Agriculture

In the most ancient times, it would seem, the Gehennese practised swidden agriculture, clearing patches of forest with axe and fire, growing garden crops until the land was exhausted, then moving on to a fresh piece of forest. In the Archaic Period some backward tribes still follow this way of life in the forests of western Thelmond and eastern Bethany, and stories persist in later periods of lost tribes of swiddeners in the mountains.

The cultivation of sorghum in large open fields was introduced by the leshy in about 3500 AED, and encouraged the formation and growth of settled communities in central Gehennum, and eventually the appearance of cities. Sorghum is grown in well-drained fields, and will produce two crops per year if fertilised, or three crops in two years if rotated with a legume. It is the staple crop during the Archaic Period.

Rice was originally introduced to exploit otherwise-useless swamp-land, a little before the beginning of the Archaic Period. It was quickly discovered that rice produced yields of grain much higher than sorghum off the same amount of land, albeit with the use of much more labour. Fields were soon enclosed in levees, and flooded or drained as necessary for the rice. Vast irrigation schemes were built to provide the water at the necessary times, and proved excellent investments.

A rice crop takes about 100-105 days to plant, grow, and harvest, including the necessary period of fallow between crops. About 2000 man-hours per hectare of labour is required, to plough in the stubble, germinate the seed in nurseries, plant the seedlings in flooded paddies, drain the fields when the grain is ripe, harvest the paddy-rice, and thresh away the husks. The yield is one to two tonnes of rice per hectare, with no diminution of fertility over time. A farmer with one and a half hectares of land can produce up to nine tonnes of rice per year. At the same time, the land produces fish and frogs, which support wildfowl and domesticated ducks, and can be netted for human consumption when the fields are drained.

In the Classical and Decadent Periods most farmland is terraced and flooded for rice. Only a few fields, over-steep or too well-drained, still grow sorghum. The produce of the land is vastly greater than the needs of the workers who farm it, and the owners of the land and of the irrigation systems which water it derive great incomes. A relatively small population of farmers can support a vast society of artisans, aristocrats, and warriors. Food is cheap, the population burgeons, and ever more forest is cleared, and ever-steeper hillsides are terraced, to make new paddy-fields.

There is no planting-time or harvest-time as such—the crops in adjacent fields are staggered to keep the need for labour and water constant through the year. On the same hillside, at any time, one can see crops in all stages of growth, from fallow to harvest.

In the Classical Period tenant farmers work the land, doing, with the aid of their wives and children, each of the jobs in turn, but in the Decadent Period, on large estates, each job, from ploughing, through planting, to harvesting, is done by different day-labouring or slave specialists.


Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.