The Best Landforms to Grow Food Crops

Despite all of humanity’s advances, we still rely on the complex and delicate ecosystem of the Earth to provide us with food. The landform can determine what type of crops you can grow.

Growing food crops can be a challenging but rewarding pastime, and it’s one that many people are beginning to take an interest in recently.

But whether you’re doing it to feed yourself and your family, help improve the local ecosystem, or simply for the pleasure of nurturing something and watching it grow, you won’t get very far without first knowing the type of land best-suited to your crop.

We’ll break down the basics here and help you get started.

Farm landforms aerial view from above

Which Landform is the Best for Growing Food Crops?

Historically, the most fertile lands on Earth have always been floodplains, particularly the resulting alluvial plains – the deposits of soft, silty mud left behind on the banks of a river after a flood.

So, why is flat land good for farming? The soil there is rich in nutrients, carrying deposits of minerals like lime and potash, which can provide crops with the nourishment they need to grow well.

Additionally, the close presence of the river also provides an ample and consistent supply of freshwater, equally vital to the healthy growth of plant life.

Given these advantages, it’s no surprise that most early human civilizations began in river valleys like the Nile Delta and the Fertile Crescent. 

Rich Soil and Water

The benefits of living in these types of landforms were likely what allowed agriculture to flourish, leading to a society that could remain in one location over long periods instead of practicing a nomadic lifestyle to find food.

However, when it comes to the complex and fascinating world of botany, one size does not fit all.

While “a region with rich soil and plenty of water” may seem like the easy and obvious answer to any question of a suitable growing environment, not every type of food crop has the same needs. 

Staple Crop

Many have adapted to thrive in less advantageous environments, and might now suffer from shock if grown in a land so rich.

Others simply have very particular nutritional requirements and might find the sorts of minerals usually deposited in the rich muck of a flooded riverbank to be far from their preferences.

Ideally, the best method is to look at a more specific type of staple crop and determine what area best suits the individual needs of that particular plant. 

A wider selection is better whenever possible, both to provide a more nutritionally complete food supply and allow for crop rotation, thus preventing the soil from being stripped of necessary minerals.

Grains

In hot, tropical regions, rice is one of the most common staple crops – and for very good reason. This staple grain thrives in humid weather, although it often enjoys cooler temperatures at night. 

While rice can be grown on dry land, it does best in partially-flooded areas and riverside lands, to provide it with the maximum possible amount of water. Soil quality is more negotiable, but it will not tolerate deep sand.

Almost all types of grain require substantial amounts of water, particularly rice and soybeans, and will struggle heavily in dry regions.

The one notable exception is wheat, which can sustain itself on as little as twelve inches of rain throughout a single growing season.

Why are the Great Plains a good place for growing grains? 

Most varieties of oats, on the other hand, prefer much cooler weather for their growing conditions, like the American midwest. They likely will do their best in prairie and grassland regions. 

Fruit

Fruiting vines, including most varieties of melon, need a healthy dose of nitrogen to encourage their initial growth but will suffer if nitrogen levels remain high as they reach maturity. 

Watermelons are known for growing well in hot climates, and can even thrive in tropical regions, although they should be planted as early as possible in the spring for their best growth.

By contrast, stone fruits such as plums and peaches require at least a brief period of cold weather to germinate. 

Tropical Regions

For those in tropical regions, it’s likely wiser to plant citrus trees and other tropical fruits adapted to thrive in the heat instead of hoping for enough of a cold snap to let their orchards bear fruit, no matter how delicious it may be.

That said, plums are one of the fastest-growing fruit trees under the right conditions, and can be an excellent choice for a colder region. Like many young trees, they require deep soil to firmly anchor their roots, and should not be planted anywhere with less than three feet of topsoil at a minimum. 

Vegetables

Leafy greens, like spinach or lettuce, almost universally require soils rich in nitrogen to reach their best growth. 

Spinach in particular is surprisingly tolerant of cold environments, which can be a boon to those planting crops in regions with long winters but frustrating to residents of areas prone to extreme heat, who may struggle to keep their crops from withering even when sufficiently watered.

Nitrogen Rich Soil

That said, soil rich in nitrogen is not ideal for growing every type of crop. While plants that are grown primarily for their leaves thrive in these conditions, root vegetables can be badly stunted by excessive nitrogen. 

Carrots and radishes require relatively minimal nitrogen in their environment to achieve their best growth.

Tubers such as potatoes and yams will typically grow best in loose, well-drained soil like a sandy loam. While they do still need their share of water, excessively wet soil will potentially cause fungus and rot. 

A region with primarily heavy clay soil will likely be a poor choice for these types of crops.

Legumes

Most types of peas tend to prefer the same sandy loam that tubers enjoy, but they can tolerate almost any variety of soil, except for particularly hard-packed clay, so long as it is mildly acidic. A pH level between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal for this purpose.

However, it’s important to note that plants in the allium family, such as onions and garlic, can stunt the growth of peas if planted in the same soil. 

It’s best to keep these two crops far apart whenever possible, and instead plant something that will appreciate the natural nitrogen-fixing qualities of peas, such as tomato vines.

Farming Landforms FAQ

What two geographic features allow farming?

Flatlands and river access are the two best geographic features for farming. 

Which landform might be best if you wanted to start a farm?

Flatlands, with fertile soil, are the way to go. The nutrients and acid balance in these areas is perfect for food production, and the even land will help crops grow without fighting the environment. 

What is the main crop in intensive subsistence agriculture? 

Intensive subsistence agriculture only allows for one main crop to be grown at a time due to spacing and labor issues. Rice is the most common crop grown. 

Sources