26
$\begingroup$

In a medieval fantasy world I am imagining, there are bear-men living in villages, with your medieval houses, roads and such. They also have farms with various vegetables, fruits and grains (wheat, lettuces, apples...). And of course, honeybee farms. Note that they don't tend to livestock like cows or chicken, only bees.

They live apart from other sentient beings, secluded in their lands in an oceanic, tempered climate. These bear-men are able to do pretty much all of what humans can do and even more, since they are as strong as grizzlies.

Finally, while the existence of magic is known, mostly proven and most simple spells are affordable, long-lasting enchantments over wide parcels of terrain cost a fortune and are complex to maintain. Magic is therefore not in the reach of your standard peasants. Moreover, these bear-men aren't really fond of magic. If they can avoid using it, the better!

My question is: Given the fact they enter into a hibernation state every winter (like bears do), how much would that affect farmland and honey production? If having your farmlands unattended for this long has a strong negative impact, is there a way to mitigate this (crop choice, preparation...)?

Addendum from comments : My bear-men have to hibernate/sleep during winter, unlike real world bears. Although they can be awakened in case of urgency, it's detrimental to their health and they become really grumpy when doing so. Please do not disturb, let bears sleep peacefully!

$\endgroup$
10
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Do bears who live in temperate oceanic climate actually hibernate? A citation would be nice. (Because I cannot think of any such bears. Great Britain and Ireland don't have bears, the Low Countries don't have bears, the Canaries don't have bears. I'm asking because "temperate oceanic climate" implies that there is no real winter, just a season with more than usual cloud cover and cool (but definitely not really cold) weather. Average minimum temperature remains above freezing. Why would they hibernate when the grass is always green?) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 9 '20 at 12:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ well if we take european medieval farmland as basis unless their farm has greenhouse, generally they dont tend their farm during winter either, and mostly take solace, like doing winter soltice or other festivals which cost many produced foods, so they probably be fine. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Nov 9 '20 at 12:52
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Humans in Europe used to be something like this themselves. There was little to do in winter except sleep and try not to freeze to death. So they'd sleep much more than was typical during the rest of the year. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was frustrating to the rulers of these countries, which wanted to use the downtime for more economic output. I suggest that this is pretty much a non-issue for your characters. $\endgroup$ – John O Nov 9 '20 at 14:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Respondents! Remember to address the question, not the backstory. In the OP's world, the bear-men hibernate, leaving the land unattended. Unless you're sure the reason the land is left unattended will change the answer, focus only on the question (and enjoy the creativity of the backstory). $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 9 '20 at 16:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It makes a lot of sense they wouldn't keep animals. The idea with animals is you fatten them in Spring/Summer and slaughter them in Autumn to make sausages for the Autumn/Winter. If you hibernate then you need fewer sausages. $\endgroup$ – Daron Nov 9 '20 at 22:07
46
$\begingroup$

In medieval Europe, farmland essentially was left unattended over the winter months, because there's not too much you can do with it.

The cycle was to sow in spring, and reap from summer through to autumn. At around late autumn, there would be the big harvest festival, when the community would have its greatest abundance of food, this would be an excuse for a big feast and celebration, both to enjoy the fruits of their labour, but also to pack on a couple of layers of body fat to last through the winter. Surplus food would be stored, smoked, preserved, or pickled in some way to make it last through the meagre months of winter. Your bearmen would probably just skip this step of getting food ready for the winter, and just gorge themselves as much as they can at their harvest festival, and then just settle down to bed.

The problem they might face, is that among human populations, winter would traditionally be the time for non-agricultural labour, building and maintaining homes, weaving cloth, manufacturing tools, etc. If the bearmen are asleep through winter, this means they'll have to fit these jobs in between the other agricultural work they need to do throughout the year, which might make the pace of life more strenuous, or might trigger an earlier adoption of specialised trades among bearmen society.

$\endgroup$
4
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Even in modern times, depending on your latitude, fields are left alone during the winter. They won't have anything done while there's snow on the field, and the fields will need to dry at least some before they are entered in the spring. And maintenance is definitely done during the winter. It's about the only thing to do in a grain farm during winter. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy Nov 9 '20 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ in some places the peasants would also just hibernate through the winter months angloinfo.com/blogs/france/midi-pyrenees/pot-pourri/… $\endgroup$ – mgh42 Nov 10 '20 at 2:02
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The summers would be rough, but I suppose they'll just have to grin and bear it. O_o $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Nov 10 '20 at 4:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That's only with some crops. Winter wheat was a thing as well - sow in the fall, reap in the summer. Doesn't undermine the larger point, though. $\endgroup$ – Ben Barden Nov 10 '20 at 19:04
22
$\begingroup$

No - if food is available, bears don't hibernate.

Bears in zoos will not hibernate if food is available, though they will slow down and sleep more than usual. Some zoo bears are fed year round, and do not hibernate.

Hibernation for bears simply means they don’t need to eat or drink, and rarely urinate or defecate (or not at all). There is strong evolutionary pressure for bears to stay in their dens during winter, if there is little or no food available. But bears will leave their dens on occasion, particularly when their den gets flooded or is badly damaged.

Source

So your bears will go slow in winter, they'll stay indoors, and sleep more. But they'll be able to do the odd check on their fields. They'll be able to do basic farm maintenance all winter - eg repair a fence that breaks.

Even if food runs low, most of your society can hibernate, and 1-2 bears can wake up for a few hours a day to do farm maintenance.


But what if they must hibernate anyway?

Even if they do hibernate for some reason; like the link explains, when hibernating and something bad happens (like a flooded or damaged den), bears will still wake up and solve the problem before returning to sleep. It would be reasonable to expect that your bears would rise from hibernation for urgent issues too.

So the idle fields in winter will still be protected against intruders, weeds don't really grow in winter, and any emergencies will be fixed. Your fields will be fine.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Biologists will, in fact, say that bears don't hibernate, but become torpid. True hibernation changes the metabolism in many ways to save calories. $\endgroup$ – Mary Nov 9 '20 at 13:40
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ This isn't an answer, it's a frame challenge at best, pointing out that bears in real life don't always hibernate. Except that in the OP's world the bear-men do hibernate, which means their farmlands are left unattended during the hibernation period - what happens to the farmland? Remember, address the question, not the backstory, unless there's a critical issue involving the basis of the backstory. I'm not convinced the reason the land is left unattended will change the answer to this question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 9 '20 at 16:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JBH then this asks the OP to clarify the question and stipulate that, unlike in bears, hibernation for these species is mandatory. Normally, this kind of objection would be raised in the comments, but here proper explanation requires some space and does serves as an answer. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Nov 9 '20 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander I'm more interested in knowing about the unattended farms part than if my bears hibernate or not, though it's an interesting topic too :). I'll update the question to reflect it better! $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Nov 9 '20 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Ash has been around long enough to know the difference - but the community as a whole has been fighting the "address the question, not the backstory" problem for a long time. As I said, the question is about the effect on unattended land. I can't see how the plausibility of the OP's denizens hibernating has any bearing on the question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 9 '20 at 18:18
8
$\begingroup$

Pros

  • Whether using modern agricultural practices or ancient, land likes to lay fallow for a season. Over-use can draw too many nutrients from the soil too quickly, leaving it less (sometimes much less) productive. The period of time during your Bear-Men's hibernation would contribute to the land being more productive during the agricultural season.

  • Land lying fallow might contribute to hiding the Bear-Men during this period of heightened vulnerability. The land would quickly sprout weeds (and perhaps be under snow, you didn't mention anything about seasons so that's just an observation), leaving the area to look more wild than a fully-fenced or well-cultivated farm.

Cons

  • While bees in their natural state need no intervention by people to happily survive, bees in skeps do. Bees naturally create hives in well-protected areas.1 Skeps aren't particularly well protected, even when set up to be. Without the Bear-Men to watch over them they could be struck by disease, knocked over by wind or animal, or stolen. (Please keep in mind that I'm not a bee expert. It might be natural to lock the dormant bees in their skeps into a secure location, eliminating this as a con.)

  • Settlers might come in and take over the land! No one's there, right? This depends on how your Bear-Men hibernate (in huts? in local caves?) but either way, since they're not there to fight for what's theirs, it's plausible that they might wake up to find an armed village where theirs once was.

Production

However, in terms of production, unless your Bear-Men happen to have the ability to grow Winter Wheat (or similar), there is no drop in production. Generally speaking, agricultural production stops during the winter or colder months.

  • Bees don't hibernate, but they're not productive during the winter/cold, either. They do consume honey during that period of time, so your Bear-Men would need to be sure the skeps are well enough stocked for their hibernation period or they'll lose the bees either to starvation or to abandonment (i.e, they run away looking for food).

However, you didn't mention anything about the seasons or when the Bear-Men hibernate. If they're hibernating during the growing season, then they would want to choose crops like dry wheat that can be basically ignored while they slept (and hopefully nobody comes along and harvests it before they wake up!).


1One of the best-protected hives I've seen was a friend's house in Texas. The bees moved into his soffits and a portion of the attic difficult to access from the attic crawl spaces. By the time the family called an expert (from a local bee-keeping company) to remove the hive, the hive had grown humongous. About one ton of honey was removed from the attic and soffit spaces. The expert happily took the honey and the queen, and all the bees followed the queen. The problem was gone... except for a considerable amount of repair.

$\endgroup$
6
  • $\begingroup$ ''Generally speaking, agricultural production stops during the winter or colder months" - only for spring cultures. Winter cereals and multiyear plants (orchards etc.) need tending during the winter. Animal husbandry is most challenging in the winter, but thankfully, we don't need to be concerned about it here. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Nov 9 '20 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander, "...unless your Bear-Men happen to have the ability to grow Winter Wheat (or similar)..." $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 9 '20 at 19:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If settlers want to take over the village, probably they would kill all the sleeping bearmen instead of waiting for them to wake up and unite. $\endgroup$ – Mark Nov 10 '20 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark That's probably true, but it assumes the bear-men are easily found (e.g., they're sleeping in a convenient group of huts). That's why my answer states, "This depends on how your Bear-Men hibernate (in huts? in local caves?)" $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 10 '20 at 15:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GarretGang That's a good point, winter wheat doesn't need much maintenance and could be planted then ignored during the hibernation period, which means the hibernation period itself has no significant impact on production (as long as they can plant it). $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 10 '20 at 20:40
0
$\begingroup$

I'm going to go with 'probably yes'

Interestingly, this is one of the issues encountered by transhumant societies when they bump up against sedentary agricultural ones.

'Transhumance' is a livelihood pattern where people move (typically with livestock) from one fixed location to another on a seasonal basis. So herders who graze their flocks in the highlands during summer, and down in the lowlands during winter. It's a way of making more efficient use of marginal land that wouldn't sustain people year-round.

The reason conflict occurs is that this naturally leaves viable lowland territory empty for half the year, proving a tempting opportunity for sedentary agriculturalists to move in and set up a new village, not knowing that the land is already claimed by herders (and not understanding why they need it if they spend most of their time in the hills).

It's a bit flipped around as your bear-folk leave their pastures unattended during winter rather than summer, but could stil be a source of conflict between them and their neighbours. I'd be annoyed if I woke up from an extended nap and found some upstarts had built a village on my fields!

If your bears are transhumant pastoralists it would also give you a reason for them to hibernate. If most of them hibernate through harsh winters, leaving only a nominal guard over their flocks, they would be able to inhabit even more marginal land effectively than humans. You'd find them living in some very inhospitable places indeed, which would protect them somewhat from human encroachment. Luckier bear-people that live in more plentiful areas could not hibernate and live just like anyone else.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.