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Long winters in reality vs long winters in AsoIaF

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On 01/09/2016 at 6:10 PM, Illyrio Mo'Parties said:

Hey, agriculture expert - if IRL farmers planted wheat going into winter to be harvested in spring, could Westerosi farmers do the same? Or would the extra long winters render the effort pointless?

Um, I assume you are talking to me? Agricultural expert is a bit of a stretch - more like an unhealthy interest in food. Historic food, and archeaobotany.

Short Answer: I really think they could. Especially if they are getting 'false springs' and 'spirit summers' throughout the ten-year winter, and in places protected from hard frosts and ice storms by warm ocean currents, misty rivers, and sheltering woods or hills.

But it is really hard to tell. The thing that would bother me most, if I was a Westerosi farmer, would be the thaw. If it has hard frosts and ice storms, I'd be stuffed. I don't know how much I should be bothered by the winter - as long as there is plenty of snow, I'd probably be happy, even if the winter is quite long. That is, as far as the grains and farinaceous stuff is concerned. As long as I had enough tucked away. But my beets and carrots and onions, I'd be more concerned for. And dragon peppers would be a headache- you'd want to get them in as soon as you could be sure there wasn't going to be another frost, and if it was a two-turn false spring, that would be a headache. But a two-turn false spring might just be enough time to get in a wheat harvest.  

Longer, more rambling answer:

For places where the weather is as severe as it was in the Scottish Highlands until the 19th century clearances, the chances of getting a decent crop of winter wheat in were really slim. That is why the people there lived mostly on oats.

Ayrshire, where Burns was farming, should have been great, because the climate is less severe. It's geography protects it from the Hebridean gales that scour the land of always winter when its annual long night descends. The firth helps keep the black ice that would destroy a crop at bay. Burns kept busy ploughing other people's fields (and daughters), so maybe he and his brother were just not good managers. Or maybe they were not smuggling whisky, another big industry at the time - and reliant on the barley crop - similar autumn/spring sowing season as the wheat, but better adapted to the cold- hence grown with success in all but the coldest parts of Scotland.

I can't see why places like the Riverlands, Westerlands, along the Mander, the Neck and the Vale of Arryn couldn't get in more than one winter crop, if they got long enough 'false springs' and 'spirit summers'. Wheat, oats, barley, rye, and peas, are all probably well worth planting. If Jaime had seen farmers madly ploughing the stubble while he made his way to Riverrun, these crops would not be too put off by a early snow-storm...as long as it melted away and there was no black ice, it would just water them.

The places with autumn ice storms, the less sheltered places, the east coast places (that seem to be getting cold ocean currents) I'm not so sanguine about. Ice is the enemy. For the winter crops, it is what happens in the thaw that really matters, that and how long after the thaw the seed starts germinating. The crop only really grows after the thaw, when the ground warms up, and it is then, when it is growing, that it is vulnerable to a hard frost or an ice storm which can kill it all off.

In our world, there are early and late germinating varieties, and the seed acclimatises to the climate in which it is grown - the heirloom variety grown in the north of Scotland will almost certainly be later germinating than the variety grown in Ayrshire. Westeros wheat would be very confused, especially in the North. It would probably be a mix, and thanks to the ten year summer, and the previous short, mild winters, have lost it's acclimatisation to winter weather. The first winter crops after the ten year summer are probably going to have very low yields, if it comes up at all, and it isn't destroyed by ice before it is harvested, but if the seed of that crop is planted, the next thaw will probably deliver a bigger, hardier crop, and the next a bigger one still. And so on. Until they get a proper summer again, and the crop gets burnt or starts heading an inch above the ground due to water stress. The seasons are not good for plants.

On the other hand, the amount of snow gives me hope. Snow only falls in a narrow temperature band,  -1°C to 3°C degrees, and it insulates the crop beneath it from the sub-zero weather above, preventing it getting any colder than 0°C (32°F), and slowly waters the crop (as snow gets older, it becomes slushier but it will stay at 0.01°C (32.01°F, the triple point of water) until it is all melted, or until it refreezes in the night/ colder weather. It refreezes from the top down, so if the layer of snow is nice and deep (like the one Stannis is working his way through, it will keep the crop snug and safe until the thaw. If there is a crop under the snow, that is. Really cold climates (eg. most of Antarctica) don't get warm enough to snow. They have ice storms and katabatic winds and flora doesn't stand a chance (Antartica has two species of flowering plant- both of which grow on the peninsular, not the mainland. The Arctic has 900, thanks to snow, and less wind, and the landmasses being at lower latitudes and (except Greenland) largely unglaciated).

Westeros south of the Wall seems to have lots of precipitation in the summer, too (the only deserts we know of are in Dorne, and everywhere else seemed lush and green and bountiful in late summer and autumn), and the South and the Westerlands, the Riverlands and the Crownlands and the Stormlands and the Vale seem to have pretty mild winters normally (remember Mace managed to keep a siege together for over a year in the middle of a winter that had come back with a vengeance, and feast in front of Stannis's walls every day). The Neck seems positively lush, like Irish bog country, and in White Harbour the firth has not iced over since the age of Heroes. Although I guess we are only being told about the snowline of the Eyrie and the frost-free Knife because they will freeze up fierce sometime this winter, so the legions of wights can walk across the ice. 

Even at the Wall, the abandoned inn at Queenscrown is overrun with apple trees, so I'm not even ruling out the possibility that there is some good arable land in the North, and even in the far North, in the Haunted Forest - only not the Flint Hills, unless there are sheltered valleys. Even if there are, in late summer:

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The flint hills rose higher and wilder with each passing mile, until by the fifth day they had turned into mountains, cold blue-grey giants with jagged promontories and snow on their shoulders. When the wind blew from the north, long plumes of ice crystals flew from the high peaks like banners.(AGoT, Ch.13 Tyrion II)

  It doesn't sound promising.

The Eyrie is obviously out, but apart from a few shrubs in the courtyard, and maybe some blackberries, I don't think they grew much there anyway. On the other hand, the Vale of Arryn:

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the misty east, a tranquil land of rich black soil, wide slow-moving rivers, and hundreds of small lakes that shone like mirrors in the sun, protected on all sides by its sheltering peaks. (AGoT, Ch.34 Catelyn VI)

The humidity (misty), thick hummus (black dirt and big rivers and small lakes) and the shelter of the mountains, the climate mild enough for lemons - how the Royces and Waynwoods are not among the wealthiest families in Westeros, I don't know. It looks very promising for winter crops. Although the wildlings will probably be driven down from the mountains by the weather. And the fingers will probably be as bleaker than ever.

(Just noticed, while doing a quick search for ice storms, that the symbol of the faith of the seven is a crystal - if Melisandre's  Manichaen world view has any validity, and there is only good and evil, and all gods derive their power from either the great Other or R'hllor, Ice or Fire, then the seven-sided crystal seems to me to indicate that they are on the side of the Other, on the side of Ice. But that would put the old gods, the children of the forest, the trees, the singers of the earth and of water, on R'hllor's side - ice and darkness are the enemies of their survival too.)

Thanks to the hot springs, Winterfell might keep an arable micro-climate even after losing its glass gardens. There is probably going to be a lot of elk and aurochs and so on flushed out of the wolfwood by the harsh winter too. Not just the wolfwood, either.

Outside of Westeros, well, judging by the intensity of hurricane that wiped out the Saelesori Qhoran, they are between 15°N and 25°N latitude (and more probably closer to 20°N. Hurricanes tend to be more intense when they form in lower latitudes but when they have swept up enough tropical heat, they can gain intensity as they head north (more probably, north-east or north-west. In the case of the Saelesori Qhoran, north-easterly, as Tyrion saw the storm coming at them from the west.) Because they need a weak, but not non-existent Coriolis force to start rotating, they won't form within 5 degrees of the equator, and the further north they are, the bigger they will be, as long as there is enough warmth moist air at sea-level to drive it. They move around erratically, picking up force in the low latitudes, but when they start swinging North, out of the tropics, into the temperate 20°N-40°N latitudes, they can get a real sense of purpose. Although, I suppose it wouldn't take a category five hurricane to tear the Saelesori Qhoran apart.

Naath must be tropical, to have all those butterflies, so no higher than 25°N

The Dothraki Sea is a bit like a giant veldt or prairie, that might get quite a lot of snow at the higher latitudes, but the lower latitudes will have abundant dry (and maybe, if the weather is good, fresh) grass all winter for the horses, and the snow melt will water the whole system in the spring. It shouldn't go brown, though, just stay gold and maybe a little grey all winter.

Meereen grows olives, pears and tart persimmons and figs. It seems like a Mediterranean coastal climate, not quite as mild as the one I live in - pears and persimmons like, even need, a few hard frosts. Figs on the other hand, can live without them, but probably won't die if they occasionally cop one, especially if the tree is older and larger and used to it, or the frost is not so severe. Olives are pretty good at tolerating frost, although it can damage the fruit. Both burned and frost-bitten olives can bounce back, sending suckers up from the roots, look like a kind of bushy shrub. Very hardy. Grape vines not so much, but I'd still hold out some hope for them, if the fire was not too intense (eg. if it was vines on the terraces, and they were green and full of grapes, it would spoil the grapes, but it would also be hard for the fire to get very hot, due to the lack of fuel and high moisture, so the vines might be blackened but not dead. Still, she won't know until they start to grow in spring, or not.) From the collection of flowers and plants that Daario was bringing Daenarys in the autumn, Slavers bay is clearly not the desert it was portrayed as in the show. 

Volantis seems to be a place that never gets snow, and New Ghis, and the Isle of Ceders also, too humid, too much water and sea breezes. Meereen seems to be about the same latitude, to have the same sea breezes and wide river to protect against frost, so maybe the pear tree has sad woolly fruit or none at all, and the Persimmons came from the Khyzai pass, which does get frosts. Or taste disgusting because they are grown in Meereen.

Most of Essos (the bits we already know of) look like they will have no trouble over winter, and a fair bit of Westeros might be extremely fertile and good for cropping over winter. Except that nobody seems to have bothered putting any crops in.

TL;DR I think they should put a crop in, even if the weather made it pointless. Might just be able to get a harvest and a planting in a false spring. Waiting until the thaw to plant seems a riskier choice.

Edited by Walda
tropical storms - they can reach well into the temperate zone, but the most intense are usually at or a little below the tropic.

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The northmen seem to understand quite well what it takes to survive the long winters. During the long night they killed their children, old men sacrifice themselves to leave food for the young, the Skaagosi and the Wildlings eat corpses and the clansmen prefer to die killing Boltons than to die of hunger or cold.

The south overpopulated after 10 years of summer is ready for a very hard awakening.

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@Walda I really enjoy reading your extremely detailed and informative posts.  

All this talk about Essos during a long winter has me wondering though.  Do we know anything about how far the long winters reach?  I mean anything official from GRRM?  Essos just doesn't seem to be a land that sees much snow, if ever but I was always under the impression that the long winters would drops snow everywhere.  

Maybe that's just the difference twenty years makes between my first reading and my most recent. 

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1 minute ago, Lurid Jester said:

@Walda I really enjoy reading your extremely detailed and informative posts.  

All this talk about Essos during a long winter has me wondering though.  Do we know anything about how far the long winters reach?  I mean anything official from GRRM?  Essos just doesn't seem to be a land that sees much snow, if ever but I was always under the impression that the long winters would drops snow everywhere.  

Maybe that's just the difference twenty years makes between my first reading and my most recent. 

The Rhoynish legends say that during the Long Night the Rhoynar froze up to the joining with the Selhoru. During normal long winters the ice probably doesn't extend that far.

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16 hours ago, Walda said:

Um, I assume you are talking to me? Agricultural expert is a bit of a stretch - more like an unhealthy interest in food. Historic food, and archeaobotany.

Don't sell yourself short

16 hours ago, Walda said:

For the winter crops, it is what happens in the thaw that really matters, that and how long after the thaw the seed starts germinating. The crop only really grows after the thaw, when the ground warms up, and it is then, when it is growing, that it is vulnerable to a hard frost or an ice storm which can kill it all off.

See, this is how little I know: is it the case that, in real life, if you plant a seed in the ground in winter, it won't start growing until the temperature picks up? Or is it merely just a matter of time, i.e. a seed will start growing x days after planting?

16 hours ago, Walda said:

In our world, there are early and late germinating varieties, and the seed acclimatises to the climate in which it is grown - the heirloom variety grown in the north of Scotland will almost certainly be later germinating than the variety grown in Ayrshire. Westeros wheat would be very confused, especially in the North. It would probably be a mix, and thanks to the ten year summer, and the previous short, mild winters, have lost it's acclimatisation to winter weather. The first winter crops after the ten year summer are probably going to have very low yields, if it comes up at all, and it isn't destroyed by ice before it is harvested, but if the seed of that crop is planted, the next thaw will probably deliver a bigger, hardier crop, and the next a bigger one still. And so on. Until they get a proper summer again, and the crop gets burnt or starts heading an inch above the ground due to water stress. The seasons are not good for plants.

Could the Westerosi perhaps take the seeds from the winter crops and store them separately and replant them in the winter, and do the same for the summer crops, so they're using the best acclimated crops for the season?

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@Illyrio Mo'Parties Those are really interesting questions, and I've been trying (not luck as yet) to get in touch with an old friend who is an agronomist and knows a lot more about wheat than I do - they deserve better answers than these but:

On 02/09/2016 at 9:13 PM, Illyrio Mo'Parties said:

if you plant a seed in the ground in winter, it won't start growing until the temperature picks up? Or is it merely just a matter of time, i.e. a seed will start growing x days after planting?

This ability of wheat to just stop growing when the conditions don't suit it, and start again when it gets what it wants (within limits), is part of the reason why humans have been cultivating it since the neolithic from Siberia to Sudan, and still do, from South Australia to Saskatchewan. It also makes it difficult to say that a seed will start growing x days after planting.

There are a lot of factors. Mostly temperature, moisture and the type of wheat. If it has a hull and how tough the hull is. Most winter wheats have hulls, and most ancient grains. It makes threshing and milling a pain, but it insulates the grain and the embryo against cold, and makes it a little less attractive to mice and birds, although they will probably still eat it if it is just lying on top of the soil.

Hulls delay germination. Time, moisture and temperature soften hulls. The colder the temperature (above freezing) the longer the time to germinate. For winter wheat, the hull allows the wheat to cheat the autumn weeds that it would otherwise be competing for sunlight and soil nutrients with - they die out when the frosts start, while the seed stays snug in its hull. While the weeds are compost, the seeds germinate. Some varieties (tough hulls) will wait out the coldest part of winter. But most spend the early winter tillering. (There are basically four phases of wheat development - tillering, stem extension, heading, and grain maturation.) Red hulled types (common in Canada) can take anything from three to seven months to germinate.

Tillers are lateral shoots that start forming after the shoot and the next two leaves has poked out of the soil. They are important because each tiller has the potential to become a head of wheat. They compete with each other, and the tillers of the other plants for sunlight, and as the ground temperature gets colder, the tillering slows, and if it gets cold enough, stops. So it depends on sunlight and temperature. The oldest tillers, the ones that developed first, that are developing the longest, yield the fattest grains of wheat. Not all the tillers will form a head, but those that don't will supply starch to those that do, so in the end its all good. When it gets really cold, December, January, and the wheat is in perpetual darkness under the snow, it stops growing altogether, and just lies flat, like lawn. (at this stage, the wheat plants look just like little clumps of grass, especially from a distance. Although you can usually tell from the way they are in lines with farrows of earth between them, that they are not just grass.) 

Winter wheat needs to spend some time under snow, or have a certain number of hours frost (below zero degrees Celsius, at least) to form a head in the spring. This is called vernalisation, and again, depends of the variety and its acclimatisation. The late germinating varieties use this as a cue to germinate. The earlier germinating varieties use this as a cue to go dormant or start tillering. If they are too long under the snow, or the snow is packed too heavily for the wheat to breathe, they can be smothered, waterlogged, attacked by mould. Most winter wheats are hulled, and grow best less than 60°N, but there are wheats that grow within the Arctic circle, and on the high plains of Tibet, so I guess the short answer is, it depends.

In the early spring, when it warms up a bit, it perks back up and does a bit more tillering, but mostly starts powering into stem extension. This is another strategy for getting a leg up on the weeds (ie. any non-wheat plant that is good at getting resources for itself) The main stem telescopes up, to a node, and then to another, and another, and another, as long as they get the moisture and sunlight, shading the ground and grabbing the nutrients before the weeds that were waiting for the spring equinox get a chance.  Then it stops looking like grass and starts looking like wheat (although, botanically, wheat is a grass, of course). Then, around the equinox (exactly when depends on the variety) it forms a head, flowers (usually self-pollinating - another survival strategy), the flowers turn into grains, which will fill, grow gold, and harden, grow loose in it's spiklet (and scatter into the soil, if it is a wild wheat, but domesticated varieties learnt long ago to have rachis that held the grain in the head after maturity, and leave it to the humans to gather you, thresh you, store you and plant you when the time is right. If there are no humans, this is a lousy strategy, as the grain is apt to germinate on the head, or, if the head reaches the soil before germination, the kernels will be too close together and kill off each other competing for nutrients and sunlight.)

Some spring wheats stay dormant the whole winter and germinate in the thaw, and start tillering before the weeds get in and smother them. They wouldn't be ready to harvest until the autumn, though. Wheat has a facultive photoperiod, that is, it's photoperiod - the cue to flower around the spring equinox (winter wheat) or the autumnal equinox (spring wheat)- is more a tendency in wheat than a necessity.

Photoperiod is another way local wheats adjust - they can use day length as a cue to cheat the climate by flowering and ripening before the summer gets too dry or the autumn gets too wet, whatever the case may be. At the poles and at the equator, days and nights are the same length, but at every other latitude the days will be longer in summer, shorter in winter, and the closer to the poles the more pronounced the change will be.

Some other plants are hormonally locked in to the length of day or of night - like trees that will start producing hormones that shut down chlorophyll production and lead to their  leaves changing colour and falling at 2:21 on the 22nd of September, and not a minute before.(well, really, plants are not that reliable as clocks, and they take their cue from the night being longer than the day, or from the day being shorter than the night, rather than sense the exact minute of the equinox. But they can be precise within 24 hours. Sometimes, when a tree is growing right next to a streetlight, you can see that it's leaves stay greener longer around the light, or it flowers sooner or later around the light). Anyway, wheats response to sunlight is not as locked in as other plants.

It is this aspect of Westeros that bothers me the most (well, apart from the sexualisation of children). The maesters measure the seasons by the length of the day, or at least, by the length of shadows at particular times of day. Or so I gather from 

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"bronze Myrish lens tube sat on a tripod by the terrace door, star charts hung from the walls, shadow maps lay scattered among the rushes"(AGoT, Ch.66 Bran VII)

and

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"The maester was peering through his big Myrish lens tube, measuring shadows and noting the position of the comet that hung low in the morning sky."(AGoT, Ch.66 Bran VII)

and 

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"I can teach you to measure the days and mark the seasons, and at the Citadel in Oldtown they can teach you a thousand things more. But, Bran, no man can teach you magic"(AGoT, Ch.53 Bran VI)

and

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"On the edge of the Wall an ornate brass Myrish eye stood on three spindly legs.  Maester Aemon had once used it to peer at the stars, before his own eyes had failed him." (ASoS,Ch.69 Jon IX)

and of course

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"Already the days grow shorter. There can be no mistake, Aemon has had letters from the Citadel, findings in accord with his own. The end of summer stares us in the face".(AGoT, Ch.21 Tyrion III)

So, obviously the length of the shadows, in relation to the position of stars, and perhaps including the suns height above the horizon (note we don't see Cressen or Luwin making observations at night), is how the maesters determine the length of day at the exact place they happen to be in the universe. This is how they notice when the solstice has past, and when the Autumnal equinox has arrived and - by this definition, winter is the time between the winter solstice and the Vernal equinox, the white raven has arrived at the Red Keep to announce what to us would be the middle of winter- 21st of December, but for them it is the start, and will continue indefinitely for no reason hard science knows.

There are a number of problems just with taking the measurements, making the observations, communicating and comparing them - if it snows all day, or there is no day, how do the maesters measure the shadows? The sun? If they need a horizon, what about white-out? Of course, over the summer and autumn there would be some days where some locations wouldn't get good reliable readings, but in winter, when it snows like it has at Moat Calin, and all across the Riverlands, and through the North, it seems that bad or no data will be widespread and frequent. And the Ravens - won't they do stuff like attempt to roost in chimneys and die of asphyxiation in the winter, or dehydrate in their long flight through a frozen land, or just freeze to death on their way to a too-far castle?

But these considerations are trivial compared to how the plants react. Imagine what their growth rings would look like. They continually sense and respond to the light - they eat light, they breathe it. If they don't get it, they have to store some starch somehow, cut down their energy use, produce anti-freeze and anti-dessication factors and strategies so they are not killed by freezing, or by dehydration. It matters a lot more to the plants than to the maesters and their ravens. No wonder the Haunted Forest and the Winterfell Godswood seem almost sentient.

I'm not so much worried about the wheat in these circumstances, though. It will probably have more roots, more tillers and be more opportunistic even than the wheat that we know...but the grain we know (or at least, its wild ancestors) made it through the last glaciation period with no help from us, so I'm guessing the wheat will be alright.

On 02/09/2016 at 9:13 PM, Illyrio Mo'Parties said:

Could the Westerosi perhaps take the seeds from the winter crops and store them separately and replant them in the winter, and do the same for the summer crops, so they're using the best acclimated crops for the season?

They could, almost certainly would save particular seeds for particular purposes.

We have Romans and the medieval farmers on the historic record selectively breeding 'sports' (variations from the normal grain. Sometimes recessive, sometimes mutations, sometimes caused by a rust or some other external/non-genetic cause) and palaeobotanical evidence for human selective breeding from the neolithic on.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how clever they would be about it, or how much good it would do, given they don't know if it is the last, or the third to last harvest, if it is spring, or just a couple of months clement weather.

Agriculture has always been the weak sister of science. Mendel didn't uncover the mathematical nature of hereditary until the nineteenth century, he stopped his agricultural investigations when he became abbot of a monastery, and his scientific papers were ignored until the early 20th century, when three proper botanists rediscovered his work and named him the father of genetics.

Even now, being a farmer is more a matter of owning land than knowing much about it. While many farmers have some kind of tertiary qualification in agriculture (although more and more often, in agricultural economics than science), and many of those who don't have educated themselves to a tertiary or higher level in the scientific aspects of their own business, there are still as many that just do what their family have always done, or what their neighbours do, or whatever they think will work, without a scientific basis, or approach. Even those that have a science degree don't always think scientifically, or necessarily consider what they learnt at uni useful or relevant in later life.

There are farmers that are biodynamically certified, and farmers that swear by cell grazing, and science isn't going to stop them or even slow them down - they get good prices and good yields, so why should they care that their methods have no scientific basis or evidence to support them? It isn't like the science doesn't get manipulated, either. The chemical manufacturers do a lot of the science in agriculture, and they do it to sell their products, not to reduce the need for them (they put out to the general public that they breed GM seeds to reduce the need for pesticides, but they sell it to the farmers as 'RoundUp Ready'). They don't have to publish what doesn't suit them.

Medieval agriculture was not even that sophisticated. It was the work of illiterate peasants, not a learned man's occupation or hobby (as grafting fruit trees became in Shakespeare's time, and Scientific Farming became in the 18th c.)  Both its practice and theory were riddled with superstitions and folklore (mostly astrological and theological), and learned men seemed content with what Aristotle had said, and occasionally made mention of the quaint and queer things the farming folk believed, until the invention of the microscope made direct observation and embryology fashionable again.

I don't know if the maesters have a link for agriculture or agronomy, in spite of it's obvious importance...my guess would be that the most relevant links would be the silver, yellow gold, and electrum. Maesters who got the silver ring of healing (and perhaps some types of alchemists) would be the ones who knew the most herblore. While herblore really has little or nothing  to say of the cultivation of plants, it nonetheless encouraged the cultivation of a supply of medicinal plants that wouldn't otherwise be easy to obtain, so acolytes would have some first hand experience of cultivating and identifying medicinal herbs at least.

Herbals are full of stuff like " Arthemesia ...þis herbe mad to powdyr and medelyd wyth talwe it helpyth and puttyth a wey akynge and sorhede of mennys feet." - "Mugwort...this herb ground to a powder and mixed with tallow, soothes and relieves aching and swollen feet".  Great for Harry Strickland, as long as Haldon knows mugwort from ragweed and wormwood and chrysanthemum, and knows if the herbal is talking of common or alpine or chinese mugwort (assuming the choice of herb makes any material difference, and he knows what difference it makes). And where to look for them, if he wasn't actually cultivating it. Also the maester needed some understanding of the parts of the plant, and how to treat them -Powder the root, leaves, flowers or fruit? Just dried, or cured in some way, or pounded fresh? Beef tallow, or sheep, or pork, or olive oil will do? Is the tallow supposed to be burnt in a lamp and inhaled, or eaten, or rubbed on the feet?   So they would know And even supposing the maester knew all the right heuristics for identifying the plant and preparing and using the right part of it in the right way, Harry might be allergic to mugwort. Roman legionaries used to put fresh mugwort in their sandals to keep their feet from tiring. It might have kept ants from biting them - it is effective as an insecticide, but an ointment rubbed onto feet at the end of the day, when the weight is taken off them, sounds more soothing to me.

So, while most of what people like Haldon knew about herbs was probably not very useful for anything, he would probably have picked up some knowledge of plant cultivation, growth, and physiology on his way to a silver link. And probably relearn them on leaving Oldtown and living on the Rhoyne, and growing his herbs on the boat or collecting them from the riverside, or making sure he got what he paid for in Volantis.

The golden link of accounts might offer rubrics for calculating the portions of a harvest to be put by, or the amount of grain to be allotted per furlong sown, or similar. It would probably be almost as useful as a degree in agricultural economics, or even more so.

The electrum ring of astrology would enable its holder to determine, according to the stars, the best time to sow or harvest, and give an accurate estimation of the harvest, unlike those huckster hedge-wizards that only told the farmers what they wanted to hear.

Septons would also be trained in ways to intercede on the farmer's behalf for rain and not hail, and a bountiful harvest. And could explain why providential deities had blessed your wicked neighbours and cursed you. And in real life, the church relied not just on it's own lands, but on tithes from its parishioners for income, so the relationship between the church and your harvest was not disinterested. They sincerely wanted a good harvest, too.

Apart from these guys, and the land stewards, agriculture is the business of the kind of people who become foot-soldiers in the armies, and their families. It takes a certain amount of know-how to farm successfully (when Australia was first colonised - and Virginia, too, for that matter, the British sent out colonists with little or no agricultural experience, who made foolish errors, and almost starved in consequence) but the extent to which the skill is underestimated gives a clue to the status of the agriculturalist in society - and farmers in 1607 and 1788 were far more esteemed and better educated than medieval serfs.

Even revolutionary things like the move from two-field to three-field cropping, that seem like no-brainers now, did not catch on instantly.  Two field - leave half your land fallow, and plant half with the winter crop, and then in the spring, sow the fallow half with the spring crop, to be harvested in fall, and leave the winter crop half fallow after harvest.  Three field - where a winter grain was followed by a summer legume, followed by a winter fallow, followed by a spring grain. Three-field got one more crop per season from the same piece of land - greater food security if one of the crops was poor or failed, and, if one of the crops was a legume, which it normally was, it increases the available nitrogen in the soil, resulting in higher yields for the crops, all other things being equal.

Who came up with the notion. where and when is conjectural ('somewhere north of the Loire, sometime in the 700's AD'), and this brilliant idea is taken up or not  slowly over Europe in a piecemeal way - in 14th c. England, it was still common for there to be a mixture of two- and three-field cropping being used in the same areas in the same season.

But all things never are equal, especially not then. Cropping was done in open fields, a series of long strips called selions, shaped like a long s (ie ʃ )because the ploughs of the time did not turn easily. One selion would be one serf's wheat, the next another serf's fallow, the third would be another serf's barley, the fourth would be still another's rye. And while one selion was approximately a furlong, and four side by side might total something like a quarter of an acre, the exact length and area was a local measurement, and also depended on things like how easily the ox could till, and how productive the land, and how divided. One farmer's allocation would not all be in the one place. There would be one rod down by the river, and another up on the hill, and a third in the alluvial plain. That was mostly to avoid situations where the most productive land went to one family, and the least to another. And, when a new piece of land became available thanks to clearing forest, it would be divided among the village, as it was cleared rather than  'well, he cleared it, so he'll get the land' or 'this furlong will go to him, and when we clear the next furlong, next year, you can have that one'. The whole village would also share resources like the plough and the oxen that pulled it, and would work together at intense seasons like the haymaking or harvest, where it is critical to get it in before it rained, or went past its optimal ripeness, or they still had the daylight hours and climate to get it threshed and properly stored for winter. The lord's fields might be larger, and in their own enclosures. And complicating things, there was taxation. In total, each family would have about 5 acres, (but it could vary to 8 or more, for a free man, or three or less for the lower type of villein). The amount of land that was deemed sufficient to feed a family of ten for a year was called a hide, and that was a unit of taxation and of draft for the army, recorded in the doomsday records. A little fact which did nothing to ensure that yields were accurately measured by the same yardstick, or a standard yardstick. Even without these pernicious units there were lots of confounding factors that might disguise better and worse farm practices. Although, having your wheat and your neighbours growing side by side might incline people to take an interest in the little differences that seemed to deal them better yields.

Although their notions of what worked and what didn't don't seem to have been particularly scientific - going on a pilgrimage to get blessed by a saint they took pilgrimage, watering with holy water, on the full moon, or with magic beans from the place of pilgrimage. Some might reserve seeds not on the yield of a winter crop or a resistance to rot, but because they ripened on a particular saint's day, or were harvested during the full moon. In a place where Maester Luwin has to persuade people to keep back 5% more of their current crop, it seems more likely they would reserve the finest seed of the current crop, than have prepared for this winter a dozen or more years ago.

In real life, the grain that naturalised to the local climate would become the best to grow there over time naturally, eventually, adaptating to uneven seasons, long winters and sudden ice storms in Autumn and Spring, as well as apparently endless cool damp summers, the particular plants they compete with, and wildlife that would eat the grain before it germinated, or the grass before it headed, or the crop before it was harvested.

Edited by Walda
quotes

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On Thursday, 8 September 2016 at 11:58 PM, Walda said:

<snip>

Good gravy. Thanks for that - I had a couple of questions but I'm still trying to process all the new knowledge

Talk about above and beyond

Cheers!

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Posted (edited)

Sorry I know it's a bit ot, but I didn't know snow can cause a volcano explosion. 

http://www.ansa.it/english/news/general_news/2017/03/16/10-hurt-in-etna-crater-explosion-3_d2d39fad-00a0-4a08-94be-8bc1bc31c999.html

(it seems that all the injuries are well)

So fire and ice---- > explosion/eruption. Big eruption -----> Long night?

Edited by Cridefea

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There are a lot of food preservation methods that were available to our ancestors that allowed them to keep food long term. Just some of these methods are salting, drying, and pickling. Through the use of a root cellar, vegetables like potatoes and turnips can be kept for a long time. Our ancestors even used fermentation. By purposely spoiling food in a way that gave it a longer shelf-life, they prevented the food from spoiling in a manner that made it unusable. Grains and fruits could also be preserved as beer and wine. Old fashion beers can be quite nutritious.

Anyway, the real problem with getting through winter is in estimating how much food you are going to need to survive. By building up your food stores and rotating them (in other words, using your oldest preserved food all the time), you can be prepared for winter. However, if you are wrong in your estimate of how long winter will last, all the food preservation methods won't help you make it through.

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@Cridefea, not just snow. Mud too. Krakatoa was a mud explosion. So Winterfell's geothermal springs have all Melisandre's Snow symbolism, and all the Tully's Mudd associations inviting them to go off. 

@Therae, thank you. Thank you for reading that long post.

I'm still trying to get a better answer to Illyrio's question. Unfortunately most Queensland plant people don't have much to do with snow, and I want to be careful not to destroy my own credibility or seem to be trying to diminish the professional credibility of the best botanists I meet, by raising a question whose superficial scientific interest is just a trojan horse designed to draw in people who would sincerely object if they knew I was really asking not from any concern about global warming or how we were going to feed the world, but because of some popular fantasy novel that takes up far more of my mind than I can really spare.

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Posted (edited)

On 8/22/2016 at 10:57 AM, Illyrio Mo'Parties said:

Well, I stand corrected on grain. I googled it a little, and apparently it can last for decades if stored properly. Still, man cannot live on bread alone - but between mushrooms, greenhouses, imports from sunnier climes, frozen meat and vegetables, fresh hunted meat, and fresh fish, I suppose that these populations can get enough nutrition to survive the winter. It wouldn't be much fun, though.

I was way ninja'd

Edited by The Great and Mighty Poo
Not going to regurgitate the same info hah

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I'd have thought that the vast majority of the Northern population ought to be living on the coasts: it'd be a more mild climate, and access to fish. The Wildings ought to be more like the Inuits.

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19 hours ago, Walda said:

not just snow. Mud too. Krakatoa was a mud explosion. So Winterfell's geothermal springs have all Melisandre's Snow symbolism, and all the Tully's Mudd associations inviting them to go off. 

Yeah, but I had never thought that a cold winter can cause an eruption that can cause a veeery long winter :P

Yes you're right about Winterfell!

20 hours ago, Walda said:

I'm still trying to get a better answer to Illyrio's question. Unfortunately most Queensland plant people don't have much to do with snow, and I want to be careful not to destroy my own credibility or seem to be trying to diminish the professional credibility of the best botanists I meet, by raising a question whose superficial scientific interest is just a trojan horse designed to draw in people who would sincerely object if they knew I was really asking not from any concern about global warming or how we were going to feed the world, but because of some popular fantasy novel that takes up far more of my mind than I can really spare.

np, we wait! thanks for all your posts! They're very interesting...

11 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

I'd have thought that the vast majority of the Northern population ought to be living on the coasts: it'd be a more mild climate, and access to fish. The Wildings ought to be more like the Inuits.

yes, migration will be crucial!

On 16/3/2017 at 9:53 PM, bent branch said:

Anyway, the real problem with getting through winter is in estimating how much food you are going to need to survive.

yes, this is a big problem, you know that a winter lasts more than people have estimated when it is already too late...

 

18 hours ago, The Great and Mighty Poo said:

I was way ninja'd

LoL!

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Posted (edited)

I recommend reading Martin's writings before AGOT.  His writing shows concern for the environment and the effects of large human populations.  One of his heroes solves a problem (the solution's ethics is debatable ofcourse) of overpopulation by effectively sterilizing most of the people and lowering the libido.  Human lives are important but the environment is much more so.  Winter is the death cycle.  It reduces the population and prepares nature for renewal.  Nature is always right and she will strike back when human greed (Valyria and may be Asshai) exceeds what the environment can tolerate.

I would not put it past Martin to make humans (First Men) the villains in the story.  There are hints that the first men were insatiable, cutting down the weir wood trees and clearing the forest for their farms.  The long night was a fight between the first men and the white walkers.  It would be cool if the bitter sweet ending meant the deaths of the children of the First Men, the Starks.

Edited by Steelshanks Walton

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Posted (edited)

58 minutes ago, Steelshanks Walton said:

I would not put it past Martin to make humans (First Men) the villains in the story.  There are hints that the first men were insatiable, cutting down the weir wood trees and clearing the forest for their farms.  The long night was a fight between the first men and the white walkers.  It would be cool if the bitter sweet ending meant the deaths of the children of the First Men, the Starks.

Except that he hasn't prepared any of the groundwork for such an ending. For five books we've been cheering for the humans (the default being that humans will cheer for humans). The Others, between necromancy and their desire to freeze the world, cannot be anything other than villains in the context.

The villains might have justified grievances against humans, but they're still the Black Hats. 

(With Tuf Voyaging, he *had* prepared the groundwork. Overpopulation is introduced as the crisis from the beginning. Tuf gets creative with food provision, but that doesn't work - leading to sterilisation).

Edited by Roose Boltons Pet Leech

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15 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

I'd have thought that the vast majority of the Northern population ought to be living on the coasts: it'd be a more mild climate, and access to fish. The Wildings ought to be more like the Inuits.

Coastal conditions are generally milder, but fish are not as abundant in winter (at least in Alaska). Even coastally, the Alaskan Natives needed to process as much fish as they could to see them through the winter. The main method was smoking and drying. Along the northern coast they would take more advantage of sea mammals. If you read about the different groups of Wildlings there were some that were sea mammals hunters, this would be the closest analogy to the Inuit.

3 hours ago, Cridefea said:

 

yes, this is a big problem, you know that a winter lasts more than people have estimated when it is already too late...

When in the 18th Century European and American ships would come into the Cook Inlet Region of Alaska they would often try to trade with the Native groups in the area for food. How much success they had depended on the time of year. If the ships came toward the end of winter (before the Natives could begin replenishing their food supplies), the Natives wouldn't trade for anything.

Also, someone up thread mentioned how stealing someone else's food stores would one of the worst things you could do and in Alaskan Native culture that was true.

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I assume that the granaries in the Eyrie are meant to withstand a siege, rather than winter, so they're useless in a harsh winter when they have to leave it. There are obviously more, and larger granaries down in the Vale, meant to store food for winter. The Vale appears to be very fertile, and has a more gentle climate than the north,  so I suppose that the storage in the Vale would be sufficient under the usual winter circumstances.

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