Modeling a Homestead After The Middle Ages
Kevin Felts 04.11.18
Something I always found odd, was the difference between farming in the middle ages and modern homesteading. During the middle ages there were no farm supply stores to buy seed and fertilizer. Usually, the middle ages (and pre-middle ages) was an era of feast or famine.
As a prepsteader, I want to study how people historically survived without modern conveniences. What kinds of livestock were raised in the middle ages as compared to today? What kinds of crops did the farmer (or serf) grow in the middle ages grow? What did the people do to prepare the fields for gardening?
With this knowledge, maybe we can prepare our homesteads for a worse case, long term, grid down situation.
One of the slight differences between the middle ages and modern homesteading is choices in livestock. How many people reading this had a granny who had a milk cow? In the middle ages, cows were low on the totem pole. They took up a lot of room, needed a lot of grass, and only produced milk.
If someone were to butcher a cow in the middle ages there would be no way to preserve the meat. The idea idea jerky had not been developed. Even then, there is the issue with turning a full grown cow into jerky. Cattle in the middle ages were much smaller than modern cattle, that is still a lot of meat which would go to waste.
Rather than butchering cattle, peasants relied on smaller livestock, such as:
When an animal was butchered, it was usually during times of celebration, such as Easter. For the most part, peasants lived a “heart healthy” lifestyle eating mostly fruits, vegetables and fish.
Modern corn is a fertilizer and labor intensive crop. In rural areas, sometimes corn is eaten by deer and raccoons before it is harvested. On a personal note, I have tried growing corn here on the farm. When the corn is ready to be harvested, the raccoons usually beat me to it.
Peasants in the middle ages grew crops such as wheat, beans and peas. These are crops which have a low fertilizer requirement.
The bad news, deer love beans and peas. There have been times here on the farm when entire rows of peas were eaten down to the ground overnight.
The good news, planting squash and zucchini in with the beans and peas help detour deer.
People in the middle ages had fruit trees, such as figs. In fact, figs have been cultivated by humans for thousands of years.
What kind of fertilizer did people in the middle ages have? Today, we would compare it to composting, or maybe organic gardening. Even in the middle ages people realized crops grew better when manure was added to the soil.
People also noticed crops grew better when a field was allowed to sit barren for a season. Today, we call it crop rotation.
Chances are composters and organic gardeners would feel right at home in the event of a collapse of society.
So what can we learn from the middle ages?
Focus on livestock smaller than cattle. Something that can be butchered and eaten in one sitting by a small group of people like goats, sheep, turkeys, or ducks.
Consider less fertilizer intensive crops such as beans, peas, squash, peppers, or tomatoes.
Plant some fruit trees. Types of fruit trees will vary depending on location. For 2018 I am putting two more fig trees in the ground.
Learn how to compost and to garden using organic material.
If someone wanted to learn more about living in the middle ages, “Life in a Medieval Village” by Joseph and Frances Gies is a wonderful read.