Farms sustained valuable crops

May 08, 2007 12:00 am
The first flour mill in Del Norte County was built on Smith River at Rowdy Creek in spring 1859. A mammoth water wheel powered it. (Photo courtesy of Del Norte County Historical Society.).
The first flour mill in Del Norte County was built on Smith River at Rowdy Creek in spring 1859. A mammoth water wheel powered it. (Photo courtesy of Del Norte County Historical Society.).

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

During the early years of white settlement here, 19th century author A.J. Bledsoe praised the amount of arable land in Del Norte County and its acreage.

The "Crescent City Plain, comprising Elk Valley and Smith's River Valley," made up about 18 square miles of "the richest and best" agricultural lands. Smith's River Valley had 15 square miles, compared to three square miles in Elk Valley, Bledsoe wrote in his 1881 book "History Del Norte County, California, with a Business Directory and Traveler's Guide." The land was impeccable river bottom soil, "a heavy, black soil," and raised "the finest" of vegetables, oats, wheat and barley, and good grasses.

Dairy farmers didn't hesitate a minute to set up shop and claim the land for their pastures, Bledsoe wrote.

Smith River farmers owned a total of 2,150 cows that averaged 150 pounds of butter to the cow. The county produced 322,500 pounds of butter annually, which sold for 25 cents a pound and brought farmers $80,625 per year.

Grain, after all, was raised in amounts "not sufficient" for home consumption.

When Beldsoe critiqued the industry in his book, farmers' yields were:

•Grain, about 30 bushels of wheat to the acre, 50 bushels of oats and 40 bushels of barley.

•Potatoes could be raised if the demand afforded buyers for them.

•New land yielded from 8-12 tons per acre, land under cultivation "for years" yielded from 2-5 tons per acre.

The settlers found many varieties of berries. Bledsoe reported that apples and plums grew well and – surprise – blackberries were "abundant."