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Diversified farming:

By on November 24, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments

Early orchardists made their bread and butter by planting veggies between trees

Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

Before the Great Northern and upper Columbia steamboat trade, Ellensburg was the only market in reach for the fruit and vegetables grown by the earliest Wenatchee Valley farmers. 

Philip Miller offered Ellensburg people the opportunity to bring their wagons to his ranch below Saddlerock to pick apples and peaches to haul home. 

He had eight acres of each. He charged five cents a pound for his apples. It must have been the first u-pick orchard in the valley. 

He also had a government license to make peach brandy and by all accounts he made quite a bit of it. Miller also had canning facilities available for his customers. 

Many of them most likely stayed at the Miller Ranch for several days picking, packing and preserving fruit and enjoying a sip of brandy now and again. There was a fruit and wine cellar dug into the hillside that must have been a respite from the late summer heat.

Miller also had 200 acres of alfalfa, the valley’s first commercial crop. There was a ready local market for the hay. Every horse and cow in the area ate it.

North central Washington came with the ideal climate and volcanic soil for growing apples. In fact, the rich soil could grow almost any crop as long as it got water. 

It did not, however, come with built-in wisdom on which apple varieties would do the best. Bruce Mitchell wrote, “Early orchardists had no guidance on what varieties to plant beyond recollections of what was a good apple ‘back home.’”

In the Wenatchee Valley, Charles Keiser, whose ranch was west of Western Avenue along Springwater Street, “planted every variety of tree he could lay his hands on.”

B.B. and P.P. Holcomb, father and son, had a 10-acre orchard on Fifth Street near the present location of Wenatchee Valley College. The 10 acres held “46 varieties of apples besides an assortment of soft fruits.” 

The first commercial carload of apples was shipped from Wenatchee on the Great Northern in 1901 and boasted Spitzenbergs, Baldwins, Winesaps, White Winter Pearmains, Blue Pearmains, Rhode Island Greenings, Rambos, Gloria Mundis, Pippens, Belle Flowers and Grimes Goldens.

In time, the multi-variety orchards gave way to a smaller number with Winesaps emerging as the market favorite. About 1912, the first Red Delicious trees from the Starking Nursery in Missouri were planted in the Cashmere area by Harry Shotwell. The future of north central Washington orchard apple varieties had arrived.

Once a new farmer’s saplings were in the ground and water was flowing to them he was faced with a problem; how to feed the family until the trees were bearing crops for the market. 

Peach trees and other soft fruit could be bearing in four to five years. Apples took longer, six to nine years depending on the variety. Diversified farming was the child of the financial necessity.

Diversified farming in orchards meant planting vegetable crops between the rows of young trees. There was a good market in Seattle for the fresh vegetables. They could be shipped on the Great Northern beginning in 1893 and Conrad Rose’s warehouses would handle them.

Brothers A.C. and G.J. Tedford operated a 14-acre ranch on Ninth Street in Wenatchee with 10 acres of apples and four acres of peaches. The brothers said that, “We make a specialty of tomatoes, which we plant between the rows of peach trees because the watering season for both is about the same.” They also raised potatoes and cucumbers.

Fred Sterling, a Wenatchee area apple grower, produced tomatoes, green peppers, eggplants and cantaloupes and wrote, “I have made my bread and butter for five years from the raising of these crops between my trees.” 

Sterling raised the row crops for 10 years and stopped because “my trees are getting so large that vegetables don’t do so well.” He strongly recommended that other new growers follow the same plan.

In 1892, 29-year old Charles Cooper married 15-year-old Pearl Blair, one of the four young daughters of early pioneers, George and Margaret Blair. 

Pearl’s wedding present from her parents was 20 acres from the Blair homestead. The Cooper’s land lay along the north side of Washington Street in Wenatchee. They immediately planted the land to apples. In between the trees they raised melons and tomatoes. They shipped the crops by rail and made $1,000 a year for their work.

George Batterman’s 40-acre orchard fronted on Western Avenue near what is now the Tree Fruit Experiment Station. His row crops included cantaloupes, corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons as large as 60 pounds that sold for five cents apiece.

Bruce Mitchell wrote that all these row crops made the “Wenatchee area a truck gardening center growing corn, tomatoes and cantaloupes for the Seattle market.”

In the East and Midwest apple growing areas apples had always been packed in barrels, bushel baskets, tubs and crates. In the Northwest the ever-increasing production demanded something cheap, durable and standardized.

Enter the ubiquitous apple box. 

The C.A. Morrison mill at Second and Columbia Streets in Wenatchee was making apple boxes by 1891. Made of readily available white pine from the seemingly unlimited nearby forests of Ponderosa pine trees, the boxes were cheap. The soft, white wood nailed easily without splitting and would not spring its lid. 

In its 50 years of use the inside dimensions of the apple box have never changed; 10.5 inches deep, 11.5 inches wide and 18 inches long. 

A Midwesterner was once moved to complain “You people don’t even know what a bushel is, you sell spuds and everything else here by the apple box.” That was how it was, too.

They weren’t just used for apple packing. They’ve been used as chairs and stools, tables and cupboards, and a place to keep no end of things from horse shoes to hand tools. A stack of boxes makes a bookcase. A box could be turned upside down over a broody hen or one end propped up with a stick and baited to make a trap for the family cat or dog. 

Though they were replaced in 1957 by bins and no more were made they have never gone away. They continue to be valued and used. 

And, most important, they could be filled with any variety of locally grown apples: Aiken Red – Arkansas Beauty – Arkansas Black – Baldwin – Belle Flower – Ben Davis – Black Twig – Blue Pearmain – Cox’s Orange Pippen – Delaware Red – Delicious – Dickinson – Duchess – Ewalt – Famous – Fall Jeneting – Gano – Gravenstine – Gloria Mundis – Grimes Golden – Hubbardson – Hydes King – Jeffrey – Jonathon – Kaighn Stitz – King David – King of Tomkins County – Kinnard – Kittageskee – Mammoth Black Twig – Mackintosh – McMahon – McAfee – Missouri Pippen – Nero – Newton Pippen – Northern Spy – None Such – Ortley – Rainier – Rambo – Red Astrakhan – Red Cheek Pippen – Rhode Island Greening – Rome Beauty – Russet – Saxon Priest – Shackleford – Snow – Spitzenberg – Stayman – Steel Red – Vanderpool – Wagner – Winesap – Wealthy – Winter Banana – White American Blush – White Winter Pearmain – Wolf River – Yellow Newton – Yellow Transparent and York Imperial.

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

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