Bringing the Late Iron Age to Life

Persona Story

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Tilling – by hand

Tilling up a new plot for growing another grain doesn’t get any easier. With the big rocks moved out of the way, you still have to break up the ground and try to remove the weeds. Mind you, this particular section of ground isn’t all that big – maybe ten feet by five feet – but trust me, you will feel it. I can only get to this piece of land in the early evening, after an already full day; and I can tell that I’m not as young as I used to be. My left shoulder, in particular, is already angry with me and letting me know that maybe I pushed it just a bit too far. I only managed to get about two feet by ten feet tilled, and I can tell the difference from one end of the plot to the other. Somehow, the soil at the farther end (nearest an old tree stump) is more hard-packed than at the other end of the plot (where it is nice and rich). This northern end is going to require more tender loving care – and cow manure – than the southern end. But, even though it takes me a few days to get it done, get it done I will. I just wish I could get my hands on a couple more Tamworth piglets – to get after the roots of the brambles I’ve come across. But, they would introduce their own set of problems, like keeping them penned in on that particular plot. There are no convenient rock walls, and currently, there is no fence up; just the corner posts marking out the area.

The work goes on. Oh, once the ground is ready for planting, I will be planting a new crop – buckwheat. Once that is ready for harvest, the plants will be tilled under and the rye will go in (with some red clover). Then, hopefully by mid-autumn, I will be able to plant the barley I’ve been waiting on!

Time flies as seasons change

They say that time and tide wait for no man. Nowhere is that more true than when you are wanting to get a whole slew of projects done before the weather turns for the seasons.

In this instance, getting all the trees taken down was the easy part. The point where I didn’t delegate enough time in my schedule, was in getting the trunks moved so that the wood could dry and season out of the weather. It really is a case of “I need to remove the trees so that I can have the wood so that I can build the things where I can store the wood from the trees”. There’s just no easy way to do it, and get the land cleared to plant the new field for grain for the year. The philosophers say that it is a classic “chicken and egg” problem, with no easy solution.

As I said above, getting the trees down was no real problem. Not only did they get cut down, but the trunks were cut into roughly four foot sections. The trouble arose when my body decided that moving the tree trunks, uphill, by myself, was a foolish thing to do. So that set me back quite a bit as far as time goes. Now I have tree trunks lying about in the space where I was planning on expanding the garden – which of course can’t be done because of the tree trunks lying about on the ground. If only I could get them to walk themselves up the hill and into the shelter so they can cure. The smaller trees were no problem, or rather, were not much of a problem to move on my own. Sure their lengths were a bit awkward (some were almost nine feet if they were an inch), but they were manageable. It’s just the larger trees (with their denser wood) that have proven themselves to be difficult. I’m still mulling over the idea of letting a few woodworkers I know of that I have available some tree trunks they might be interested in – if they come get them and maybe give me a bench or stool or two in return.

Happy Harvest Home – or Mabon

(Some modern thoughts): Today, the Wheel turns and we enter the time of darkness. Today marks the Autumnal Equinox – the mid-point of Autumn when the days are now becoming shorter than the nights and the colors become more vibrant. Perhaps, because the Autumnal changes are more evident now, that is why people have come to believe that the Equinox is the beginning of Autumn, instead of it being the mid-point. Lughnasadh was the celebration of the first harvests (and opened the Door to Autumn), Mabon is the middle harvest celebration, leaving Samhain as the final harvest celebration and the opening of the Door to Winter (first day of Winter). Seeing as how most modern people are no longer connected to the cycles of the seasons – with all their attendant chores, it’s easy to see how the confusion was generated.

Anyway, my garden experiment was, shall we say, a bit less than successful this year. While I had quite a few things sprout and grow, there was just too much shade for them to all bear fruit. I did manage to get a handful of beans – not enough to really use in cooking, so they’ll hopefully become the seed stock for next year’s trial. Where I had a number of squash blooms, I only had one (1!) squash – and something from underground got to it before I could. The worst part is that it wasn’t fully ripe (or even full-grown) before they decided to taste test it and figure that it wasn’t yet good to eat. So, I am letting it go. Maybe it will mature enough (even off the vine) that the seeds will sprout for next year, but I’m not holding my breath.

So, later this autumn, I will be culling about seven or eight trees of various types: box elder (bloody weed tree), catalpa/catawba trees, and black walnut. I’m leaving the black locust tree, as it is fully mature with a height of about 90 feet. A bit big for me to tackle myself. With luck, this will open up the slope (even with the house built into the west end of the property) so that I will have a better harvest next year.

(Back to in-persona): Today is the Equinox, according to the elders. Now starts the dark time of year and we have to make sure that all preparations for the winter months are well underway. There is really no time for much in the way of celebration, since there is so much work to do around the broch and settlement. With luck, we can get the rest of the barley and oats harvested, and the hay put under cover – so long as the rains hold off. We were told that our wheat wouldn’t make it, since the winds have too much saltiness to them (and the season is too short, even with planting early), and the naysayers were right. So our wheat experimental crop did not turn out at all.

There is also making sure that all the roofs are in good order so that the wind driven rains and snows later, don’t cause any sicknesses with the animals that we’ll be over-wintering (or that the humans here don’t come down with any fevers as well!). I need to also go out and see if there’s anything left in the hedges worth harvesting. I’m hoping to find some late season herbs that can be used to bring some flavor to the pottage, as well as can be added to my cures. Must make sure my stores are ready for winter!

Preparing a field

This post is going to be a bit of a mix between what I think my persona would do in the 4th/5th century versus what is considered common practice today – at least for backyard gardeners/farmers.

4th/5th Century Practice

Today I tethered the goats out in the field I want to start getting cleared for planting. I made sure to overlap their areas, but not too much. I’ll keep an eye on them during the day, while I’m out working another section. I can’t let them loose, because, well, I haven’t had a chance to get the walls built up enough to prevent them from straying into areas I don’t want them eating down to stubble. So, tying them out it is. They have easy access to water and shade(should they feel the need, the little dears), even on their tethers. I figure a few hours a day should get the vegetation cleared down pretty well. Once the goats have pretty much cleared out the majority of the vegetation, I’ll turn the pigs out into the same field and let them root around to their hearts’ content. That should hopefully get all (or at least a majority) of the bramble roots out. They’ll also be churning up the ground for me, making it easier to get at the more stubborn roots. Once that all is done, then I can get in there with my hoe and shovel, taking care of the last little bits and then, finally drag a few bramble branches across, to even out the ground a bit. Then I can finally sow my seeds!! Drag the branches across one more time to cover the seeds. Then I can let the field rest and let Mother nature do her thing.

Of course, I’ll make sure to give the proper offerings to the Goddesses and Gods to help make sure I have a bountiful harvest.

Modernly

I have to get the mower out and down to the bottom of the yard (onto the flat section). At this point, I’m going to have to start with it fairly high to start with – simply because of the burgeoning growth that the early rains and mild winter have ‘blessed’ us with. After that initial mowing (more like bush-hogging), then I’ll reset the mower blade lower and go in for the kill, so to speak.

Future cereal plot

Future cereal plot

One thing that has been recommended, in order to control weeds, is to cover the area chosen with clear plastic (2 – 4mil), once the vegetation has been reduced to no more than about an inch high. They (being my local Soil and Water Conservancy District personnel) say to use clear plastic instead of black plastic because the black plastic will absorb the heat and not transfer enough of it to the ground – to raise the soil temperature to 145°F – 150°F to a depth of a few (IIRC, six or so) inches. This will ‘cook off’ any weed seeds that may be buried in the soil. Now, me being me, I have to wonder about the soil life that is living in this ‘to be covered area’. Will they have enough of a chance to move out of harms’ way, or will they end up getting cooked, too? Things that I wonder about.

*chuckle* I wish I could have a couple of goats and some pigs, but since I live in town this is not possible.

Research to flesh out my experiments

Farming in the First Millennium AD: British Agriculture Between Julius Caesar and William the ConquerorFarming in the First Millennium AD: British Agriculture Between Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror by Peter Fowler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In order to understand a culture, fully, one needs to understand how that culture developed. The most basic way to gain this understanding, is to start at the beginning of that culture or society. Agriculture is one of our most basic endeavors. Without the ability to raise (or gather) food, our culture and society would have died out millennia ago.

The first five chapters of this book lays out the framework for the study of agrarian history. We are given a glimpse into the beginnings of this fairly young field of study. We are also presented with the various forms of evidence. In this case, mostly two: archaeological and historical (written records) for the development of agrarian technologies. From there, the author goes on to discuss the changes in landscape wrought by human civilization, the changes in farming technologies, the various crops and livestock, and how various land allotments developed by and into laws.

Overall, once I came to understand the how and why of his methods of presentation, I found this book to be not only very informative, but quite an enjoyable read as well.

Now to plunder his bibliography. 🙂

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