National Geographic : 1912 May
SEED FARMS IN CALIFORNIA By A. J. WELLS IN 1820 a seed merchant of Phila delphia announced that he had "an abundant supply of seeds," having received from England "300 bushels of garden peas and 400 pounds of onion seed!" Today a single seed farm in California will grow enough onion seed in one field to supply xoo such stores, and one seed merchant will take it all. A single seed-house in Philadelphia now provides floor space equivalent to the area of 16 acres, and such a house will contract with growers in California to furnish seed by the ton and by carload lots of from one to six cars. Seed-growing has become an estab lished branch of California horticulture, and from these farms the principal seed houses of the United States and of many parts of Europe draw their supplies. Seedsmen from half the world visit California yearly to inspect the fields and to arrange contracts, and seeds now go in car lots even to France and to Holland. Flower and : getable seeds are gen erally small, de icate, thinly cased, easily affected by changing weather, injured by dampness, and hard to cure where cli matic conditions are unfavorable. Cloudy weather, showers, a driving rain, or heavy wind may, as Shakespeare says, "destroy six months' good hope." But here seeds are grown in a maximum of sunshine and matured without storms or rain or artificial irrigation, faring much as a wild plant fares, save for the constant stirring of the soil. They are cured in the open air, free from all dampness. Harvesting comes on before the rain sets in, and there is no difficulty in drying the seed crops in the field, without the expense of providing barns or miles of sheds for shelter. The crop is grown only for the seed, and cultivation is directed to the conser vation of moisture at the root to main tain a steady but not "woody" or luxu riant growth. The climate of the coast region southward from San Francisco for 500 miles is wonderfully equable and full of comfort for the human plant. It is more radiant, genial, equable and re juvenating than the famous Riviera, with less atmospheric disturbance and varia tions of temperature, and is ideal for garden and field plants. There are seed farms in eight counties of the State, but for the most part the business centers in certain coast valleys between San Francisco and Santa Bar bara. Of these, the chief and oldest section is the Santa Clara Valley, about San Jose, and reaching down into the extensions of this valley, locally known as the Hollister and San Juan valleys. The whole valley is shut away from the sea by the Coast Range, but its climate at the same time is modified by the prox imity of the sea, and is a blend of the coast air and the warmer and drier air of the interior. A more marked coast climate is found in the little valley of Arroyo Grande, 200 miles south of San Jose. This opens di rectly upon the ocean, but has the tem perature of Santa Barbara rather than that of San Francisco. Still further south is the Lompoc Valley, nearly due east from Point Conception, where the coast line turns sharply eastward, expos ing the whole frontage of the land to the southern sun, and taking the west winds at an angle. The soil of the Santa Clara Valley and its extensions is sedimentary, very deep, black or chocolate brown, and rich and moist. Vancouver described it in 1792 as "a rich, productive mold. superior to any I have seen in America." The soil of Arroyo Grande and of Lompoc is of a lighter color and finer texture, approaching the loess type in appearance, and is enormously fertile. Locally the latter region has been known for its large production of mustard seed and the former for its great vegetable products. A large seed farm is located in the Arroyo Grande, which has this year, on a single contract, 300 acres of sweet peas.