What Is The Three Field System Of Farming?

The three field system of farming is a simple and effective method of managing land which was used in Europe during the Middle Ages. This technique represents a major advance in agricultural success. Prior to the three field method, farmers used a two field system, in which half of a farmer’s land would be sown with a crop, and the other half would be left fallow to rest until the next planting season. Read on to learn more on what is the three field system of farming.

Why Is The Three Field System Better Than The Two Field System?

is the three field system better than the two field system

The three field system is an improvement upon that because only a third of the land is left to rest at a time. In the fall, a third of the land was planted with a crop (e.g. rye, wheat or barley).

In the springtime, another third of the available land would be planted in a different crop (e.g. legumes, oats or barley) which would be harvested late in the summer time.

Legumes are especially valuable with this and any method of crop rotation because they strengthen the soil with their ability to fix nitrogen.

Additionally, legumes were a valuable crop during the Middle Ages because they provided good nourishment to people.

Medieval Innovations: The Three Crop Rotation System

Another advantage of the three field method is that it provides two harvests per year.

Additionally, by not putting all their eggs in one basket, farmers in the Middle Ages protected themselves against famine caused by crop failure.

The Three Field System Was More Efficient

The three field method made plowing much more effective, too.

  1. In the first place, keeping two thirds of the farmer’s land cultivated resulted in almost a double crop yield as compared to the two field method. It simply made the farms more profitable while keeping the starting cost manageable.
  2. In the second place, with the three field method more oats could be planted. This meant more livestock feed was available, so horses could be used for the plowing instead of oxen. Horses are faster and more nimble than oxen and can make a quicker job of plowing.

Changes in the Middle Ages 1 Agriculture: Three-field System

Fallow Land Makes Good Grazing

With the three field method, every year, a third of the total land is left fallow to rest and also to be used as grazing land. This also contributes to the good care of livestock.

Simultaneously, having livestock live on the resting land helps improve the land with the addition of manure.

Is It Good To Use The Three Field Method Today?

This method of farming made it possible for peasants in the Middle Ages to survive, thrive, produce more crops and more livestock.

It was such a successful method of farming that it remained the predominant technique among Russian peasants until the time of Stalin in the early and mid-20th Century.

These days, intensive agricultural methods have replaced the three-field system all over the world. Even so, it remains a very effective way for small farmers and homesteaders to manage their land naturally.

The modern tendency to cultivate huge amounts of land in a single crop repeatedly, year after year leads to extreme depletion of the soil and insect predation.

This dilemma has caused it to be considered necessary to use harsh chemicals to control insects and to fertilize the land.

The end result is that dangerous pesticides and fertilizers get washed into the water table into the waterways having negative effects on anyone and everyone who needs water.

The three-field system is a smart way to make the most of the land you have, along with resources such as manure and cover crops (a.k.a. green manure).

It is a natural alternative that can be used on any small farm or homestead to great success.

Frequently Asked Questions

what is the three field system of farming Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the three-field farming system still in use today?

This is an example of the maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Three field farming is a simple, effective farming concept that literally changed the world in medieval Europe. Use of this simple system of farming helps keep soil rich, fertile and vital. This, in turn, increases the productivity of the soil and allows farmers to grow a greater variety of produce. In medieval times, this added up to a more abundant, diverse and interesting diet. The same is true today!

How does the three-field system increase crop productivity?

This system of farming allows the land to be used throughout the year. Even though a third of the land under cultivation rests for a year, the other two thirds are used to grow produce in both the spring and summer and in the winter. One field is devoted to spring and summer crops such as legumes, oats and/or barley. The other active field is devoted to winter crops, such as rye or wheat. In this way, fresh grains and are available through most of the year, and because each field has a chance to rest and rejuvenate every three years, the crops planted produce more and better fruits.

How does allowing fields to lie fallow improve crop yield?

The three field system is based in crop rotation, allowing one field to rest and planting on the other two one year and then moving crops onto the rested field the next year, planting a different crop on one of the previously used fields and allowing the third field to rest. This resting period allows time for natural mulch and organic matter to decompose and enrich the soil of the resting field. For the field that is being used differently than the year before, a change is as good as a rest. By planting a different crop on this land, the soil is used differently, so it is more productive than if it were used to nourish the same crop in the same way two years in a row.

How can planting different crops improve the soil?

Different types of plants have different nutritional needs. By planting one sort of crop one year and a different sort the next year, you can prevent having your soil become exhausted of specific nutrients. Additionally, some types of crops (e.g. peanuts, clover and alfalfa) actually improve the quality of soil by fixing nitrogen in the soil.

How do you keep weeds, pests and diseases under control with three field gardening?

Interestingly, rotating crops is actually a natural way to thwart weeds, pests and plant diseases. Plant pests and plant diseases have a better chance of becoming established if you plant the same thing in the same place year after year. Moving your crops disrupts their life cycles and prevents them from taking over your crops. Weeds actually grow better in depleted soil, so the soil improvements brought about by this planting method will actually help keep weeds at bay.

How did the three-field method of planting improve life expectancy for medieval people?

Before this idea was conceived of, people subsisted on single crops grown in fields that were becoming more and more depleted every year. Three-field growing provided greater variety in food and in nutrition. The foods grown by this method are naturally more nourishing than those grown on exhausted, depleted land.

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