(20) Arabia - Agriculture. Crops. Husbandry. Pasture.
Agriculture in Arabia
Whether, however, the soil be rich or poor, agriculture is, all over Arabia, very primitive in its conditions, and above all, in its implements. The plough used by the peasants is wholly of wood and without wheels, an instrument fit for scratching rather than furrowing the ground; while in many places the earth is merely turned over with a pitchfork, which is sometimes worked by two men at a time. More skill is shown in irrigation, for whatever crop is intended, its success cannot be safely entrusted to the uncertain rain supply alone. Accordingly, the slope of the ground, whether filed or plantation, is carefully calculated, and the surface divided into compartments and traversed by furrows, each communicating with the other, and all with some large well, or, in favoured situations, cistern; while in still more fortunate but rarer spots a running stream is turned to profit. But in far the greater number of instances the irrigation is from a well, with an orifice varying from six to twenty-five feet in diameter, whence the water is drawn up in large leathern buckets, to which are attached ropes passing over pulleys, and worked by mules or oxen; these buckets, on reaching a cross-beam, turn over and empty their contents into a sloping trough that runs down to the main channel of the field or garden. Green crops, vegetables, and the like, are watered, when it is possible to do so, twice a day; date-palms only once: the porous soil soon absorbs any superfluous liquid that may have overpassed the bounds assigned to it. In ascertaining the right spot for sinking a well, in digging and coating it, as also in the construction of the small cisterns often connected with the source, the Arab peasants have by long practice acquired a not contemptible skill.
Crops in Arabia
The crops most common in Arabia are, first, the date, a fruit already sufficiently described; it may, however, be remarked here that the fecundation of the female trees from the male is usually perfected by art. The produce is annual: the earliest dates ripen in May, others not till July or even August. This fruit, and the dishes made of it by pressure or with butter, are to the Arabs what corn is to more northern or rice to southern nations. Next in importance, though much more limited in extent, is coffee: very little, and that of inferior quality only, if cultivated out of Yemen. This growth has also been already described in detail. Next come the following: - Wheat, a somewhat rare and not a very remunerative crop; barley, also in small quantity; - these two growths are hardly distinguishable the one from the other by the eye, the colour and shape of the ear and beard being almost identical in each. Millet is, on the contrary, largely sown, and gives an abundant return; there are several species of it; the grain, coarsely ground, is made into a sort of gruel, which appears as a daily dish in Nejd. Rice is looked on as a delicacy: it does not grow in the central uplands, but succeeds well enough in the watered coast districts, especially Hasa, Kateef, and Oman. Beans and pulse are favourite crops; they are reared in almost every part of the peninsula. Other garden plants-melons, gourds, cucumbers, salad, cabbages, onions, garlick, parsley, cumin, and the like,- are cultivated. Orchards are planted and tended in most districts; but of pruning the Arabs have little idea, though they are not unacquainted with grafting.
There being no true winter in any part of Arabia, the crops, such as they are, succeed each other all the year round; many lands bear twice, an early and a latter harvest, though of different produce. Of manuring, of the scientific rotation of crops, of weeding even, and cleaning, the Arabs have little knowledge. Reaping is generally done with the sickle, -- in some places the ripened grain is torn up by the hand; threshing is performed by oxen, -- winnowing by the wind, grinding by the hand-mill. To sum up, though the agriculture of Arabia is sufficient to supply its comparatively scanty population with food, it gives almost no surplus for traffic or exportation, that of coffee and dates alone excepted.
In pasture-land Arabia is, on the other hand, singularly fortunate. The very desert supplies through the greater part of its extent sufficient browse for camels; while the pasture-grass for horses, kine, and above all, for sheep, on the upper hill slopes, and especially in Nejd, is first-rate. The only drawback is the occasional failure of the spring rains and autumn showers; when this occurs great distress is the result, and no commoner cause of contention and bloodshed arises between the Arab shepherbs or "Bedouins" than the struggle to obtain, each for his own herd, the use of some yet undried well or exceptional oasis of green pasturage left fresh among the brown and withered herbage around.
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Arabia - Table of Contents