The 1915 frost prompted a re-examination of the fruit industry | Western Colorado

Fruit growers in the Grand Valley were used to freezing temperatures in April that ravaged their crops.

But the blizzard that blew on the weekend of May 1, 1915, and caused temperatures to drop well below zero, surprised many growers. It also led to dire predictions about the peach trade.

“Is the fruit industry in the Grand Vallée doomed to failure? asked for a headline from the Daily Sentinel in late May.

“Last week’s frost … completely destroyed about 90% of the orchards” in the Grand Valley, a Loveland newspaper reported on May 6.

Throughout May, there were conflicting reports about the extent of the damage and which areas were worst affected. There were also stories of some fruit growers trying to sell their orchards in a hurry.

However, the same Sentinel column that raised questions about the future of the industry, called for crop diversity and grower tenacity.

“The problem with most people is that they give up too easily,” the newspaper said.

It turned out that 1915 was not the worst year for fruit growers in the first decades of the 20th century. The April frosts of 1908 and 1911 caused more serious losses.

A Colorado agricultural statistics bulletin published in the 1930s showed that statewide peach production in 1915 was greater than it had been in 1910, 1911, and 1913.

Almost all of the state’s peach production came from Mesa and Delta counties.

Nevertheless, the frost of 1915 not only caused major upheavals in the region, but it also sparked various ideas to encourage greater diversity in agricultural production, as well as government efforts to help the fruit growers who suffered the most. gel.

Twenty-four years later, a Sentinel columnist called 1915 a “pivotal year in Grand Valley history” because of the May freeze and the fact that local agriculture “was almost entirely devoted to arboriculture.

“The Diversified Farming Policy was inaugurated in the aftermath of the severe freeze,” Merle M. McClintock wrote in 1939. “Since then western Colorado has not put all its eggs in one basket.”

That wasn’t entirely accurate, however. The Western Slope began producing sugar beets and had a working beet factory in Grand Junction in 1899.

Potatoes were grown for some time at the western end of the valley, as were row crops such as wheat, rye, oats, and corn. And, of course, livestock – cattle, sheep and horses – had been an important part of the local agricultural economy from the earliest days.

Even in 1915, immediately after the severe frost, the Sentinel proclaimed in a banner on the front page that “With more crop diversity this year than ever before, Mesa County fairly offers the most profitable year in its story. We no longer depend solely on fruit.

Yet it is clear that after the heavy frost of 1915 there was a concerted effort to encourage more and different crops.

A series of meetings from Clifton to Fruita in late May and June of that year involved several experts from what was then known as the Fort Collins Agricultural College.

They touted the benefits of farmers operating small dairies, growing wheat, producing vegetables for canneries and more.

An emergency committee was formed and began investigating activities such as hog production, growing crops for silage, and increasing alfalfa acreage to supply the expected increase in local dairies.

By mid-June, a vegetable cannery was under construction near Appleton. At the end of September, she was producing more than 20,000 boxes of tomatoes per day.

There has also been help from the US government, offering temporary jobs to fruit growers who have suffered the worst losses.

With roller dam construction completed in De Beque Canyon and the main stretch of the Highline Canal, the United States Secretary of the Interior has agreed to hire concerned farmers to assist in the construction of side canals connecting to the Highline.

According to the Denver Labor Bulletin of May 22, 1915, “The sum of $350,000, to be expended by the United States Salvage Service, will go directly into the pockets of Grand Valley farmers who are to be employed in constructing branch lines on the High Line channel. project.”

The article said the Department of the Interior agreed to the arrangement after receiving a request from Colorado Governor George Alfred Carlson, who had visited fruit farms in the Grand Valley after the freeze.

In addition to direct assistance through the employment of construction crews, funding was to be made available in the Great Valley for farmers wishing to purchase dairy cattle, pigs and chickens.

The money, according to the Labor Bulletin, would come “from a plan put forward by private promoters working for the general welfare”.

Others, meanwhile, offered advice on how fruit growers could improve their chances of producing successful harvests. Number one on the list of solutions was the use of the relatively new smudge pots.

“The practical advantages derived from the extensive use of smudge pots have been fully demonstrated in all parts of the valley,” reported the Palisade Tribune on May 7, 1915. “All who have carefully smudged bring back full crops in exchange of their work.”

A Clifton-area grower told the Tribune that he uses many steeping pots in his orchard – presumably peaches, but the article doesn’t say.

As a result, he said the low temperature in his orchard on May 1, the coldest night, only fell to 31 degrees, while his neighbors recorded temperatures as low as 21 degrees and the fruit trees next to Johnson’s orchard were destroyed.

Better thinning techniques and greater use of fertilizer on the trees were also encouraged.

Regardless of the practices used by growers, it is clear that frost damage in May was not universal. The Tribune reported that most of the peaches and other fruit east of Palisade “received little damage.”

Articles in the Sentinel in the days and weeks immediately following the frost proclaimed that fruit crops on the Redlands and near Whitewater had survived with minimal losses.

In Delta County’s North Fork Valley, where peach buds weren’t as fully blossomed as those in the Grand Valley, the crop was in “excellent shape,” the Sentinel said.

Cherries, pears and apples all appeared to have suffered minimal damage, based on Sentinel stories.

The full extent of damage to peach trees was not known until harvest time. As mentioned, it wasn’t as bad as some previous years.

Every day many shipments of mainly Elberta peaches were shipped from Palisade and other places. A dry and hot spell in mid-summer exacerbated the problems, resulting in smaller peaches.

On September 10, 1915, the Palisade Tribune reported that nearly all peach growers in the region were reporting production “one-third to one-fourth less than last year.”

Although a few producers sold that year, most remained in the business. One hundred and seven years later, while many other crops have been tried and abandoned in the Great Valley and many more severe frosts have damaged crops, the cultivation of fruits –– especially peaches –– remains a mainstay of the farming in the valley.

About Cassondra Durden

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