Early Agriculture in Yorba Linda

By Eldo West

 Yorba Linda originally belonged to Jacob Stern and was used for barley growing and sheep pasture. It was subdivided by the Janss Investment Company, real estate operators, and sold in small tracts for the establishment of houses and the production of citrus fruit for their maintenance.[1]

 The adaptability of the section for citrus growing had been proven by a few orchards in the vicinity that had been able to secure water from the Anaheim Union Water Co. The soil varied much, due mostly to topography. The small valleys were very fertile while some of the hills had barely enough soil to cover the “hard pan” and rocky subsurface.

 Since the growing of orange and lemons was to be their business and hoped for income, the settlers began the planting of trees at the earliest opportunity. In some instances the farmers did not wait for the completion of the water system but planted trees and hauled water by tanks and barrels to get them started.

 This method was not as difficult as might appear and is practiced even today when water for irrigating is ready for use. The amount of water required is reduced to a minimum since it is all applied to a basin around the tree and none wasted watering large areas between trees. In many orchards, after water was available, some money crops were planted between the tree rows, tomatoes being the most used.[2]

 Citrus trees for planting were all grown in nurseries from seedling stock budded to the variety desired. Seedlings were obtained from lemons or orange seeds planted in a specially prepared seed bed where they were allowed to grow for approximately one year, often covered with a lathe shelter to break up and diffuse the direct sun rays.

 From the seed bed, the seedling trees were planted in nursery rows 18 to 24 inches apart in a row, the rows being three feet apart. After the seedling had made a good start they were ready for budding, which was done by slitting the bark and placing the buds under the bark and then wrapping it firmly in place. It usually required about one year for the bud to grow into a tree. In the meantime, the seedling had been cut off just above the bud and the new tree trained for orchard planting. When the new tree had attained a proper size, 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter a few inches above the bud, and was in a dormant state of growth, it was ready for transplanting. Prices at Yorba Linda were around $1.00 per tree.

 To dig the trees and “ball” them, as the operation was called, required some skill and a lot of hard work since the roots must be left undisturbed as far as possible and a ball of soil 12 inches or so in diameter and 14 to 18 inches deep must be kept unbroken and then wrapped in burlap and securely tied to prevent breaking during the hauling and planting operation. Spring time was best for planting, but could be continued thru the summer, not too late to secure some growth before winter.

 Methods of preparing land for tree planting varied; in some instances the ground was thoroughly cultivated, in others trees were planted without previous cultivation, depending on the way they were to be watered and whether an inter-cropping was intended.

 In any event the ground was carefully laid out and staked, that is, stakes were set where each tree was to be planted. If the “lay” of the land would permit the trees were planted in rows 22 feet, usually, each way, and aligned as perfectly as possible. To help in placing the tree in the exact spot where the stake had been set, before starting to dig the hole for the tree a lath would be placed with a notch fitted to the original stake, and then two stakes set at the ends of the lath. Then when the tree was set the same lath was used and placed between the two stakes and the body of the tree fitted into the notch. If stakes had been properly set in the first place this assured trees being in perfectly straight rows.

 As soon as the trees were planted they were watered and the string at the top of the ball was untied to allow the burlap to be pulled away from the body of the tree. A second watering was advisable within a week and every two weeks for the first season, and the ground around the tree either mulched with straw or cultivated after each watering. Where the ground had been cultivated and watering was done by irrigation ditches, it encouraged the growth of weeds between trees, and required more work for their control. Very few trees failed to live and make good growth.


 About the time Yorba Linda was being developed a new fruit from the south was being introduced and exploited in California -- the avocado. It gave promise of being an important addition to California fruits and was advertised as a sure moneymaker for early planters. Some trees in Whittier had produced large incomes and if that could be duplicated on orchards the profits would be enormous.

 H.C. Wheedon planted five acres north of town, William Holloway put in a few trees east of town, and the results encouraged others to follow suit.[3] E.E. Knight appeared on the scene with importations of grafts he had started in Guatemala, and introduced several new varieties, none of which proved of any great value. But avocado growing proved to be a major source of income for Yorba Linda, or at least the parts where the soil was adapted to it.


 Several ranchers grew tomatoes for fall canning, some beans and peas, but not many. I know nothing about peanuts being grown, but sweet potatoes were, though I think with irrigation. I remember some peppers grown between trees in a low sandy area near Richfield. Dry farming, barley and oats, ceased with the advent of irrigation, except for small tracts, where the owners were not ready to plant trees. Outside the Yorba Linda Tract was not affected, and old time grain growers found a market for part of their crops in Yorba Linda since tractors had not yet replaced horses.


 For most of the people in the tract the early days were filled with hard work and financial difficulties since the majority were people with limited capital, trying to establish a home with income enough from their orange and lemon groves to afford a decent living. This meant at least five or six years work before they could expect anything from their trees and in the meantime they had to secure enough work to live and pay water bills, pay for trees, pipelines, payments on land, taxes, etc., besides building homes.

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[1] Stern and his partners filed their tract map in 1908 and in 1909 turned the development and marketing of the tract and townsite to the Janss company.

[2] These “money crops” provided some income before the orange trees began producing a crop and were later removed when the trees came into bearing.

[3] See Wheedon’s article on avocados in the Yorba Linda Star, August 12, 1921. In 1920 Holloway had 125 trees on his ranch, 65 Fuertes and five or six other varieties (Star, September 3, 1920). By 1929 there were 119 acres of avocados growing in Yorba Linda. See also the Orange County Tribune, February 26, 1914, and the La Habra Star, September 20, 1917.