I have a world (for a short story) where the entire colony sort of goes into coma for a momth during each summer, and thus cannot tend their crops.
Being the city girl that I am, I know little to nothing about farming. But, for a town of 300 people or so, could you just set up your fields with timed sprinklers to maintain your crops for a month? Would weeds become a problem? What other challenges could occur? Could one get enough rain in the summer not to worry about irrigation?
Other notes: this is a colony of humans on another planet, so there would be no pests to worry of (lucky colonists). It's a society that has chemical knowledge and limited mechanical abilities. They also highly depend on hunting and gathering, and due to their summer, um, hibernation, would not plant high-maintenance crops.
On Earth, a month of untended crops and they would be choked with weeds, eaten by pests (birds, rabbits, deer, other rodents) and would be ravaged by insects. A week they would be okay IF you prepared the field for it. A month no way.
I speak as a youngster that was raised on a vegetable farm.
Depending on the manner of crop, deer is not a very big problem. Or any herbivore, for that matter, as long as you don't invent some special ones. Here in Sweden no measures at all are taken to prevent grazing in the crops by moose, deer and so on. Sure, they eat of the crops, but only in extreme cases enough to make it a problem. If you really want to keep deer out of a field you could set up fences. These would have to be very high to keep the deer from jumping over. You could also use lower fences, attach pieces of white cloth or plastic so that it can move in the wind and it will keep most out. Another option is to let them use some sort of scent that scares them away and place it around the fields. That's all I can come up with on top of my head^^ Good luck!
Posts: 25 | Registered: Jan 2008
| IP: Logged |
Answers to your question depend in part on the geography, climate, and seasonal extremes of your world. Where I live, this week, we are going through temperatures of 100+ degrees (F), and if plants were to go a month without water, they'd be toast in this broiling sun. Established crops, close to maturing, would not be killed by weeds but weeds would surely impact the purity of the harvest. And deer can easily decimate an individual's home garden, but for large commercial crops spread out over many acres, they probably wouldn't be able to eat that fast.
I am not sure how you plan to have a world with agriculture without "pests" ... there has to be some substitute for the role insects play: pollinating, burrowing in the soil to eat debris, loosen the ground, adding nitrogen.... Insects are a critical element in the food chain. Without them, I doubt plants and animals could exist. As a reader of science-fiction, I would have a hard time believing your world's premise without a believable explanation for how biological diversity could exist without insects.
I speak from the perspective of someone living in a rural area with lots of deer, and who grew up on a small farm.
[This message has been edited by Elan (edited July 18, 2009).]
Regarding water, some regions receive the most precipitation in summer. Perhaps the farmland grows beside a river (or between rivers) that usually maintains a constant water level, and the people use an irrigation system maintained by sensors so the crops aren't over-watered (which can be as damaging as drought).
You'll need something living in the soil for the reasons Elan mentioned. It doesn't have to be insects. Worms, fungi, and other plants can fulfill many of insects' roles in a simple ecosystem. Insects are a critical element in Earth's food chains, but life can survive without them.
I'm hoping a POV character in your story thinks like an outsider. Many readers will wonder why your world is so strange, and a character who marvels at the colony's practices can answer readers' questions.
(About Me: I lived a couple years on a hay farm, my first job was at the orchard belonging to family friends, my husband is from a long line of farmers, and my interests include environmental sociology, organic and sustainable agriculture, and ecology in general.)
If your world has sufficient technological capability you could probably posit a situation where crops could be untended for several weeks without catastrophic consequences.
If they have automated irrigation and the crops are well-started, they won't die. Already there are hybrid food crops unaffected by general herbicides ("Roundup-ready"). If necessary herbicides could be applied on an automated schedule (at most they'd be required once in the middle of the month, assuming you don't have especially voracious weeds in your world and the weedkillers were applied right before the hybernation. Pesticides likewise could be applied automatically.
I'm assuming that since your inhabitants are able to automate irrigation, that they aren't out there with hoes and tending the food crops by hand. If they are case, then the fields will be a bit of a mess after a month due to weeds, but that can be fixed by hoeing. If they're working by hand there's not much they can do about insect pests anyway. Most large herbivores can be kept out with fencing, but usually they don't cause too much trouble (not many farms bother to fence in their fields).
I don't think your idea is too big of a stretch unless there un-earthlike situations specific to your world. Though it's hard to picture a world were humans can hunt and gather and consume the native vegetation and creatures, yet none of the native creatures would find the human crops edible. That's why I talked a little about "pests" anyway. Someone mentioned pollination too. Very important for some crops to have insect pollinators--something native or imported (colonists brought there own bees, maybe).
[This message has been edited by dee_boncci (edited July 18, 2009).]
Well, corn is wind-pollinated, so it wouldn't require insect polinators. If the corn were tall enough, it might not be horribly affected by weeds, but weeds would reduce the crop. If the crops are all up before the coma, could they use a pre-emergent treatment to keeps other seeds (weeds) from germinating?
The weed problem would be similar for fruit orchards. All other crops (besides corn) that I can think of would require some kind of pollinator. Some species of birds, and even bats, act as pollinators, too. So it doesn't have to be insects, but nothing is as efficient as bees.
And most other crops would be more damaged by weeds, because they're not as tall as corn.
(My family has always had a vegetable garden out back. I'm about to go out and work some in it, now.)
Ah, let me clarify. It's not that there aren't insects. Indeed, it would be ridiculous to have a world without any sort of creature that took the role of insects! Trust me, I know much better than that. My point, however, was that there might not be a lot of insect pests like corn borers who would cause significant crop damage. If the insects haven't been evolving with a particular plant species for millenia, they won't be specialized to feed on it.
My narrator is a teenager in the colony who 'wakes up' during this time. My best idea at the moment is to have her go by the fenced orchards and croplands and note the automated systems, the insect damage, the areas of weeds where the herbicides have failed, perhaps a section where the irrigation has broken and the crops have died.
Thank you all so much for your thoughts!
(About me: I'm a wildlife biolgist who spends too much time thinking about the troubles of invasive species, but who knows too little about crop production.)
[This message has been edited by BoredCrow (edited July 18, 2009).]
That is a good point about co-evolved species like corn borers, but there is also a converse--the human crops might not be able to withstand new things they are exposed to like mold, fungus and possibly certain insects. That's a common issue just moving crops from one part of the earth to another. The Irish Potato Famine is an example, and I know that growing French wine grapes in Northern Illinois requires regular application of fungicides or you will get no usable crop. But that's not something you need to address necessarily.
Unless you world has very, very little rainfall, it is unlikely that most crops would die with only natural rainfall over the course of a few weeks. Millions of acres in the middle section of the US are farmed without any irrigation, and droughts are a fairly regular occurrence there. Crops would be stunted and show signs of stress after a prolonged drought (say a month or so of very little rain), possibly hurting yields, but not much more than that. It could be different for some types of vegetables (tomatoes and melons come to mind) that have higher water needs than "breadbasket" crops like corn, wheat, soybeans, and the like.
[This message has been edited by dee_boncci (edited July 18, 2009).]
My father, who has a masters degree in horticulture and does plenty of farming said that it's quite possible, provided you had a good sprinkler system set up, possibly a fence to keep out animals, and plenty of good herbicides.
Posts: 69 | Registered: Oct 2008
| IP: Logged |
Weeds, water, and pests, technology or organic, labor intensive or machine intensive.
Weed barriers, permeable roll sheeting, natural or chemical herbicides, or mulch.
Water, natural rainfall and water table dryland irrigation or intensive artificial irrigation.
Pests, overabundant planting provision for animal and insect gleaning or providing for ample production through mechanical, chemical, or practical barriers.
I've been a truck gardener off and on and here and there. At one place and time, my duplex housemates and I once plowed and planted a half acre vegetable garden in one day. Five robust young bachelors and a married couple chased the rototiller mule around the field breaking ground, turning in manure mucked out of the landlord's cattle stalls, and turning in a couple hundred pounds of slaked lime. We planted and left it alone except for enjoying the cornucopia of sweet, fat vegetables and melons that grew out unattended. No weeding, no watering, just planting and picking and eating. I expect chemicals the landlord used in the cattle pastures transferred to our garden. No ill effects presented.
Oh, and birds kept the insects under control. A couple feral-minded cats kept the birds and small rodents under control. A free-ranging brute of dog took care of the rest.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited July 18, 2009).]
If the settlers only brought their crops, you have no problems with weeds at all: there aren't any on the planet. Does native vegetation compete? You said native insects don't feed on the plants (you said they haven't evolved with the plants, so is there some biological incompatibility? Like human plants are poisonous? Is it a chiral problem, they use the other enantiomers of the amino acids? etc...)
As far as water and light and nutrients, the stuff plants need to survive, I would assume any civilization with enough technology to get to another planet could also work out some automated care system. I have a sprinkler system that works like that: I set it, and then it waters my lawn all summer without any extra effort. If I fell asleep for a month, it would need mowing, but wouldn't be dead.
What is the point of having everyone asleep? Is it something intrinsic to the world, like some disease that affects humans that way? How come this MC awakes in the middle? I ask because how the farm would react depends on what your story is about. Do you want these crops devastated and she is the only one aware? The important part is not how farms would react without care for a month, but what you want to have happen.
Do you want everything to be fine? Technology waters and cares for the plants, native flora and fauna can't compete or can't eat the crops, and the transplanted deer have a big fence. OR, it seems to me like you want the crops devastated. If that is the case, you could simply conjure up what you want to happen. The insects could have evolved so that now they can digest the plants, and now they've consumed the entire crop. Perhaps the automated mechanism for watering them broke and they all died of dehydration. Maybe the fence broke and the deer got in and had a salad. Maybe everything worked fine and an asteroid hit.
My point is that there is an infinite amount of things that COULD happen to a farm if the settlers took a month long siesta, so what needs to happen for your story to progress can have multiple routes.
By the way, with your background, are you having humans be the invasive species here?
I think you'd have trouble with fungus. But then, I farm at 47 degrees north and fungi are rather a problem here. Can't speak for warmer climates...
Posts: 86 | Registered: Oct 2007
| IP: Logged |
If you want it perfect I'd say go with a closed system greenhouse setup. They could even have it set with its own water cycle. You could even do it hydroponics if you want to have some fun.
Personally I'd say that the chances are higher that the earth plants wouldn't have defenses against the alien insects. As long as the biology is close enough. Sure you have specialized insects like the bark beetles and the corn borers, but you also have equal opportunity pests like locusts and cockroaches who could devour pretty much any form of life. But, of course, it's your world, as long as it sounds good it works.
I agree fungus is huge, it's eating my yard up the wazoo. I think warmer climates just have different fungi, there's no escape.
It could be entertaining and a source of dramatic tension for her to discover that one of the methods for keeping out grazing animals is a dog or dog-analog, who isn't necessarily friendly to her...
I like importing cats to other planets...most of my space stories have cats in them, so that's a good idea for the little pests. Cats can live solo for a month, frankly they'd probably prefer it if we all beat it for a month here and there so they can finally get some peace and quiet. A dog could manage with a dry food supply I would think (give him a shed?)
In observing the fields that grow near me (they are pretty much all soybean/corn fields - they alternate each year) there is little to no irrigation, even though our summer rainfall can be irregular but we're not in drought conditions, and there is little "tending of the fields" on these big plots that are all the same crop (several acres of corn/soybeans.) The ground gets tilled and worked in the spring, then you basically don't see the farm equipment again until fall when it's harvest time. I'm sure the farmers (corporations? It can't be a small-time farmer I don't think) are busy doing things, but it's on a small scale compared to planting and harvesting. I don't think it'd be a problem to have a story protag notice a month's idle time in fields so long as you give at least lip service to the considerations others mention above.
And since it's sci-fi, how about force fields or electric/invisible fences?
I agree with Pyre Dynasty. I would expect a colony on an alien planet to grow their food in greenhouses. I'm not sure how many people you're talking about, but that would be the safest and most efficient means of controlling light, temperature, water supply, pests, alien microbes etc. I believe the greatest threat would most likely be microbes (I've started a separate thread about this so not to derail this one).
If they have been there for a very long time (hundreds of years), then that would be a different story. However, pests might be more of a problem because of cross pollination if plant species are compatable.
I agree that it really depends on what type of food you are growing, and on the climate. Up here everyone grows wheat, barley, and other cereal grains. Other than seeding and harvest they require very little care. (It's also pretty dry in Saskatchewan, so mold isn't a problem.) If you have hundreds of acres I wouldn't even bother with a fence. On the other hand, my granny's foot-ball sized vegetable garden has an electric fence to keep the deer out. So it becomes a power cost to benefit balancing act.
Posts: 238 | Registered: Jul 2009
| IP: Logged |
And I thought this was a simple question...
I suppose I should have stated early on that this is a full and completed story. An editor who rejected the piece asked me how they'd grow food if they were asleep for a month out of the year. There are other reasons why the month comes in the middle of the summer. I can explain if anyone would like me to, but it's not particularly relevant to the discussion of food.
And thus, as to what Teraen asked: it actually is all about how the farm would react in a month. And it's the opposite - it's very important the crops NOT be devestated. Oh, and humans are the invasive species, but it's only partially relevant to the story.
In this particular universe, they chose to come to this planet after it was surveyed for compatibility, crops grown as such to interact with the particular soil microbes, and have treated the soil over the past three hundred years to their specifications. So, like rstegman said, it's a case of genetic modification against insects.
Again, thank you everyone - I've got what I asked for. As is usual for the stories, one paragraph is going to result from so much good thinking, again to address the concerns that one editor had.