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How did they water gardens way back when?

Discussion in 'Research' started by Rosemary Tea, Nov 17, 2021.

  1. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

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    Sure, but they probably didn't water the whole garden with them in a situation where we would turn the hose on. A watering can is good for watering a single plant or small bed, when that's all that's needed. It's not an efficient way to do a mass watering.

    In the illustration at the second link, they're using the watering can to water a seedling. Which is, probably, what the watering cans were mainly for (really no different today). Plants do need to be watered when they've just been put in the ground, and it makes sense to water them individually. For regular irrigation of an established garden, a quicker method would suit better.
     
  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    I wonder if you're not approaching this the wrong way round. Historically, people have selected those plants which grow best in their local enviroment. Rye and oats are examples, here in Sweden they grow and ripen even in cold wet summers. Alternatively they breed plant variants which survive local conditions. Corn is an example here in Sweden, the local variants were found not to do very well when they were tried in southern Europe, just like the southern variants didn't do well up here.

    So in your case the locals might have bred a variant of wheat which requires a nice wet spring but which then doesn't need much rain in the summer to ripen. They might also dig ponds to store water (my grandparents farm has an example) or they might select areas with a good ground water supply (eg at the bottom of a hill) for planting crops.
     
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  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >people have selected those plants which grow best in their local enviroment.
    This. On your farm you grow what grows. What doesn't grow naturally isn't among your crops. This is why some parts of the world were monocultures.

    That said, *if* you happened to have a water source and *if* you happened to have rights to that water source, then you might irrigate in the ways described in the excellent posts preceding. But that would be a minority of the farmers and would be one of the things that marks a wealthy farmer (or village) apart from a poor one.
     
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  4. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

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    And do they not need to water their vegetable gardens in Sweden, either?

    That's the scenario I'm working with: not a farm, but a vegetable garden. How the farmers are farming isn't really relevant to the story, although if they're using some sort of aqueduct, I suppose that could get a mention somewhere. For the purpose of the story, it's enough to know that there are farmers around and they're getting their crops somehow.

    Where I was coming from was, I had my MC weeding the garden. Then I thought, hmmm, it's late summer, seems to be pretty dry, would she have to water the garden too? Probably. But she can't just go turn on the hose, so how would she do it?

    I can believe that the farmers are growing grains that are suited to the climate.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The easy answer is, she didn't have to water because she was only growing vegetables that survive. Is she in a town? If in the countryside, she's probably a cotter of some sort--woodcutter, shepherd, that sort of thing. Anyway, she'd have access to water for the household itself. It would be a straightforward matter to have two jars or buckets she could carry by yoke from the well or stream or pond. I know (from parish registers) that one cause of death in the late Middle Ages for young girls was drowning. They'd be sent to fetch water.

    For a vegetable garden, I don't think it needs any more than that.
     
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  6. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

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    Town, though on the outskirts. The property she lives on has its own well.

    I had pictured a yoke and buckets to fetch water, but wondered if she'd do that for the garden, and if so, how that would translate to watering the garden.

    It's a minor detail, but knowing how it works helps authenticate it. So, now I have it: she might put some water in the rain barrel, if it's running low and the garden needs a little irrigating. If a particular plant looks like it needs some help, she'd get it with a watering can. But mostly, she wouldn't have to water.
     
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    The only time I ever saw my grandparents or parents water the vegetable patch was when there was a real drought. Otherwise they didn't need to, the ground water and the pond (water leaches out of the sides into the soil) did it for them. In late summer, we didn't have things like potatoes, they came later on. We had summer vegetables like peas or more usually some form of beans and fresh bread with our meals. We planted what we knew would grow at the various times of year.

    The point I'm making I guess is that food is seasonal so you don't eat in the way that we do now. I still have trouble accepting the way some people make a salad with tomatoes, sweet peppers and lettuce in the middle of winter, it just doesn't seem right.
     
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  8. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

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    Even worse, I've seen something like that advertised, unironically, as a seasonal recipe. Even in California, peppers and tomatoes aren't in season in the winter. Lettuce, yes.
     
  9. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I must confess, I having difficulty imagining a society without the advancement of irrigation having much of anything else. I could invent stuff, but why when irrigation seems like such a no brainer. If I want the water from the river to flow over here, how about I dig a path for it would seem an easy leap for even primitive cultures. If the know enough to dig a well, they must know how to dig a ditch.

    I could suggest fantastical ways this might happen.
     
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  10. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Get a giant bag. FIll it with water. Put it on the back on an ox. Poke holes in it. Have the ox walk around the garden.
     
  11. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

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    That is indeed a fantastical way. The garden is still standing after the ox has been through it? :LOL:
     
  12. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    You could use a giant kangaroo...

    Suppose there was a plant like a cactus that stored water all year, and released it back into the soil in the dry season.
     
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  13. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Or...they live in a valley, where mountain snow melt slows down hill, keeping the ground moist beneath the surface.
     
  14. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

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    They actually do live in a valley. So, going back to what Mad SwedeMad Swede said about the groundwater taking care of it.
     
  15. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Shed give up, and wait till it rains.
     
  16. LAG

    LAG Troubadour

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    Watering of gardens is, in my experience, a matter of perception: a good gardener will see that her plants need water, and, as this garden is on a small scale, will probably fetch water in a bucket, ewer or water-feeder, whether from well or trench or stream. Watering depends on climate and species, so she will give some plants more water; some none.

    Both over-and-under irrigation are common mistakes in agriculture and gardening, so it's pretty normal for an experienced gardener to fetch a bucket on a warm day or during drought/drier seasons.
     
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  17. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    The medieval Chinese did use 2 buckets with holes in the bottom carried across the shoulders suspended from a yoke.

    They also developed irrigation systems.

    Europeans also used irrigation and water meadows to provide water for agriculture.

    Flexible hoses (made from leather) were not invented in Europe until the 1600s.
     
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  18. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

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    Mad SwedeMad Swede 's comment made me realize something which is probably very easy to forget. Not only did they select plants suited to their specific micro-climate, but also those plants would be very different from those you find in your garden today. Modern plants have been selected to do well with the circumstances we have today. That is, readilly available water, fertilizer and all that sort of thing. They're bred to give the highest yield of pretty looking food while being pampered.

    That is very different from plants you would find even 50 or 100 years ago, let alone 500 years ago. This is very visible in fruit trees (I just researched an apple tree for my garden...). Compare a heritage fruit tree to a modern variety. Modern versions are grown to have uniform, pretty fruits, don't have leap years, and they do a specific thing really well. If you research heritage fruit trees, you'll find descriptions of exactly which environment they grow well in, how disease resitant they are, how hardy they are, if they need a lot of water or not.

    The same would grow for whatever plant you put in their garden. They might be optimized for wet springs and hot, dry summers, they might be disease resistant, give easy seeds, and so on. So I agree that in general they probably wouldn't water the whole garden all the time. They would water specific plants at specific times if it would have a significant impact on the yield of that plant.
     
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  19. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    Agricultural yields in the middle ages were very poor compared to modern agriculture. Poor and highly labour intensive.

    In 1350–1399, in England, the typical agricultural yield was 7-15 bushels per acre for grain crops. In a bad year it might be as low as 4. A modern farmer in Europe or North America would expect a yield of least 60 bushels per acre.

    Today, if we have a dry spell, crop farmers break out the sprinklers. In the middle ages, in Europe, that was not an option. Any lengthy period of drought would lead to crop failure and starvation for the poor. Too much rain would also lead to crop failure and starvation. People of that time did not have the farming technology we rely on today to keep our larders full.

    It is worth saying that medieval gardens also often grew herbs and plants for medicinal purposes as well as vegetables and flowers for display. But your tools for watering your garden were limited to buckets and ceramic watering pots. Watering a garden with such tools and no hose would have been a very labour intensive task. But that does not mean to say that people did not do it. Life was labour intensive for ordinary people in the middle ages, labour intensive and, if you were poor, often near subsistence.

    Sitting in our C21st armchairs we can have little conception of just how hard life in the middle ages really was for common folk. The Great Famine of 1315-1317 brought appalling hardship. A Bristol Chronicler reported just what this meant for ordinary folk in 1315:

    'a great famine of dearth with such mortality that the living could scarce suffice to bury the dead, horse flesh and dogs flesh was accounted good meat, and some eat their own children. The thieves that were in prison did pluck and tear in pieces, such as were newly put into prison and devoured them half alive.'

    The Great Famine was estimated to have led to the deaths of between 5% and 10% of the entire population of Northern Europe in the space of 3 years.

    The reality is that our modern view of medieval times is greatly sugar-coated - mainly by Victorian romanticism and their idealised tales of chivalry and knights of the round table etc. Some people find George RR Martin's realisation of a medieval society in Westeros a little bleak. But the reality is that even Martin's worldbuilding sometimes puts a modern gloss over the grim reality of what life was really like in the real middle ages. Characters like Martin's Hound may seem extremely brutal and violent to us today but even someone like the Hound is a fairly cuddly character compared to the violent reality of a real life Henry V, Black Prince or Baron John Clifford.
     
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  20. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

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    To clarify, I never said this was a medieval setting. It's an alternate world. Technology may be at a roughly medieval or post medieval level, but the culture and people's lifestyles are not a complete match, by any means, for medieval Europe.

    My characters do not, for the most part, consider their lives hard. Why? They have enough. Food supplies have been stable enough for long enough that they're not concerned about shortage. There may be times when they have to carefully mind how fast the food supply is being used, kind of like having to watch your bank balance right before payday when you're living paycheck to paycheck, but they're not in danger of starving. No major famine takes place in the few years my story covers.

    They have plenty of work to do, and they don't have the modern conveniences we take for granted, but to them that's just life.

    As for violence, I doubt it was that different in medieval times from now. Plenty of violence happens today. Including plenty of extreme violence. What will people in the future think when they read about twentieth century serial killers and twenty-first century mass shooters? Probably something like, "Thank god I'm not living back then!"

    Bet you anything future pop culture will include popular tales of extreme violence set in our time.

    But despite what you see in any newspaper, most of us aren't witnessing violence most of the time. I expect the same was true in our purportedly violent past. Game of Thrones is based on the worst of the worst. No less violent stories could be gotten out of our time, and have been.
     
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