Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   
.
.
.
.
.
.

FIRST FARMERS IN SOUTH CENTRAL ALASKA

Written by Coleen Mielke


Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Protection Tool

 I recently found some very interesting letters (1900-1904) that were addressed to C. C. Georgeson of Sitka, Alaska. The letters were part of an experimental program initiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to determine (among other things) whether vegetables could be successfully grown in south central Alaska.

From 1899-1906, Georgeson, who was the agent in charge for the Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station in Sitka, sent a variety of vegetable seeds to settlements, trading posts and roadhouses around south central Alaska. He asked that the seeds be planted and a letter describing their success or failure be sent to him after the season was over.

The following letters from Knik, Tyonek, Kenai and Sunrise are a rare insight to those first farming attempts.


     1904  Knik, Alaska    
(photo by C. B. Meyers)


 
Photo part of the Nore Collection (private)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
4/9/1899  Tyonek, Alaska


To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska


Sir:
The garden seeds you directed sent to me 3/5/1898 were duly received. The season was unusually wet and cloudy. Potatoes, ruta-bagas, turnips, radishes and lettuce did well. The seasons are extremely local and vary greatly. The best garden that has been grown here was grown by me in 1891. We had 187 days growing weather that year. I planted potatoes April 9 that year. The shortest season in 9 years (the length of my residence here) was 120 days. The present season bids fair to be a good one. We planted potatoes on the south slope of a steep hill on April 4. I regret very much my absence from this place last fall, otherwise I should have informed you of the results of last season and obtained a greater variety of seeds.  I will send you a report this coming fall.

Respectfully yours,
Thomas Hanmore
Tyonek, Alaska

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

7/22/1899  Hope City  Turn-Again Arm  Cook Inlet, Alaska

To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska

Dear Sir:

We received and distributed the vegetable and flower seeds you sent us this spring. Some of them we retained for our own use.

In 1898, we grew the following crops:

POTATOES: planted from 5/26 to 6/1; harvested from 8/25 to 10/4. On 600 square yards, we harvested 2,326 pounds. This is at 340 bushels to the acre. They are not first quality, however, being a little watery.

CABBAGE: Early York, transplanted 5/25; good for table 8/23. The average weight of heads was about 3 pounds.

RUTA-BAGAS: Sown 5/26, they grew as well as anywhere. Pulled 10/2, best weighed 5½ pounds.

TURNIPS: Purple Top; broadcast sown 5/26, ready for table 7/27. Best weight 10/2 was 6½ pounds.

BEETS: Early Blood Turnip; sown 5/26. Average weight 10/2 was from 1/2 pound to 1 pound.

CARROTS: Danvers Orange Half Long; sown 5/26; ready for table 8/20. They were very small, only 1½" in diameter. The same applies to parsnips.

RADISHES: Can be sown from 5/10 to 8/10 and may always be depended on to yield large crop. We began to pull ours last year 6/15.

ONIONS: Were, with us, a total failure


Respectfully yours,

Roll Bros.  
per G. Roll

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
9/24/1900   Kenai, Alaska

To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska


Sir:
I will mention at the outset that we have had a very unfavorable summer. Long droughts in the spring (almost 2 months) and cold winds.  All this, of course, reflected upon our planting.

In regard to the cultivation of the ground and planting of vegetables among the natives of Cook Inlet, I must say with great pleasure that a big step has been taken forward.  Not more than three years back, by my parishioners, not excluding creoles, did not know how to eat lettuce, cabbage and radishes, let alone planting any.  They planted only potatoes and turnips and this on a small scale.  In some of the settlements, as Seldovia, English Bay and Knik, there was not a single garden. At present things are different.

Gardens have sprung up where there were none. Where they were on a small scale, as Kenai and Tyonek, they increased in dimensions.

The request for seed is great.  What you have sent last spring was enough for only Kenai, Ninilchik and Knik, so I was obliged to refuse people from the other four settlements.  The natives of Kenai are very fond of turnips. We really need seed by the pounds and not by the packages.

It would be positively a great kindness if the Government, once for all, would send some seed potatoes for some of our natives.  They are very anxious to raise some potatoes and thereby improve their material condition, but they have no seed and no money to buy any with.  In this connection the Government would render the natives here a very great service and by this, better their condition and accustom them to the cultivation of vegetables.

We hope, my dear Professor, that you will look upon our request with sympathy.

In conclusion, we earnestly ask you to accept our sincere thanks and deep gratitude for your past kindness and attention to us.

Very respectfully yours,

Rev. Ivan Bortnofsky
Kenai, Alaska
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

10/12/1900 Knik Station, Alaska

To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska

Dear Sir:
Your favor of July 17 just reached me. When you learn that the nearest post office is about 80 miles from here and that I have to go in a small sailing boat, in perhaps the most dangerous water on the coast for small boats, you may know that I take a trip only when necessary, so my mails are few and far between.

I have received no seeds yet and it is hardly likely that another mail will reach me this fall, as navigation will soon close for the winter.

In regard to the seeds I planted last spring, I will state that my knowledge of gardening is very limited, but have had very fair success so far.  I have less than an acre in cultivation. Parsnips are the finest and largest I ever saw and the first I have heard of being raised in this vicinity.  Turnips grow to an enormous size and fine in flavor. Captain Glenn took a sample of my turnips last year to Washington.  This year my seeds were bad some way as most of them went to seed. I don't know the reason why.

The Scotch kale is a perfect success here.  Two men who came here from where it is raised extensively say it was the finest they ever saw.

Cabbage is small, but heading fast at present. They have heads about the size of a pineapple cheese and are a fine flavor. Ruta-bagas are large and fine, I have just taken mine into the root house.  I had some so big that three filled a 30 pound candy pail.

Lettuce, peas, radishes, cauliflower and potatoes are a success.  I made a failure of cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach and parsley and a partial failure of onions, but I think they could be grown from seed.

The natives have raised some potatoes, turnips, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, parsnips and radishes.  They are very anxious to learn.  I am a poor teacher, as I must learn myself before I can teach others.  Instructions about planting should go with all seeds you send out.  Some of my failures were due to my inexperience.

Yours truly,

G. W. Palmer
Knik Station
Cook Inlet (via Sunrise), Alaska
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

10/25/1900     Sunrise, Alaska

To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska


Sir:

Last spring I received a package of garden seeds from you and a circular requesting accounts of the results obtained from efforts of gardening in this vicinity.

Owing to experience or ignorance, only the cabbage, turnips, peas and potatoes turned out middling well.  The cabbage formed heads weighing 8 pounds down.  One of the turnips measured two feet one inch in circumference and weighted 8 pounds, all of first class quality.  The peas and potatoes did very well, particularly those planted from seed of last season came up and blossomed two weeks earlier than those from seeds obtained from the States, which would seem to indicate an advantage in planting seeds grown in Alaska.

The land is new and three years ago was covered thickly with spruce timber, stumps measuring one to two and a half feet in diameter.  Soil thin on top of gravel and boulders. Fertilized mainly by wood ashes, particularly where the large stumps were burned out.

The e experiments will be continued on an enlarged scale next year.  It is intended to manure the land with horse dung and plant onions, parsnips, carrots, beets, cauliflower and kale in addition to the vegetables that flourished in the patch this year.


A. Larson
Sunrise, Alaska

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

10/28/1900 Tyonek, Alaska   

To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska

Dear Sir:

The present season has been extremely dry for agricultural purposes in many localities.  At Tyonek, during April, May and most of July, there was only about 3" of rainfall and that was distributed so far apart that small seeds would not germinate. Many of the small seeds sowed in the latter part of April and first of May did not come up until the middle of August.  Of those seeds that did come up, they made a rapid growth and matured early, considering the spring was bleak and cold.

The general yield, with me, was the poorest in ten years, but other localities had better success.  There was a fine vegetable garden raised three miles north of here.  The mining camps of Sunrise and Hope produced excellent gardens and also the old trading station at Knik had fine gardens.

At Tyonek, we had one cabbage weight 9½ pounds, trimmed close.  Turnips, carrots, beets, ruta-bagas and potatoes were very fine in quality and cauliflower and celery also did well, but we had to sprinkle the latter with a sprinkling pot for nearly two months. Radishes and lettuce always do well.

The Indian gardens did not amount to anything, outside of their potatoes.

Very Sincerely,

Thomas W. Hanmore
Tyonek, Alaska

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
10/15/1901   Knik Station, Alaska

To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska


Dear Sir:

Agreeable to your request, I will send you a report of the seeds I planted last spring. These were sent to me a year ago. The seeds you sent me last spring were received too late for planting, so I did not try the wheat, oats or clover seed.

The seed you sent me a year ago reached Tyonek too late to be forwarded by boat and I had to send a native after them, overland about 100 miles or more. I have one sixth of an acre under cultivation and have not used fertilizer, of course the work has all been done by hand.  I spaded the ground May 14th and 15th. May 18th and 19th I planted potatoes, ruta-bagas, onions, turnips, radishes, lettuce, beets, carrots, asparagus, peas and mustard. All of these, except the potatoes were in narrow beds.  On May 30 I transplanted cabbage and cauliflower and planted some cucumbers and beans.

Cucumbers, beans, mustard, asparagus and onions were a failure because of dry weather. Radishes were destroyed by a white worm which goes into the root and lives there until it is eaten up.

Lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and kale were not a good crop on account of dry weather in the spring.  No rain fell her until July 5.  I have to carry water a long way, so I do not water my plants at all.

The potatoes, turnips, parsnips and carrots yielded well.  I have 30 bushels of potatoes as fine as ever raised anywhere.  One turnip weighted 17¼ pounds.  I have more than sufficient of all kinds for the winter.

Of the seeds you sent me, I gave what I did not plant myself to the natives here and some of them raised some very good gardens, for the first working of the ground.  I will give the grains a trial next year.

Clover and timothy I know will grow here as it has come up where Captain Glenn had his hay pile when he wintered his stock here and it is still growing, which proves that it does not kill out in the winter.

Should you send me some more seeds, I will do the best I can with them.  It will be a material help to the natives here to get them raising gardens as game seems to be getting scarcer every year and unless the Government gives them some assistance they will, before long, have a hard time to live.

Thanking you for your past favors, I remain yours truly,

G.W. Palmer
Knik Station

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
10/20/1904  Knik Station, Alaska

To: C. C. Georgeson
Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station
Sitka, Alaska


Dear Sir:

The seed you sent me last fall was received and planted in the spring of 1904.  I gave the natives all that I did not use myself.

The summer has been very cold and wet and very unsatisfactory for gardening. Potatoes have done fairly well.  I had about two tons on about half an acre of ground. Turnips, ruta-bagas and carrots did fairly well.  Cabbage did not head firm and hard as they did last year.  Lettuce was fine. Beets, parsnips, radishes and onions were failures.

The native gardens were almost a failure from lack of attention.

G. W. Palmer
Knik Station

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The following excerpt was not a letter, but part of an annual report
written by C. C. Georgeson in 1920.


The Matanuska Valley is located at the head of Knik Arm on Cook Inlet. The first oat crop in this region was grown by O. G. Herning, at Knik, in 1906. During that year and for several years thereafter, he grew upwards of two acres of oats annually for his pack horses.

In 1911, Peter Murray on Wasilla Creek began growing oats for hay.  In 1919, the Matanuska Station purchased a threshing machine and threshed 870 bushels of grain, the larger part of which was oats. The next year, the Station threshed approximately 2,000 bushels of grain and since that time, oats have been threshed in the region every year.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



CLICK HERE TO GO BACK TO MY MAIN RESEARCH PAGE

coleen_mielke@hotmail.com