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DominusNovus

How advanced is Westerosi Agriculture?

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Just a general grab bag discussion of agriculture of all sorts in Westeros. Techniques, crops, livestock, everything. How they cope with the unnatural and erratic seasons (besides just storing as much grain as possible).

As a primer:

https://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Plants

https://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Bestiary

Something I've noticed between the wiki and search is that there is no mention of clover anywhere. This could imply that the farmers of Westeros only use a 3 field crop rotation (as would be expected for a feudal society). Presumably, most land is cultivated under the manorial system, which makes more sophisticated crop rotation difficult.

What other information do we have about farming in Westeros? What other suppositions can we make with some degree of confidence?

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I congratulate you for presenting us with this very specialized topic.  One of the main concerns for a Westerosi farmer is the erratic weather.  The lack of technology prevents high yields but at least they do very little damage to the environment.  

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6 hours ago, Bowen 747 said:

I congratulate you for presenting us with this very specialized topic.  One of the main concerns for a Westerosi farmer is the erratic weather.  The lack of technology prevents high yields but at least they do very little damage to the environment.  

Possibly.

 

Presumably, the long winters necessitate leaving the land fallow in much of the continent for a variable amount of time but almost certainly always longer than the 3 months or so of temperate climates on Earth. This might enable farmers to be comparatively intensive during those years that the climate is warm enough, knowing that the land will recover somewhat when the snow is preventing them from doing anything with the land. Winter is pretty good at regenerating the soil in certain ways - all that snow insulates the soil and its microbes and invertebrates, and, of course, its just water.

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Would slash and burn farming work in the North?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slash-and-burn

After all they should have enough sparsely populated forests for that. Another important fact is that method is more effective in the short run than other means of farming. Or in couple years farmers using slash and burn could produce as much food than other farmers in a decade.

However in the long run fact that a field would have to rest at least 40 years means that method could only be used in places where there a lot of available forests for burning and people themselves accept that they had be mobile. Besides "governments" do not like an idea that it would be very hard to find their potential taxpayers and work force. So as soon as possible lords would try to bound their subjects to ground and forbid burning of forests.

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17 hours ago, Loose Bolt said:

Would slash and burn farming work in the North?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slash-and-burn

After all they should have enough sparsely populated forests for that. Another important fact is that method is more effective in the short run than other means of farming. Or in couple years farmers using slash and burn could produce as much food than other farmers in a decade.

However in the long run fact that a field would have to rest at least 40 years means that method could only be used in places where there a lot of available forests for burning and people themselves accept that they had be mobile. Besides "governments" do not like an idea that it would be very hard to find their potential taxpayers and work force. So as soon as possible lords would try to bound their subjects to ground and forbid burning of forests.

Slash and burn may be effective, but my gut says that the erratic seasons would diminish its effectiveness. Not because I think the winters would make the technique itself less effective, but because I think they may make it redundant - the long winters in the North give the land so much time to recover that such techniques might not be necessary.

That said, I could definitely see it being used after particularly rough winters, just as a way to clear out abandoned land that would almost certainly be reverting back to nature quickly. There's probably plenty of that every time the North has a rough winter and there aren't enough people left to cultivate all the land - the best land is maintained, but more marginal land gets abandoned until the population recovers. By then, the weeds and brush have probably beat them to it, so a quick burn would be the most obvious solution. But it doesn't strike me as a regular way of doing things.

And since we're on the topic anyway, I'm a bigger fan of slash-and-char, for any group that can manage it. A bit more work, but if you can do it right, you get some fantastic soil.

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23 hours ago, Prince Rhaego's Soul said:

The farming was all manual labor and thus produced only enough to meet the demand.  Animal power provided the muscle to pull the plow. Night soil and manure provided the fertilizer.  While canals provided the irrigation.  

That is a pretty broad description that could be applied to agriculture anywhere from ancient Sumeria to early 19th century America. Given that the North, at minimum, explicitly experiences famine whenever winter gets bad enough, it is clear that there is not enough produced to meet the demand.

Further, I don’t think there has ever been a society in history that has ever ‘just produced enough to meet demand,’ because nobody ever knows how much that will be. Even with our non magical seasons, we still have enough variation that there were famines in even the most prosperous societies. Farmers produce as much as they possibly can - especially of those crops that they can reliably store.

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We know from various sources that beer, wine and cider are all produced in Westeros, there are bakeries, butchers, tailors and craftsmen in the cities and major towns, so there has to be agriculture to support these industries, grapes, wheat, hops/barley, apples(maybe pears too) are all confirmed Westerosi crops. We have a couple confirmed cases of keeping beehives to farm honey. Livestock there are these specific mentions of but I think, goats/sheep, chickens and pigs are a definite, with other fowl and cattle being a maybe.

In addition, citrus seems to grow only in Dorne and not the rest of Westeros, with lemons, oranges and blood oranges all confirmed to grow in Dorne and we see some signs of cultivation. 

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10 hours ago, Back door hodor said:

We know from various sources that beer, wine and cider are all produced in Westeros, there are bakeries, butchers, tailors and craftsmen in the cities and major towns, so there has to be agriculture to support these industries, grapes, wheat, hops/barley, apples(maybe pears too) are all confirmed Westerosi crops. We have a couple confirmed cases of keeping beehives to farm honey. Livestock there are these specific mentions of but I think, goats/sheep, chickens and pigs are a definite, with other fowl and cattle being a maybe.

In addition, citrus seems to grow only in Dorne and not the rest of Westeros, with lemons, oranges and blood oranges all confirmed to grow in Dorne and we see some signs of cultivation. 

Cattle are explicitly referenced - check out the link in my opening post. Not only do the Westerosi have cattle, they even managed to keep Auroch around. Thats probably a function of population density more than anything else, though.

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GRRM hasn't given us a great deal to go on, but from what I can glean (pun intended....) it all looks very compatible with the old three-field system as practiced in late-mediaeval/early-modern times. Peasants are clearly shown (in Kot7K especially) working the Lord's land collectively, and iirc AWoIaF goes a bit into how the North is more suited to livestock than arable crops (all that upland heath stretching out for miles and miles of miles and miles...)

I wouldn't classify over-wintering as 'fallowing' the land though. For a real fallow period it needs to be rested in the growing season, ie summer.

The long seasons are difficult to swallow in some degree as some crops are photoperiodic (ie their growing/maturing periods are determined by daylength). For all the George says he's a 'gardener' in his writing style, I suspect he's not really much of a gardener in the garden ;) Compared to other social aspects of the 7K and wider world, he seems to have left all things agricultural and horticultural remarkably vague... which I can live with, mostly, though I do occasionally mumble about the impossibility of multiple crops of sweetcorn in a single summer :P

 

 

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