An Erratic Proposition – William Knight

 William Knight ca 1915

 William Knight ca 1915

William Knight and one of his early Orchards ca 1915

William Knight and one of his early Orchards ca 1915

An Erratic Proposition

From the Superior Telegram: What Mr. Knight Said at Superior (WI); Some Good Things about Bayfield’s Fruit Possibilities and Why were the subtitles of a lecture to Superior horticulturists.  This speech was later posted in the February 2, 1910 edition of the Bayfield Progress under the direction of W.H. Holmes, editor and journalist.

Fruit growing and dairying were the subjects of two able discussions at the meeting of the Commercial Club.  The adaptability of the lake shore zone for fruit raising was take up by William Knight of Bayfield in a talk which was received with considerable interest. Mr. Knight in opening his address called the attention of his hearers to the fact that raising fruit in this section was a comparatively new enterprise. Fruit of course has been raised for over thirty years but the business did not start as a commercial enterprise until about three years ago.  So far the success that has been met with is all that could be expected.

Mr. Knight’s address follows:

The growing of fruit is such an erratic proposition commercially that it is necessary to discuss each district where fruit is grown separately.  There are so many things that have their bearing and influence on one locality that do not affect some other locality growing the same fruit.  I suppose this club is more interested in what can and what has been done in this vicinity, along the Lake Superior shore, the recognized fruit belt and the most northerly one of this state.  Now what I have to say relates to this lake shore fruit belt.

In the first place, I will block out this fruit belt so one may talk understandingly on what particulate territory is being discussed.  I could, in a general way, say that the district may extend, say from along the south shore from Bayfield, Cornucopia, and Port Wing and on to Superior, including the Apostle Islands, extending back from three to five miles from the lake.  But do not jump at the conclusion that all this belt of land is fruit land because it is within the fruit zone. Land is like most things; there are good lands, and indifferent lands in all districts, but I think there is less bad land in this district than is usually found in others. Fruit lands to be commercially profitable for the fruit grower must have the proper soil, elevation, water drainage, air drainage, and climate conditions.  There are many miles of this fruit zone where the climate conditions are much different from other portions of it, and some portions much more favored than others. Fruit men differ on their ideas, some favor clay soil, and some favor sandy loams.  I think either will produce fruit if properly handled and other essential conditions exist.

Poorly drained soils will never make a commercial orchard, wet feet are never congenial to fruit progress and they can never do their work any more than a man can who has cold feet, so if you want thrifty, successful trees, do not give them wet feet, and if you want to be a successful commercial orchard grower, do not pick out one with cold feet.  The tree and the man would end about on par with each other in the brush pile. 

Heavy clay requires much more labor in cultivating, aerating, and breaking up the texture of soil getting it ready to grow fruit.  If not in proper condition it will bake, and crack open, and when the dry season is on, will become sodden, crack up, and finally drown the trees. Lighter soils are much more tractable and have better drainage.  But soils may be in a proper condition, and then fail for want of climatic conditions; and that is where we have the advantage that makes fruit growing in this zone, along the lake shore, almost a sure thing very year.

The influence of the lake makes this and was it not for this fact we would grow fruit at great hazard, from the effects of early and late frosts.  Lake Superior is a deep, cold body of water all the year, and in the fall, having been warmed up several degrees by the heat of the summer stays warmer than air for a long time, and the winds blowing over it before they reach the land are tempered to a large extent, and warmed up so that they drive back for several miles from shore and makes the frost period much later than farther from the lake. 

In spring the ice and cold water prevent this same zone from starting growth later than the interior so when growth and bloom starts, the frost period has gone by while the interior having started early, many times the blooms are killed by the frosts, when there’s no frosts around the lake.  Air currents have much to do with frost, and you can readily see that when lands are situated so far to have the winds blow over the water before they reach the land, that is the secret of our immunity from early fall and late spring frosts.  These spring and fall frosts are what growers fear as the greatest danger. Other dangers such as worms, fungus, and insect pests, he can fight successfully but frosts are hard to control. 

Elevation is also a great advantage, allowing the cold air to flow down the ravines toward the lake, and leaving the air on the higher elevation.  As I have said before, this fruit zone extends back from the lake from three to five miles according to the slope of the land.  I should judge that after you get to the top of this high land slope you would be at about the end of this lake protected zone, but what it would amount to if it was not a good proposition commercially, and money in it to the extent of a good round profit.

Apples are equally as good as other fruit to produce. I think we should confine ourselves principally to fall varieties and not try and compete with more southern and eastern states in winter varieties.  There are no winter varieties in this state that would sustain the pressure of competition. They would not bring the price that eastern apples would bring, except the crab apple.  The apples that are being grown in this fruit zone are the finest in size and color grown in the United States.  They will command the market wherever they are.  The Pacific Coast or any other district cannot produce such stock.  You would naturally ask why this northern district would be more valuable than any district of the state where the same fruit is grown. 

I will tell you why we grow finer fruits in color, size and firmness, than southern districts.  They will stand shipping farther and keep longer than any other distinct, and that means lots of profit to the grower.  More southerly districts cannot produce as solid and firm fruits.  Our summer apples, such as Yellow Transparent, will stand for three weeks, while other districts in this state have only three days.  Our Duchess of Oldenburg will keep two months and stand shipping to California and back again.  I have heard men of southern Minnesota complain of not having express service because the apples would not keep long enough to go to Minneapolis by freight.  Our apples, cherries, currents, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries all have the quality of endurance that no other locality has.  Notwithstanding all of this, the most important matter is the markets.

We have large markets in every direction that are ready and willing to take all we can grow of all our fruit.  Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Superior and Duluth and hundreds of miles beyond, and what is best of all, our district is a monopoly.  Did you ever see a monopoly which did not make money?  Rockefeller could tell you something about that, but he did not make this one.  God made this one, and he did not freeze out a lot of little independents either, but he did put in a whole lot of water and that put the other fellows out of the race.  This water, old Lake Superior, made the season so late and favorable for the growth of fruit that when you see the fruit you just step right up to a box and hand over your pocketbook to this monopoly because the temptation is so great. You must have it; your mouth is watering for it; the children are crying for it; there is no other competition on the market, and you simply surrender and give up your wad.  When all other strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants and cherries are gone, ours come on the market.  The people have been accustomed to eating fruit all the season, and the buying of it has become a habit.  These customers are turned over to us with their education finished, and we supply their wants without a competitor. 

This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.