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Created Wednesday 22 November 2023

Christchurch Flying Club, S1 E3: The agriculture, or something

*You're the transcriber (same character as the narrator) and you clunk down on the play button on the tape recorder.*

*the whirring of a pre-collapse tape recorder, albeit with a post-collapse chassis, somehow still working after all this time, is heard, both on the microphone and by yourself.*

[Out of character: The callsigns in this production are all fictional. Any resemblance to the real callsigns of any radio hams in Aotearoa today is coincidental.]

Left channel.

*click. Another tape recorder whirrs*

*radio hiss, getting chopped by tuning*

CQ, CQ, CQ, this is ZL, 4TKE1, go ahead?

CQ, CQ, CQ, this is ZL, 4TKE1, go ahead?

CQ, CQ, CQ, this is ZL, 4TKE1, go ahead?

CQ, CQ, CQ, this is ZL, 4TKE1, go ahead?

*in over static and an overdriven receiver* 4TKE1 this is 4QV6, got you clear and 1 over S9, long time no signal! Signal check, and what's your story now?

ZL4QV6, this is ZL4TKE1, I read you mild distortion and 6 over S9, can you cut your transmit power? I've just been out in the neighborhood's crop fields, helping with the harvesting the lentils and operating the planter. It's quite hard work. I'm told they used to have tractors, and sometimes they use them even these days, but this year, it's all man and ox power, because for whyever, the tractors just won't run. I don't mind it. The pedalling isn't even too hard when you have a team of comrades next to you helping you out.

*remote* Whassat, E1? You pull the farm equipment on bikes? Our horses seem happy enough to do it for us on our side of the fields, but I suppose you grow different crops, or maybe you just can't grow as much. Great workout, though. I've done it myself. Lot faster than the scythe, though I use that for my personal strip where I trial new varieties. And you said you're operating the planter... you get a crop in after lentils?

Yeah, 4QV6, it seems like our breed of lentils can yield dry beans quickly enough that we can have spring wheat in and out without any risk of it winter killing. As to the planter, it's a seed drill that's older than God, but it seems like it's been maintained well, kept lubricated, and it's also aided by having a power takeoff from us so it doesn't lose traction in the fields. We've only had to till our strips once in the last six years, and that's when the blights happened. We always dread it because the oxen just refuse to pull the yokes if the moldboards are on, and we have to do them ourselves, and we always get bogged down. ZL4TKE1.

*remote* Yeah, I reckon you, we crop twice in a year too on the other side of town, if the water supply co-operates, but what was that about the bikes? ZL4QV6.

Bikes? Oh no, one of the people who's with us now, I think she was actually a scav from P┼Źneke, worked with us to bodge up a 22-person tractor that uses pedal power and puts out a sustained 1.3 kW if everyone's well fed and in good spirits, and also has provisions for an electric motor, but they're never used. She told me the solar panels were too degraded for it to work, and it would've worked 200 years ago. 4TKE1.

*clicks pause*

Dear diary.

I recently was allowed to check out many ancient book duplicates on subjects called "permaculture," "regenerative agriculture," and "water resilience," as well as "keyline farming" at the library. The librarian didn't think much of the subjects, maybe seemed a little contemptuous. I was even sent home with my computer full of some videos by a man calling himself Andrew and selling some Internet course, whatever that is, saying he was from a country called Oregon. Watching was enlightening and depressing.

* You mean that before the dark ages, the farmers never had to worry about water too much, except in India (I recently learned that the chai plant is from there, from my friend Arjen who gave me one!)? We're always looking for ways we can use less and still get the same result. Many crops are deliberately underwatered, and we wouldn't have them any other way. They taste amazing that way, whereas well-watered tomatoes, or grapes, or what-have-you, tend to just taste insipid. Sometimes I feel bad for the plants in my plot when they get all wilty and I will give them a drink, and they seem to take well to even very small quantities of water and it doesn't affect the taste too much.
* He covered a charity foundation in his time in India called Paani. Arjen told me that in his language, Paani means water. The water foundation went around their state and helped the farmers build great dams, ponds, and other structures in places as dry as here (in an average year we get something like 30 centimeters of rainfall, this year was a lot wetter because of that big blow that torched the windmills) to help regenerate groundwater reserves. Here, those things are somewhat taken for granted, and nobody's ever really done anything to them, and I wonder if our "swales" which we have in the highlands here are maybe less maintained than they should be. These books might even help me find out, and win points with the county council for an authorization to go in and help maintain them.
* It's so sad that people had to sell themselves like that to live two centuries ago.
* People back then knew what was coming, and they were fighting to maintain and change what they valued so that it could survive. I could see it in Mr Millison's eyes, even though the camera distorted them and he looked pretty happy-go-lucky. He's long dead - no human lives to 300. I hope he had a fantastic life and that his descendants, if any live today, are doing well too. Probably in Alaska or something - I haven't heard of anyone living in Oregon, much less having a productive dryland farm there.
* In India, in these dry places, once they got water again, they would double crop. We do that, it's warm enough here for nine or ten months, although a third season is probably beyond our abilities. I suppose we do have good water - we've had to pump the aquifers and run the sprinklers about every season, but it doesn't drop year on year and the river flows as strong as the pictures in the library remember, even though we don't have ice anymore in the Alps.
* Flying - my passion - is part of what caused all of this drama two centuries ago, because of the fuels... *tears up a bit*
* Some of these agronomic treatises speak of "deficit irrigation", where you only water a crop if drought stress on the crop is going to be to detriment to yields. That's just how we were taught irrigation at school - you only water when the plant is vulnerable, to save water for us, as well as the sheep and the goats.
* What the hell is a bushel?
* What's an internet?

The date is the 25th of February, 2178. The weather gods have granted us a chilly summer mercy for the last week, as if they knew it was time to rotate our crops. This week I finally passed my hang-gliding test, although you can understand not much is happening right now because of the harvest and planting season, and I was only able to take my flying test because my instructor was surplus to requirements in his zone and I promised to bring up a camera and bring back pictures if I could get a good one of the crops being harvested, so I got a reprieve after the 3rd day. I did get good photos, and what a spectacle! In my zone, bikers pedalling as if for a sprint, rolling at 3 km/h across our field on an adapted combine harvester. The day before, I'd been on the same 8-row seed drill, ready to get the prime mover to heave to if we were out of seeds or chits. We never were. My replacement is good at the job. I trust her with it. In 4QV6's zone, a wall of scythers and baggers picking up the millet the old-fashioned way.

I was told it but didn't believe it, so I learned this the hard way, wait six weeks after spreading rye or triticale straw and watering, because it'll stop anything else growing. For every other row crop, we plant directly behind the harvester. It seems to work especially well after beans.

Come July, I have to cut firewood for the power plant, as penance for skiving off the harvest. I didn't know we had a power plant, if I'm honest - I thought we were all wind and hydro here. For a while they were running on coal but the priest, of all people, convinced Waitaha Windmill to ask the council to requisition an abandoned property that'd become overgrown with what I found out was the invasive weed black locust, which is a legume tree. They found there alone enough wood to run the power plant for about a month - I suppose they don't go through much coal, because the locust didn't look that dense? I'm told they want to reclaim the requisitioned property, adorn it with a beautiful cottage garden, and make the house habitable again. If they can find the current owner, they'll give it back; if not, it's a guesthouse for dignitaries given its size and splendour (my house, while functionally well-appointed and spacious enough, is much smaller and plainer, and me and three neighbours share our home garden). Maybe it'll have more wood when I get to it. I think they're working on other similarly-overgrown properties, or maybe they're still using coal until winter.

Remember I signed up to the windmill bash a week ago? I've studied the task - I've been told I'm mostly just going to be screwing things together on the ground and I won't actually need to go up there to stitch anything together. I suppose the blades are complex engineering, after all, though. There'll also be hot meals.