As the subject of the present article, I shall take Santa Clara County; a description of which will enable me, to some extent, to illustrate the farming interest in California. I am not aware that this county is much superior to any of several others that could be mentioned. The adjoining counties of Monterey and Santa Cruz possess, in Hollister, Salinas Valley, Pajaro Valley, and various other places, a soil equal in fertility to anything that can be found in Santa Clara County. Merced and Stanislaus, two other adjoining counties, surpass it in the quantity of grain raised; and Alameda, another of its adjoining counties, surpasses it in the value of its real estate, improvements, and personal property. This statement is necessary, in order to prevent those who are unacquainted with the resources of the State from thinking that Santa Clara is an excpetional county, and has been selected on account of its superiority to all others. Doubtless several of the other counties are inferior in some respects to it; but they have counterbalancing advantages, which, on the whole, render them as suitable to the settler.
This county being easily accesible from San Francisco, anyone who desires, can, with little difficulty, find an opportunity of testing the truth of statements made with regard to it. Let the traveler who wishes to see Santa Clara County get on the train of the Southern Pacific Railroad, in San Francisco, at 8:40 a.m. For the first twenty of thirty miles of his journey, the country looks dreary enough. But as he approaches the centre of San Mateo County, the scene changes. Instead of the naked hills and unreclaimed swamps that he saw at the outset of his journey, his eyes are gladdened by the sight of rich farmlands, studded with beautiful houses, many of which are of palatial size and architecture. Hence, onward through Santa Clara Valley as far as the southern boundary of the county, the country is beautifully wooded. The landsape on every side is adorned with magnificent oaks festooned with wreaths of moss, stately gum-trees lifting their tapering stems spire-like to heaven, sycamores with their giant trunks gleaming in the sun like silver, and a variety of other trees and shrubs, which not only add to the pleasures of the senses, but in a commercial point of view increase the value of the land. Tastefully laid-out grounds, well-kept gravel-walks, and pleasure-grounds ornamented with statues and fountains, are features of common occurrence throughout the valley. The pleasing aspect of the surroundings, taken in connection with the genial climate, has been an effect on strangers, that few of them visit the valley without regretting that their home is not permanently cast in a land so singularly blessed.
sheltered from the sea-breeze by the Santa Cruz mountains, Santa Clara
has a climate which is a happy medium between what we find in the hot valeys
in the interior of the State, and that of the northern coast counties.
It is much frequented by invalids from numberous parts of the United States,
not solely on account of its pleasant climate, but to obtain the benefit
of its numerous mineral springs. The follwing table shows the temperature
of San José, the county-seat:
|6 a.m.||12:30 p.m.||6 p.m.|
Though in this table there is no instance in which the thermometer has fallen to the freezing point, yet in some years they have a slight frost in San José. However, there are portions of the foot-hills known as the "Warm Belt," where there is never any frost.
The area of Santa Clara County is about 700,000 acres, of which less than half is valley land. The ramianeder consists partly of hills valuable for grazing purposes (and, to a considerable extent, capable of yielding grain and fruits), and partly of steep and rugged mountains, rising in some instances to a height of nearly 4,000 feet above the level of the sea, which produce valuable timber. Grazing land varies in price from $5 to $20 per acre; farm land, from $20 to $120; and land cabable of producing strawberries, blackberries, garden vegetables, etc., if near a railroad station, brings as much as $200 to $400 per acre. Land of this description is often rented at the rate of $230 to $30 an acre, yearly.
It is not easy to enumerate all the crops to which the soil and cliimate of this county are adapted. It would be easier to name the crops that will not grow there. There are but few of the agricultural productions of the United States that can not be raised in Santa Clara with profit. Wheat, barley, corn, oats, rye, peas, beans, flax, potatoes, hops, tobacco, beets, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, almonds, walnuts, figs, plums, oranges, olives, grapes, strawberries, blackberries, mulberries, etc., are among its productions. The soil in the valley is a rich loam of wonderful fertility. As many as seventy-five bushels of wheat to the acre have been raised there. The Surveryor-General's Statistrics for 1870 - the only report to which I can now refer - gives the average yield of wheat per acre for the whole county as twenty bushels. From this, as well as from actual observation during the last three years, I should say that many parts of the valley will produce twenty-five to forty bushels of wheat yearly.
It is commonly said by farmers that it does not pay to give $100 or $120 per acre for land on which the purchaser intends to raise wheat. They will even say this after having bought a few hundred acres. This statement, however, must be taken with a qualification. They only mean that after paying such a price, they can not spend three-fourths of their time absent from their farms, leave their work in the hands of uninterested employés, and then make a fortune in a few years. It has been previously shown in the Overland that wheat, potatoes, peas, flax, hops, etc., are highly renumerative crops, even when the farmer rents his land and does not work himself, but gets everything connected with the cultivation of his crop done by hired help. A glance at the expenses and receipts arising from the cultivation of a farm will enable the reader to determine which is better, to place his money at interest, or to buy land and become a farmer. Of course it must be assumed that he is an industrious man, able and willing to work, and possessing a fair knowledge of agricultural pursuits. Let him buy, for instance, sixty acres of land at $100 an acre. Farm land bought at this price usually has improvements in the shape of dwelling-house, barn, and stable. Hence the purchaser need to go to no further expense in the way of building. I have supposed a farm of sixty acres, because that is about as much, if the soil is rich and heavy, as one man with a good span of horses can cultivate. His whole outlay will be, land, $6,000; horses, plow, wagon, etc., $1,000 - in all, $7,000. It is not necessary to take into the account his furniture and cooking utensils, as, if he has a family, he will require these things, no matter whether he lives on a farm or on the interest of his money.
The New England farmer must not suppose that Californians have the same difficulties with which he has to contend. Here, no hard frosts interfere with the sowing of the crop; no autumnal rains destroy it in harvest. The first rains, enough to moisten the ground and start the weeds, usually fall in November. Afterward, the weather is fit for plowing until about Christmas, when the harvest rain generally falls. Our friend with the sixty acres of land, plowing, as is common in California with one span of horses, two acres daily, has his land fit for the reception of seed by this time. However, any time before the first of March will be early enough. Let him raise wheat alone, and he has little more to do before harvest. In harvest, too, his work is quickly dispatched. He need not trouble himself about hauling his grain to the granary. This, another source of expense in various parts of the United States, is rarely practiced here. Millions of sacks of grain lie exposed for months every year in the fields in which it was raised. It is watched neither night nor day, yet it is never stolen. Under these circumstances, the work of sowing and harvesting is much less than a stranger would imagine. With the exception of the thrashing, this farmer can do the entire work, including the cutting of his grain and the hauling of it to the nearest railway station.
The price of wheat in San Francisco, for six years (1863-8), varies from $1.25 per hundred pounds in 1863, to $2.74 in 1868. The average of all is $1.93 per hundred pounds. The average for the last six years is considerably higher. The cost of thrashing, sacks, commission, and forwarding the grain from Santa Clara County to San Francisco, would reduce this to $1.50 per hundred pounds. Eighteen hundred pounds of wheat to the acre is only a low estimate for such land as can be bought for $100 an acre. From each acre, then, he has a clear gain of $27. Allow ten acres of this land to feed his horses and supply seed for the next year, and from the remainder there is a net profit of $1,350, or nearly twenty per cent on the money invested. This, however, would be a thriftless way of farming. A good farmer would not raise wheat year after year on all his land. He would plant a portion with fruit-trees, one acre of which, in the course of time, would be as valuable as six acres of wheat. The pasturage on his land, after the wheat is removed, is worth no small sum. The cows, poultry, or hogs, kept on this would materially increase his profits. He has, in addition, several months during which neither he nor his horses can find work on the farm. This time should be turned to some account. Nor must it be forgotten that on a farm he can supply his family with food much cheaper than he could elsewhere. Producing his own flour, fruits, vegetables, milk, butter, eggs, bacon, beef, and mutton, his outlay for provisions must be only trifling.
We have another method of arriving at conclusions with regard to the profits of farming. Santa Clara is emphatically a farming county, and derives but little of its wealth from any other source. Look at the character of its buildings, both public and private, the assessed value of its property, and some of its items of expenditure. The estimated population is 27,000. The assessed value of its real estate is over $18,000,000; personal property, over $5,500,000; and improvements, $6,000,000; making in all over $30,000,000. If we divide the land equally among all the population, each individual will have twenty-six acres. Divide the assessed value of real estate by the number of acres, and we find that the land of an average is worth $26 per acre. Divide the whole valuation of the county by the number of the inhabitants, and we find that each of them, on an average, is worth over $1,100. Last year, this county paid over $84,000 for purposes of public education alone, while the sum paid for tuition at private schools is estimated by competent authorities to be much larger. It is no uncommon thing for these poor farmers, struggling for a living as they say, to send each of their children to a private boarding-school for several years. There, tuition costs from $300 to $500 per annum. This, taken in connection with the fact that most of them have good public school convenient to their residences, is, in itself, a fair indication of the success that attends agricultural pursuits.
For his $6,000 the settler can obtain 200 acres of land in the foot-hills of Santa Clara. For some years this land would be nearly as productive as the valley land, but it becomes more quickly exhausted. The cost of sowing, harvesting, and sending his crops to market would be greater in the foot-hills than in the valley. Being less thickly inhabited, the foot-hills, in their facilities for social intercourse, education, etc., are inferior to the valley; but they would undoubtedly yield a larger percentage on the purchase-money. In fact, the foot-hills want nothing but good roads to render them, acre for acre, as valuable for farming purposes as the richest alluvial soil of the valleys.
There is in many parts of the State another kind of soil, which, though not common in Santa Clara County, deserves a passing remark. This soil is light, loose, level, and abounds in the San Joaquin Valley. The yield per acre runs from 600 to 1,000 pounds of wheat. The cost of cultivation is so light that this pays. Here one man can farm, not 60 but 300 acres. The plowman has often ten or twelve horses hauling one plow which turns six or eight furrows at once. A seed-sower is attached to the plow, and, being self-regulating, according to the speed of the horses, scatters the seed at the same time. The whole work of plowing and seed-sowing is often done by contract at $1 per acre.
Santa Clara, though one of the most thickly populated counties in the State, has not quite twenty-five persons to the square mile; while Rhode Island has 166, Massachusetts 187, Belgium over 400, and various other countries in Europe over 200.
Strangers traveling in California are often inclined to comment unfavorably on the appearance of the dwellings and out-houses. But if these strangers were aware of all the circumstances in the case, their censure would be turned into admiration. The out-houses are poor, because, among other reasons, there is no need for them to be so solid and impervious to the weather as in colder places. A stable in Santa Clara in comfortable enough if the roof keeps the rain out. Place horses in such a stable in Maine or Wisconsin, and during some cold night they would freeze to death. Men coming from the northern part of the United States can with difficulty realize the fact that stock require so much less shelter here than in their own inhospitable clime.
The dwelling-houses, too, are often miserable-looking cabins, though by no means so devoid of comfort as their outside appearance would indicate. It must be remembered, however, that the houses in Santa Clara and other parts of the State are not always an index to either the taste or wealth of the occupants. One will often see a house, the materials of which did not cost a hundred dollars, inhabited by a man worth from $20,000 to $100,000. Twelve of fifteen years ago, his house, poor as it is, took the greater part of his capital; and from that beginning has arisen his present wealth. When he began to farm, he flattered himself with the belief that in three or four years, if the seasons provided favorable, he would be able to build a cottage more suitable to his wants. But his wealth increased more rapidly than he expected, his desires expanded in proportion, and he soon concluded that the cottage of his earlier dreams would not be adequate to his present demands. He deferred building a few years longer. Then came his children, probably better educated and more refined than himself. Their taste must be consulted, and this involved a further delay. His daughter's piano, something he never dreamed of at the outset of his career, required a larger and better room than any he had previosly contemplated to build. At last the new house is erected and offers as great a contrast to the old one as the butterfly does to the chrysalis. Furniture, pictures, etc., are of a style commensurate with the building; and when everything is completed, he leaves a house that cost about $500 and enters one that cost $10,000.
San José, the county-seat of Santa Clara County, has a population of about 13,000. The view from the dome of the court-house is diversified and extensive, and contains every element of a pleasing landscape. For miles around the city are to be seen vineyards, gardens, and orchards, fertile, fragrant, and wealth-producing. Embowered in the gardens and orchards are neat cottages and elegant villas, indicative of taste, affluence, and luxury. Farther off, on every side, are peaceful hamlets, with their churches and schools, peeping forth from their sylvan retreats. In looking north, the Bay of San Francisco is visible; in every other direction, picturesque mountians form the background of a picture well worthy of admiration.
A large quantity of the ground near the city is devoted to strawberries, blackberries, plums, and various other fruits, some of which are dried, and the remainder sent to market fresh. In 1871, there were in the county 1,107,840 apple-trees, 83,650 peach-trees, 75,000 pear-trees, 25,000 plum-trees, 20,000 cherry-trees, 3,260,000 strawberry-vines, and 1,100,000 grape-vines. The cultivation of all these is highly remunerative, though some of them, such as peaches and cherries, do better in hotter counties. Plums require a well-drained alluvial soil. Irrigation is generally necessary. The trees are set out eighteen feet apart, or about 130 to the acre. They begin to bear at the age of five years, and are in full bearing when eight years old, when a tree will yield about 250 pounds of fruit. It is sold in San Francisco for 3 1/2 cents per pound, which would make the crop on an acre worth over $1,200. From this must be deducted the cost of cultivating the land and pruning the trees (which would amount to about $30 an acre), the cost of freight to San Francisco, price of boxes, commission to agent for selling, and wages of Chinamen for gathering the fruit. The Chinamen receive $1 per day each for their labor.
Should a man with only a small capital wish to engage in fruit-growing, he could do better cultivating strawberries or blackberries than larger fruit. With berries he would have to wait only a year or two before receiving a return for his money. He could engage in this business with less capital than would be required for general farming; but then the supply of berries might exceed the demand, while he has nothing to fear on that point with regard to wheat. Blackberries are in full bearing two years after planting. An acre will produce 10,000 pounds. They are sold in San Francisco for five cents per pound. Blackberries do not keep well, and the producer must either can them, or live close to a railroad station, from which he can forward them without delay to market.
Strawberries, about San José, are raised on a rich clay soil, but in many other places a sandy soil is considered better. This business can be profitably undertaken only where the land can be irrigated without much expense. The plants are set out in October and November. They will produce half a crop the following year, and a full crop each year afterward. They bear from April to December, but it is profitable to gather the crop only during a part of that time. All the work connected with strawberry culture is done by Chinamen. They work on shares, and usually enter into an engagement with the owner of the land to cultivate it for the five or six years in succession. The cost of boxes, freight, and commission is deducted from the proceeds of the sale, and the Chineses receive half the remainder for their labor. The owners of the land receive about $200 per acre, clear of all expenses. During a part of the strawberry season, 10,000 chests of ninety-six pounds each are forwarded daily from San José to San Francisco, Stockton, and other places.
Fruit-drying has been carried on to some extent, both in this and in other counties, during the last year, and promises at no distant day to become a most important industry. In some places the fruit is dried by means of artificial heat; in others, by the heat of the sun. In the neighborhood of Santa Clara may be seen an apparatus fitted up for drying fruit by artifical heat. On the premises is a steam-engine of fifteen horse-power, used for sawing lumber for boxes, for grinding apples to make vinegar, and for other purposes connected with fruit-packing. Close to the engine is a wooden cylinder about five feet long and three and a half feet in diameter. In the cylinder, placed in close proximity to one another, are six hundred brass tubes, into which the air is forced by a fan worked by the steam-engine. The waste steam from the engine is conveyed by a pipe into the top of the cylinder, and, after becoming condensed, runs out at the bottom, heating, in the meantime, the air is in the brass tubes. The heated air rushes out at the other end of the cylinder, and enters the bottom of what looks like a large chest of drawers, thity-two feet long, ten feen high, and seven feet wide. This is the kiln. This kiln is divided into eight compartments, into which are fitted galvanized-iron screens for holding the fruit. There are in each compartment forty-two screens, on each of which twenty pounds of fruit can be dried. In the face of the kiln there are several horizontal doors placed one over the other, so that in handling the screens only a small portion of the kiln is exposed to the cold air. The kiln is capable of drying over three tons of fruit at once. Some of the fruit, preparatory to drying, is cut by hand, but more by machinery. Apples dry in seven hours; pears, tomatoes, and plums, in eight or nine hours. Grapes require about twenty-four hours. The process could be completed more rapidly, but the result would not be so satisfactory as when sufficient time is allowed. It takes abouit twenty-four hours. The process could be completed more rapidly, but the result would not be so satisfactory as when sufficient time is allowed. It takes about seven pounds of apples, seven pounds of pears, twenty pounds of tomatoes, six pounds of plums, and five pounds of blackberries to make one pound of each kind of dried fruit. During last year were prepared and sold at this establishment 12,000 pounds of dried pears, 8,000 pounds of dried apples, 3,000 pounds of dried plums, and a large quantity of grapes, blackberries, and other fruits. Sent East by rail were forty-four car-loads, each containing 17,500 pounds of fruit. Some of this was purchased from other fruit-growers.
According to a fruit-grower who dries his fruit in the sun, from four to seven pounds of plums will make one pound dry. The process of drying lasts from four to ten days, and the estimated cost amounts to three cents for each pound of dried fruit. It is sold in San Francisco for twenty-five cents a pound. The grapes dried by this process in different parts of the State were exhibited last year at the agricultural fairs, and were, in general estimation, superior to the imported raisins. The quantity of lumber required on which to dry the fruit is considered the greatest impediment to the success of this process. In some places the grapes are dried on the vine. This process is carried on in the interior vcalleys, where they have little dew or fog, and where the thermometer ranges from 80 to 115 degrees. Though no one of the persons engaged in fruit-drying has had much experience to guide him, yet the results are highly encouraging.
Santa Clara, and especially that portion of it around San José, owes much of its beauty and wealth to the facility with which the land can be irrigated. Surface water is scarce, the county having but few streams that are not dry for a long period every year. To make up for this deficiency, water from artesian wells is abundant. These wells, sometimes throwing a large stream of water several feet above the surface of the ground, are very numerous. The water is reached at a depth varying from 60 to 500 feet. Deep wells are quite expensive. For the first 100 feet the well is sunk for 40 cents per foot; over 100 feet costs 65 cents; over 150 feet, $1.40; over 300 feet, $1.90; over 350 feet, $2.10; over 400 feet, $3.10; and over 450 feet costs $4.10 per foot. Piping costs 90 cents per foot; so that a well 400 feet deep will costs about $800.
In many parts of the State to-day the settler can find land open to pre-emption which requires nothing but irrigation to make it as fertile as Santa Clara County. In Tulare County, for instance, much of the soil has many characteristics in common with the soil near San José. The irrigation, too, can be supplied, but it requires the co-operation of a large number of persons. In Santa Clara each farmer could have his well sunk without asking the assistance or consulting the wishes of his neighbors. In the San Joaquin and Tulare valleys, the farmer, for purposes of irrigation, has to depend on streams and rivers, which can not be made available without a system of canals so expensive as to forbid a single individual, owning only a small farm, to undertake any works of this nature by himself. But by the co-operation of several men of this class the land can be irrigated at as small a cost per acre as in Santa Clara.
There are in Santa Clara numerous opportunities for new industries in connection with the canning and drying of fruit. The raw material for this business now often goes to waste, though the market for preserved fruits is such that it can not easily be overstocked. The capital required is not large, the work is so light that much of it may be done by women and children, and the profits are not only large, but, what is of more consequence to a poor man, they are immedicate.
can not always command, as was the case last harvest, from $2 to $4 per
day and board; but the statement can not be too often reiterated, that,
even in so thickly settled a county as Santa Clara, one year's wages will
enable him to become a farmer. Even there only a portion of the fertile
land is cultivated, and the owners of large farms are always willing to
allow industrious men to cultivate some of their land on shares, and often,
in addition, they furnish them with seed, horses, and farm implements.
Were it not for this, California would be a poor place for farmers possessing
less than $1,200 or $1,500. With such a sum, one could himself pre-empt
Government land, buy horses, tools, and seed, and then, of course, the
whole crop would be his own. High as wages are in this State, it
will take a farm laborer, no matter how temperate and industrious, from
five to seven years to save that sum from his wages alone. But with
a team of horses and a plow, such as can be purchased for one year's savings,
he can obtain land on such terms that it is highly probable he would save
$500 or $600 yearly.