Three Experiments in Muskogean Agricultural Techniques
The Southern Highlands and Cumberland Plateau are one of five regions in the world, in which agriculture developed independently. Although most of the indigenous plants that were cultivated there are either now feral or extinct, recent genetic tests have proven that they were indeed, genetically different than their wild ancestors. It was only the prejudices of European immigrants that kept these crops from being developed further and cultivated today.
A wide range of European and indigenous sources describe a system of large scale agriculture in the interior of the Southeastern United States that was distinctly different than current practices, yet was able to support large populations without deteriorating local environments.
Muskogean farmers did not use processed chemical fertilizers or insecticides, but despite numerous assumptions by archaeologists otherwise, they regular use several practices to improve soil fertility. Such practices were continued into the late 20th century. The availability of commercial fertilizer, pesticides and mechanical tillers persuaded many Muskogean farmers and gardeners to switch to practices used by other farmers. Traditional Muskogean farming practices included:
- Annual burning of dead vegetation in early winter.
- Rotation of crops.
- Extensive use of legumes to fix additional nitrogen in the soil.
- Mixing of crushed shells in the soil.
- Mixing charcoal into the soil (biochar).
- Mixing of pottery shards into the soil.
- Throwing of organic kitchen scraps on garden.
- Use of diluted urine as a fertilize.
- Throwing bones and egg shells on kitchen fires, then spreading ashes on garden area.
- Building raised beds with especially fertile top soil.
Although thoroughly described by literature, these techniques have seldom, if ever, been tested by professional agronomists in the Southern Highlands. They offer an alternative to the current petrochemical-intensive techniques that most professional farmers utilize. They are not dependent on minerals or chemicals that must be imported from other regions or continents.
Locations and descriptions of experimental gardens
- Town Creek Garden (southern Union County, GA)
- Lower Nottely River Basin (northern Union County, GA)
- Gab Creek Garden (western Lumpkin County, GA)
- Additional Photos
- Native Edible Plants for the East Coast Garden
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