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First ploughing of a piece of land

Ploughing land that had never been previously worked is linked to periods of need for new land that could coincide with economic crises resulting in the ruralisation phenomena, in other words, people returning to rural areas and the growing need for land by the people living there, periods of demographic growth when new land needed to be ploughed for the growing number of mouths to be fed, and even in times of plenty when the need for land was to increase revenue from greater yields.

Even though the interest in clearing and ploughing land reclaimed from the forest to use it as arable land increased tremendously in the 18th century given the population growth, particularly in Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia, that trend also occurred in the 20th century as can be seen from the following descriptions.

Ploughing scrubland or woodland

The first task was to remove the undergrowth, cut down the trees and pull out the stumps. The plant remains were usually burnt and the ash used as fertilizer.

Ploughing pastureland

Land was occasionally ploughed up that had previously been used to produce pasturage. The land had sometimes been used for crops then left as pastureland.

Arable land

Preparation of the cultivated land

Sowing or planting the different crops requires a series of operations outlined below:

– Ploughing, irauli. Cleaning the land or clearing (uzkaldu in Uhartehiri-BN) to remove the remains of the previous harvest, by moving the land using ploughs goldiak, pulled by cows or oxen or by a team led by horses as reinforcement on more difficult land, along with harrows, aria, blades and hoes. Tractors are used nowadays.

– Trilling or breaking up the soil using a simple bunch of bramble branches tied first with a rope, then using a harrow (aria, ahia, basarria with curved teeth and rotating axles)[1], or with wooden mallets or stone (alperra) and even wooden (bonbila, bonbilla) rollers in uplands, and planks in lowlands (ohola) (its action is called planking in Fitero-N) or interwoven sticks (hesija or hesia) on which stones were placed to improve the action with their weight, and even using combined rollers as in Gipuzka, and nowadays, using rotary harrows. In Sara (L), this operation is called harrotu, followed by flattening (arratu, lurra txeakatzeko) the land.

– Selecting and disinfecting seeds (in the case of cereal). The best and largest seeds were first chosen, which were sieved to separate the dead grains. The second step, in the case of wheat, involved soaking the seeds in lime, sulphur or sulphate dissolved in water, and then moving them around with wooden paddles[2].

– Sowing, gereiñ, scattering the seed in the case of cereal or placing it by hand in previously indicated spots (corn, beans) or in furrows made for the purpose with markers, markak, and separated by variable distances (six paces for cereal), which meant that several turns were needed when ploughing the land before sowing.

– Fertilising. Animal manure and the waste formed during the winter was collected and piled up until it was spread with the help of a four-pronged pitchfork (fuxina in the Northern Basque Country) at the beginning of May over the fields where the corn would be grown, an operation that was called ongarria eman (throwing muck on the land) in Sara (L).

– Weeding, jorratu, to remove the weeds, using weeders in the form of hoes, diggers or iron hooks, with a small curved blade, sharpened on the outside and perpendicular to the handle, and with a short stump.

– Irrigating. Irrigated crops needed an extra step consisting of setting up a framework of pipes and sprinklers which takes place when the plant is still in the early stages of grown, in around June, in order to start the watering.

– Harvesting and cleaning the crop, threshing as necessary, transporting, storage, etc.


Fertilising is fundamental to keep the soil fertile. In the past, animal manure was commonly used for that purpose[3]. Down through the decades, mineral and synthetic fertilisers grew in importance and their use became widespread and has only recently been limited by their cost.

Use of ash

There have been two sources of the ash used in the vegetable gardens and on arable land: either from the hearth of the home, which was kept in appropriate containers and then tipped on the earth, or from piling up plant remains in the area where they were grown and then burning them and spreading out their ash.


Lime was used extensively in the past to correct the cultivated land and thus compensate the tendency to be acidic, a tendency heightened by the leaching caused by the frequent rain in the Atlantic area and the soil that was already acidic.

There are frequent records of this in Sara (L), where lime was often used to fertilise the fields in the 19th century. However, it fell into disuse from the start of the 20th century and the premises of the many lime merchants to be found here are now abandoned and in ruins. The few locals who still used lime to fertilise their land, when Barandiaran conducted this survey (1940-50) bought it from a quarry and lime merchant in Ainhoa.

The lime was produced by the people who were going to use it or at best by local people plying that trade.

Artisan lime production fell into disuse and is currently industrially produced using oil derivates for combustion, which hugely facilitates its production. The kilns which were so important in the past for the labourers have been abandoned and nowadays lie derelict and taken over by undergrowth (Elgoibar-G).

  1. The narria was a simple platform with spikes underneath. The grada was made out of metal and had several teeth.
  2. In the 18th century, according to Anes’s information on Gipuzkoa, the seeds were mixed with lime – to protect it against grass insects and other small animals of the farm’s microfauna a–, or soaked in boiling water to speed up the germination, and then sown. G. ANES. “Tradición rural y cambio en la España del siglo XVIII” in La economía española al final del Antiguo Régimen. Tomo I. Agricultura. Madrid: 1982, pp. XVII-XLV, quoted by José Carlos ENRÍQUEZ; Arantza GOGEASCOECHEA “Agricultura tradicional en la vertiente norte del País Vasco: prácticas productivas y organización ecológica familiar” in Lurralde: No. 18 (1995) pp. 245-256. Available from: http://www.ingeba.org/lurralde/lurra-net/lur18/ enriq18/18enriq.htm. Acceso: 22/04/2014.
  3. The production of manure in the barns was discussed in an earlier volume of the Ethnographic Atlas, the one on Livestock Farming and Shepherding in the Basque Country. Bilbao: Etniker Euskalerria; Eusko Jaurlaritza; Government of Navarre, pp. 230-233.