Crops, Farming & Herding

Chapter One of the Topic: Life In Landscape– Being, visions of the Far Place, the gors and the gallt, with notes various on flora and fauna, hunting, herding, agriculture, food and matters diverse.

‘Land then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals… an ethic to supplement and guide the economic relation to land presupposes the existence of some mental image of land as a biotic mechanism. We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in.’

Aldo Leopold.

‘I smell the earth. I touch it, plough it, seed it. I eat its gifts. So I worship. This tula is my bone country. This place is where the Goddess speaks.’

Ulera Kundidotter. Piddledown Stead, Earth Season 1625.

‘The coracles were swift and fairly safe despite their decrepit appearance, and I could see the advantage of such a marshland site for defence. The island was nearly three kilometres in length, in breadth not so much. The stead itself was of the traditional Orlanthi pattern, though bedecked with elaborate carvings on the outer beams. The site was surrounded with alders, reeds, green cones and bulrushes of great beauty, and giant trees of wild ash.’

Jaxarte Whyded, The Journey Through Far Point, 1624.

Living Off The Land

How do we live?  ‘Hard work, bent over the plow and treading its furrows, then reaping the bounty of the Mother is our life. Every man plows, or wishes to, or works for those that do. Even Orlanth plows. And we hunt, fish the rivers, tend the sheep in the hills, and trade for special goods.

Our food is barley, wheat, and rye — Ernalda’s bread is our staple, eaten in porridge, breads, and ale; only the poor, like your no-good cousins at the Rotroot place, eat only root vegetables; “More cabbage, less bread,” they say. We are well off, so we eat pig, chicken, cow, and the wild game of the good red deer.’

What My Father Told Me. The Genertela Book.

Rural life is far from idyllic, despite a long tradition of romanticised poetic falsehood beginning with Theocritus. In Heortling lands, farm life is constant pressure and tension, an ongoing battle against weather, scarce resources, raiders, pests, disease, and capricious magical forces; balancing the demands of the present against the needs of the future. Starvation and famine are very real possibilities, and even a good year may have food shortages and periods of hunger. Heroes of Ernalda, Barntar, Eiritha, Elmal and Harst constantly battle against the forces of want, fate and elemental indifference.

Most of upland Far Point consists of dense wet oak-lands with a fertile if somewhat clay-rich and heavy soil. You will often find yourself knee-deep in mud, which makes farming a difficult enterprise. Areas of rich loam soil exist, but are subject to heavy erosion once farming begins. There are also several small regions in the east that comprise extremely rich volcanic soil and mud.

Heavy clay soils make much forest land intractable to agriculture. However, marshes have excellent pasture on their margins. Many farmhouse-steads cluster about the ancient hill forts of the Youf, in the fertile lower marshes, or in thin forest where numerous clearings have been cut.

Iron implements are essential in cultivating wooded or boggy ground. The poorer steads keep to the upland contours of hills, while iron-users take more fertile (but difficult) areas nearer the valley bottoms. The Lodril plough with its heavy mouldboard and seed drill is associated with the Yelmalian clans. It is invaluable in working heavy clay soils, and is a catalyst for much violence. Common farm implements are often made of stone: stone spade and hoes, for example, are ubiquitous.

Earth sledges are very common in the uplands, in fact more common than wheeled carts. Amidst the hills and mud of Far Point, they can be extremely versatile.

In the deep forest there is selective clearing and burning, using slash and burn methods. These fields are abandoned to the wild when they become poor. In populous long-settled areas this has produced small parklike environments dotted with copses and small clumps of trees.

(Long-settled? Taroskarla records how Taros Ridgeleaper founded Lagerwater Stead in 1333. His sons Tovar the Hungry and Vantar Bright Shield went on to found the ancestral steads of the Tovtaros and Vantaros tribes in the 1340s.)

Because of the nature of the country, roads are almost non-existent, and in certain areas even travel by horse is often impractical. In the wilder north, most travelling is done on foot.

Hunting and stock raising are further sources of livelihood. Stock-farming is more important than field-tilling, despite the religious precedence given to crops.

Barley, oats and rye are the grains best suited to the cold wet climate of upland Far Point. Rye is a particularly hardy cereal that thrives in poor soil conditions. Wheat needs manure and good soil.

Far Point custom is to allow one third of clan fields to lie fallow at a time. A field will be planted with a grain staple such as wheat or rye one year, peas, chickpeas, lentils, broad beans, oats, barley or stock-feed the next, and left to lie fallow the third.

The best fields are often those closest the steads, for they are readily supplied with manure and compost.

Hay is stored in the ground in silage pits, compressed tight to prevent decomposition.

Most activities are organised at the stead (several bloodlines – around 200-300 people) or clan level. For example, in the shearing season, all members of a clan will help each other in turn. Communal labours provide a time to discuss politics, tell tall stories, recite poetry and incite rebellion.

As well as clan meetings, Law Things and weapontakes, there will be a ‘beast take‘ held several times a year where the clan meets to discuss strays and rustling.

The cycle of farm labour is difficult and constant, and periods of both feast and famine are part of the yearly cycle. The abundance of wilderness resources protects Upland Far Walkers somewhat from the threat of crop failure, but even so periods of famine do occur and are greatly feared.

Historical Analogues

Excavations at Feddersen Wierde (5th Century) near Bremerhaven in Germany and West Stow (5th-8th Century) in Oxfordshire have provided details of livestock and crop usage in cultures not dissimilar to Far Point.

Cattle ownership was particularly significant at Feddersen Wierde. Quantity seems to have been more significant than quality: animals were small and there is no evidence of selective breeding. From animal remains, it seems that cattle formed 48.3 per cent of domestic animals, sheep (or goats) 23.7 per cent, horses 12.7 per cent, pigs 11.1 per cent and dogs 4.2 per cent. Crops grown were dominated by barley and oats (40 per cent), while beans and flax each formed 25 per cent of the total.

By comparison, West Stow animal bones are between 34.3 and 36.3 per cent for cattle, 44.4 and 50 per cent for sheep (or goat), 13.7 and 19.7 per cent for pigs. These figures imply that while sheep were more numerous, cattle were the prime source of meat. Barley, spelt wheat and rye were the important crops at West Stow; oats were also planted there.

Food Staples and Other Crops

Certain of the following species will be gathered from the wild rather than cultivated. In addition, many species from the flora list will also be utilised for their food or herbal value.

Most of the species in this list bear little resemblance to their Terran equivalents, if only because our modern crops have been extensively engineered over several centuries. Corn, for example, came in a wide variety of colours and sizes until modern marketing decided it should be a standard-sized yellow-white.

Food Crops

Asparagus | Basil | Beans | Burdock (root) | Cameline (oil) | Carrot | Coriander | Emer Wheat | Falseflax (oil) | Fennel | Footstoe | Garlic | Gourd | Leek | Maize | Medlar | Melon | Millet | Mint | Oats | Onion | Oregano | Parsley | Peas | Plums | Potato | Pumpkin | Radish | Retches | Rue | Saffron (Sun Touch) | Sage (Mhy) | Samphire | Spelt | Spiceroot | Squash | Stone Oil | Thyme | Toadtable | Truffle | Turnip | Vetches | Wheat | Wild Barley | Wild Blue Parsnip | Wild Snowgrape

Maize is a gift of the Lunar Goddess Hon-eel. It is rumoured to require human sacrifice to grow. The other staple grains are sacred to Esra and Ernalda.

Fruit trees include wild (crab) apple and stony pear. If a wild apple is struck by lightning, it may become a storm apple tree (Sun County). Peaches (Pelorian Apples) are known, but are a luxury item that have to be imported. Attempts to transplant cuttings have been unsuccessful. (There is a myth and heroquest here).

Other fruits include plums, cherries and sloes, often eaten sweetened with honey.

Blackberries, bilberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, elderberries and other wild fruits also formed part of most people’s diet.

Oil is made from flax, cameline and other oil-producing seeds and nuts.

Stock meadows of buttercups, ribwart and clover are common in the (cattle-rich!) lowlands.

Emer wheat, beans and squash, ‘the three sisters’, are always planted and eaten together.

Far Point carrots are small, white, and thin-rooted.

Lye is made from wood ashes, and is used as a cleaning agent.

Flax is harvested, retted and scutched before being woven into linen. Even the poorest stickpicker will cultivate a small patch of flax for spinning and weaving. Thread preparation is laborious but far from difficult, much simpler than wool, and flax can be woven on a small loom.

The flax plant grows well in the cold and rain of Far Point. It is ‘pulled’ before the seeds ripen. Stalks are then cleaned and ‘retted’. Packed in boxes, they are soaked in running water till the fibres separate and soften. The stench of rotting flax can be detected from a considerable distance! The flax is then ‘broken’ either by beating it or pulling it between the jaws of a ‘brake’. It is then ‘scutched’ or hackled to remove unwanted matter and reduce the flax to fine, smooth threads ready for spinning.

Hemp is also grown almost universally. It is similar in some ways to flax, but hardier, and is prepared in a similar manner. It yields a coarse thread, and if woven, a rough fabric. Only the very poor will wear hempen cloth. Hemp is chiefly used in making rope and packing cloth.

Recently, Lunar spies have reported Orlanthi planting fish in a ploughed field. The Bluefoot Orlanthi do have a saying ‘a fish in every field’ which means ‘take reasonable precautions’. The truth of such reports, or their meaning, is presently unknown.

Naturally, most crops have a distinctive mythology. Food taboos of various sorts are very common.

The main Sea Season sowings consist of barley, oats and occasionally spelt. Earth Season sowings of the winter crop consist of wheat, spelt and rye.

Certain grain crops sacred to Ernalda, or planted in sacred areas, may produce several crops a year.

At harvest, ‘five workers can well reap and bind two acres a day of each kind of corn’.

Salt: The Edible Rock

Earth Salt is Ernalda’s Spittle, and salt-licks are cult centres as well as important tribal resources.

Salt is farmed (and to a much lesser extent harvested) in Far Point. It is a valuable resource: used to flavour and preserve food and to cure and tan leather. Clans have gone to war over the ownership of brine springs. Many salt mines are ancient, perhaps dating to before the Dawning. These enormous caverns are occasionally used as shelters, storehouses and of course temples.

‘Salt and bread’ are the prime gifts to a guest. The ‘salt-gift’ is given to animals set free to roam the forest, a ritual reminder that they are domesticated.

Aldryami hate salt! Uz are indifferent, preferring sulphur. Salt is regarded as a cure for impotence, hence its euphemism, ‘a crowd of women’. (“I’m going to Ironspike with a crowd of women.”) To ‘sprinkle salt on a witch-bird’s tail’ is to undo a curse.

Under recent Lunar-inspired law enacted by Ironfist, salt may only be sold to the Prince as representative of the Empire.

On to Chapter Two: Animals of the Stead …

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