The earliest field systems in Ireland date from between 4000-2500 BC.
Little is known for sure of the agricultural practices of the Irish Iron Age (600BC to 400AD), as there is a distinct lack of evidence that dates to this period. From what little information we can gather, it seems that fields were cultivated by either ploughing, using oxen to pull the plough, or possible by digging with spades, picks and hoes. All crops were sown by hand and then raked over to cover the seed.
A wide range of crops were cultivated for food, medicines and industrial uses.
Cereals and Grains
Several varieties of cereal crops were grown. Wheat types such as spelt, along with rye and barley were grown for bread. Barley could also be harvested for use in soups and broths, or malted for the brewing of beer. Oats were grown as useful crop in poorer soil.
Vegetable crops of primitive varieties of peas, beans and cabbage (kale type) were grown, while wild garlic and watercress may have
been foraged from the countryside.
The main plants that were grown for the
production of colour dyes were;
Woad - Blue dye, Madder Root - Red dye and Weld
- Yellow dye.
Other dyes could be extracted from selected tree barks, leaves and oak galls.
Flax was grown for its fibre which was retted (controlled rotting) to soften and separate the fibrous core of the plant from the outer layer. This was then spun into linen thread and woven into linen fabric for clothing. The seed could also have been pressed to get linseed oil.
A wide range of herbs grew wild in Ireland and were cultivated both as food, to flavour food and as medicines. Herbs could be preserved and stored for use all year round.