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Farming in Washington

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Map of Eastern Washington
Map of Eastern Washington

The total amount of land surveyed in Washington down to June was 15,959,17 out of the 44,796,160 acres constituting the area of the state. For many years the fortunate combination of soil and climate in eastern Washington, whereby all the cereals can be produced in the greatest abundance and of the highest excellence, was not understood. The first settlers in the Walla Walla Valley went there to raise cattle on the nutritious bunch grass, which gave their stock so round an appearance with such glossy hides and gold crusade carried thither merchants and settlers of another sort, arid it war found that people must eat of the fruits of the earth in the country where their tents were pitched. This necessity led to farming, at first in the creek valleys, then on the hillsides, and lastly on the tops of the hills quite away from the possibility of irrigation, where to everybody’s surprise wheat grew the best of all. It then began to be known that where bunch grass would naturally grow, wheat especially, and the other cereals, would flourish surprisingly. The area of wheat land in eastern Washington has been estimated as capable of yielding, under ordinary culture, inure than a hundred million bushels annually, 50 to 60 bushels to the acre being no uncommon return. illet4age of Governor Ferry, 1878, 4-6.

The soil which is so fruitful is a dark loam, composed of a deep rich alluvial deposit, combined with volcanic ash, overlying a clay subsoil. On the hills and southern exposures the clay comes nearer to the surface. The whole subsoil rests on a basaltic formation so deep as to be discoverable only on the deep watercourses. The climate is dry, with showers at rare intervals in swimmer, with fall rains and brief winters, during which there is usually some snowfall, and occasional hard winters when the snow is deep enough to fill all the streams to overflowing in the spring, which comes early.

The first wheat-fields of western Washington were those cultivated by the IL B. Co. in the Columbia and Cowlitz valleys, which yielded well, the Cowlitz farm producing from 30 to 50 bushels per acre of white winter wheat, The heavily timbered valleys about Puget Sound furnished tracts of open land well adapted to wheat-growing, but taken as a whole this region has never been regarded as a grain-producing country. The reclamation of tidelands about the mouths of the rivers, which flow into the Fuca Sea, opposite the strait of that name, added a considerable area to the grain-fields of western Washington.

The first settlers upon the tidelands were Samuel Calhoun and Michael Sullivan, who in 1864 took claims on the Swinomish River or bayou, which connects with the Skagit by extensive marshes. Sullivan made his first enclosure in 1S65, and three years afterward raised a crop of 37 acres of oats. He sowed five bushels of seed to the acre, intending to cut it for hay, but allowing it to ripen, obtained 4,000 bushels of oats. Calhoun raised 21 acres of barley in 1869 with like favorable results. From this time there was an annual increase of reclaimed land. Its productiveness may be inferred from the statement that on 600 acres at La Conner, belonging to J. S. Conner, about 1.000 tons of oats and barley were produced annually. Morse’s Wash. Ter., MS., xxii. 13. There were in 1875 about 20 settlers on the Swinomish tidelands, who had 100 acres each in cultivation, and raised on them 40 bushels of spring wheat, 80 bushels of winter wheat, 75 bushels of barley, and 80 bushels of oats to the acre. Morse’s Wash. Ter., MS., xxii. 15.

In 1881 the experiment was tried of shipping cargoes of eastern Washington and Oregon wheat by the way of Puget Sound, instead of via Portland, Astoria, and the mouth of the Columbia, to avoid the risk of the bar and a part of the expense of pilotage and lightening.

No climate in the world is more suited to the growth of nutritious grasses than that of Washington. The bunch-grass of the eastern division is, however, from being dry a large portion of the year, not so well adapted to the uses of dairymen as the lush growth of the moister climate of Puget Sound, where the rich bottom and diked lands yield from three to four tons of hay to the acre. Dairy products have not yet been counted amongst the articles of export, because farmers have preferred to engage in other branches of business. Up to 1877 there was no cheese in the markets of the territory except that which was imported. In that year two cheese factories were started, one at Claquato by Long & Birmingham, and another at Chimacum, in Jefferson county. The former made over 28,000 lbs the first year. The Northern Pacific cheese factory, at Chimacum, nine miles south-west of Port Townsend, was a gradual growth, William Bishop being a pioneer of 1856, who settled in the Chimacum Valley and cleared and improved a farm. When he had 60 cows be began cheese-making for the market abroad, producing 1,500 lbs of cheese and 50 lbs of butter per day. A third factory was established in 1870 by Long & Birmingham on the Maddox farm, in White River Valley, the prospect being that the Puget Sound farmers would convert their grain-fields into hay-Gelds to a considerable extent, and that dairy-farming would become the chief business on the valley and tide lands.

The experiment of hop farming was first tried in 1864 by Jacob Meeker, who planted a half-acre on his farm in the Puyallup Valley. The yield was 200 pounds, which sold for 85 cents per pound. Thompson & Meade established the first hop-yard in 1872. The following year Ezra and J. V. Meeker and J. P. Stewart followed. The desire to encourage agriculture has led to the formation of agricultural societies in several counties of the territory, Walla Walla taking the lead, by a few persons calling a meeting in Feb. 1863, to he held April 22d, for the purpose of organizing. It was not until 1867 that a fair was held, the address at the opening of the exhibition being pronounced by Philip Ritz. In 1860 the Washington Agricultural and Manufacturing Society was formed and incorporated under the laws of the territory. Land was purchased, buildings erected, and the first fair of the new organization held in Sept., from the 21st to the 25th, 1870. A pomological and horticultural society was also formed this year at Walla Walla. Clarke County organized, in July 1368, an agricultural and mechanical society, and held a fair the following Sept., the opening address being by Governor Salomon. Whatcom County organized an agricultural society in 1866, and Lewis County in 1877. This being the oldest farming region away from the Columbia, the society was prosperous at the start, and the first exhibit a good one. C. T. Pay was chosen president, and L. P. Venen delivered the opening address. Vancouver Register, Oct. 1, 1870; Olympia Transcript, Oct. 12, 1872; Olympia Wash. Standard, Jane 2, 1877. In 1871 a meeting was held in Olympia in the interest of agriculture by a mutual aid society, or farmer’s club, which displayed specimens of productions. The meeting was addressed by Judge McFadden at the close of the exhibit, and steps taken to organize a territorial agricultural society, under the name of Western Washington Industrial Association, which held its first annual exhibition in Oct. 1872 at Olympia. The second annual territorial fair was held at Seattle, in the university grounds.


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