III. CROP DISTRIBUTION AND ROTATION. FARMING YEAR
This first section considers a series of popular beliefs to do with crops, specifically, about the most appropriate time to sow or plant and the influences attributed to the moon phases. The sayings in the regard are in the Appendix. The first section regarding the most appropriate times to do with the crops is considered in greater detail in the point on the farming year.
Influence of the moon
In the past, there was the belief, which still exists today, that much of the farming to do with crops had to be carried out at certain points of the moon cycles.
The best time to plant the majority of seeds is during the waning moon. The seedbeds for lettuce, leeks and other leafy vegetables must be prepared at the time of the waning moon so that once the seedlings have been planted out, they do not shoot up, in other words, they do not flower and are useless as food. When plants bought in the market shoot up, it is usually attributed to the seedbeds having been prepared under a "bad moon".
Once the seedlings are ready, they are also transplanted during the waning moon for the same reason.
Crop distribution in the different types of fields
The different species grown were usually distributed according to the different types of soil. Thus, plants to be used as livestock feed or to be sold on to supply other farmers were grown on larger plots of land and further away from the farmstead or village, while the vegetables that were an important part of the diet of the members of the farmstead were grown in vegetable garden closer, and if possible next to, the home and, in general, were smaller.
Crop rotation was standard practice in the past and the aim was to keep the land fertile or at least not to exhaust it to the point of getting poor yields.
It involved not growing the same crop in succession on a piece of land to avoid exhausting the soil, even more so in the case of species known to have important nutritional requirements. This was an even greater concern when the arable land was less productive and when there was little animal manure available to re-establish its fertility.
The names of the months in Basque clearly refer to the main farming tasks: sowing, weeding and harvesting. Several authors have written on this topic. Some examples are included
The Basque calendar year reflects the different farming tasks, as explained by Barandiaran and Caro Baroja:
– Azaroa, azilla, November, the month of sowing, or gorotzilla (L), the month of fertiliser or manure.
– Lotazilla, month of germination, December, or of winter par excellence, negilla. Pig slaughter time. Along with January and February, it was the time to work the flax (crushing, retting, raking and spinning).
– Ilbeltza is the black month, January; or of the year, urtarrilla; or of ice, izotzilla.
– Otsailla, February, is the month of the wolf.
– Epailla, is March, the month of pruning (ebaki) the vines and plants in general.
– Jorrailla, April, is the month to weed crops such as wheat and rye, as well to sow millet.
– Orrilla, ostoilla, May, is the month of leaves.
– Garagarrilla (Gipuzkoa and High Navarre dialects), the month of barley, and bagilla (B), the month of broad beans, which is June.
– Garrilla, July, the month of wheat or the harvest in general, uztailla, uzta. The month of weeding the corn and making hay for winter.
– Agorrilla, August, is the time of drought. Corn was sowed at the end of the month.
– Garoilla or irailla, September, is the month of the fern, or head, buruilla, as the year began to be calculated in some parts from here. The April millet was harvested.
– Bildilla, October, is the month to harvest the corn and fruit (apples, chestnuts), and was also called urrilla as it was time to gather the hazelnuts; or lastailla, month of the straw. Ploughing begins after the harvest.
Care was just not taken when choosing the seeds, but also with storing them correctly to preserve their germination capacity. And not only from one year to another, but during a longer period if possible, as more seeds were kept from each crop than were needed as a precaution. Thus if that crop failed that year and not enough was produced to save seeds or that was defective, the stored reserve guaranteed the crop could be sowed the following year. The sowing could also fail and it would therefore have to be repeated, which meant extra seeds were needed.
Preparing seeds for sowing
Wheat seeds were prepared before sowing to prevent the fungal disease known as wheat rust. That preparation was usually known as liming.
Nowadays, seeds are usually bought from grain stockists and are already prepared and ready for sowing. The stockists clean, disinfect and lime the seeds at their stores. Half a century ago, the workers were in charge of liming particularly the wheat at the grain stores of their farmsteads. They used cooper sulphate (blue in colour) that was bought as a stone and was crushed using a mallet. The cooper sulphate was also used to treat vines against mildew. The sulphate powder was dissolved in water and then heated. The product was then poured over the wheat and sometimes it was swirled around. That was usually only done to wheat and was carried out on the evening before and even in the early hours of the morning before going to sow the field.
Preparing seedbeds or sowings
Even though there were seeds that are planted directly in the soil where the plants will complete their life cycle, they sometimes need to be sowed in a seedbed, in favourable and controlled conditions to germinate. The seedlings obtained are then transplanted where the crop is to grow.
- José Miguel de BARANDIARAN. Curso monográfico de Etnología Vasca. Edición M.ª Amor BEGUIRISTAIN. Ataún (Gipuzkoa): 2000, p. 50. The texts were dictated between 1973 and 1974.