Posted in Kafevend Blog
Earlier this week we had a look at tea grown at high altitudes and the effects it has on one of our favourite brews. Today we are moving away from tea specifically and looking at how folk actually manage to farm crops like tea and coffee in these vertiginous landscapes.
To farm on steep slopes requires rather a lot of preparation before you can even consider planting your crops- otherwise rain would just wash them away as the soil became loose and ran down the hillside. Humans figured out a way to do it though- thousands of years ago farmers came up with the idea of terracing. It's likely you've seen it even if you aren't sure what it is. Imagine if someone decided to carve the contour lines of a map into a hill, and you'll know what we mean. By creating these long strips of flat land, all but the steepest of slopes can be turned over to agriculture.
Like terracing, some of you have probably heard of the Incas, who just so happened to be big proponents of the terrace farming technique. Other peoples had used it before them- in fact, terracing was developed on entirely separate continents by people who would never have met. Taking the idea of terraces from preceding Andean civilizations such as the Wari, the Inca became masters of terrace farming.
Alongside creating canals and aqueducts to channel water, the Inca are believed to have experimented with growing food at a site called Moray. Here, in a crater like depression, they created a terraced microclimate. With the temperature varying by an impessive 15°C between the top and bottom tiers, scientists and historians believe this allowed them to discover the ideal conditions for growing crops, before sending the knowledge on throughout their empire. The Incas produced so much food that they were able to entice neighbouring civilizations to join their empire with the lure of steady food supplies- that's no mean feat considering the landscape they had to work with!
Terracing has a number of effects other than just providing accessible land to farm on, mostly to do with water. As we mentioned earlier, water likes to run down hills and carry away soil with it. Terraces prevent this, and cause the water to soak through the soil instead. This can cause problems if there is too much water of course- over saturated and over flowing fields aren't always what your crop of choice thrives under. Clever use of slight inclines and channels can remedy this though. The other major issue is simply the amount of work that goes into creating terraces; the retaining walls also need maintenance for instance.
The hard work is worth it however for those looking to create quality crops, as tea and coffee benefit from the unique environments found on tall mountain sides. Alongside a cup of Darjeeling tea, you might like to try and get your hands on some Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee if you prefer a cup of joe!