Life on Planet Earth: Farming, Crops, and Plant Life

About the species and varieties of crops and plant life for farming, the necessity of farming to human civilization.


Useful plants are called "crops," whereas useless plants are called "weeds." Similarly, inedible wild animals are "vermin" in contrast to edible "game."

Man devours and enjoys a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and nuts--selected primarily by taste and appearance rather than nutritive values. Poet Keats's bowl of fruit set before his sweetheart (instead of jewels or flowers or perfumes) expresses well the human epicurean enjoyment "Of candied apple, quince, and plum . . . lucent syrups, tinct with cinnamon."

Human civilization was founded on the more mundane grain crops--wheat, barley, millet. Man 1st dibbled a hole with his big toe, dropped in the seeds, swiped the hole shut, and packed it down with his heel. At Plymouth, Mass., colonists learned, when they planted Indian corn, to throw in a dead fish for fertilizer.

Earthworms are still the planet's greatest farmers. "A weight of more than 10 tons of dry earth annually passes through their bodies and is brought to the surface on each acre of land," Darwin estimated. Sir Albert Howard raised Darwin's estimate to 25 tons. Invention of the wooden plow and the horse collar (using the horse's powerful shoulders for the 1st time) added "horse power" to agriculture and to our language. Presently came mechanization--transforming farming from the primitive planting stick and the horse-drawn iron plow into industrial agronomics, with the tractor replacing the horse.

Civilization, the feeding of group-living communities of Homo sapiens, depends upon a sufficient food surplus. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Akkadian cosmopolitan citizenry developed a formidable human culture, primarily because they raised and stored massive cereal grain crops to feed the entire population in both good and bad times.

Humanity's basic problem--feeding everybody in good times and bad--has never changed. The New York Times headlined the September, 1974, opening of the UN, "Food, a Crisis for All."

In the U.S., American farmers have exceeded the accomplishments of the peasants of ancient Mesopotamia, for U.S. farmers--only 2% of the total population--feed the other 98%. One farmer, on his mammoth tractor equipped with power steering, pulls a disc plow and planter that can work as many as 12 rows of a crop at a time.

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