Fruit Fields of the Northwest – Part 1

William Knight Photo Scott Hale

William Knight
Photo: Scott Hale

Fruit Fields of the Northwest – Part I

By William Knight

Bayfield County Press – Friday, February 7, 1908

Expresses Opinion on Fruit Growing on Bayfield Peninsula; Paper Read in Madison; William Knight Tells State Horticulturist about the “Banana Belt“, read the headlines this date.

To:  Wisconsin State Horticultural Society, Madison Wisconsin:

“Gentlemen: I wish to say to this convention that I am not an expert fruit grower in any sense and cannot be classed with your skilled and scientific men in that line, the whole of the world owes a larger debt than they will ever pay.

I am here, representing an unknown land, a district that is so little known, and its natural conditions of soils and climate so different from what residents expect we should have, that it is a difficult matter to have them take us at all seriously when we explained to them our prospects and possibilities in the fruit line. They have been accustomed to hear of Lake Superior, only in conjunction with cold weather, snow and ice, that they cannot comprehend how it is possible to grow fruit so far north. Until you get on the ground and see the trees and fruit, you still retain a skeptical mind to matter what they may say.

I want to definitely get before you of the district that I am speaking of. It is a strip of territory starting about 5 miles south of the town of Bayfield, reaching back from 3 to 5 miles from the lake and extending west along the coastline about 40 miles and also all the Apostle Islands. There are 22 of these islands, and each island has from 300 to 500 acres, so you can see the territory I have set up comprises a large amount of land and is known locally as the Bayfield peninsula and Apostle Islands, nicknamed “the banana belt” of Lake Superior.

This district that I have designated has been pretty well tested and growing apples, cherries and all small fruits and berries, for 30 years or more.

Now I do not say that this is the only land in Bayfield County that would produce fruit. The whole county might be good fruit lands for all we know, but I say I do not know, and we have knowledge and reasons for believing it would not be. Certainly, these outside lands would not be the success that the Bayfield Peninsula would be.

It has been long noticed that our best apple orchards in northern latitudes were only made possible from the influence of large bodies of water and were it not for the influence of our deep-water lake we would not be able to grow much fruit.

There are so many things to be reckoned with and woven into the fabric pertaining to the commercial orchard. I shall content myself by giving you an outline of the facts and conditions as I see, after 37 years observation of that country. And you must judge for yourself whether a commercial orchard would be a success.

The climate would be a revelation to some people, especially the winters. In all my years on the Bayfield Peninsula, I never knew the thermometer but once to get as low as 32° below zero. In ordinary winters the temperature will not reach lower than 25° below more than once or twice during the winter. The greater portion of winter is vibrating from 20° above to 10° below. So far as even temperature is concerned, we can beat the southern portion of the state by long odds. In the fall when we get winter weather it stays winter until spring. Same way with snow, it comes in fall and stays until spring and the ground never freezes. Occasionally we will have a winter with little snow, then the ground freezes some, but not deep, there is always snow enough to protect the ground some.

You might ask what causes this mild temperature so far North and those conditions do not obtain everywhere on Lake Superior. If you will take the map, you’ll observe there is but one wind that can blow on that peninsula but must first travel from 25 to 300 miles on water before it strikes these lands.

Lake Superior is a deep-water lake, and outside of the islands never freezes, and tempers every wind that blows except a southwest wind. Winds off the lake are our warmest winds in winter and the coolest winds in the summer. So, you see our fruit trees are getting the benefit of the lake, both winter and summer.

Our winters break suddenly in the spring months, and summer is upon us and in a few weeks the trace are in leaf and everything growing. Ordinarily it is not necessary to mulch strawberries as a snow protects them sufficiently. In fact the growers never mulch, as they never have a failure.

The soil of the peninsula is mostly sand and clay, mixed with gravel and stone. It is a moderately strong soil and a warm one and appears to be best soil for all kinds of fruits and berries, and produces high colored, firm and well flavored fruit. (Go to part II  2.14.1 Fruit Fields of the NW W. Knight)

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