This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
The Stockton district is now one of the biggest potato-producing sections in the world, area considered.
The crops are grown in the lowlands in and along the San Joaquin River, in a rich alluvial soil, some of it containing a large percentage of decayed vegetable matter.
The " tule' lands on the islands in the San Joaquin river are made up of the decayed vegetation of many years, and being subject to overflow, this has had some silt incorporated with it. In reclaiming these lands they are surrounded by big levees. Deep drains are cut through the land, with shallower drains emptying into them. These smaller drains are about 40 feet apart. During high water time in the river an excess of water on the land is pumped out of the ditches and over the levees by immense electrically operated pumps. When irrigation is needed it can be let through the dikes or the same pumps can be used to pump water from the river back into the ditches. When the ditches are filled the land absorbs the moisture readily. When the land is dry there is danger from fire, and this is very hard to control when it gets into the subsoil. A complete fire fighting force is maintained.
Disease develops rapidly in this moist, rich soil. Careful rotation of crops and perfect control of moisture is necessary to control and prevent diseases.
Practically the entire crop in the district is grown by Japanese and Chinese, Portuguese, and Hindus. Large areas are rented at from $12 to $30 per acre, and sublet in smaller lots to the Japs or Chinese on a share basis, the landlord furnishing land, implements, and seed for 49 per cent. of the crop.
Seed of the Burbank variety from Oregon is universally used. New seed is secured every two years, so that the only home-grown seed used is that produced the first year from imported stocks.
Eight sacks (about 100 pounds to the sack) of cut seed are planted per acre, and the yield is from 80 to 150 sacks per acre.
The potatoes are planted when the land is plowed, the seed being dropped by hand in every third row.
The crop is irrigated four to five times and cultivated twice.
The digging is all done by hand.
The men are paid $50 per month and board, and they work eleven hours a day.
The rotation of crops practised is potatoes, then barley or onions. Potatoes are never planted twice in succession on the same ground.
The Piatt Commission Company of Stockton handles a large tonnage of potatoes. Their chief buyer is a Chinese "boy " who has been with them since 1878. He is considered the most competent buyer in California and draws a salary commensurate with his services.
Potatoes are often shipped from Stockton before they are fully ripe. They are then loaded in double decks in the cars, but the sacks are set on end instead of being corded up lying flat. By loading on end the air circulates all around the sack. The crop marketed from June to September is handled in this way. It costs $10 to fit up a car for this kind of shipping.
Potatoes known as "leaky," because when bruised by rough handling, water runs out of them and wets the sacks, are produced in the delta or tule lands. These contain an excess of moisture because they make a rapid, soft growth. These potatoes often turn blue.
The excessive growth of tops that these potatoes make in the field indicates a soil rich in nitrogen, but deficient perhaps in potash and phosphoric acid. The addition of the two elements last named might increase yields and earliness very much and make a firmer, better table potato.
Closer planting would also increase yields, as would larger seed and the starting of seed, as in the British Isles.
The quality of the tule land potatoes could also be bettered by more perfect control of the water table.
The potato crop in San Joaquin County (on which Stockton is located) was valued at $2,145,000 in 1910.
A good deal has been written about a Japanese potato king, Shima, but at Stockton Sing Kee, a Chinaman, is accorded that honor. He grows from 3,000 to 4,000 acres of potatoes every year.
In the following by Forrest Crissey, in the Saturday Evening Post, a description of his methods is given:
And speaking of potatoes - there is Sing Kee, the real potato king of the Stockton District. His bona-fide Chinese name is Chin Lung, but he is Sing Kee to his American friends. It is passing strange that the publicity men of the railroads and big land companies, who are so eager to prove that the city business farmer is a success when transplanted from the pavement to the soil, should have overlooked Sing Kee, of San Francisco Chinatown. This remarkable Mongolian first slapped his sandals on the pavements of San Francisco about thirty years ago. He slipped quietly into the ranks of the loose-frocked toilers and plodded along for several noiseless years. Then there was a store-opening in Chinatown in which Sing Kee was the central figure. He had saved until he was able to promote himself into the merchant class.
Sing Kee drove a good trade with his countrymen and built up a respectable following among the Chinese farmers and gardeners that came into the San Francisco market with their truck. Having the same inquisitive tendencies as the great Li Hung Chang, he plied his farmer friends with questions and came to know almost as much about their business as he did about his own. One year trade in Chinatown was depressingly poor. His thoughts then recurred to the tales of farming profits that his customers had brought him, and he was not long in deciding that he could make more money on the soil than he could over the counter.
Consequently Sing Kee struck out for the soil and carried all his business instincts with him. He made his first big hit in 1889 on 1,200 acres in potatoes. White men had repeatedly gone broke on this very tract of land, owing to their inability to cope with the overflow. But the clever Oriental watched the water with shrewd eyes, and at just the right moment after it had receded he put in his plows. The result was an average of 160 sacks to the acre. At the outset of the harvest season that year the prevailing price of spuds was 50 cents. But his land rental was cheap - only $7 an acre - and so was his labor. Even at 20 cents there was a fair profit in the enterprise. But Sing Kee, the merchant, studied the market in his stoical way and looked far ahead. All of his experienced field neighbors were selling their whole crop at this price, but the buyers could get nothing more out of Sing Kee than a shake of the head. Prices went up to 65 cents and from that they eventually climbed to $1.65. Between these two points the slant-eyed Oriental merchant-farmer unloaded his bumper crop and made a tremendous profit.