Just as the villa and manor were typical agricultural units of Western Europe during the Middle Ages, so also were the openfield and two- and three-field systems characteristic methods of cultivation during this period. If Tacitus (Section I, document 2) is to be believed, the Germans divided both arable and meadow land into strips or patches, which were annually redistributed. Yearly reapportionment of tilled land was gradually abandoned, however, so that this practice only persisted into the manorial period in the case of meadow land. Thus the villagers' holdings of strips of arable land became permanent and hereditary. The fields necessarily were open or unfenced because a villager's holdings were scattered strips, requiring movement from one strip to another.
During the course of the Middle Ages there also developed the practice of dividing the land of the village into two fields, one to lie fallow while the other was cultivated. The origin of the medieval two-field system is obscure, but it is probable that the three-field system is an outgrowth of it, merely involving as it does the addition of another field and an intermediate crop. In France, Germany, and England both the two- and three-field systems were in common use at the height of the Middle Ages.
Farm implements were crude and received little improvement. Another handicap to efficiency was that the fertility of soil tended to deteriorate because of inadequate use of fertilizers. The common ignorance of nitrogen-fixing legumes also had serious consequences -- the waste of fallow land every second or third year; limitation on numbers of livestock; and loss of soil fertility.
Farming on both the lord's demesne and the virgates of freemen and serfs was apparently done on a co-operative basis. For plough-