Medieval Farming

Medieval Farming

The majority of medieval people’s lives revolved around farming - a lot of peasants worked the land so farming was extremely important to peasant families.

The majority of people were in villages that provided a lot of potential farming land. Though small, Medieval towns still required the food which was made by neighbouring villages.

Compared to modern day standards, Medieval farming would be very crude. Farmers could not access tractors or combine harvesters so the tools they used were also basic. Specific work was needed to be done every month by the peasants and it was essential to follow the ‘farming year’.

Agriculture in the Middle Ages
Agriculture in the Middle Ages

The size of farms was much smaller and peasants were not owners of the land which they worked on - instead it was the lord of the manor’s property. The reason farming was known as ‘strip farming’ in Medieval times was due to peasants being tenants who only worked on a strip or several strips of land.

The feudal system which was introduced by William the Conqueror, brought in the reliance on local lords of the manor.

It was not likely that a peasant family could possess an ox, which was seen as the most valuable animal in farming. Oxen and horses were known as ‘beasts of burden’ as they were able to do a lot of work people could not. Ploughing time urgently required a team of oxen and villages would often club together for to make sure the farming was completed - particularly around seeding time, also harvesting.

Farmers commonly used tools such as metal tipped ploughs to overturn the soil and harrows to cover it up after planting seeds. Manure was only used sparingly and there were no such thing as artificial fertilisers.

It was challenging to grow crops and to be successful, much hard work and some luck was needed.

During the summer, known as the growing season, the farmers depended on the sun for the satisfactory growth of their crops - one outburst of rain could cause a crop to flatten and practically ruin it. Peasants still needed to find money or goods in order to pay taxes without a big enough harvest. Too much sunshine and a lack of moisture in the soil paved the way for the crop failing to grow to the extent it should, and even a frost in spring could affect recently planted seeds.

Farmers still had many tasks to complete during winter even if crops could not be planted at that time.

Several estates employed reeves as a way of making sure peasants worked hard and didn’t steal from the lord. The reeve himself was a serf. He had many duties such as making sure the serfs started work on time and ensuring that no one was cheating the lord out of money.

See also: Medieval Farming Calendar

MLA Citation/Reference

"Medieval Farming". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.