What is a Huerta?
At each of the 21 Spanish missions along El Camino Real (from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area region), Franciscans established a protected orchard as well as gardens of vegetables and flowers. These varied in size from the small original vegetable and herb garden at Carmel to plantings of hundreds of grapevines at Capistrano.
Within the protected walls of this orchard-garden, virtually all the introduced plant materials (seeds, cuttings, and other clones) needed to support each mission were planted in the ground. The success of these early agrarian outposts relied on the carefully planted and cared for huertas and jardins and dry land grains.
A fertile location that provided a source of year-round water was the criteria for huerta development, and hence each Mission included elaborate aqueduct systems such as those seen on the adjacent grounds and up Mission Canyon.
Each mission and its huerta-oasis began the process of establishing Spanish agriculture and its labor-intensive economic system. Plants grown within the walled huerta eventually spread to the surrounding regions, introducing many crops (oranges, olives, grapes, and much more) that form the basis for California’s agricultural success today. The Alta California mission-era lasted only 65 years…it was revolutionary.