Agriculture in the Ukrainian Carpathians

agricultural ukrainian carpathiansIn general, Ukrainian people with centuries created high agricultural culture that became property of many nations.

The oldest and most common crop is spring and winter wheat. It was the main crop in the Transcarpathian lowland. The second place was occupied by rye, the main crop of the Carpathians. In the late 17th century maize was imported to the territory of Ukraine from America. At first it was grown as a vegetable crop, and in the second half of the 19th century more lands in Transcarpathia were allocated for its sowing. In ancient times oat was most sowed in the Carpathians in contrast to the other territories of Ukraine. Potatoes were planted in rows; the holes were dug in hoed soil by using a spade so that the bushes grew at a distance in an arshine from each other.

Two-field cultivation system existed in the Carpathians during the middle Ages. All fields are divided into two parts; one was left for pasture, and another one was sown with different crops. Somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains a slash and burn system of cultivation remained almost to the end of the 19th century. In the mountains the farmers cut down small forests in autumn after ending the fieldworks, and burned it in spring; then this area was sown by rye and hoed. After gathering rye, they uprooted the stumps, manured and ploughed the fields.

Peasants’ land plots almost never were concentrated in one area; they are divided into several fields, and in each of them the plots are cut to the separate farms. The farmers know very well characteristics of each piece of their land, special features of the plough tools and their capabilities.

Tillage was predominantly a man’s job. Women were engaged only in a vegetable garden. The farmers ploughed in two ways: they began to plough from the bound to the centre or conversely from the centre to the bound.

The beginning of the harvest was celebrated with the peculiar festivity. A festive dinner was prepared. The first cut stems were kept in the house in order for the masters to live happy. The mown corn was tied into the sheaves. Then these sheaves were put together into five bigger sheaves, and towards evening – into crosses or “polukipok” (thirty sheaves). In the Carpathians because of often rains the sheaves were hung on a pyramid composed of three two-meter long gnarled poles for drying.

Also in the Ukrainian Carpathians flax and hemp were grown. Their processing required a troublesome work. Hemp and flax were pulled in autumn, and after ripening the seeds they were tied. After drying the seeds were removed by threshing or beating out. When the seeds were removed flax and hemp were retted being laid in a thin layer on a meadow. Hemp was dried by the fire in a special dryer. After drying flax and hemp were scutched that meant the sheave was separated from the fibre using a wooden brake. Two types of brakes were used: a flax-brake and a swingle. Separation of the sheave from the fibre was held in the following order: a handful of flax or hemp was divided into the parts which were broken, beaten, then braked and rubbed. After pre-treatment working the fibres were scutched on a crest and hackled by a brush.

Tools for soil cultivation

A plough was used for soil mellowing and was the most common at that time. It could have one tooth or more teeth. Also the iron and wooden hoes were used for mellowing soil and digging potatoes.

Facilities for food processing

Water mills were often used in the Carpathians for milling grain; they were placed on the fast mountain rivers. Usually these mills were used as the driving force in wood processing (sawmills). Most often the stationary mills could be found, where water fell from the dam on the buckets mounted on the wheels and set in motion the entire mechanism.

Livestock breeding

In the Carpathians livestock breeding was most intensively developed. It had specific forms which arose and developed over time. The place where livestock grazed was called “voliar”. For example the sheep were in the separate herds called a flock and such herd could number up a thousand heads. The easiest work was looking after the pigs. They were herded in the Carpathians beech forests where they were fed with acorns and seeds. The horses in the herd grazed throughout the day, even at night, and they were “hobbled” in order not to flee.

Livestock in the Carpathians was always grazed on the mountain valleys where hay was never mowed. All livestock was grazed together, while often each farmer fed his cows apart on his plot of the field. The villagers elected a main shepherd which hired other shepherds for various kinds of livestock.
Livestock pens, cotes and folds, and also dwelling for the shepherds and cowherds called “kolyba” or “staia” were built on the mountain valleys. Such a herd house had a pantry, where various provisions, kitchen utensils and cheese brynza were kept. In the living part the fire was located which was kept up throughout the summer.

Livestock was guarded from wild animals by the dogs. Food for the shepherds was prepared by the main herd. On the first day the main herd milked livestock measuring the total milk yield that every farmer should receive during the season. Determined quantity of milk was indicated on a stick, which was split in two parts, one half was left for the main herd, and another half was given to the owner of livestock. The stick was called “ravash”. Its marks were the basis for payment with the peasants. On the Carpathian mountain valleys brynza was made.

The careful breeding of young animals was a main feature of livestock raising. So the calves born in winter were always kept in the house until they grew up. Stocking up hay for winter was one of the most important works. Haymaking times in the Carpathians began in the second half of July. In winter livestock was fed in the order formed in result of the centuries-old experience. In winter cattle were fed with straw, hay and dry chaff three times a day. The cows with calves were often isolated from the joint cote and fed additionally with various mash and beets. And when the feed run short, cattle were fed twice a day. The horses were fed night and day. The sheep were fed 4-5 times a day.


In Transcarpathia stone fruit trees were grown. In the forest areas transferring the wild forest species of apple and pear was practiced, later these wild trees were cultivated by grafting the desirable sorts.

In the mountains the peasants were short of arable land that’s why a garden was both a vegetable garden and a hayfield, and if grass grew in the garden the farmers sometimes dug round the tree in width of the crown.


Transport and routs

Transport and routs are exceptionally important in society’s life. A sledge is one of the oldest means of transport. A drag harrow was its prototype, and was remained in the early 20th century throughout the Carpathians. Pack transport was main transport in the mountains. Goods were transported in the saddle bags.

Folk economic calendar

An agricultural calendar appeared in the Carpathians in ancient times. It was guidelines for peoples’ practical activity. The calendar generalized experience of folk wisdom, it was produced as a result of the ancient observations after natural phenomena (warming, falling of temperature, snow, rain, frost, fog, etc.) on which the progress of the work widely depended.

An economic year was divided into separate seasons; moreover each branch had separate seasons. The beginning of the folk agricultural calendar was defined with a period when grain harvesting ended and preparation for the new agricultural year began.

In early September winter crops were sown. When all field works were ended women turned to another work – they spun, wove, sewed, and men harvested firewood and threshed grain. For young people the time of so called “vechornytsi” began. There were traditional gatherings with music, songs, jokes and rituals. The name is derived from the Ukrainian word for evening. Most clearly a new agricultural year appeared between the 21st of November and the 4th of December, it was a period of nature observing, when people tried to make the forecast for the whole year. Since the 8th of January weddings began. Generally the weddings were often in winter and autumn, when people were free from the required work. In late winter the farmers exposed grain into frost because they knew that frosted grain gave a greater harvest. In addition, grain was moistened before sowing in order it to sprout. It was recommended to sow oat and barley in early March, and only then wheat was sown. On Midsummer people “cleared” themselves from the evil harmful forces with “water and fire” trying to help their activities with the magical powers. After the Peter and Paul day harvest started.

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