Soil preparation at the Open-Air Laboratory Lauresham (Germany)

After dealing with wheat in general and seeds in particular, we would like to present to you for the next six weeks in our blog specifically how the individual participating growers have prepared the seedbed for wheat sowing. In this respect, the epoch-dependent and geographical differences become particularly clear and the learning effect for all participants is correspondingly great.

The Open-Air Laboratory Lauresham, an Archaeological Open-Air Museum (Southern Germany) focusing on the Early Middle Ages (500-1050 AD), marks the beginning of the introductions.

Areal of the manorial site with agricultural fields in the backround. Picture taken in 2015 (C. Seitz)

The arable land of the Open-Air Laboratory is located just under 100 m above sea level (NHN). It is a light sandy clay and the field form as such belongs to the so-called "ridge and furrows", which can be identified since the Early Middle Ages and which are mainly characterized by a turning of the soil always towards the center of the field and a resulting arching of the field surface. This soil turning requires the use of a moldboard plow or, more precisely, a plow with an asymmetrical plow share, mouldboard and coulter. Compared to the usually lighter constructed ards, the increased draft force had to be compensated by a correspondingly adapted use of more powerful or more draft animals. Basically, in the Early Middle Ages, all heavy agricultural work was still done exclusively with cattle. Horses, apart from the much lighter harrowing, still played a subordinate role in agriculture until the emergence of the collar.

Plowing with a team of oxen in the so called "Stuttgarter Bilderpsalter", 9th century AD. Picture: Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart

Archaeozoological sources reveal that Early Medieval cattle were relatively small, so that the choice of the cattle breed in the Open-Air Laboratory Lauresham with the Raetian Grey Cattle, originating from Switzerland, also fell on a very small cattle breed.

In the Middle Ages, the cattle were harnessed in different ways; however, according to archaeological and historical sources, the withers and neck double yoke was dominanthe Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory, a more modern type of harness is used for heavy agricultural work such as plowing for reasons of animal welfare, namely the adjustable three-pad collar.

Adjustable, modern tree-pad collar at the Open-Air Laboratory

At the time of project launch, the planned wheat field was a mowed fallow, which had last been completely plowed in the spring of 2021. The coverage of the plot was low; there was no closed grass cover at last. Accordingly, the sod development during the actual plowing process was also not particularly distinctive. The plow used was an ideal (re)construction of a heavy mouldboard plow with front carriage.

The (re)constructed mouldboard plow used for the plowing

With an average tractive force of about 1.8 kilonewtons, plowing was only possible with two oxen, and even the two old and heavy oxen of the Open-Air Laboratory were only able to plow the 0.2-acre plot in two work segments of 1.5 hours each. Plowing finally took place on September 22nd and 23rd under ideal weather conditions and a soil saturation level of 45%. The average furrow depth was 11-13 cm.

After plowing, a wooden harrow, trapezoidal and following an early medieval find, was used to further comminute the sods and remove weeds on Sept. 24 and 29 (Fig. 5/video). This work was carried out alternately with a single ox or with a team of cows. In each case, two rounds of harrowing were carried out on the field. The last round was carried out on the day of sowing on October 11th.