Happy Groundhog Day!
I’ve written before on the value of experimentation and in particular on the worthwhile practice of growing fruit trees from seed.
Recently, while doing my research on growing apples in Florida, I came across the inspiring story of Albert Etter in the following post at Green Mantle Nursery. Good for them for preserving the legacy of a true pioneer!
Check this out:
As a boy growing up on a farm near Ferndale CA, Etter displayed a precocious talent for horticultural experimentation. He combined aptitude with vision at an early age, making his life goal the creation of a new fruit varieties uniquely suited for California and the Pacific Northwest.
While still in his late teens, Albert had the enormous good fortune to stumble onto the piece of land that was to become his ranch and experiment station.
The young Etter discovered this bench of forest land above Bear Creek
during a fishing trip up the Mattole River Valley. Rugged and remote,
the parcel was available for free through the Homestead Act. In 1894
at the age of 22, Albert was able to take possession of the dream place
he came to call Ettersburg. Clearing and improving the land was a formidable task, but he was helped in the work by several of his brothers who homesteaded adjacent parcels. And so a life-long quest for new and better fruit varieties took shape in the wilderness…
The Ettersburg “Experimental Place” –
Laying out the grid circa 1900
strawberry legacy and the apple legacy. Actually, both projects began
and proceeded more or less simultaneously from the founding of his homestead experiment station.
Etter’s philosophy contradicted the conventional wisdom of the academic
pomologists of his day. While many of these experts regarded him as an
under-educated fool, others, like Dr. George Darrow of the USDA, made the long pilgrimage to Ettersburg to learn from this inspired visionary.
in its Prime circa 1925
Etter was a remarkably systematic worker with an ambitious agenda.
His apple program began with his growing out a grid of seedlings to serve as understocks. By 1900, he was ready to top-work these trees to several hundred varieties obtained through the new University of California Extension Service. The goal of this trial was to identify varieties that had desirable qualities needed as parents for subsequent breeding experiments. Etter eventually made thousands of crosses, grew out rows of the resulting seedlings, and then grafted wood from these onto his understock trees.
J. Wickson (1848-1923) – “Father of California Agriculture” and
mentor to Burbank and Etter. A plum from the former and a crab hybrid
from the latter bear his name.
While Etter was waiting for his apple experiments to bear fruit, his
strawberry work made it “big time”. The new strawberry varieties
came to the attention of Edward J. Wickson, California’s leading pomological authority and publisher of Pacific Rural Press. Under Wickson’s media mentorship, Etter and Ettersburg became world famous for important new strawberries. Etter was proclaimed as a hillbilly successor to Luther Burbank, and dubbed “the man who made himself in the woods”.
By the 1920’s, several of Etter’s strawberries were being grown commercially in Oregon, England, New Zealand, and Australia.
Strawberry Beds circa 1915
Fame, however, did not lead to fortune, at least not for Etter. Others
profited from his new strawberries, but Etter himself did not succeed
as a businessman or nurseryman. Patent rights did not apply to plant
hybridization until 1930. Isolated from railroad and trucking routes,
Ettersburg was not well suited for berry commerce.
At any rate, Etter soon shifted his hopes and horticultural attention
almost exclusively to his growing list of new apple varieties…
CLICK HERE to keep reading over at Green Mantle Nursery’s site.