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lent to nine inches of light snow, or six of packed snow, and that forty inches of rain are recorded as having fallen in a month, we can perceive where so much snow might come from. It is stated that sixty inches of water fell during the winter of 1867-8, on the South Yuba, prior to the 1st of January. In the form of snow, counting six inches for one, this would have measured thirty-six feet.
While the absence of frost and snow in the agricultural regions favors the culture of the soil, and enables it to be carried on without interruption, except from deficiency or excess of rain, the accumulation of snow on the mountains is equally favorable to mining purposes, furnishing a copious supply of water far into the dry season. In May and June, when the great valleys are beginning to feel the parching effects of an unclouded sun, the rivers which traverse them bring down an annual freshet of ice water as the proceeds of the wintry deposit.
The comparative absence of thunder and lightning may be deemed a remarkable phenomenon of the climate of California. Three or four times in the course of the rainy season an occasional flash of lightning or peal of thunder may accompany the rains. But persons within doors may pass the whole year, or even several years, without noticing either. A regular thunder gust, such as marks the Atlantic climate and breaks the monotony of solar rule, is almost unheard of in California, unless it be in the extreme north, bordering on Oregon. Two thunder gusts are on record in San Francisco, both occurring in December, in connection with cold winter rains. Such electrical displays are confined mainly to the winter; though, on rare occasions, they take place during the summer months, more particularly in the interior.
There being so little necessity for lightning rods they are unknown in California, but the lightning does sometimes strike, nevertheless. In August, 1862, a thunder storm passed over the southern portion of Alameda county, attacking the telegraph in its route and shivering two or three of the poles. In December, 1864, the court house at Monterey was struck by lightning and somewhat damaged. In the mountains thunder storms occur occasionally, but seldom even there.
It is a common remark that the atmosphere of the Pacific coast is deficient in electricity, which means simply that the electric equilibrium is not easily disturbed. Those little exhibitions of what might be called domestic electricity, which are common in the Atlantic States, such as the crackling of clothing and furs, are seldom witnessed here. They are rare even in winter, though the air be thoroughly dried by a north wind. It is well known that sudden changes of temperature, and rapid formation of cloud, are favorable to electric disturbances. In the Bay climate, the few hot days that sometimes steal in with a land wind during the summer months, are followed by an immense deluge of cold, ocean air, which depresses the thermometer from 85° to 55D in a few hours, and determines the sudden production of immense volumes of cloud. But all this is performed without visible electrical disturbance. In the rainy season, clouds are formed above the horizon, in full view, with great rapidity, giving rise to sudden showers. The quickness with which this occurs is surprising. The aurora borealis is also rare, having been observed only about six or eight times in eighteen years. The extraordinary display of August 28th, and September 1st, 1859, appears to have been as brilliant on the Pacific as on the Atlantic coast.
RELATION OF CLIMATE TO AGRICULTURE AND OTHER PURSUITS.
A stranger observing the long dry season of California for the first time, would naturally infer that this country is no place for agriculture. So firmly were the early American settlers impressed with this belief, that they made little effort at tilling the land, even to the extent of raising garden vegetables. The pliancy and ingenuity of our people, however, soon adapted them to the novel circumstances to which they were subjected. That the hills everywhere produced spontaneously from year to year a luxuriant crop of oats, and that the valleys, burnt up as they were in summer and autumn, were sure to be transformed into flower gardens in the spring, convinced them that farming could be made profitable as well as mining. While the masses were delving in the mountains in pursuit of gold, a few turned their attention to the growing of potatoes and vegetables, whereby many of them realized fortunes in a few years.
In the dryest seasons there is rain enough to produce abundant crops, if it be properly distributed. No one who has not reflected on the subject would think it possible that six inches of rain during the season could suffice. One half this quantity is enough to wet the ground for plowing, and the other half to perfect the crop. The dryest season since 1848 was that of 1850-51, when a small fraction over seven inches fell from summer to summer. And, yet, the potatoes of 1851 were not only the best ever raised in the country, but they were of extraordinary size. The principal portion of the rain was in March and April; and this furnished the opportunity to plant under favorable circumstances.
The art of farming in California, as governed by the climate, consists in having the soil in good condition and planting the seed while there is moisture enough to start it. After this, rain is not so essential in some localities. The old Californians, in their rude system, avoided planting till the rains were over. This was to escape the necessity of cultivating the crop. They have been known to plow up their potatoes when rain came after the planting, and to replant; because this was cheaper than to keep down the weeds which the rain would start into growth. This is not precisely the American method, and yet it is truly surprising how perfectly crops of all kinds will mature without a drop of rain and without irrigation.
In Alameda county a small patch of tough, adobe soil, which had never been cultivated, was ploughed up for the first time late in May and planted with beet seed. The soil was not touched afterwards with an implement of any description. The beets grew rapidly without a drop of rain, whilst the surface dried too quickly for the weeds to start. The average size of the beets at maturity was not much short of ten pounds, and many of them were twice that size. Being compressed by the solidified soil before they had attained their full growth, the roots stretched upwards, and most of them were a foot out of the earth.
There is no compensation for the absence of rain by dews. As a general rule, the atmosphere is too dry to form much dew. Immediately on the coast, north of the bay of San Francisco more particularly, the mists which are poured in daily from the ocean are equivalent to rain, and preserve the annual vegetation in a fresh condition when the surface of the earth is parched everywhere else. The finest dairy region in the world is here. The valleys surrounding the bay are also celebrated for their dairies. But the ocean slopes of Marin county take the lead, and neither the sun of summer nor the frosts of winter smite their green pastures with death.
In the Atlantic States the storms of approaching winter put a stop to the labor of the farm, and force both man and beast into winter quarters. In California it is just the reverse. The husbandman watches the skies with impatient hope, and as soon as the rain of November or December has softened the soil, every plough is put in requisition. Nothing short of excess or deficiency of rain interferes with winter farming. The planting season continues late, extending from November to April, giving an average of nearly six months for ploughing and sowing, during which the weather is not likely to interfere with outdoor work more than in the six spring and summer months of the Eastern States.
Owing to the absence of rain, harvesting is conducted on a plan
which would confuse the ideas of an Atlantic farmer. There are no showers or thunder gusts to throw down the grain, or wet the hay, or impede the reaper. The hay dries in the swath without turning. The grain remains standing in the field awaiting the reaping machine, it may be, for a month after it is ready to cut. And so it remains when cut, awaiting the thresher. When threshed and sacked, the sacks are sometimes piled up in the field a long while before removal. In September and October the great grain-growing valleys may often be seen dotted over with cords of grain in sacks, as secure from damage by weather as if closely housed.
Owing to the absence of severe frosts, the gardens around San Francisco supply fresh vegetables all through the winter. New potatoes often make their appearance in March. In May the potatoes are full grown, and the largest weigh a pound or more. Though shipped and transported hundreds of miles in sacks in the winter season, no one thinks of their freezing. Frozen potatoes are unheard of, but a distinction is made in wet weather by traders, between wet and dry potatoes, accordingly as they have been exposed or not.
A peculiar effect of the climate on fruit trees, is their early and prolific bearing. Apple trees begin to bear when only two or three years old, and they also continue to grow. It is still more remarkable, that the opposite climates of the coast and the interior produce the same results in this respect. One might infer, that the dryness and heat of summer would hasten the ripening of fruits, and cause the flowering and fruiting season to be short. But the fact is precisely opposite. The blossoms, instead of coming forth all at once, continue expanding for weeks, and the fruit ripens slowly and by instalments. It follows that the market season for any kind of fruit, instead of lasting a few weeks, as in the Atlantic States, may continue for months. Cherries, for instance, begin to appear about the middle of May, and are on hand till the middle or last of July. Hence, an extraordinary variety of fruit is in market at the same time. It is probable that no market in the world is equal to that of San Francisco in this respect. Thus, strawberries, which become abundant in April, are brought to market in large quantities for three months, and then disappear, not because the production has ceased, but because people have grown tired of them, and other fruits have made their appearance. When the winter is mild, ripe strawberries may be gathered every month of the year. In favorable localities, cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, pears, apples and figs, together with strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants, may often be gathered at the same time, all ripe and in perfect condition.
For the drying of fruit the climate is admirably adapted, and the probability is that immense quantities of dried fruit will be produced in California for export . There can be no failure in the process. All that is requisite, is to expose the fruit in a suitable place, after proper preparation, and leave it there. It needs no covering or care at night, as there is not sufficient dew to harm it.
The perfection and value of fruit are greatly enhanced by the entire absence of those species of the curculio, which sting the fruit in the Atlantic region, and deposits the eggs from which worms are hatched. So far not a single worm of this description has been seen in any variety of fruit in California—an exemption which is no doubt due to the climate. Other contrasts than those described, in the foregoing pages result from the peculiarities of climate. In traveling through the valleys late in summer, or in the autumn, one is painfully impressed with the barrenness of the landscape. Everything is withered and desolate; the streams are all dry, and not a patch of verdure is anywhere to be seen. A few months later, should the December rains prove copious, the streams are full and the whole country is not only verdant, but many parts of it are, perhaps, under water; a most luxuriant vegetation, mixed with millions of wild flowers, everywhere greeting the eye as the spring advances.
The aridity of the dry season is a blessing in disguise. What appears to the traveler a barren waste, is a pasture field. The dried grass is well preserved, after going to seed, and both stalk and seed afford nutritious food to sheep and cattle. Here, then, is a storehouse for stock, which will endure until the first heavy rain. For this reason our agriculturists desire no rain until late in the season, and not then unless sufficient should fall to wet the soil for ploughing, or to start a fresh growth. Anything short of this only spoils the dry pasture, without giving compensation.
Another point is to be considered: that dry and dreary landscape is nature's seed store, where seeds of a hundred species are preserved for next year's use. There they repose for months as safe as if packed in the drawers of a seedsman. In the spring they will germinate by myriads. How well these seeds are preserved, is shown by the multitudes which germinate in a given space.
And now, what wonder that the hills of California are clothed every year with a luxuriant growth of wild oats? And that "volunteer" crops of barley and wheat, yielding twenty bushels to the acre, spring up in