Farming Manuals

by FSTC Published on: 25th December 2001

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Muslim farming manuals developed ways and methods for increasing production and productivity, and maintaining soil fertility. Extensive research detailed descriptions of soils, and their requirements.

Agriculture as we know it today has its roots in Muslim history and Muslims drive for purification and better standard of living for society.

Muslim farming manuals conveyed much of the expertise that was available. Ways and methods for increasing production and productivity, and maintaining soil fertility were explained alongside detailed descriptions of soils, and their requirements.

Soils were classified, and so was water according to its quality. It was explained how to enrich the soil by various methods, and methods of ploughing (normal and deep), hoeing, digging and harrowing.

Ibn Bassal’s treatise distinguished between ten classes of soil, each assigned with a different life sustaining capability, according to the season of the year. He was insistent that fallow land be ploughed four times between January and May and, in certain cases (for example, cotton, when planted in the thick soils of the Mediterranean coast), he recommended as many as ten ploughings.

Ibn al-Awwam’s treatise was published in a Spanish translation and a French version between the end of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth as its contents were of particular interest in both Spain and Algeria. This Kitab al-Filaha (the book of agriculture), has 34 chapters dealing with agriculture and animal husbandry. It covers 585 plants, explains the cultivation of more than fifty fruit trees, makes observations on grafting, soil properties, manure, and plant diseases and their treatments. Ibn al-Awwam studies gardening, irrigation, affinities between trees, grafting, animal husbandry and bee keeping.

Al Ichbili’s Kitab al-Filaha goes in the same direction in giving precise instructions to farmers about nearly every matter of concern. Extracts from it show in minute detail how to grow olive trees, the treatment of diseases, grafting, harvesting olives, properties of olives, refining olive oil, conditioning of olives… And the same with respect to other crops, including cotton, the required soil properties, the tasks preceding the planting, soil preparation, use of manure, and what sort; ploughing techniques, their frequency, the time for sowing and the manner it is done, watering after sowing, and during growth, maintenance of plants, harvesting etc.

A wealth of information is also found in the `Calendar of Cordova of 961′. Its technical accuracy is `remarkable,’ and much of what it contains was to be found in subsequent geography books and farming treatises.

Each month of the year had its tasks and time table, March, for instance, was when fig trees are grafted; and early cereals begin to rise. It was the time to plant sugar cane, and when pre-season roses and lilacs begin to come out. Quails appear; silk worms hatch; from the sea, mullets journey up rivers. That is also the time to plant cucumbers, and saw cotton, safron, and aubergines. During this month are sent to provincial tax officials mail orders to purchase horses for the government; locusts begin to appear and their destruction is ordered; time to plant lime and marjoram, too. It is also the mating season of many birds.

To illustrate the wide interest of a variety of writers regarding one single crop, one takes the example of rice. Ibn Bassal, for instance, advises on the choice of terrain, plots that face to the rising sun. The thorough preparation of the soil is well recommended as well as the addition of manure, and how it is to be done.

Sowing is advised between February and March. Al-Ichbilli gives the specific amount of rice that needs to be sown on any given surface, and how that should be carried out. Ibn al-Awwam speaks at length of the watering process, that land should be submerged with water up to a given height, then sowing the rice. Once the soil had absorbed the water, the seeds are covered with earth, and the land submerged with water again. All details on irrigation and ways of drainage once the plants grow are given. Fighting parasites, clearing weeds, and the means used for that also attract much attention from the writers. Ways of harvesting and for safe storage are explained, too.

Use of rice as a food commodity takes many forms. Ibn al-Awwam specifies that the best way of cooking and eating rice is with butter, oil, fat and milk. An anonymous author of the Almohad dynasty also wrote a recipe book called Kitab al-Tabkh fi-l Maghrib wal Andalus, which includes many recipes, five of them with rice, all sounding most appetising.


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