I'm the DM for a D&D campaign, set in a sort of "realistic-fantasy" setting. There's monsters and magic and stuff, but there's not enough of that for the average medieval community to see much more than the odd zombie attack or passing griffin.

Last session, one of the PCs came into possession of a large manor, which covers 2000 acres of good farmland, 500 acres of meadowland, and a nearby woodland that they have permission to harvest timber and the like from.

I was wondering if someone can help me figure out the yields of the following crops per acre; bear in mind, this would be medieval European technology, toward the later end of the High Middle Ages, specifically. Geographically, the region is similar to Maryland, Delaware or New Jersey.

  • wheat
  • barley
  • oats
  • rye
  • maize (see note)
  • peanuts (see note)
  • potatoes (see note)
  • flax
  • hemp
  • wild walnuts (kinda mixed in with the forest)

I've decided to include peanuts, maize, and a few other new-world nightshade crops (e.g. tomatoes and potatoes) in the world for flavor, and so that the peoples inhabiting more southerly climates could still rotate in a pulse crop of some kind (i.e. peanuts) during the growing season instead of wasting a third of their cropland letting it go fallow.

Also, for the grains that can do it, I'd also like to include an increased yield for the winter planting (e.g. planting in October vs. planting in March).

Problem is, Google has been supremely useless in finding a satisfying answer to this question, it's only interested in modern yields.

Edited to provide additional clarity, and to remove dice discussion.

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    $\begingroup$ You need to look at the work of Norman Borlaug, the man who saved much of the world from starvation. Tied to his story are the yields from older crop varieties. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Sep 27 '19 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ I notice he's a 20th century scientist. I'm working with late Medieval, early Renaissance technology and techniques here, so I'm not really sure how much his work would help. I'll have a look though. $\endgroup$ – Horik Sep 27 '19 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Google worked for me from the first try. Here is Bruce M. S. Campbell's medieval crop yield database. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 27 '19 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Size of family-owned medieval farm? $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Sep 28 '19 at 5:32
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    $\begingroup$ Well sheesh, for 500 points I'll write something up after Rosh Hashana if no one else has. It's right in line with the research I've already done and will do for my novel, plus I'm involved in organic farming communities. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 29 '19 at 20:28

I am not an expert but I did find a few things. Everything I found is about grains, specifically wheat, rye, barley, and oats. I tried to find things on the other plants you asked about, but could not find anything I deemed of use. I don't know if what I found will be of any use, but here it is:

The most common means of calculating yield was the number of seeds harvested compared to the number of seeds planted. On several manors in Sussex England, for example, the average yield for the years 1350–1399 was 4.34 seeds produced for each seed sown for wheat, 4.01 for barley, and 2.87 for oats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_the_Middle_Ages#Fields

The average yield of an acre of farming in the Middle Ages was eight to nine bushels of grain (291-327 Liters). http://www.thefinertimes.com/Middle-Ages/farming-in-the-middle-ages.html

Rye = seven-fold render (7 bushels on one acre) (629 Liters per Hectare); does better in poor soil Wheat = 5-fold render (5 bu/acre) (435 Liters/Hectare) in poor soils.. https://www.ibiblio.org/london/agriculture/general/1/msg00070.html

For more info on grain planting: http://www.fao.org/3/y5146e/y5146e07.htm

  • They knew that wheat would yield 250 to 300 liters of grain per acre -
  • Barley would bring 700-720 liters per acre. (The higher yield for barley was partially the nature of the plant, plus the fact that you put 72 liters of seed into each acre of wheat and 144 liters per acre of barley.)
  • Oats yielded 360-400 liters an acre, for 108 liters of seed.
  • Peas, an important diet supplement and protein source, gave 300-340 liters per acre, for 108 liters of seed.
  • Flax and hemp was also grown, to provide raw material for linen and rope.

Depending on the nature of the land, the size of the farmers holdings, local weather conditions, and drinking habits, about half the land would be sown in barley.
In ale drinking areas (most of England and large parts of France), barley would be needed for making ale.
Barley was also a more productive grain, even though it produced a less tasty meal than wheat.
A third (or more) of the land would be planted in wheat. The remainder would go for peas and oats.

Grain yields of slightly under four times seed grain sown were the norm until the 18th century.(So take your yield and divide by four of under)
There, another burst of innovation brought productivity to ten times seed sown.. In the 20th century, this rose to twenty times. http://www.hundredyearswar.com/Books/History/Agricult.htm

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  • $\begingroup$ How much is a bushel, and how many seeds does one plant per acre (on average)? $\endgroup$ – A Lambent Eye Oct 2 '19 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushel Bushel info/w links. $\endgroup$ – A Writer Oct 2 '19 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ Added more into actual post $\endgroup$ – A Writer Oct 2 '19 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a whole bunch, that pretty much answers everything except for the peanuts, but I hadn't really expected to get much on that. Is there any information on how many bushels of flax you could get per acre (or even better, how much linen cloth per acre of flax)? $\endgroup$ – Horik Oct 2 '19 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know how much this will help, but I found this: One pound of flax seed will plant about 300-400 square feet. homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/… $\endgroup$ – A Writer Oct 2 '19 at 20:42

Potatoes are a total game changers.

"Many researchers believe that the potato’s arrival in northern Europe spelled an end to famine there" according to a piece in the Smithsonian*. It is even argued that the far greater productivity gave rise to the age of empires.

If you have the climate - like Ireland - you can get rid of the labor-intensive business of cerial cultivation and get all your carbohydrate from something that it easy to grow, easy to harvest, requires little preparation (none of that threshing and grinding and baking - just boil 20 mins). Like the Irish, your people could live on just potatoes far, far more easily than cereals.

Organic farming - no modern pesiticdes etc -can yield over 10 tons an acre, which blows wheat (3 tons an acre) out of the water. This requires just two hundredweight of seeds, so yield is a factor of 100 which is awesome compared to seed. When a head of wheat gets too heavy, the plant topples; when a potato crop grows well, you get big potatoes.

England had 17 major famines in the century after 1623, but after the potato was introduced famine all but disappeared. Obviously total reliance can lead to total disaster when potato blight strikes.

This depends completely on having high-yield varieties available...but then the same is true of wheat anmd other crops.

This is a good 1920s source which reckons you can plants less than 10 bushels per acre and get more than 200 back -- https://smallfarmersjournal.com/how-to-grow-an-acre-of-potatoes/

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  • $\begingroup$ In this setting, the climate of the players' manor is analagous Maryland, Delaware or New Jersey: coastal and fairly humid. Geographically, it's bordered to the north by a marsh/swamp and by a forest to the south (dominated by oaks and pines, but there's walnuts, beeches and other such trees mixed in. I'm not really sure how well potatoes handle that climate. I know here in south Louisiana, potatoes just won't grow any tubers, though the plants seem to do fine. $\endgroup$ – Horik Oct 2 '19 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ It clearly can be done in NJ, not necessarily economically in the modern era, medieval is different -- sustainable-farming.rutgers.edu/growing-potatoes-nj $\endgroup$ – David Hambling Oct 2 '19 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ I came here to say this. The potato basically was responsible for a population boom. And it was totally disastrous when it failed. Hence the potato famine. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Oct 3 '19 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ The big advantage of grains is storage, wheat and barley can be easily stored for years, whereas potatoes are lucky to last months without extreme measures. As a landowner it also makes it much much easier to feed an army with grains. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 3 '19 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, since weight and volume don't really work that well for a comparison, I'm wondering which of the two has a superior calories per acre figure? Sounds like potatoes considering the population boom they're responsible for, but depending on climate wheat might be the better option. It's certainly better in terms of supplying troops on campaign, etc. EDIT: Quick google, potatoes give you 17.8 million calories per acre, while wheat only gets you 6.4 million. I suspect these figures are modern, but stands to reason potatoes would still far outstrip wheat. $\endgroup$ – Horik Oct 4 '19 at 1:15

If your players are just trying to figure out their profit that's a bit easier than crop yields.

Throughout D&D systems, land was valued at the profit it could produce in a 5 year period. Typically farmland is valued at 50 gp/acre, meadow land is similar. So 2500 acres x 50 gp / 5 years is 25,000 gp/year or 68.5 gp/day.

(note that this is the profit and it's assumed that the upkeep costs are built into the evaluation of the profit)

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  • $\begingroup$ do you have a source for this? $\endgroup$ – John Oct 3 '19 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ watermark.dmsguild.com/… $\endgroup$ – Mathaddict Oct 3 '19 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ That is a broken link, but dm guild is usually third party. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 3 '19 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I'm not really interested in the default rules. They're not realistic enough for my taste, and there's no randomness involved. I'm also using the £-/-d system (where 1gp = 1/, and £1 is one pound of pure silver), so that would put us somewhere around £1250 per year. Actually, that's pretty near to what English earls would've made in the 1300s; my source puts them between £400 and £11,000 per year. Still, my party likes the realism aspect, and varying crop yields season to season would help to keep them entertained. $\endgroup$ – Horik Oct 4 '19 at 1:21

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