Sunday, March 10, 2013

South Carolina 11: Drainage and Irrigation

When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham (rice) and John Champneys (roses). Previous entries can be found under "South Carolina" in the index at the right.

Managing water is critical to the Española valley and to rice growing. It’s surprising how difficult it was to learn anything about the history of irrigation, beyond general comments about the Moors. The photographs are of another mystery plant. I call this one the native dandelion.

Weather: Afternoon temperatures in the sixties mid-weed with lower humidity levels. Lower temperatures when the clouds moved in that left little rain Friday night; last rain 23/09/13; 11:41 hours of daylight today.

What’s green: Rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens; yucca, grape hyacinth, garlic, gypsum phacelia, alfilerillo leaves.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot, sandbar willow branches; Madonna lily leaves.

What’s grey or blue: Western stickseed, winterfat, leaves.

What’s yellow: Globe and weeping willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Tuesday a robin and some chickadees were in the peach tree. Later in the day, a goldfinch was in the sour cherry.

Weekly update: Agricultural economies are forever driven to increase production when trade and improved birth rates lead to larger populations. Farmers continually are confronted with managing water, and men (and women) discover and rediscover techniques for adding or removing it.

The methods developed by the Romans were lost, but, by 1000, when textile centers and the great trade fairs began developing in Bruges and Ghent, demand for wool brought the sheep raising parts of England and Scotland into their economic sphere. Severe storms beginning in 1216 destroyed coastal communities, forcing counts in Flanders and Holland to begin protecting their existing land, then reclaiming more.

Wind driven mills appeared in the early 1200's, which D. G. Kirby and Merja-Liisa Hinkkanen-Lievonen think may have been introduced by men returning from the Crusades against the Arabs in the near east. However, they say they didn’t become important drainage pumps until larger populations and increased storm problems led to technological innovations in 1570.

Skilled Dutchmen were lured by their neighbors to Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark, then Rochefort and LaRochelle in France. Charles I encouraged Francis, the Duke of Bedford, to drain the fens of southeast England in 1630's, a project continued by Cromwell and Francis’ son William under the direction of Cornelius Vermuyden with Dutch laborers. More projects were undertaken after William of Orange was crowned in 1680.

When Flanders was the center of the textile industry, Dinis of Portugal, who ruled between 1279 and 1325, encouraged trade with the area to create an alternative to the markets of Castile and the Moors. To secure his borders, he introduced new patterns of land ownership and encouraged men to drain the marshes and swamps, where rice eventually was grown. He also cemented a naval alliance with Genoa, who was revolutionizing trade in Bruges.

In northern Italy, landowners of the Po valley began building canals in 1127 that fostered drainage and irrigation schemes. In 1475, the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, sent the first recorded rice from the area to Ercole d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara.

According to Fernand Braudel, the crop was encouraged in Lombardy in the 1500's. They were exporting their surplus to Genoa by 1570.

In 1517, the Ottomans of Turkey had conquered Egypt and demanded rice be sent to Constantinople as part of its annual tribute. The food was adopted by the elite, and used by the military on campaigns. In 1600, Venice was eating rice, which they probably bought from the Turks, along with the more traditional wheat, millet and rye.

It takes little for farmers to extrapolate solutions from fragments of information. Portugal introduced reclamation after contact with Flanders. Italy introduced rice after contacts with the Levant. In Africa and Madagascar, new varieties of rice were tried, new processing technologies adopted, and new methods for dealing with water created.

When allusions and imagination weren’t enough, men took steps to import knowledge. The Abbasids went from absorbing what the Persians knew to actively saving everything they could from the ancient world. Portugal exploited its contact with Genoa to explore Africa and the world. Everyone hired Dutch engineers and laborers.

Population growth, both natural and from new market towns, created necessity. Trade simplified finding solutions because it revitalized cultures grown comfortable in isolation. Rice and the techniques to grow it expanded when dynamic responses to life replaced static ones.

Adshead, Samuel Adrian Miles. Material Culture in Europe and China, 1400-1800: The Rise of Consumerism, 1997.

Braudel, Fernand. La Méditerrane et le Monde Méditerranéan à l’Euopque de Philippe II, 1966 edition, translated as The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II by Sian Reynolds, 1972.

Dutra, Francis A. "Dinis, King of Portugal" in E. Michael Gerli and Samuel G. Armistead, Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia, 2003.

Kirby, D. G. and Merja-Liisa Hinkkanen-Lievonen. The Baltic and the North Seas, 2000. The major innovation was the movable cap that allowed the mill’s sails to follow changes in the direction of the wind.

Pregill, Philip and Nancy Volkma. Landscapes in History: Design and Planning in the Eastern and Western Traditions, 1999.

Photographs: The plant I call a native dandelion may be Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus.

1. Flower and bud, 13 May 2007. The composite is described as "highly variable." All the photographs show some red, but the ones in my yard are pure yellow.

2. Real dandelion, 14 April 2007, in case you forgot what one looks like. The flower color of the native dandelion is lighter than that of Taraxacum officinale and the rays don’t form the same type of crown. The buds are more rounded in the middle, more pointed at the tip, and often covered with dirt. The most obvious difference between the two plants is the leaves.

3. Young plant, 24 April 2011. The leaves are an urn of long, narrow blades that disappear into their surroundings.

4. Leaves on plant growing in wetter conditions, 15 April 2007. The books all described the Pyrrhopappus leaves as lobed, but these are the only ones I’ve ever seen develop that far.

5. Flowering plant, 24 April 2011. The plant puts out a number of stems that curve up from the crown, which looks more like a tuft of grass than a dandelion. It continues to produce new buds for weeks in the spring.

6. Seed head, 7 June 2008. There’s no question it’s a composite, even if its identify is debatable.

7. Spent heads and side-view of flower, 22 June 2008, growing with Maximilian sunflowers.

8. Another view of a flowering plant, 3 May 2008.

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