John Vonderlin: 1871 Pacific Rural Press: Notes on Half Moon Bay

Story by John Vonderlin

Email John: [email protected]

Hi June,

Mr. Carter was back just a few weeks later on July 8, 1871, in the “Pacific Rural Press,” with another in his series of reports on crops on the Coastside. Dan Quail must have been the headline writer for this one. Enjoy. John
Notes on Half Moon Bay.—No. 3.
Potatoe(sic) Culture.
The potato is a good crop with us, and occupies a prominent place among our products. Planting commences as early as December, and continues till about June. Digging commences the last of April and continues late in the fall. The yield of the earliest planted is generally light; in many cases not amounting to anything. This spring has been unusually severe upon such, owing to continued cold north winds—being almost entirely destroyed where not well sheltered. The land has, however, been again planted with late potatoes, or sown to English mustard or buckwheat; so the use of it will not be lost, the later planting is now coming in, and is a good crop. Two crops are usually made on early potato ground. After the potatoes are dug, the land is plowed and beans dropped and covered in the furrows; sometimes mustard or buckwheat is substituted. In either case it is as good as a summer fallow for a grain crop the year following. The best potatoes are raised in the sandy bottom lands—alluvial deposits—but as such lands are of small area, most of the potatoes are raised in the black sandy loam; even to the top of the hills.
Seed Potatoes.
Considerable inquiry is made every planting season for potato seed; no one appears satisfied to replant their own, they want something better; they even want something better than their neighbors. Quite a lot of Humboldts have been planted this season. Humboldts having a good reputation, were thought to be the best change of seed to be had. With some who have tried them heretofore they are no favorites, not doing with them any better than our own seed; at least not till planted two seasons. Some say they do not do so well. As there are doubtless worthless Humboldts, as well as of other kinds, the fault was probably in the brand they tried. I have seen some hard looking ones come here for seed. The best brand of Pescadoro, two or three years from Humboldt seed, appear to all do better and have been planted extensively. But with all that no such potatoes are now raised as were eight or nine years ago—neither in quantity nor quality. The San Francisco dealer knows that a real good potato is hard to get, and that the good ones are confined to a very few brands. It cannot be said that the land runs out, for land equally rich is broken up every year. We know that the potato country changes from place to place. Union City and Centerville, were all the go in the early days; then came Bodega, Tomales, Humboldts, Lone Bay, etc. The best now come from the last three named, and even there, the prime article is confined to a very few brands. How long they will hold the sceptre remains to be seen. They have held it longer than the others, probably for the reason that with the fate of their predecessors before their eyes, they have taken more pains with the cultivation, and more particularly in the selection of their seed. I refer to the late potatoes. The cultivation of the earlies has increased very rapidly with us, and no better potatoes find their way into market early in the season than those from Half Moon Bay. The seed potatoes introduced direct from the States, by the Americans, in their first settlement of this country, astonished the natives by their great yield and superior quality. They had been planting their potatoes here, over and over again, till they were small potatoes indeed. I am inclined to believe that we are following in their footsteps, and unless we change about, we shall also, soon get into the small potato business.
New Varieties.
In the Eastern States the great value of the potato crop is well understood, and more attention is being given to maintain a high standard of excellence. New varieties are introduced every year to take the place of those inclined to run out or which have proved of no value. We have not the experience, and may I say—not the time or means to originate new varieties; but we should by all means introduce into our State from the East, the new varieties, as they are proved valuable. There is no fear that they will suffer by the change; per contra they are most likely to improve.
With the facilities of the railroad, it is no trouble to have any variety one chooses to try at very short notice, and it might prove one of the most satisfactory experiments on the farm. Among the early varieties, the Early Rose was tried here, but being exposed to the cold winds was destroyed. A few of the ” King of the Earlies,” a successor to the Early Rose, have been planted and appear to do well. Potatoes the size of a turkey egg were on the vines at the expiration of eight weeks from planting. They are a white potato, with very small vines, appearing to run to tubers rather than to tops. Another potato, a great favorite in the East, called the ” Peerless,” a late variety, is being tried on a small scale by a few. They look very well, have a finer, softer foliage than the old stock, of a lighter green, and, as a stock fancier would say, show more of the thoroughbred. One objection to these potatoes is that they are white, the favorite color at the East; while with us the red has the preference. I will send you an item in regard to these potatoes when they are dug, and let you know how they do.
Irrigation for Potafoes.
I saw an extensive field of potatoes being irrigated last week —the only circumstance of the kind I have known on the coast. What it was irrigated for I cannot tell, a finer looking or more thrifty field I never saw. It gave evidence of the want of anything but water. The owners were Portugese, who probably hold the idea that the more moisture, the better the potato. I must keep track of that field, and see if it proves any better than its neighbors. In my opinion it will not improve the quality of the potato, although it may the bulk, and I should be afraid they would take a second growth. They were planted about the Ist of March. The best crop of early potatoes I have seen this spring was from Humboldt seed, planted the last of January and dug about June Ist. G.W.T.C.