It’s June, which means gardening in Rim Country is in full swing. While nowadays it’s generally performed as a relaxing hobby, it was a far more serious thing long ago. For one thing, it wasn’t typically just a small patch, but a big operation covering multiple acres. And a bad year didn’t mean simply spending more money at the grocery store, but actually eating less at the dinner table.
Here’s a historical look at gardening in Rim Country.
One of the early noteworthy places was Charles Bouquet’s ranch in Tonto Basin. He developed a very good reputation that was written about around the state, as this clip from the Arizona Republican shows.
“A Tonto Basin Ranch
“Another instance of the Profit in Small Farms Well Tilled
“Charles Bouquet is in Phoenix from Tonto Basin to purchase a new wagon and a season’s supplies. He will also take back with him about 1000 grape vines and a large number of choice fruit trees.
“In point of products and profits Mr. Bouquet is undoubtedly the leading agriculturalist of Gila County. He has cleared a patch of land on a branch of Oak Creek and with the aid of an everliving spring of water has within a few years established a mountain farm that would be a revelation to many a Salt River Valley agriculturist. He raises little or no hay or grain, considering his ground too valuable for such uses. He has several acres of vines and several hundred bearing fruit trees, the product of which he sells in Globe, sixty miles distant, at much profit, finding a ready market by reason of excellence. From his grape crop he also annually makes several barrels of quite fair wine. He also grows sweet potatoes, which have yielded at the rate of fully $300 an acre.
“Including a patch of alfalfa, his stonewalled farm is surely not over twelve acres in extent, and yet from that small piece of land it is admitted that his profits are larger than those of any other tiller of the soil in that section. His experience is but another instance in support of the theory of small farms well tilled.”
The fruit trees are typical of the Tonto Basin and Gisela areas and there are some fruits grown there that are not as readily seen in Payson and to the north of Payson. Area historian Jayne Peace Pyle has in the past referenced all the oranges that she used to eat in Gisela, which is something that Phoenicians regularly enjoy, but which isn’t always associated with the region. As one moves further north, you tend to see more peach and apple trees. Noted author Zane Grey was particularly fond of the latter. He had the Haughts plant apple trees at both places he owned under the Rim.
One of the best sources of information about Rim Country gardens are old homestead papers. A typical question on one of the forms involved acres cultivated and crops planted. This provides a great deal of insight. Typically folks grew a lot of corn and sorghum, as this account from Mark Blake’s homestead paperwork shows.
“1916, 40 acres [total cultivated], 30 acres corn 6 tons [yield], Maize, 5 acres, 7 tons, sorghum 5 acres, 7 tons”
Green Valley Sam Haught’s homestead paperwork shows a similar, though slightly less detailed, breakdown with corn, potatoes, beans and sorghum being grown. These crops were very typical and served as an important food source.
Comparative “latecomers” — folks like Icy Mead, who developed the subdivision now known as Mead Ranch with her husband Maynard — also gardened quite a bit. According to folks in the Mead Ranch area, if you planted when Icy told you to plant, you’d have a good crop. Naturally, these good gardeners also spread their passion to others in the area that have since passed it on to others who keep up the gardening tradition in Rim Country to this day.