Vegetables And Fruits
( Originally Published 1918 )
Their importance. The importance of vegetables and fruits for the well-being of men does not need to be explained to anyone ; but perhaps we now understand better as a people than we ever did before the importance of producing these foods. Vegetable gardens can be located almost anywhere throughout the country, and even in city lots.
Early conditions. Most of the vegetables and fruits commonly raised in this country were not native to it ; in fact, only a few of them were native to the New World. The Indians had recourse to certain berries, nuts, and wild fruits, and they cultivated rather widely beans, squashes, and other minor vegetables ; but nearly all the vegetables and fruits of commerce were developed in other countries and were introduced here by the settlers. This was done so much as a matter of course that we have but little information concerning the origin and first stages of the vegetable and fruit industries of the country ; almost everybody, in earlier times, did some gardening on the side ; the clergyman, the lawyer, and even the physician were in some degree farmers. In fact, any one of these professional men might have to collect his fees, on occasion, in produce — " in kind," as such payment was called—for in the new country there was often a dearth of money. Rents were not seldom arranged to be paid in kind ; so that, in reality, garden products attained a dignity now held by coins, bills, and checks.
Later conditions. Gardening of this sort was on the small scale; the raising of fruits and vegetables for commercial purposes dates, in this country, from about the middle of the nineteenth century. Up to that time they were raised for local consumption, for the most part, and were eaten, of course, only in season. The idea itself of having vegetables and fruits out of season reaches back only a few decades, and was started by certain Northern cities that had good transportation connections with farming districts not far away. But with the advance of transportation, centers of population were enabled to extend their reach and their demand. Once the movement was well started, large areas, particularly in the South, came to be devoted to garden crops ; and there are now whole sections of the country whose agricultural efforts are devoted almost wholly to supplying Northern markets with fresh vegetables and fruits out of season.
Transportation of vegetables and fruits. This whole movement, as is easily seen, depends upon the excellence of the transportation system. The carrying trade for garden products and fruit from South to North was in the hands, first of all, of the steam-ship lines ; and it is said that the first consignment dates from 1847, when a small quantity of lettuce, radishes, mint, and straw-berries was brought to New York. In the spring of 1885 arrived the first all-rail shipment of garden truck from the South to New York. In the eighties came the first carloads of oranges from Florida, and about that time the first large consignments of straw-berries. From these small and recent beginnings there has developed an enormous trade, which is by no means confined to business between South and North ; for there is a flow of vegetables and fruits to every town and city from its more immediate agricultural environs. Indeed, the population is becoming somewhat spoiled by the luxuries it has thus gained, and people are coming to feel it a hardship if they cannot have these extraordinary advantages which were denied to all humanity up to recent years. The former luxuries are coming to be thought necessities — necessities that one must have, however much the having of them increases the cost of living. But, on the other hand, it must be realized that the very existence of great centers of population would be impossible were it not for the development of food transportation on a large scale and from greater and greater distances.
We shall now enter into some details respecting the raising of the several most important vegetable and fruit crops.
Potatoes. The potato is very rich in starch, and is a widely consumed and favorite food in both Europe and America. Next to bread, the potato is the staple food in this country ; indeed, it enjoys a reputation of superiority which has led less-informed people, in time of scarcity, to provide them-selves with it at an immensely increased price, when such a food as rice remained comparatively cheap. They have believed, mistakenly, that potatoes were a real necessity for people doing heavy manual labor, and have rebelled against using substitutes.
The potato crop. Both the white and the sweet potato are native to America. The former grew wild on the plateaus of both Mexico and western South America, and was there encountered, in the sixteenth century, by the Spaniards. It was early introduced into the colonies and has long been produced as a food for local consumption. But as a commercial item neither the white nor the sweet variety attained much prominence until about the middle of the nineteenth century, when the development of transportation — here again the condition allowing of wide industrial expansion — made shipments possible. At present potatoes stand sixth on the basis of annual farm value — that is, value before leaving the farm — being surpassed only by corn, cotton, hay, wheat, and oats. Though widely cultivated, the potato is raised for the most part in the northern and eastern sections of the United States; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maine are prominent producers, and the irrigated regions of the Far West are beginning to contribute copiously to the annual yield.
Potato cultivation. The average yield per acre for potatoes is between 90 and 100 bushels — a large figure as compared with the average for wheat. But in order to raise a good potato crop, much more care and expense have to be undergone than in raising wheat and other cereals ; wet weather, dry rot, and the potato bug (Colorado beetle) are dangers to the crop that must be endured or provided against. Taking into consideration our immense agricultural area, our yield of potatoes is relatively small ; in a normal year France produces more than we do, while Germany's crop is five or six times as large as ours. Even the United Kingdom raises about two thirds as many potatoes as are grown in the whole United States. The possibility of increasing our potato yield is almost unlimited.
Beans and peas. These include many varieties and are known as legumes. They have nodules, or warty-looking protuberances, on their roots, where are to be found mil-lions of microscopic bacteria having the power of making nitrates from the free nitrogen of the air and of storing up these nitrates in the plants. Hence, if the roots of the plants are left in the soil, it becomes so much the richer ; and one way of fertilizing poor soils is to sow a crop of legumes and then plow the whole crop in.
The crop of beans and peas. Peas and beans have long been grown in this country, both for human food and for cattle fodder. The natives raised some varieties before the white man came ; and they were planted as early as 1602 in New England, and 1644 by the Dutch. They were raised also along the southern Atlantic coast, and were even exported, in small quantities, before the Revolution. The annual export for the twenty years prior to
1817 amounted, on the average, to 90,000 bushels. At present in this country the relative yields of both crops are small as compared with the case elsewhere ; this is probably because we get our nitrogenous food from meats and dairy products, of which we consume a large amount per capita. British India, Italy, Russia, and Spain are among the largest producers of legumes ; in all these countries the bulk of the people is living on a much lower scale than is the working population of our country.
Other vegetables. Numerous other garden vegetables are the basis of local industries throughout the country, but we do not need to go into further detail. In a word, it may be said that since the rest of the garden vegetables are rather bulky, and also perishable, there is not a very wide market for them, excepting for out-of-season distribution. Such products are the several varieties of garden truck ; they are, for the most part, raised and consumed locally. Perhaps the sugar beet should receive especial mention. In Europe it has generally been cultivated and pulled out of the ground with exceeding care, lest it be bruised and thus spoiled ; but in this country it is torn rudely from the ground, and then, depending upon our superior transportation system, we hurry it to the sugar-beet factory before it has time to decay. In Europe, also, the beet from which the juice has been pressed (beet-cake) is of considerable use as food for stall-fed cattle ; whereas in this country, where cattle can be pastured or fed upon forage, it is of less importance. And the beet-sugar industry, as we shall later see, is of relatively small significance among us.
Fruit-raising. In the early history of this country fruits, being regarded as luxuries, were scarcely used by the mass of the people. But attention came to be directed to them by the wealthy and cultured classes ; and once started, fruit cultivation advanced apace, until at the present time fruit-raising has come to be an important industry throughout extensive areas of the country. In general, the fruits we raise are those of relatively low food value. It is not meant to say that fruits are not necessary and wholesome for the human body — quite the contrary ; but one could scarcely live on apples, pears, grapes, peaches, oranges, and other of our American fruits. Their food value is not sufficient ; they are largely " flavored water " as distinguished from such fruits as dates, figs, bananas, and other products of a warmer climate, which have a high food value and form a real " staff of life " to the people who raise them. But everyone likes fruit, and where the standard of living, as in this country, will allow of it, there is a place for a high development of production.
Apples. The apple is an Old World product, having existed in Europe, in both the wild and the cultivated form, since prehistoric times. In early colonial days it was difficult to bring young apple trees across the ocean ; but there were no native trees, and so the fruit had to be grown almost exclusively from seeds, which meant that the trees were very long in coming to maturity. The introduction was, therefore, a slow process. Also the growing of trees from seed, and allowing them to mature without grafting, results in a poor quality of fruit — all of which facts may account for the circumstance that for nearly a century and a half apples were grown in this country almost exclusively for cider. Not until 1830 did our government begin to collect statistics concerning orchard products. However, there were some apple trees to be had even as early as 164o, for it seems that in that year five hundred young apple trees from a nursery in Massachusetts were exchanged for two hundred and fifty acres of land.
Apple-raising. Up to 1825 or so our apple orchards were confined chiefly to New England and Long Island, though there were some in New Jersey and New York. Toward the middle of the century there came about a marked improvement in the industry, due to the assistance of the government, the formation of horticultural societies, and other such encouragement. Nurseries became numerous, Rochester and other centers in New York State having taken up this specialty. Prizes were given for choice apples, and attention began to be given especially to winter varieties. Then, with the development of steam navigation across the Atlantic, we began the exportation of the fruit by 1859 we were exporting 120,000 barrels from Boston alone. Varieties continued to improve and knowledge to be gathered as to the adaptability of this or that variety to a particular climate or soil. Then apple culture began to spread over the whole country.
The apple crop. At the present time the eastern part of the country is preeminent in apple-raising, though the Pacific states produce some superior fruit. Both in acreage and in annual value of product the apple far exceeds all other fruit crops. The states which lead in the number of apple trees of bearing age are those of the northeastern region, and New York is the chief apple-producing state.
Peaches. The peach is an Old World product, having been cultivated in China from very early times ; thence it spread toward the west and for a long time has been planted in sheltered spots in Europe. It seems to have been rather commonly known in all the colonies previous to the Revolution.
Peach-raising. The peach tree is not so hardy as the apple, and climate is an important factor in its life and productivity. Severe winters and late frosts are likely to injure the buds and tender twigs. Again, this tree is cultivated in rather restricted areas, which are widely scattered over the country. Several of these may be mentioned : western New York ; the region immediately east of Lake Michigan ; that east of Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland and Delaware ; Connecticut, especially upon the southern slopes of the hills overlooking the valley of the Connecticut River ; northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri, along the southern slopes of the Ozarks ; the state of Georgia, which is usually the largest peach producer of the Southeast, and which has the advantage of the Northern market, without competition from other regions, at a time when peaches from other sections have not yet come into the market ; and, finally, . California, which shows climatic conditions favorable to the crop, and which normally produces more peaches than any other state in the Union. The California product is marketed widely in the cities of the East, and is sometimes sent abroad ; but much of it is dried or canned, especially when the market for the raw fruit is unfavorable —as is true also in other peach areas.
Grapes. The grape has been cultivated from time immemorial. We do not know where it originated, but it was an Old World product and early spread over Europe. It was carried from Great Britain to America in early colonial times. However, we were not entirely dependent on Europe for the vine ; there are several varieties of native grape, notably the Catawba, which have been domesticated. The vine did not attain any great prominence until about the middle of the last century, when grape-growing, especially for wine, took a considerable start. Since that time the industry has grown to such proportions that the annual value of the grape crop now stands third among the fruits, being exceeded only by the apple and peach crops.
Grape-raising. There are two leading areas in the United States where grapes are grown extensively as a money crop : the eastern grape belt, in New York, between the eastern shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the central part of the state ; and the western belt, in California, where numerous Mediterranean varieties have been introduced. In the eastern belt American varieties lead ; in the western, European varieties. California is by far the largest producer, followed by New York, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, and North Carolina.
Oranges. The orange tree is an Old World product, having and India since very early ages ; its culture found. The planting of orange groves for commercial purposes is of recent date ; it is said that this was first done by some Northerners who went to Florida after the Civil War ; and as late as 1880 the industry was still in its infancy. By 1890 orange-raising had made considerable progress, and since then has increased rapidly, especially in California. Oranges are on the market now every month in the year, for the crop does not come to maturity all at the same time. Unexpected frosts cause occasional great loss in the orange groves, amounting to millions of dollars. And along with the oranges the grapefruit is increasing in importance, although but a few years ago little or nothing was heard of it.
Other fruits. There are numerous other important fruit crops in this country, among them the strawberry, plum, pear, cherry, raspberry, and blackberry. These are very widely cultivated garden crops. We raise also lemons, dates, figs, and olives, whereas not long ago such of these as we used came from abroad. Owing to the variety of climate in this vast land, ranging from cold almost to tropical, there seems to be no limit to the possibilities of introduction of plants from other lands. However, unless we find some region particularly favorable for fruit, such as California, it may pay better, from a business standpoint, to bend our energies to the production of crops where we have a distinct natural advantage. This is the case with wheat and corn ; we can do better to sell these and buy from abroad those products in the growing of which the people abroad have an advantage over us.
Canned fruits and vegetables. The canning industry based upon vegetables and fruits is a very extensive one in this country. We hear but little about the beginnings of it until near the middle of the last century; in 1846 fruit and vegetable canneries were in operation in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Newark, Portland, and Eastport (Maine). Those of Newark prepared the canned goods for Dr. Kane's arctic expedition. After 1850 canneries began to develop rapidly under the stimulus of an increasing demand for goods ; they were introduced on the Pacific coast as early as 1856, and by 1866 they existed in most fruit-raising and vegetable-raising regions. The industry has had a phenomenal success. Likewise the drying of vegetables and fruits, which is another method of preserving them for use out of season, has become a prominent adjunct to the basic industry.