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 Lompoc (little hills) Valley is a very narrow strip of country that extends up from the Pacific Ocean. The mainland juts out into the ocean somewhat at this point, so that the climate is tempered by the ocean both from the front and sides. The valley is about nine miles long and not over five miles wide at the widest part, having a total area of something less than 15,000 acres. It is in Santa Barbara County, 172 miles north of Los Angeles and 303 miles south of San Francisco. Lompoc (1,500 population), the only town in the valley, is nine miles from the sea on a branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad connecting with the main coast line at Surf.
All of the land in the valley and the surrounding foothills was originally embraced in a Mexican land grant. In 1874 this was bought by the Lom-poc Valley Land Company, subdivided and the town laid out. The land was sold in comparatively small acreages, principally to people from Santa Cruz - a town farther north on the coast. One of the old Franciscan Missions (La Purissima) is in this valley.
The Lompoc Valley is surrounded by hills 200 to 300 feet high. At the coast, or at the mouth of the valley, the elevation is forty-five feet; at Lompoc, nine miles inland, it is ninety-three feet. Because of the ocean breezes the climate is cool and moist during the entire year. The highest average monthly temperature for twelve years is 75 degrees (for August), and the lowest 44 degrees (for December). The average annual rainfall is eighteen inches, practically all in the winter. There are dry spells some years when irrigation would be beneficial, but good cultivation, in connection with the cool climate and sea breezes and fogs, is generally sufficient to mature maximum crops Grains, potatoes and many seed crops grow to perfection, because there is no excessively hot weather. Mustard (German and English) is grown commercially, and W. Atlee Burpee, the Philadelphia seedsman, selected this as ideal for growing sweet-pea and other seeds. A farm, with Edwin Lonsdale in charge, has been started by this concern for growing seeds commercially.
The Pacific Garden of July, 1910, says that the summer temperature is so low that Lima beans do not mature seed. A temperature of 85 degrees is considered very high and 20 degrees very low.
The district is one of small farms, forty acres being an average size. L. F. Shanklin is one of the largest potato growers, and he considers fifty acres a good size planting. Many growers have five to twenty acres.
The total annual acreage of potatoes is from 4,000 to 6,000. The average yield is 75 to 100 sacks (150 to 200 bushels) per acre, making the production about 50,000 sacks (100,000 bushels), or about 165 cars. The other principal crops of the valley, those with which the potatoes are rotated, are:
Mustard seed about 300,000 sacks of 100 pounds each
Barley....... about 60,000 sacks of 100 pounds each
Beans........ about 125,000 sacks of 90 pounds each
Onions....... about 25,000 sacks
There are places in the valley where orchards have been taken out for the growing of potatoes and other field crops, even though with proper care orchards pay well. In other places the Sugar Beet Company has bought land devoted to beans, potatoes and onions, for growing beets. These things show nothing but some of the inconsistencies of American agriculture. It is certainly not economically right that an apple orchard be torn out just because the owner does not like to "fuss" with fruit, or because he has changed his mind about growing apples.
Lompoc is unique in that potatoes of the very highest quality are grown here at a low altitude and a southern latitude. The moist, cool atmosphere and the sea breezes make this possible.
Potatoes have been grown at Lompoc ever since the first settlement, but it is only during the past five or six years that modern methods have been introduced. Now the cultural methods are strictly up to date, and improvement in seed work is coming very rapidly.
Like almost every agricultural section in the West, the soils are spotted. Here they range from a very heavy clay, locally called "blue mud," to pure drift sand. In the grades" between these are the fine, well-aired, well-drained, fertile, easy-working sandy loams that are known as the "potato lands." The total area of such soils is not over 7,000 to 8,000 acres. The water table on most of this best potato land is about twelve feet below the surface of the ground.
The preparation of land for potatoes is most thorough, three important factors being kept in mind:
1) Conservation of moisture.
(2) The making of a deep, mellow seed nest.
(3) Killing weeds.
After the crop is off the land in the fall, a heavy growth of volunteer grain and weeds starts up. In January, when this is one to two feet high, it is plowed under, generally eight to twelve inches deep. After this the ground is kept thoroughly worked and free from weeds until May. One of the popular tools for making a mulch and killing weeds is a knife weeder and cultivator, consisting of blades attached under a solid frame. It is a local tool patented at Ventura, Cal. The cutaway disk harrow is also used for this winter working of the soil for killing weeds and conserving moisture. Another local tool is a jointed plank drag filled with harrow teeth.
The plowing in January opens up the soil, permitting the easy absorption of the largest possible quantities of winter rainfall. The almost continuous cultivation following this breaks the capillary, holding the moisture in the subsoil, and by killing the weeds keeps them from sapping moisture from the soil. The nettle is a bad weed for this, and growers state that wherever this weed is allowed to grow there is a dry spot the coming summer.
About May 10th the ground is plowed again, this time ten to twelve inches deep. After this the cultivation is continued to keep weeds down and hold moisture. Potatoes are planted May 20th to June 20th. The Iron Age planter with a heavy press wheel behind is now quite generally used, although until the last four or five years the work was done largely by hand. The rows are thirty-six inches apart and the pieces dropped fifteen to seventeen inches apart in the row. Burbank is the only variety grown in the valley, and the best product is a most beautiful potato, absolutely clean and clear-skinned, with a very fine netting that indicates a mature potato of excellent quality. The best growers now want a medium-sized potato, with shallow "eyes" and square shoulders, a "spud" that nicely fills the "fist" of a good-sized man. Some extra large potatoes are grown, and "Peerless" (a big, rough variety here) yields up to 400 sacks per acre.
The seed is almost entirely imported from Oregon. Seed is generally used two years following the introduction before another change is made. The theory is that seed from a cold northern climate is necessary, but L. F. Shanklin believes that the greatest cause of the so-called "running out' of seed is poor selection. The practice is to sell all the best potatoes and select seed from the seconds and culls or "cow feed" remaining on the farm in the spring. He is planning to select his seed from staked and selected hills that produce healthy tops and satisfactory hills, then by planting whole seed from such hills he expects to increase yields rather than have them decrease.
Seed is greened with sun and generally cut in very small pieces, sometimes to one eye, about 600 pounds per acre being the average amount used. Because of this the stand is often poor and all of the plants do not always start as strong and vigorous as they would if a larger seed piece furnished more nourishment for the starting of the plant. Mr. Shanklin believes the yield can be increased 30 to 50 per cent. by seed selection and the use of larger seed with the same good cultivation methods now used. From one hill that volunteered from a whole tuber he dug seventeen big potatoes.
Lompoc potatoes are grown by the high ridging system, the aim being to get as high and big a ridge as possible. A heavy soil mulch is kept all over this ridge and there are heavy dews and fogs almost daily. This moist, open, well-aired ridge is an ideal place for the perfect development of the tubers.
The ridging begins with the first cultivation after planting. There are generally two cultivations and the final ridging. This is done with a special ridger which is illustrated.
Potatoes are harvested in November with horsepower diggers, the Douden and O. K. Champion being generally used. A long apron and low wheels on the digger are good things in this very loose soil.
Potatoes are stored in long ricks in the field and in big warehouses in Lompoc. The climate is such that when piled loose in big ricks twelve feet wide at the base, six feet high and often several hundred feet long, the potatoes keep with no other protection than mustard straw or some other light covering that simply keeps off the light frosts. It must not mat or shed water, or it will mold. These piles are soaked through repeatedly with the rains and no damage is done thereby to the potatoes. They keep all right until well into the spring; if piled east and west instead of north and south, some potatoes on the north side always frost.
Ten Japanese laborers will pick up the potatoes as fast as one digger will take them from the ground, or six acres per day of eighty sacks per acre. The Japs cost $1.75 a day, or $17.50 for picking up 480 two-bushel sacks - a little over 3 cents a sack. Potatoes are sacked as fast as dug, but the sacks are left in the field to dry out for a day before being piled in the ricks.
A large part of the crop is sold to brokers at digging time. The quality of the Lompoc and Salinas potatoes is such that they generally bring $1 to $1.50 per hundred as they come from the field. The crop is graded into firsts, seconds, and "cow feed." The firsts are smooth, even, medium-sized potatoes, the pick of the crop; seconds contain more small and large and the uneven potatoes, but are all sound; "cow feed" includes all cut, bad and very small tubers.
A popular rotation of crops at Lompoc is potatoes, beans, onions, potatoes, potatoes, beans, etc. The soil is naturally very rich, all recent alluvial, and there are frequent overflows from the streams depositing silt. For this reason there has been practically no commercial fertilizer used. Green manuring with legumes is not done (the weather is too cool for alfalfa to do well), and animal manures are not used to any extent. In fact, there is very little stock kept in the valley except for work. Of course, range cattle are kept in the hills. It is essentially a special crop valley, but some day fertilization will be given more attention.
The authors are indebted to T. L. Harris, L. F. Shanklin, A. G. Balaam, Secretary Chamber of Commerce, and others for valuable information and many courtesies shown during a visit to Lompoc.