This is slightly fun

Fun by our high intellectual standards around here that is:

Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science found that within 300,000 years of the asteroid strike, small shrew-like mammals had increased in size three fold, and by 700,000 had grown to be about the size of a large dog.

The boom in mammals was driven by a surge in new plant life which allowed herbivores to grow much bigger, and experts believe the large sizes achieved were driven by the evolution of legumes which gave a protein boost.

Just been reading an old history of the middle ages. And the insistence is that a large part of the population and economic growth was similarly drive by beans, legumes.

The move from the two fields to three system that is. Instead of just fallow and crop there was now winter, spring crop and fallow. Often enough the spring being a legume, or bean. Which vastly increased the nutrition level of the general populace. Driving that population and economic growth.

Basically, the argument is a repeat of the stunting one used today about particularly direly poor places.

Same book has a shock for our farmer readers. Seed corn to harvest was thought to be perhaps one to 2.5. One bushel of seed gave 2.5 at harvest. The iron – therefore deeper working – ploughs of the early middle ages raised that to 4. A grand victory.

We’ve discussed this before and as I recall it the modern answer is “I don’t know how many grains I get from one seed because it’s so many we don’t think of it that way”.

But we do know what the average tonnage crop per acre is. What’s the average weight of seed corn needed to get it?

19 thoughts on “This is slightly fun”

  1. I vaguely remember it’s in the hundreds.

    A quick Google suggests 500-600 grains per plant for corn and 50-60 per ear for wheat. Ten ears per plant would put wheat also at 500-600 per plant. Probably a bigger factor is more plants per square metre which boosts it further.

  2. Would be interesting to know what the weight planted to weight harvested is even so. Ask you seed salesman?

    Good example of basic economic advance, more output from less input. Both in seed and land…..

  3. With yields as low as that, one does wonder why they grew wheat, rather than a root crop in Northern Europe. And there’s no particular reason why you couldn’t use a root such as turnip or swede as a staple. You can treat it much the same as manioc/yuca. Dry & grind to make flour etc. Storage shouldn’t be a problem. You can store it in the ground by not harvesting.

  4. BiS – “one does wonder why they grew wheat,”

    i’ve often wondered why, not- so much wheat- but why leavened bread. Hell of a lot of processing and heat energy, mostly manual, to turn it into a loaf of bread, I guess that you must get net more nutrients/calories that way. But i can’t find anyone saying unleavened bread (say chapatis) is less nutritious. All you get is things like well it’s nicer for sandwiches isn’t it? Which may work for today,when we get to chose what we like, but does it work for 2 groats a day medieval peasant?

  5. BiS: You can store it in the ground by not harvesting.

    This isn’t ideal although it’s what I and probably many other individual gardeners and allotment holders do.

    The problem is that all root vegetables are prone to pests and infections in the soil and some are not frost resistant. By late winter and early spring carrots left in the ground are only fit for the compost heap although parsnips fair better.

    You can’t dig them up and store them like potatoes because they dry out – if you ever find a forgotten carrot in the vegetable drawer of your fridge, you’ll have experienced this yourself.

  6. Plenty of useful info here:

    http://adlib.everysite.co.uk/adlib/defra/content.aspx?doc=100168&id=100169

    As a rough guide we always used to work on the basis of 50kg/acre of seed, and hopefully end up with 3000kg of harvested grain, a return of 60-1. Nowadays lower planting rates are in fashion, as it appears if you give the plants more room they tiller out to give a number of ears just as high as more plants closer together. and new varieties of wheat mean that 4 tonnes/acre is routinely achieved, though not all the time, or in all locations. So for some farms in some years that ratio could easily climb to 100-1.

  7. You can’t dig them up and store them like potatoes because they dry out – if you ever find a forgotten carrot in the vegetable drawer of your fridge, you’ll have experienced this yourself.

    Yuca does much the same. But shred & grind to flour & it keeps. Farofa..
    The energy density of root crops is lower. But that’s due to the higher water content. Dried they’re not much different. Root crops make good alcohol too!

  8. “With yields as low as that, one does wonder why they grew wheat …”

    Because the yield figure is probably bollocks. Tim said it was an old book. The conventional wisdom has changed since then.

  9. BiS: Yuca does much the same. But shred & grind to flour & it keeps.

    There needs to be an awful lot more global warming before you can grown yucca as a food crop in the UK so that prospect is sadly Farofa!

  10. I’m no agronomist but have a couple of suggestions.
    Root crops are vulnerable to pests and rotting in sodden ground.
    Agricultural practice for root crops was bad. The Irish practice of “lazy bedding” was as much to blame for the potato famine as the blight.
    Grains are vulnerable to hailstorms but hailstorms are rarer than floods, and more localised.
    Perhaps most important, yield from grains is measurable, a boon for the lord of the manor and taxman.

  11. Yields of 3 to 4 were common overall – the farmers in middle ages didn’t get to keep all that of course. Depending on the land and the weather. Obviously trying to grow stuff in marginal soil is not as much return as in great soil.
    Part paid to landlord, part paid to the church, part paid for debts. What was left could be used for next year plus remainder sold.

    People grew wheat because you can make nice bread with it. They grew other stuff too – don’t forget big fields of crops are a modern idea, old fields were sections planted and sections to walk on – you had to be able to use tools to deal with crops or weeds within reach of the harder ground you were standing on. Mixing crops into fields were common too – what attacked the wheat maybe isn’t impacting the barley.

    Centuries ago it took a large percentage of farm workers to keep the towns and cities fed.

  12. I’ll tell you how as a laddie in short trousers I snorted at the idea of a yield of 3, or 2.5, or 4, or the like.

    Suppose the claim is 2.5. Pay 0.25 as tithe and perhaps another 0.25 to the landlord. You are left with one to sow and one to provide for you to eat, for your family to eat, and to sell for cash so you can buy anything you need that you can’t provide for yourselves. In other words your family dies of starvation. It’s bollocks.

    I have managed to re-find a discussion to that effect – you’ll see that the figure is low by a factor of 10 or 20. If you’re in a hurry just scroll down to the tables.

    https://tenthmedieval.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/21-against-the-misconception-about-carolingian-cereal-yields/

    And how, you might ask, could a young schoolboy be right and reams of historians be wrong? The answer is that you should always arrange to grow up in a family that is good with numbers and that views the development of a sceptical mind as the first necessary step in becoming educated.

    To be brutal about it: many of the historians I have known don’t satisfy those two conditions. I can think of one who does but he’s a cousin.

  13. In Scotland the old saying was “Ane to saw, ane to gnaw, ane to pey the rent witha’ ”

    Meaning that for each seed you planted, the harvest would yield one seed to sow next year’s crop, one to feed the family and one to give the landowner as a rent payment.

  14. @The Meissen Bison October 28, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Carrots are now stored in ground on UK farms under black poly; harvested as required.

    @Gunker

    Yes. Legumes (and clover) have symbiotic root bacteria that fix nitrogen in soil.

    @dearieme October 28, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    The answer is that you should always arrange to grow up in a family that is good with numbers and that views the development of a sceptical mind as the first necessary step in becoming educated.

    Spot on

  15. Anecdotal from gardening:
    I save about 1/12th of the beans, and 1/8th of the peas for the following year. Area planted and yield remaining broadly the same ( weak pun there ). These get moved around the garden and the dependability of these two are excellent.
    But it depends on the crop – I can believe Jim’s 60 to 1 from wheat, as I get about 30 to 1 from chillies. The ratio for spuds would be interesting. I can’t imagine getting long term more than one idiot from matings of one spud with one sane person.

  16. I don’t think much wheat was grown in the middle ages in Britain.

    It’s just that the wheat that was grown was almost all traded — it was too expensive for peasants to be eating. So it dominates the record, but only because the barley, oats, millet, turnips, etc that people are weren’t traded long distance (except as beer, and such) as the rich weren’t much into eating them.

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