Friday, March 26, 2010


I ordered the seeds that I plan to plant this spring. I got them from Bountiful Gardens again and they are:

Scarlet Emperor Bean, Runner
They didn’t list any heirloom varieties of beans, so I just had to pick one. This one sounded tasty.

Laxton’s Progress #9 Bush Pea, Shelling
Although they don’t call it an heirloom variety, the description calls it a “standard old variety” which sounded good.

Dwarf Grey Sugar Pea
This one is an heirloom, dating back to 1773.

Belgian White Carrot
Another heirloom variety, this one dating to 1885.

Carrot Mix
These are modern orange carrots, that I decided to get to please my daughter. I’m sure she won’t want to come anywhere close to a ‘mutant’ white carrot, so these are going in the garden for her.

EA Special Strain Celery
We use a lot of celery in our cooking (I absolutely love celery) and this one is here more for our table than for anything period.

Green French Lentil
Roman authors call them “poor man’s meat” and while I was never fed them while growing up, I have come to like them very much. And they are very period.

Cereal Rye
They sell this seed mainly as a cover crop, to help fight back erosion during the winter and then be plowed under in the spring. I’ve been intimidated for most of my life by dark rye breads, but have recently found some good recipes that I really like (I really need to post some here!).
Rye is not the highest yielding of the grains, but it will grow well on poor soil and is tolerant of cold conditions that wheat and other grains cannot stand.

Kamut Wheat, Ancient
A spring-planted wheat with a very old heritage. It is high in protein and has large grains of silvery-blue color.

Early Stone Age Wheat, Ancient
This heirloom variety of wheat is perhaps 12,000 years old. It is spring planted, hard to thresh and very high in protein and other vitamins.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with these last two. I may plant a little and see what happens, or I may hold off another year.

I also bought two books:
Booklet 33: Grow Your Own Grains
Small Scale Grain Raising

I’ll post book reviews shortly.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I did it!

It took way too long and was a ton of work, but I finally did it.

I overdid it trying to finish up last night. My arms and back ache, but in a good way.

The new garden plot has been entirely double dug. 25 feet by 30 feet. 750 square feet.

Here are a few pictures. The dark patch in the upper right was the part that I actually worked on today. The patch of white near the bottom right is where I had a tarp laid out with the dirt of the first trench, so the grass that was under it has been dying.

I think tomorrow I’ll hit the hardware store and buy some 2x6 boards and put a border around it, to make it easier to mow around if nothing else. Then I need to actually decide what to plant!

It was a good experience that I will never forget, but a rototiller is looking awfully good right now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Long Answer to a Simple Question

A friend of a friend, Wade, who responded to my last posting in my personal blog rather than here said: “In regards to your wheat post, you had a comment about wooden tools and double digging. Bear in mind that breaking through sod like you're doing was probably fairly uncommon. They were probably working fields that had been worked for generations. Even if they were kept fallow for one year, that's not going to produce the sort of root system that your lawn has. This is my opinion, no basis in historical fact. :)”

Wade is probably right here, depending on which part of the Middle Ages we’re talking about. My recent interests have really shifted away from the High MA to the early, Dark Ages period. Late Antiquity really. 500-900 AD. This is the period where Germanic, Celtic and Roman practices of settlement and cultivation are co-existing and mingling, and with the decline of the Roman administration, these methods are free to adapt to local conditions, rather than be dictated by Roman fiat. It is a time where people are thinking smaller -- no longer are there massive legions to feed or Imperial cities to maintain; smaller regions are figuring out what resources and manufactured goods they need, who will provide them and how they will be transported.

This period lays the foundation for all that comes after. Here, complex systems are created that have to answer these simple questions:
  • Who are we?
  • What do we need to survive?
  • How do we make what we need? If we can’t make it, how do we get it?
  • What do we want in addition to what we need (and how do we make/get it)?
  • How do we all work together to make that happen?

So, with that in mind, there are a few things to consider. First off, many early communities throughout Northern Europe (in Denmark, Germany and the Low Countries) continued a millennia-old way of life based on mobile settlements, which either packed up and moved along every generation or two, or that gradually shifted their boundaries, and moved, amoeba-like, around their territory. This had been common from the Bronze Age through the Roman Age and, although it was going out of style and the movements decreased in frequency, it continued even into Late Antiquity. The point being, that these people would be breaking new ground.

Secondly, even later in the medieval period, as populations increased, many villages expanded, either by adding new fields to their properties, or by creating dependant communities nearby. Often this new arable land was made from land thought inferior and not worth the trouble only a generation or two before. While these people are more likely to have access to plows and iron tools, it is worth keeping in mind.

Also, my experience is probably special, in that my backyard is completely free from tree roots or any thick vegetation. I can only assume that was was removed a century ago as the neighborhood was forming on the, then, outskirts of the city of Everett. I have noticed a thin layer of charcoal just above a layer of clay about a foot under the current level of the soil. There have also been small pieces of charred wood down there. A forested area would certainly require a mattock or axe to deal with roots.

So, yes. While the Medieval farmer might not have needed to hack into virgin soil very often, when he did he would need (or be greatly aided by) metal tools.