suspicious foreboding. Under a heavy weight of fruit and in two heavy sleets the union of the graft, to the contrary, has proven to be as strong as any part of the tree, and it has transpired that this top-grafting is not so difficult and mysterious a handicraft as is generally supposed. Any careful, painstaking man can, in a few hours, learn to set a graft; and so with the waxing, etc. A sharp grafting knife, a trimming saw, a package of cotton batting, a waxing brush, and a heating appliance with kettle of grafting wax, is all the equipment required. For wax, linseed oil and resin, heated and mixed to a right consistence (which is a matter of a little common sense experience). A man who could not learn to top-graft in a day or two of experience I should not consider an orchardist or fit to work in an orchard.
My grafting has been done in March, April, and May, sometimes even after trees were in bloom and leaf. Scions cut in January or February, tied in bunches and set (out ends down) in loose earth on the north side of a building, under shed, have always kept well.
Now it transpires that eastern Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and other localities, grow successfully the Italian prune, and could probably supply the market of the United States. California set great areas of French prunes, and overdid the business, as Californians are apt to do. Probably California, in the near future, will produce more prunes than the world now consumes. For these and other reasons prunes annually dropped in prices from twelve and one half to four cents, and five and one half cents, the present offering. This year the four sizes of French prunes are held at two and one half cents base, and slow movement. California is in the hands of a combine, even at these prices, and the eastern market proposes to hold off and break the combine and get prunes yet lower. The few prunes that are sold now are sold outside the combine at lower figures. Canned goods and green fruits are taking the place of the prune. It remains to be seen whether the combine will hold or break. To hold possibly means that the opportunity to sell will be lost and stock held over. To say the least, the condition is not encouraging. The trade calls for a large black prune. The French prune grown in Oregon is small and light colored and can not compete with the larger dark French prune grown in the Santa Clara Valley, not to speak of their advantage in sun-drying. I have one thousand five hundred twelve-year-old French prune trees yet to work over; am growing wood of the Burbank sugar prune for scions. California is setting and top-grafting into this prune extensively. Everything is claimed for it. "Three weeks earlier than the French, much larger, sweeter, drying forty-five pounds to the hundred; ever bearing enormously; tree vigorous; free from blight or disease of any kind," etc.
In 1872 set three hundred Royal Ann cherries, three hundred Black Republican, and later, four hundred Bing, seventy-five Lambert, sixty Governor Wood, fifty May Duke, and one hundred Early Richmond; for some years the Royal Ann and Black Republican brought from fifty cents to seventy cents per pound, in ten-pound boxes for shipment East. This was fairly remunerative, but of late, on account of fungi, the Royal Ann has not carried well in the long haul; is easily bruised, turns black on the facing, and altogether is an unattractive and unsalable fruit in the eastern markets. We have discontinued shipment. Canneries have come to the rescue and now contract our fruit at three and one half to four cents loose, boxes returned. This, also, will be fairly remunerative. Large dark cherries ship well, sell well, and probably will remain profitable. The world's fairs of 1893 and since revealed the fact that we grow the largest, showiest, and perhaps the finest cherry in the world. Somehow, we ought to do well with our dark cherries. Sixty Governor Wood and fifty May Dukes, after ten years' experience, were worked over into Royal Arms, with the same success in the grafting as with the plum. To-day only an expert would notice the graft or any change in the growth.
The object of this grafting story is to say, "Don't dig up old trees because the fruit does not suit you, graft into sorts that will suit you." Spraying, enriching, and deep cultivation will rejuvenate old trees and bring them into vigorous bearing long before you could realize from setting young trees, and at much less expense.
[ TO BE CONTINUED.]
- It will be noticed that there is a difference in the spelling of the names of Henderson Luelling and Seth Lewelling. As they were brothers the discrepancy may seem to suggest an error in one case or the other. The explanation is this, it being given me by Alfred Luelling, a son of Henderson, a few years ago: The family, originally, came from Wales, and in the latter part of the eighteenth century settled in North Carolina. Soon after arriving the head of the family decided to change the name from the usual Welsh style of writing it—Llewellyn to Luelling, in order to simplify it as much as possible. This was the practice of the family when the children were born—Henderson on April 23, 1809, and Seth several years later. During his whole life Henderson followed the spelling adopted by his father; and that was the custom of Seth until late in life—at least as late as 1875—as is shown by his nursery catalogues which I printed. Soon after the latter year he adopted "Lewelling" as his mode of spelling the name, but "Luelling" was the style retained by the remainder of the family.—George H. Himes.