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Crops

The early Anglo Saxon period saw a significant change in cereal production with the widespread adoption of free-threshing wheat (Triticum aestivum) in place of spelt which was generally cultivated during the Roman period (and earlier from the Iron Age onwards.) Barley was also a major crop; evidence for the cultivation of oats is ambiguous but it was probably grown along with beans, peas and flax. It appears that little rye was grown. Excavated corn driers in the chalk downlands indicate that crops were grown as follows:

Crop Early Roman % Late Roman % Mid Saxon %
Wheat 35 78 56
Oats 3 2 7
Barley 62 19 34
Rye 0 0 1

As we have seen, wheat production rose during the late Roman period to provide bread for the Roman “well to do” at the expense of barley; the arrival of the Anglo Saxons saw a partial return to barley at the expense of wheat (barley was planted as a winter crop made possible because the mouldboard plough could prepare the ground for winter sowing.)  Oats were always a fringe crop in this area; Rye was hardly grown at all.

Trials at Butser Ancient Farm have shown that ancient straw was of variable height but could be up to 2 metres long; the average height of modern straw 40 cm. Straw was used to feed stock, for thatching and as bedding material for both humans and animals.  Cabbages, peas, parsnips and carrots were common vegetables; while blackberries, apples and raspberries were the most common fruits.