The deep agricultural soils in Fitjar are found especially in the area between Lake Storavatnet and Breivika. The many stonewalls in the area reflect that the earth probably was full of stones and stone blocks. The stones that couldn't be dug out had also a function: they stored heat that helped to grow potatoes.
From about 1850 until the last World War, Fitjar was a main producer of potatoes for Bergen. Both the soil and climate were well suited for growing potatoes. Stony soil stores heat from the spring sun. The Fitjar potatoes therefore came relatively early to the markets in Bergen. They were grown throughout nearly the whole municipality, on the moraine soil around Fitjar Bay and in Øvrebygda around the northerly part of Lake Storavatnet, and on the weathering soil far to the north in the municipality (Osterneset). Even the boggy soil out on the Fitjar Islands grow potatoes for the Bergen market. Also many other towns in outer Sunnhordland took part in the potato growing. Following the Second World War, this special production and transport on boats especially built for potato cargo nonetheless ceased. Larger ships with bigger carrying capacity and water clearance, and the bigger producers further south took over the market.
But, why is there so much stony soil in Fitjar? During the cold spell at the end of the last Ice Age roughly 15 000 years ago the glacier advanced toward Fitjar, where the front remained stationary for a time. The glacier deposited large masses of moraine containing much stone around Lake Storavatnet and Rimbareid. For a time the edge of the glacier lay right in what is now Lake Storavatnet, and is believed to have made several advances toward Vestbøstad and Fitjarsjøen. Moraine soils are also found a distance up the slopes southeast of Fitjar. Here, the moraine soils give good nutrients to the forest. The upper limit of this stone-rich forest floor rises southwards and is believed to mark the side moraine left after the glacial advance.
In Fitjar the highest sea level after the Ice Age (the “marine limit”) is 44 metres higher than today. This estimate is based on a raised beach that the waves tossed up at the place that has been given the name "Vollen" (“raised beach”). Bits of crushed mussel and scallop found in the clay-rich moraine above Breivika are dated to about 15 000 years old. This shows that these creatures lived on the sea floor here just before the glacier pressed forward. These are among the oldest shells that are found from the end of the last Ice Age in Hordaland. When one digs in the soil, for example north of Vestbøstad, shells from this time may still turn up.
There are many newly planted areas in the municipality, but the large stone content in the moraine soil means that it takes a lot of work to make it into a good pasture. South of Lake Storavatnet, by Tislavoll and Rydland, the boggy soil is planted in depressions, such as around the three tarns south of Rydland. On the slopes it is the moraine soil that gets planted.
Today there are only a few farmers that grow potatoes in Fitjar. The good times have come to an end. First and foremost big production on Jæren in Eastern Norway, but also its stagnation in price and competition from pasta and rice are contributing factors. Around the potato crates starting at the left: Leif Tislevoll, Sigurd Slettebø, Einar Tislevoll and Leif Oddmund Tislevoll. (Svein Nord)
Fitjar about 15,000 years ago, The glacier reaches almost down to Fitjarsjøen. (Andrew Genes/Inge Aarseth/Eva Bjørseth)
- Genes, A. N. 1978. Glacial geology of the island Stord, west Norway. Norsk Geologisk Tidsskrift 58:33–49.