Open-Field Farming in Medieval Europe by Warren Ault download in iPad, ePub, pdf
The most visible characteristic of the open-field system was that the arable land belonging to a manor was divided into many long narrow furlongs for cultivation. About one-half of adults living on a manor had no land at all and had to work for larger landholders for their livelihood. Bakewell and the others bred cattle, pig and other live stock for specific characteristics such as size or milk production.
The ploughed fields and the meadows were used for livestock grazing when fallowed or after the grain was harvested. The scattered nature of family holdings ensured that families each received a ration of both good and poor land and minimised risk. The fields of cultivated land were unfenced, hence the name open-field system. The other field was then plowed, but left unplanted to let the air and sunshine restore some of its fertility. The open-field system was never practised in all regions and countries in Europe.
The villagers could utilize only half of their land each year but had to expend the effort of plowing fallow land. The ancient village game of Haxey Hood is played in this open landscape. Attached to each hut was a messuage, about half an acre of land used by the family for a garden, chicken coop, pig pen, bee-hives and so forth. These huts were built with whatever local materials were most common. Soil exhaustion was a constant problem, and the peasants were usually engaged in the laborious process of clearing new land to supplement their old, worn-out fields.
The problem with using a heavy plow is that it took a great deal of tractive power. The rotation might be wheat the first year, barley the next, and the third year the land would lay fallow with nothing growing in it. Most villages had a church with its own grounds clearly distinguished, perhaps with a fence or even a wall from the village lands. The number of large and middle-sized estates grew in number while small land-holders decreased in number.
Allotment gardening A similar system to open fields survives in the United Kingdom as allotment gardens. Many of the more popular breeds used in livestock today date back to this time.
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