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. 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.

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

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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