California is the great Sweet Pea seed growing centre of the world. As all know, the climate is superb and the soil conditions are admirable in the stretch of land from San Francisco to Los Angeles. There, in the year 1914, nearly 3,000 acres were devoted to Sweet Pea culture for seed. Many firms are engaged in the business, the chief one being Messrs. C. C. Morse & Co., who grow about 400 acres of the most up-to-date varieties in the most up-to-date style.
The method of procedure is as follows. Immediately the summer crops are removed, the land is ploughed by powerful steam ploughs, and as it often has had no rain for months, it comes up in great rough blocks. Manure is not applied, as the natural fertility of the soil is great and carries crops to perfection without dung or artificial manure. Rain and weather gradually act on the ploughed land, and by November it is worked down into fine friable condition. Sowing is done during November and December - it must be completed by Christmas if satisfactory yields are to be expected. The seed is sown by seed-drilling machines in rows three feet apart, and from eight to ten pounds of seed is required to sow an acre. After germination, the ground between the rows is constantly cultivated and hoed until the plants meet in the drills, which is usually in April. The plants make great growth - from three to five feet in height, and they branch out so vigorously that every inch of the ground is covered: a field of Sweet Peas in May and June might be compared to a fine field of wheat in this country just before harvest - as well filled up and as level in appearance, and it is quite common to see ten to twenty acres of one variety. Under such conditions one can imagine the process of "rogueing" to be a difficult one, and the Californian growers have found it so, but on the up-to-date ranches like Morse's the work of "rogueing" is now reduced to the minimum on account of the greatest care being exercised to obtain specially pure stock seed. This is grown apart and worked up from true types of all the best varieties.
The plants remain in bloom in normal seasons from the end of April to mid-June. The harvest is usually ready in July, and the vast areas are cut with mowers and the crops piled on huge canvas sheets, where they remain in that perfect climate until they are threshed. A motor threshing machine is drawn alongside and the work performed. The yield ranges in good seasons from about 400 lbs. of Spencer or waved varieties, to 1,000 lbs. of old type varieties per acre. After threshing, the seed is removed to the cleaning houses and put through a series of electrically driven mills. This milling is so perfect that hand picking is not necessary to make a marketable sample. From San Francisco and other centres the seed is despatched to all parts of the world. In California the labour problem is a most serious one in all seed-growing undertakings. Everything that can possibly be done by machinery is done, as the cost, i.e. the wages, of even the commonest labour is two to three times what it is in Britain. Then there are difficulties sometimes with the weather even in that so-called perfect region - heat waves come and things are rushed prematurely to maturity, with the result that the crops are well nigh failures, and the merchants have to be content with twenty-five per cent., or less sometimes, of the amounts contracted for. Aphis or fly is another trouble, and frequently large areas have to be ploughed up, the trouble gets so bad.
Messrs. W. Atlee Burpee & Co., of Philadelphia, who are so well known throughout the Sweet Pea world, have a ranch for seed-growing in California.
California is truly a country of big things, and if growers get big crops three seasons out of every four, doubtless they are doing very well at this business of growing Sweet Peas for seed.