Citrus Culture




State Commissioner of Horticulture

Printed at the State Printing Office, Friend Wm. Richardson, Superintendent.

Circa 1910-1920
Circa 1910-1920

Potential citrus grower examines a Washington Navel orange tree propagating in a Nursery or as the English would call ‘Orangerie’.

Circa 1890-1895
Circa 1890-1895

Oranges are going through the washer at one of the earliest commercial packinghouses in Lamanda Park located in what is now a small neighborhood in East Pasadena, CA.

1905 Orange Pickers
1905 Orange Pickers

These pickers were not only picking the fruit from the trees but also packing the fruit directly into wooden cartons.

Circa 1910-1920
Circa 1910-1920

Potential citrus grower examines a Washington Navel orange tree propagating in a Nursery or as the English would call ‘Orangerie’.


On July 1, 1913 in Sacramento California, the State Commissioner of Horticulture, Mr. A.J. Cook wrote a manual which he describes in his preface as, “simple, brief, and severely practical.” Entitled “California Citrus Culture” the book was written more as a step-by-step guide to aid those seeking to ‘enter the industry’. His perspective of what oranges meant to California at that period of time and his discussion of the “Early History” are interesting  to observe from a vantage point over 100 years later. He begins:


“We can not but marvel at the growth of the citrus industry, especially the orange and the lemon, in California during the past two decades. In the early nineties [1890’s that is] it was a mere infant. We now have nearly two hundred thousand acres, and ship well nigh fifty thousand cars annually, for which almost forty million dollars are received, of which nearly one third is paid to transport the fruit to the markets. The following statistics show graphically this  rapidity of growth: In 1891, 4,056 cars were shipped; in 1901, 21,097; in 1911, 46,399. The  number of boxes per car is now 396.”

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Commissioner Cook saw a vision of the future of the California citrus industry. For reference, according to the USDA Citrus Fruits September 2013 summary, California for the 2012-2013 growing season produced a total of 94,500,000 cartons of citrus that returned to the packinghouse-door  $1.523 billion dollars. Although the overall citrus acreage only increased by less than a third of the 1911 figure of 200,000 acres, the per tree production tripled or more. A tribute to technology as applied to agriculture. Cook continues his discourse:


“The reason for this rapid growth is not far to seek. "A thing of beauty if a joy forever." What can excel in beauty an orange grove loaded with ripened fruit, or a lemon tree at any time or season ? We all love and are ennobled by our environment where loveliness is dominant; and so it follows that citrus fruit growers will be generally marked by refinement and culture. Indeed, the successful citrus orchardist must be a student and must possess rare intelligence. Even the so-called learned professions at their best call for no better thought or deeper study than that required by the highest success in growing and marketing the orange, the lemon and the grapefruit or pomelo. The grower must be a close student of details. The people of highest type enjoy most that which causes them to think and study most, and so our best folk are flocking to citrus culture as affording keenest mental enjoyment and the finest ethical stimulus.”


Commissioner Cook has portrayed growing oranges in California as more a ‘way of life’ than an industry. If appealing to one’s personal esteem was not persuasive enough for one to become a citrus grove owner, then appealing to ones’ pocketbook might be:


“The profits in citrus production are equal to those in any line of agriculture. It is brainy work and nowhere do brains count for more. I have been a close student and observer of citrus orchards and citrus fruit production for nearly twenty years, and have known orchards for all that time that have never missed a crop. Where every detail of care is observed by the orchardist, the trees rarely fail to respond with a good and often a colossal production.


A small orange grove can be cared for by its owner with very slight aid from others, and thus the greatest handicap in agriculture — inability to secure labor—is solved. I have known one man singlehanded to care thoroughly well for a ten-acre orange grove, and such a grove will give generous support to its owner. I have known a man to care for forty acres, with no other aid except at time of irrigation and picking. In case pruning is extensive, it would require extra service. One can hardly picture a nearer approach to Utopia than a community of citrus growers, each with a grove of from five to twenty acres, and each rivalling the other in the care and intelligence of his management. The climate must be genial, for only in such a climate will these fruits thrive. In California, the scenery rivals the best in Switzerland, and the labor, never too arduous, is uniform the entire year through. The free, pure, outdoor air is surety for health and vigor, and a happiness and comfort that ever attends honest endeavor in the field of agriculture, is nowhere more certain than to the owner of a citrus grove that is properly located and well cared for. We can not wonder then that citrus culture has advanced by leaps and bounds, and can safely predict that the future will greatly surpass the past, and even the present, in its growth and production.”


The early industry of oranges in California was undoubtedly an industry. And it was an industry of men with strong personalities and definite agendas. The ‘utopia’ painted by Cook as well as the industry’s own portrayal of an exotic fruit grown in, what was then, the far-away land of California must have made it all seem a dreamy paradise to the Easterners.


Cook’s description of the ‘culture’ of the ‘citrus crowd’ now seems somewhat romantic and almost glamorous. However, for certain his appeals for newcomers to the State as well as his account of “Early History” as follows, always kept the best interest of the State of California in mind:   




“In that excellent volume, by the late Mr. B.M. Lelong, "Culture of the Citrus in California," will be found an interesting account of the early development of this industry in our State. It was more than a century and a half ago [approximately the 1750’s by this account] that the Mission Fathers introduced the orange, the fig, the foreign grapes, and the olive. These padres came to help men to a more abundant life. They did more; they demonstrated that our genial climate made our much prized citrus fruits entirely at home.


California gained its great renown from the discovery of gold. Little did the early miners dream of the riches in the soil while in quest of nuggets in the placers and river gravels or the locked-up gold of the quartz mines. Yet to-day our orchards fairly eclipse the mines in the wealth they pour into the pocketbook of the State. Except for oil, no single product of California begins to compare in importance, measured by the net cash returns, with that of the citrus groves. G. Harold Powell, general manager of the California Fruit Growers' Exchange, than whom no one is more able to give an authentic opinion, states that the "citrus industry represents two hundred million dollars capital invested, ten thousand growers are interested, one hundred thousand people depend upon it for a livelihood, while fifty thousand carloads are expected to be shipped from the State the present season." We see that the citrus product of to-day is a very leading factor in the business interests of the State. There is apparent the urgency of pushing with vigor all that helps to advance this important interest and of working to stay with all possible energy whatever tends to handicap it.


To quote again from the work of the late Mr. B. M. Lelong: "While orange trees were among the first introduced into the State, having been brought by the Mission Fathers, it may be said that orange culture is of very modern origin, and the industry has assumed commercial importance only since 1880." At first it was supposed that only the south was sufficiently balmy to make citrus culture possible. Now we know that in the elevated mesas and the foothill valleys of both the northern coast and Sierra ranges there are favored localities where citrus culture is successfully practiced, as far north as Placer, Glenn and Butte counties. In fact, the fruit in these northern counties is of excellent quality and ripens earlier than in the south. This promises only good to the State, as we shall be able to maintain a market of superior oranges, as we do now of lemons, throughout the entire year, from January to January. This guarantee, that the best will always be at the command of the purchaser, is of great importance to both the producer and consumer. The northern groves possess two advantages: They supply the early better market, and the early ripened fruit is likely to precede any possible frost.”


Cook’s assessment of the future of the citrus industry as a whole was correct and the concept of year-round supply was very forward-thinking for the day. He continues in his book to detail in length the technical aspects of the best cultural practices of the day. He also discusses the importance of study, organization, and communication of that knowledge to all involved in the industry. All are aspects of the industry, though maybe seen from a different perspective, that continue today.

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Many thanks to Azusa Pacific University for use of the crate labels above from the Special Collections Archive.