Facts from a Practical Man – Present and Prospective Profits of Orange Growing

(Anaheim Gazette, April 3, 1880)

Orange, March 22nd, 1880

Friend Melrose: – At your request I have proceeded to obtain and furnish your some information about the orange business as developed in this locality; and first let me state that we have not progressed far enough to demonstrate whether such men as the late Hon. B.D. Wilson and Rose, Shorb and Wolfskill have lied to us as to the profitableness and yield of their orange groves or not, for we have not a tree in Orange yet ten years old. But we have not yet developed any facts to make us lose all faith in humanity, or discredit the evidence of our own eyes, as we have walked through these gentlemen’s groves and counted and estimated the number of oranges on their trees. My own opinion is not that the orange trees of Los Angeles county do not bear oranges enough, but that they bear too much. The late B.D. Wilson said it took a brave man to pick off oranges, and it is now pretty well conceded that such bravery is needed. My observation during an eleven years’ residence here has been that the seedling orange tree has an on and off year of bearing, like deciduous fruits. This has been the off year. On all the alternate –bearing years the fruit has been almost innumerable but small and poor, and much of it selling for a comparatively small price; but never before to quite such an extent as one year ago. On the off years the number has been small, but the fruit large and exquisite. Now, it seems reasonable to me that if one-third or one-half of the oranges had been picked off on the bearing years, the remainder would have been as valuable as the whole, would have taxed the strength of the tree far less and given a larger crop on the off years, and all fine oranges. And one thing more please remember: None of these gentlemen have ever claimed that seedling orange trees came into bearing until ten years old; then the fruit remains on the tree one year, so that the tree is eleven years old when the fruit is gathered. On the grove that I raised and sold a year ago to Mr. Wm. N. Scott, I gathered some oranges when it was six years old, and they have increased ever since; but nobody claims that as a bearing orchard. There is not a tree in it nine years old until June; yet from present indications I feel extremely positive that there are some trees in that grove that will mature one thousand oranges the ensuing season.

Of budded trees, we do not yet know their full habits and capacities, but have concluded that they have no off years. Yet I am positive that they too, if left to themselves, will often overbear. The young trees of which I told you, you published correctly in all but one particular – the tree is no longer mine; it went with the place I sold to Mr. Scott. The first year after planting that tree I picked off all the blossoms; the next year I let it mature ten oranges; last year I should have picked off all but one hundred. They might not have been as valuable as my friend’s two hundred and fifty, but I believe the tree would have been the better for it.

Seven years ago to-day there was not an orange tree in the place. This year we have marketed 400,000 oranges. But these are only indications of what we expect; we do not yet call any of ours bearing orange groves. To more fully illustrate the status of our industry I interviewed a few of our representative orange growers, with results as follows: I first called upon Mr. Sam. Rust. Question: “Sam., have you sold your oranges?” Answer: “Only what I have sold here.” “How many have you got?” “Don’t know.” “Please give me your best estimate?” “Probably twenty thousand.” “How many trees bearing oranges?” “200 seedlings coming ten and 150 seedlings coming eight, and 850 buds comings three with a very few on.” “How many acres of land?” “Eighteen.” “Would you sell the land for $10,000?” “I positively would not.” Now, of course, a tree is a bearing tree when it bears an orange; but we do not apply the term “a bearing orchard” to this incipiency or first commencement. An orange grove in full bearing I think we know nothing about yet in this country. Solon Robinson, the best and most authentic agricultural writer in America, says that there are trees in Florida over 100 years old that have borne 20,000 oranges at one time.

I next called upon Mr. A.B. Clark. Mr. Clark has marketed his oranges. Had 10,000. Got, for first shipment $6 per box; for second shipment $7.75 per box; for third shipment $8 per box – all picked from 600 four-year old buds. Mr. Clark puts up his oranges with assiduous care, each orange wrapped in tissue paper stamped with the name of his place and his own signature warranting every orange to be sound, juicy and sweet. Question: “Mr. Clark, how many acres in your grove?” Answer: “Twenty.” “How many trees?” “1,400 orange and 800 deciduous.” “Would you take ten thousand dollars for it?” “No, nor twenty thousand.” “Good night, Mr. Clark, Good night.”

I next called on Mr. Joseph Beach. Mr. Beach has 504 budded trees coming six years old. Has shipped 36,000 oranges from them, received, nett, $3.25 per box, including nine boxes of windfalls and culls, shipped and marked as culls. Has his last and best shipment to hear from. Mr. Beach has 28 acres in trees and vines; would not sell for ten thousand dollars; don’t know whether he would or not for fifteen.

Dr. Beach shipped 200 boxes from 300 budded trees coming five years old, and Mr. Chas. Beach 100 boxes from 85 trees four and five years old.

Mr. N.D. Harwood, nine boxes from 200 budded trees three years old, at from $5 to $7 per box.

Thus, you perceive that though the aggregate of our industry is getting to be considerable, the unit is still small; but small as it is, very satisfactory. We knew when engaging in this business that we were going to need all our patience and perseverance, but our confidence was never greater than now. The journey is long and weary, and of course some have fallen by the wayside and others are making but indifferent progress; but we encounter vicissitudes in every lane of life, and the unsuccessful in all its avenues.

But the old, old cries are reverberating: “You can’t raise ‘em,” and “You can’t sell ‘em when you do raise ‘em.” “They’ll rot,” “You’ll glut the market,” etc., etc.

Well, may be; but my father used to tell me when I was a boy that “No man lived so far from market as the man who had nothing to sell,” and I find those who are the most worried about the markets for oranges to be those who have neither oranges nor much else to sell.

The United States is considerable of a country, and growing some bigger. I am not a very old man – not near as old as an orange tree gets to be, but I remember when I was a boy and studied in old Woodbridge’s geography, that New York city had 312,000 inhabitants – less than one-half what Chicago, and about what San Francisco now has; while Chicago was a small hamlet away off on the confines of civilization, to which it was the very height of temerity for a man to go; while Milwaukee, Detroit, Springfield, Dubuque and hundreds more, now large towns and cities, were then among the unknown and unknowable. And the parts of California that will raise oranges is of pretty limited extent, and not another American orange ripening in competition with them. It costs now $600 per carload – about one cent each – to send oranges from Los Angeles county to Boston. $300 per carload would be an enormous freight, and the man ill reads the signs of the times who believes that the American Government and people will long submit to the present outrage.

One year ago I wrote to Davis & Sutton of New York city, asking information in regard to the quantity, quality and price of citrus fruits in New York. I here record their answer,

Dear Sir: – It is impossible to answer your questions accurately. The fruit arrives daily and hourly and is sold as fast as received. Some days as high as 20,000 boxes are sold in this market, and the quality runs all the way from very poor to fine and sells accordingly. This morning over 10,000 boxes of oranges were sold at auction at from $1 to $4 per box, and 6,900 boxes of lemons at from $1 to $3 per box. Our best fruit now is from the Mediterranean, and retails at from 40 to 50 cents per dozen. Yours Truly,

                                                                        Davis & Sutton.

Now, please remember that a very large per cent of that fruit is shipped right on from one-eighth to one-third the way to California, that a large per cent is spoiled on arrival, and that the balance pays 20 per cent duty and much more spoils before reaching its destination in the interior; while we have the best keeping oranges in the world. And let us further bear in mind that it takes first a supply to create a demand; that thousands of towns, villages and hamlets in the North, West and Northwest never have an orange in their markets. And more; although I don’t believe there is a vineyardist in the State that believes more sanguinely in the future of wine and raisins than I do, yet I say, and without fear of successful contradiction, that there is a thousand acres of land in California that will successfully raise grapes to one that will raise oranges. So let us beg our dear friends who have no oranges to sell to possess their souls in patience, and let us “gang our ain gait,” and not worry too much about our raising oranges for the pigs.

And now, let us get down to the pertinent part of your inquiry, “Whether there is any money in it;” and although I have fully as much faith in seedling trees, yet as budded fruit is now the fashion, we will make our calculations on that basis. In Italy, the oldest and best orange growing country from which we can gather authentic facts, they set 100 of seedling and 200 of budded trees to the acre. We will start in with ten acres of land and put only 100 budded trees to the acre. Then we have

10 acres choice land, with water and stock……………………………….$500.00

1,000 trees, 1-yr buds on 2-yr roots………………………………………$250.00

Cultivation and water 8 yrs (ample)……………………………….……$4,000.00

Interest at 10 per cent…………………………………………………...$1,000.00


Total amount……………………………………………………$5,750.00

From that we can certainly deduct $750 for oranges to be sold during the last four of the eight years, giving an 11-year old orchard – 9 year old budded trees on 2-year old stocks – at a cost of $5,000. Now, I don’t believe there is a man in Los Angeles county who knows anything about an orange grove that will estimate the average annual crop of oranges after the trees are eleven years old as low as 500 to the tree, on either buds or seedlings; but let us be safe and put it at that, and although I believe that in eight years of growth of the great, great West, and in the increased facilities for transportation then, that oranges will be higher instead of lower, still, we will not calculate on that. If we raise as good oranges (and don’t let us raise any poor ones) as Mr. Clark, and put them up in as good shape (and don’t let us do anything sloppy or slovenly), still, we must not calculate on $8, nor $7.50, nor even $6 per box; but let us put them so low that Kearney’s Sand Lotters – if there are any then – can buy a few, down to talk a cent apiece on the tree. Then we have the annual interest on the cost of an 11-year old orange grove, viz; $500; cost of cultivation and irrigation, $500; total $1,000. Contra: 500,000 oranges at ½ cent each, $2,500. – Annual profit, $1,500. Now, this is not the profit that is generally figured on an orange grove, and I don’t believe that it is nearly the profit that there is in an orange grove; but in making estimates we should be positively safe. In regard to the work and cost of an orange grove I do know whereof I speak; and I know that a man can thoroughly cultivate a ten-acre orchard with six hours work of each working day in the year; that the cost of water will not exceed $25 nor his utensils $20, with just work enough for a pair of light horses to give them sufficient exercise for a gentleman’s carriage.

                                    Yours Truly, D.W.C. Dimock