Chapter XIV. The Golden Apples of the Hesperides

The orange, like many other of California's most valuable products, was brought into the country by the patient, far-seeing padres. Orange, lemon, and citron, those three gay cousins of royal blood, traveled together, and soon were to be found in many of the mission gardens. The most extensive of that early planting was an orchard at San Gabriel, set out by Padre Sanchez in 1804. In the height of its prosperity, this mission is recorded as having two thousand three hundred and thirty-three fruit trees, a large proportion of which were orange trees. San Fernando had sixteen hundred trees. San Diego had its orange orchard: how many trees is not recorded, but its olive grove numbered five hundred and seventeen flourishing trees. Santa Inez had nearly a thousand trees. As early as 1800 Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura also had valuable orchards.

Outside the missions the first orange trees in any number were planted in 1834, the famous Wolfskill grove in 1841. By 1862 there were about twenty-five thousand trees of this variety in the state, and two thirds of these belonged to Wolfskill, of Los Angeles. A little later several large orchards were planted in the region around the Mission San Gabriel. In Riverside, often called the mother of orange culture in the state, the first seeds were planted in 1870, the first trees from these seeds in 1873, and from that period is dated the beginning of extensive planting. This was largely the work of colonists. About the time the orchards came into bearing, the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe Overland were completed, so that an Eastern market was gained for the fruit, with the result that the new industry fairly bounded forward. So much was sometimes made from an acre of trees that it seemed as though people could not get land and plant fast enough. Occasionally an income was reported of three thousand dollars from an acre, and eight hundred to one thousand dollars per acre was not an uncommon crop.

Although at this time there were a few orange trees in the middle and northern parts of the state, for many years it was supposed that only the southern country could raise this fruit suitable for the market, but to-day people know better. Excellent oranges are grown as far north as Shasta, and Butte County, which leads in the northern orange culture, has a number of large and valuable orchards. From Tulare County and other parts of the valley of the San Joaquin, choice fruit is being shipped to the markets of the East. From San Diego all the way up the state one may find trees of the citrus family flourishing; still, whether north or south, in planting an orange orchard, the greatest care has to be taken in the choice of location. Jack Frost is the enemy to be avoided, and generally in any strip of country the lower lands are the ones he visits first. So the highlands are preferred, and even here the currents of air must be studied. A strong, uninterrupted, downward sweep of air from the snowcovered mountains will often, at night, drive away the needed warmth gathered during the day, so that land protected by some mountain spur which makes an eddy in the current is the best for this heat-loving fruit.

There are several popular varieties of the orange. The Valencia late is being planted by many in preference to others because, besides being a fine fruit, it keeps well, ripening when the days begin to be long and hot, and is therefore doubly welcome. The sweet orange from the Mediterranean country, and the St. Michael, with its paper rind, are also favorites, as are the delicious little Mandarin and Tangerine varieties, with their thin skin and high flavor; but the king of them all is the Washington navel, which has gained for the state its high position as an orange-raising territory. This is not a new variety, though many may believe it so. A book published in Rome over three hundred years ago gives an interesting description and pictures of this and other kinds of oranges and the way they should be raised. The title of this rare old volume is "Hesperides, or about the Golden Apples, their Culture and Use." Among its many fine illustrations is one of Hercules receiving the golden apples. Another shows the bringing of the fruit to Italy by a body of nymphs and goddesses in Neptune's car. Mr. Charles F. Lummis has translated portions of the book in the California magazine Out West.

On its travels the navel orange finally reached Bahia, Brazil, and there, sometime during the Civil War in the United States, a lady who, it is said, was the wife of the American consul, discovered the deliciousness of this fruit. So pleased was she that she determined to share her enjoyment with others; so upon her return to her own country, she described this orange to Mr. Saunders, head of the government's experimental farm at Washington. He became interested in the subject, sent to Bahia, and had twelve navel trees propagated by budding. These were shipped to Washington, where they arrived safely, and were placed in the orangery there. They all grew, and from them a large number of trees were budded.

Still they had not reached California. Bringing them to the Pacific coast was also the work of a woman. Mrs. Tibbetts, wife of a fruit grower of Riverside, was visiting in Washington and to her Mr. Saunders presented two navel orange trees, which she brought home with her. They were planted beside her doorstep in Riverside. The trees grew rapidly, and when they bore fruit it did not take the California orange growers long to discover that here they had a treasure of more value than the largest nugget of gold ever found in the state.

It was at a citrus fair in Riverside in 1879 that this golden king first appeared before the world. Then from all over southern California came orange men to get buds from these trees. Back home they went with the precious bits of life. Acres of seedling oranges were quickly shorn of their green crowns. Cut, cut, went knife and shears till only the stock was left, and then into a carefully made slit in the bark was placed the navel bud. It soon sprouted, and everywhere one could see the stranger growing sturdily on its adopted stem. Thousands of buds were sold from the two parent trees until there were hundreds of thousands of their beautiful children growing all over the state, giving golden harvests.

If we owe to two ladies the success of orange culture in California, it was a third who saved the industry when ruin threatened it. For a while all went merrily with the orange grower; then in some way, from Australia, there came into the country an insect pest called the cushiony scale, which settled on the orange trees and seemed likely to destroy them. "What can be done to save our trees?" was the cry from the people of the southland. What they did was to bring from Australia a different visitor, the dainty bug called the ladybird. She was eagerly welcomed. No one dreamed of bidding her, in the words of the old nursery rhyme, "fly away home." She was carried to the diseased orchards, where she settled on the scale, and as it was her favorite food, she soon had the trees clean again. In time other pests came to trouble vine and fruit growers, but it is interesting to know that scientists nearly always succeeded in finding some insect enemy of the troublesome visitor, which would help the horticulturist out of his difficulties.

In the business of orange-growing, success is due in a large measure to care in the picking, packing, and shipping of the fruit - care even in those little things that seem almost of no consequence. The more particular Californians are to ship only the best fruit in the best condition and properly packed, the higher prices will the fruit bring, the higher reputation the state gain.

The lemon industry comes closely second to the orange. This fruit does not need so much heat as does the orange, but neither can it stand so much cold. It needs more water, but it bears more fruit and can be marketed the year round. The lemons not sold as fresh fruit are made to yield such products as citric acid, oil of lemon, from which cooking essences are made, and candied lemon peel. In this latter branch of the trade, however, the citron is more generally used, though it is not of so delicate a flavor.

The pomelo, or grape fruit, is fast gaining in favor and increasing in value.

To the stranger who visits California the orange is the most interesting of trees. To pick an orange with her own hands, and to pin on her breast a bunch of the fragrant blossoms, is to an Eastern woman one of the most pleasant experiences of her visit to the Golden State.

In the history of the growth of southern California, and especially of its orange culture, the use of water on the soil plays a prominent part. It was the discovery that the most sandy and unpromising-looking land became a miracle of fertility when subjected to the irrigating stream, that caused the wonderful prosperity of the dry portions of the state.

Irrigation, which means the turning of water from a well, spring, or stream, upon land to promote the growth of plant life, has been used by mankind for thousands of years. In Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, there are remains of irrigation canals made by people who lived so long ago that we know nothing of their history.

The padres who settled California were adepts in this science. In founding a mission they always chose its site near some stream, the water of which could be turned upon the cultivated fields; and the dams, canals, and reservoirs which the padres constructed were so well built that many of them have lasted until the present time.

It will seem strange to many people to learn that the highest-priced, most fertile farm lands in the United States are not to be found in the rich valleys of the Eastern states or the prairies of the middle West, but in the dry region between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Colorado, which belongs to the land of little rain, has in proportion to its size the richest mines of any state in the Union, yet the product of its farms, all irrigated, equals the output of its mineral wealth.

All the flourishing towns of southern California depend for their wonderful prosperity upon the fertility of the irrigated country surrounding them.

Trees and plants require water for their growth, but they do not all need it in like quantity, nor at the same time; therefore, the scientific farmer on arid lands, where there is an abundance of water for irrigation, has an immense advantage over his Eastern brother who depends for water upon the rainfall alone.

While the valuable raisin crop of the Californian is drying in the sun and the slightest shower would damage, or perhaps ruin it, just beyond lies the orange orchard, the trees of which are suffering for water. The fruit, the size of a large walnut, is still hard and green, and must have an abundance of the life-giving liquid if it is to develop into the rich yellow orange, filled with delicious juice, which adorns the New Year's market. How would our ranchman prosper if he depended upon rain? As it is, he furrows his orchard from its highest to its lowest level; then into the flume which runs parallel with the highest boundary of the grove he turns the water from pipe or reservoir, and opening the numerous little slide-doors or sluice-gates of the flume, soon has the satisfaction of seeing each furrow the bed of a running stream, the water of which sinks slowly, steadily, down to the roots of the thirsty trees. After the water has been flowing in this manner for some hours, it is shut off, for it has done enough work. In a day or two the ranchman runs the cultivator over the ground of the orchard, leaving the soil fine and crumbly and the trees in perfect condition for another six or eight weeks of growth.

The first attempts of the American immigrant at irrigation were very simple - just the making of a furrow turning the water of a stream upon his land. Then, as he desired to cultivate more land and raise larger crops, his ditches had to be longer, often having branches. Soon neighbors came in and settled above and below him. They too used of the stream; there was no law to control selfishness, so there were disagreements and bitter quarrels over the water. Lawsuits followed and sometimes even fighting and murders. The remedy for this state of things was found to be in a company ditch, flume, or reservoir, with the use of water controlled by fixed laws.

There are some crops, notably grapes, which are grown without irrigation. The grapevine, instead of being treated as a climber, is each year trimmed back to the main stem, which thus becomes a strong woody stalk, often a foot or more in circumference, quite capable of withstanding the heat and dryness of the atmosphere and of drawing from the soil all the nourishment needed for the fruit.

Wheat, barley, and oats, both as grain and as hay, are largely raised without irrigation. Olives, and many deciduous trees, by careful cultivation may flourish without water other than the rainfall; yet notwithstanding this, for a home in southern California, land without a good water-right is of little value.

The wealth of the region is in a great measure in its expensive water system, which, by means of reservoirs, dams, ditches, flumes, and pipes, gathers the water from the mountain streams and conveys it to the thirsty land below.