The Expansion Of Cereal Cultivation

Abbot Vitulo's description of his presura is an adequate illustration of the implantation of a Mediterranean agricultural regime, based on the cultivation of cereal grains and grapevines, in an area which since the early eighth century had been, where inhabited, largely an extension of mountain herding economy. Such a phenomenon involved a number of cultural processes, including the migration to the mountains of plainsmen used to a Mediterranean diet; the learning by mountaineers of a new kind of agriculture, with the consequent readjustment of dietary tastes and habits; the role of Mozarabs in transmitting such information; technological innovations permitting such a large-scale transfer of agrarian regimes -- all of which are poorly documented and only dimly understood. In broad outline, the movement can be characterized by a steady replacement in a southward direction of wood- and grazing-lands, by cereal and vine cultivation, whose pace and rhythm (increasing dramatically in the tenth century in Catalonia, the eleventh in the Duero Valley) was determined by the generally upward movement of population.(96)

Grain was transformed into food by means of water power, and the building of the water mill is perhaps the best documented and most reliable indicator of the diffusion and intensification of cereal growing. There is a plenitude of documentation attesting to the building of mills in the Cantabrian and Pyrenean mountains in the ninth century and all over Christian Spain in the tenth. Both Muslims and Christians understood this technology (see Chapter 7). The profusion of tenth-century documents relating to the alienation of shares in mills (they were built by collectivities of free peasants, when not by monasteries or lay lords) demonstrates the progressive spread of cereal production in substitution of meadows and woodland in León and in Old Castile, in the vicinity of [93] Burgos. The mention of clusters of mills (such as three in Nájera acquired by the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla in 1038) indicates the expansion of cereal production in a given regional focus. The documentation increases in the eleventh century and falls off in the twelfth, indicating that expansion of cereal production north of the Duero had slowed down or stopped. Mills were especially typical features of the Catalan landscape, and profuse documentation exists from the ninth century on; again in an area where cereal production was particularly intensive, as in the plain of Barcelona in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, mills tended to be clustered together, built in lines along the rivers.(97)

Generally the center and east of Old Castile and much of the Leonese plain were good wheat lands. Cereal production expanded there steadily throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries when population pressure in some areas of Castile even forced the conversion of vineyards and flax fields into wheat.(98) Cereals were grown on open fields under a cultivation system called año y vez, meaning that a field was planted to wheat one year and left fallow the next. In many areas no rotation was practiced, but in others a two-course rotation appeared when organized fallowing became an economic necessity. The advantage of a two-course rotation was that local herds could be grazed on half of the fields annually, a stratagem that was unnecessary as long as there was abundant uncultivated land (monte). In areas where local herding was particularly strong, a further adaptation was made in the form of cultivo al tercio, which freed more space for fallow grazing. Given the summer aridity and the continued use of the light Roman plow, it was never feasible to introduce the northern European three-course rotation, with a spring sowing; the. only way to increase wheat cultivation was by extending the arable land at the expense of pasture and woodland and, later, even of vineyards and irrigated fields. The increasing trend away from local towards transhumant herding -- also an effect of increased use of land for agriculture -- heightened the dependence of cultivators upon fallowing, to make up for the loss of local sources of fertilizer.(99) Yields were accordingly very low, from 3.4 to 4.2 to 1, for wheat and barley (thirteenth-century figures from Silos, which compare unfavorably to the normal northern European yield of 1:5 for wheat and 1:8 for barley).(100)

Wheat was rich people's food. In the Poema de Fernán González the count is offered barley bread by a monk who had none of wheat to [94] provide. The usual poor man's bread was of rye or comuña, which was wheat and rye mixed. Lords could determine production allocation among the different cereals by demanding payment of dues in kind of wheat and barley in varying ratios. Thus in the sandy soils of the Galician littoral, where rye grows better than wheat, wheat cultivation still gained (with accordingly low yields) because the lords demanded it.(101)

Grain was not only grown for human consumption but also was harvested green for forage, particularly for stabled animals. These herrenales (ferraginers in Catalonia) were typically enclosed and for the use of individual proprietors. Oats were rarely grown before 1000, but increased dramatically in production in Catalonia in the first half of the eleventh century. Another important fodder was the turnip, which made a great impact in Galicia in the late thirteenth century when its cultivation permitted a substantial reduction in fallowing. The climatic situation there made a genuine rotation system possible: winter corn was harvested in the summer; then turnips were planted and harvested in the spring; then spring corn (barley and millet) was planted and the cycle repeated itself every two years.(102)

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