Biography Albert F. Etter
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





ALBERT FELIX ETTER. - In the canton of Thurgau, Switzerland, where the Etter family originated, the science of horticulture has probably reached greater perfection than in any other spot on the earth. So it is safe to assume that heredity accounts for Mr. Etter's taste for his life work, particularly as his parents, Benjamin and Wilhelmina (Kern) Etter, exhibited the same tendencies, though they made no attempt at scientific labors of the kind. However, the father was the first man in Humboldt county to grow lentils, and made a decided success of the venture. The mother was a nature lover and showed a gift in the cultivation of plants, and strong analytical and executive powers, which may well be cited as evidence that her talented son comes by his tastes and ability largely through the maternal line. Personally he is too unassuming to claim anything he cannot prove for his work, and has such high ideals that he would disclaim any pretensions to fame. But when his accomplishments are summed up, and when time has proved their worth, it is safe to say that in his own line he will rank closely after such eminent horticulturists as Luther Burbank of California and N. E. Hanson of South Dakota in fact, he is to Humboldt county what Burbank is to the world. Though yet a young man his experiments have ranged over a period of twenty five years. The high order of his success could be attained only through the genius which must be accompanied by untiring industry, patience and adherence to a purpose until results crown the effort.

"Study nature, not books," was the motto of the great naturalist, Louis Agassiz, and Mr. Etter has endeavored to follow the advice of so distinguished a leader in nature study. What he has done has brought him reputation as an authority, especially in the propagation of strawberries, but the great future of his work lies in its value to Humboldt county and the rest of northwestern California. Hitherto this region has not undergone the development as a fruit belt which his experiments are proving feasible. With the ever growing needs of the nation her soil must be more intensively cultivated and will be as agriculturists recognize the advisability of making small tracts yield abundantly by concentrating their efforts rather than drawing small profits from large areas. The hundreds of trials which Mr. Etter has made with fruits, forage plants, grasses, clovers, etc., will influence the planting of orchards and fields in this territory especially, having been made with the object of ascertaining what varieties thrive best here. Next to his joy in his work the scientist no doubt places its approval by his understanding colaborers, and then the appreciation of the public. Yet whether this comes in his lifetime or not the knowledge that he has done a real service makes all his efforts worth while. If this were not so, if he did not have this for his ultimate goal, his labors would not have the incentive which holds him until his object is attained, no matter what the obstacles which confront him.

Albert F. Etter was born while the family lived in Eldorado county, near Shingle Springs postoffice, November 27, 1872. Corning with his parents to Humboldt county he remained at his father's home on the Eel river until twenty two years old, meantime attending the public schools near home up to the age of fifteen years. From early boyhood he put in all his spare time at horticultural work, mastering grafting when a mere child, conducting experiments in hybridizing and plant breeding from pure love of the game. He had done practical work at such things at the age of seven, with apples and peaches; by the time he was twelve he had an excellent collection of dahlias and had begun breeding strawberries. Since he left school he has devoted himself to horticulture. The mere enumeration of his experiments would serve to illustrate how indefatigable he has been in his efforts to get at the varieties best adapted to this climate. Six hundred kinds new and old of apples (obtained mostly through the University of California) have been tried out by him, with the result that he has found the Northfield (originated in Vermont several years ago), Rolfe, Ecklinville, Bedfordshire, Reinette, Annas and Kirlcbridge to possess exceptional qualities of color, flavor and productiveness and well adapted for cultivation in northwestern California. As yet, these varieties are practically unknown in the horticultural world, and their introduction will mark a distinct advance. Of all these, he sees special merit in the Northfield, which he believes will prove as great a benefit to northwestern California among apples as the navel orange was to southern California among citrus fruits. It is large, attractive and hardy, and the tree has the additional superiority of holding its fruit and not dropping it on the ground before thoroughly ripe, a fault particularly noticeable in the Gravenstein. He has brought out a seedling of the Northfield which has all the good qualities of its parent. By his experiments he has demonstrated that the Northfield apple is immune to scab. The discovery of this fact is of great importance, opening as it does the possibilities of breeding a family of varieties circumventing one of the greatest obstacles to successful apple culture in many sections. It has been pronounced by one of the best food concerns as being the best apple for canning of all known varieties. Some ordinary varieties of apples, such as the Gravenstein, Wagner, Spitzenburg, Hyde King and Roman Beauty, have also been found to thrive here.

Over one hundred varieties of forage plants, grasses and clover have been included in Mr. Etter's experiments in that department, in which he has kept in close touch with the activities of the United States department of agriculture. In this line his results have shown that the large white clovers of southern Europe are particularly well suited for the needs of the dairy section of Humboldt county, inasmuch as they have a large growth during the winter.

At present he is conducting extensive experiments with nuts, mostly English walnuts, chestnuts and filberts, some of which grow so well here that they should find a place among the staple crops of the county.

But it is as an expert authority on strawberries that Mr. Etter excels. In this field it is no exaggeration to say he is without a peer a "plant wizard" whose achievements are bound to revolutionize many phases of the strawberry industry. The Ettersburg family of strawberries originated by him has distinctive characteristics never before attained in the production of strawberries. The perfection of the best varieties has been reached only through years of painstaking observation and practical demonstration at each step, a task whose magnitude may be guessed at when we are told that besides working with all the leading old varieties he has created thousands of new hybrid varieties. These experiments have been conducted with various objects in view, multiplying the difficulties of the work in proportion to the results sought. But the new types are so far superior to the old, not only in quality but in abundant crop returns for labor expended, that it is only a question of time when they will entirely supersede their less thrifty aucestors. This family of strawberries has been created on a completely new fine of ideas, hence the great difference from the species generally found under cultivation. Cultivated varieties have been blended with wild stock of known superiority and embodying the qualities desired, among them two species classed as Fragaria chilensis, though widely different in type the Peruvian Beach or Sand strawberry and the Cape Mendocino Beach strawberry, secured in varying types all the way down the Pacific coast from Cape Mendocino to Patagonia, South America. The sand dunes of this coast from Alaska to Patagonia have all contributed parent stock, and the regions around Cape Mendocino, Point Arena, Ano Nuevo (Cal.), Callao (Peru), and Chile and Patagonia, have been ransacked and given up their treasures to Mr. Etter, who has found the hardiness and vigor he sought in the plants of the cliffs and dunes, subject for countless generations to drouth, exposure to rains, changes of cold and heat, overcoming and surviving sterility of soil, alkaline conditions and adversities of all kinds. The Beach strawberries, although producing an exceptionally fine flavored fruit, are of such extreme hardiness that they exist and thrive when through privation and sterility all other plants fail to maintain themselves. The wood strawberry in varying types indigenous to the coast of California, and the wild Alpine strawberry from Europe, are other wild species he has crossed with cultivated plants, and the resultant new species in quality and quantity of fruit surpass anything heretofore known.

Keeping in mind the various uses of berries for the market, Mr. Etter has now a number of established varieties evolved by infinite pains and judicious selection from all the kinds he created, each with its own merits, and though he does not hold out any promises which cannot be substantiated he is able to recommend all of them for cultivation in this climate. These include half blood Beach berries, the Rose Ettersburg berry, five sister varieties which are one quarter each Cape Mendocino Beach, Peruvian Beach, California wood and the ordinary type, and two recently perfected varietiesBeaderarena and Trebla. The Beaderarena is a mixture of Point Arena and the Beaderwood, possessing all the characteristics of the foliage of the Beach types, a very distinctive and high quality, bearing large sized berries and exceedingly productive. But the Ettersburg Trebla is the marvel among all these. For flavor, color, firmness and size it is all that could be desired, and is so individual in appearance that unless seen could hardly be imagined even by a grower of ordinary types. Without irrigation a plant has produced three quarts of the choicest berries in six weeks' picking, twenty five thousand quarts to the acre in a season. With irrigation this can be increased possibly to forty thousand quarts per acre, as the plants would be made to bear throughout the summer, under favorable conditions.

The Ettersburg berries have a variety of flavor which has usually been considered impossible of attainment, and Mr. Etter regards some of his accomplishments in this respect as novelties which will be welcomed by some and of indifferent value to others who do not care for banana or cherry taste in berries. The Rose Ettersburg is particularly fragrant. All the varieties will thrive in soil more sterile than that required for ordinary strawberries, and some are particularly adapted for growth in clayey soils or other peculiar conditions. Their strong, leathery foliage helps to resist the heat and drouth, and the berries have been left on the vines for as much as ten days after ripening without spoiling: This length of life in warm weather and under exposure to rain is a valuable quality indeed, as they may be left unpicked with no danger of loss, and the vines hold up well, keeping the fruit off the ground. Some kinds are very valuable for canning, as they may be cooked without loss of color and without breaking, while others are delicious dessert berries. All the product of the strawberry beds, fruit or stock, is packed under Mr. Etter's personal supervision.

Dr. Bitting, in charge of the exhibit of the American Canners' Association in the Palace of Horticulture at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, after a careful examination of Ettersburg Strawberry No. 121 and the Ettersburg Trebla, has pronounced them varieties of the very highest merit for canning purposes, in fact being in a class by themselves. The No. 121 is a direct cross between two wild species, i. e., Cape Mendocino Beach and the Wild Alpine species from Europe. It is so exceedingly hardy that it is perfectly capable of growing wild and producing immense crops of the finest of berries where ordinary varieties would not thrive to advantage even under careful cultivation. This variety has been found capable of growing and thriving on soils heretofore considered almost worthless for any known agricultural purpose. It would even seem that the net revenue gained by the cultivation of this berry on this type of land would in a few years be sufficient to buy outright any acre of land devoted to agricultural purposes in the state. The above varieties have met a long felt want by canners in supplying a berry with an indelible color which does not fade after the fruit is canned.

The Ettersburg Trebla strawberry is such a radical breaking away from the hereditary type in structure and other characteristics of fruit that Mr. Etter sees in it the beginning of an entirely new and distinct type of strawberry. These varieties will exceed all others in crispness, solidity, intense color and special characters necessary in the production of the highest class of prepared products such as canned, preserved, glaced, Marischino, etc.

Though Mr. Etter has been self taught in his life vocation, he has followed it along strictly scientific lines, learning by direct contact with his work rather than from books, yet despising nothing that the great teachers found worthy of record in their labors. His wonderful work has only begun to be appreciated, but the many who profit by its results will carry down the story of his service to mankind written in the book of nature.

Mr. Etter is a member of the California Nurserymen's Association, of the American Pomological Society, and president of the Ettersburg Farm Center, one of the livest of all the branches of the Humboldt County Farm Bureau. His interest in the last named, and his very effective efforts in the promotion of its welfare, are another proof of the unselfishness of his activities, which have been the means of attracting widespread attention to this one time neglected portion of northwestern California.


(Also see the Etter Brothers.)

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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