Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

Berry Growing Business in 1896

Strawberry Culture in Pajaro Valley

The cultivation of strawberries, which has become such a large and extensive business here, had a very small beginning. I am informed that the first planting was done by the nurserymen, Messrs. J. A. Blackburn and James Waters, who, in about the year 1876, planted one-half an acre to berries, which they attended for a couple of years, but the scarcity of water for irrigation and an insufficient market for the fruit caused them to give up the project and abandon the business as a premature effort.

At about that time the Corralitos Water Company brought its pipes into Watsonville, and so arranged them that the surplus water could be used for irrigation.

Mr. Waters, who had received a few hundred sprouts from the East, set them out in his nursery for the purpose of growing plants. Among these was the "Cinderella," which proved such a valuable variety for many years thereafter. Mr. Waters informed me that these first imported "Cinderella" plants cost him at the rate of $3 per dozen. He had succeeded to the business of Blackburn & Waters and moved his nursery to the Sudden tract, in the outskirts on the north side of the city. Here he prepared ground and planted about two acres in strawberries, securing water for irrigation from the Corralitos Water Company.

These were the first strawberries planted in the valley for commercial purposes.

The following year this patch yielded such a large quantity of berries that Mr. Waters was at a loss to know what to do with them. The local market could not relieve him, although the yield was far from large in the light of comparison with later crops. At that time it was not thought possible that such tender fruit as strawberries could be shipped to a market as distant as San Francisco. But the berries were decaying on the vines, and his only chance seemed in shipping.

By way of experiment he sent a few chests by express. These were, as far as I can learn, the first berries shipped to market from this valley. Later he tried freight shipments, and the result was very satisfactory.

From this small beginning the business of growing strawberries in the Pajaro Valley has increased until now there are planted to this delicious fruit some five or six hundred acres, which yield sufficient tonnage during the height of the season to load from three to four cars per day.

Encouraged by Mr. Waters' achievement, many others embarked in the same venture, and nearly all with success. Some few fields or "berry patches," as they are called, have been plowed under after an attempt that proved unsuccessful in the experimental stage, from various causes, but the rule has been that the berry farm is a certain means of acquiring a competence.

The persons now engaged in berry raising in this valley are: Mesdames William Chalmers, M. Phelan and J. A. Blackburn, and Messrs. Albright, Pinto, Brewington, Eaton, Hopkins, Kuhlitz, Tuttle, Ready, Waters, Grimmer, and Bronson, and the firms of Beck & Blackburn, Waters & Porter, Hudson & Trobuck, Bonde & Petersen, and Driscoll Bros., the Lake Farm, and a Celestial at Sandy's Corners.

Besides the introduction of the "Cinderella" berry into the valley, shippers must thank Mr. James Waters for the inauguration of the improved crate, which was first adopted by him on account of its being so much lighter and better ventilated than the chests previously used in the Santa Clara Valley.

In conversation, Mr. Waters said:

"Our soil being in every way the best, and our cool climate the most favorable for the production of this most luscious fruit, it is not at all surprising that this locality should produce not alone such immense quantities of berries, but also a finer quality than any other in the State. The 'Pajaro strawberries' are now famous not only for their large size and beauty, but also for their delicious flavor.

"The production of small fruits in this valley has become one of he leading industries, supplying, not only the markets of San Francisco, but all of the surrounding towns for a distance of one hundred miles; it gives employment to an immense amount of labor, in various ways, and the returns from the sales of fruit add very materially to the prosperity of our valley."

It is an interesting sight each afternoon to view the towering loads of crates of berries hauled by a long string of wagons passing through our streets on their way to the depots.

This is a continuous thing for at least seven or eight months of the year.

So great has been the increased demand for this perishable product of our valley that during the busiest part of the season a special berry train is run every night from Pajaro to San Francisco.

A rather curious fact in connection with this subject is that at certain times during the season, although carloads are going out of the valley daily, it is found difficult to obtain berries in the local markets, and the price here is regulated by that received in San Francisco.

Answering an inquiry as to the length of the strawberry season, a prominent fruit grower said: "I have shipped them as early as the middle of March, and, in the same season, made my last shipment on the first day of the following January."

The Blackberry, Raspberry and Loganberry

In addition to the business done with strawberries, and as a sort of side issue to the latter, no small figure is cut by the shipment of blackberries, raspberries and Loganberries.

In no one case in the valley is the acreage devoted to these latter berries as large as that of the smaller strawberry fields, but in nearly every case they are cultivated in small patches.

In the length of time that they are marketable the raspberries follow strawberries, and some bushes bear a few berries nearly the year around and an enormous crop during their season.

The blackberry season is comparatively short, but the fruit produced is second to none in size and flavor, and all varieties bear well in any part of the valley. They are extremely productive with good cultivation, and may be successfully grown in this climate without irrigation.

The Loganberry, being a variety unfamiliar to people in any other place, I will devote more space to its account than to others.

From a circular giving its history I extract these notes:

"The Loganberry originated with Judge J. H. Logan, of Santa Cruz, Cal., from whom it derives its name. Several years ago, growing in his garden, were plants of the Aughinbaugh blackberry and Red Antwerp raspberry. The plants, being near each other, had intermixed or grown together. The judge, having noticed that they bloomed and ripened their fruit together, conceived the idea of planting the seeds, from which planting resulted the production of the Loganberry.

"He is entitled to all credit for the origination of this noble fruit, which will be a perpetual monument, placing his name beside those of Longworth, Hovey, Wilson and other originators of new varieties of fruit. He has even done more than they. He has produced a fruit or berry entirely unlike any in previous existence, a hybrid or mixture of two fruits, partaking of the characteristics of both of its parents. The Aughinbaugh blackberry, from the seed of which the Logan is supposed to have originated, has pistillate or imperfect flowers, which must have been fertilized by the polen of the raspberry, producing this most singular and valuable fruit.

"The vines or canes of the Loganberry grow entirely unlike either the blackberry or raspberry. They trail or grow upon the ground more like the dewberry. They are exceedingly strong growers, each shoot or branch reaching a growth of eight to ten feet in one season without irrigation, the aggregate growth of all the shoots on one plant amounting to from forty to fifty feet.

"The canes or vines are very large-- without the thorns of the blackberry bushes--but have very fine soft spines, much like those of raspberry bushes. The leaves are of a deep green color, coarse and thick, and also like those of the raspberry.

"The fruit is as large as the largest size blackberry, is of the same shape, with globules similar to that fruit, and the color, when fully ripe, is a 'dark bright red.' It has the combined flavor of both berries, pleasant, mild, vinous, delightful to the taste and peculiar to this fruit alone.

"It is excellent for the table, eaten raw or cooked, and for jelly or jam is without an equal. The seeds are very small, soft and not abundant, being greatly different from both its parents in this respect. The vines are enormous bearers, and the fruit is very firm and carries well.

"The fruit begins to ripen very early-- the bulk being ripe and gone before either blackberries or raspberries become plentiful. In filling in a place just ahead of these fruits the market value of the Loganberry is greatly enhanced.

"In ordinary seasons the fruit begins to ripen from the middle to the last of May."

When extensively planted and generally known, this berry is destined to take front rank owing to its earliness, large size, beautiful appearance, superior quality, and delightful flavor, together with its firmness and good carrying or shipping quality.

Mr. James Waters, of this valley, has sole right with this vine.

View similarly tagged articles:

agriculture, Corralitos, Pajaro Valley, Watsonville


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