“Beans are sowed 4 modii to the iugerum, wheat 5, barley 6, spelt 10, the amount being a little more or less in some localities; more being sowed on rich ground and less on thin.”
– Cato, De Agricultura
Here, Cato gives us the numbers we need to plant beans, wheat, barley and spelt. It’s important for us to get numbers from the ancients because they were farming as most of us small farms do: by hand. Modern farmers may use smaller quantities of seed because they’re using a $90,000 John Deere seeder to plant. Who cares what the modern farmer uses? Those numbers have nothing to do with our small farm(s).
To understand what Cato prescribes, we need to convert his units into our own.
1. The MODIUS is a peck, which equals about 2 gallons. Since wheat seed is always measured by volume (in bushels) or by weight (in pounds), we should make it clear that 1 modius = 1/4 bushel or 15lbs. So, a 60lb. bushel bag of wheat seed contains 4 modii of seed.
2. The IUGERUM is 28,800 sq. ft., which is 120’x140′. The planting fields I use on my farm are set up to measure 1 iugerum each.
Thus, Cato suggests (in modern terms) that wheat be seeded by hand (broadcast) at a rate of about 100 lbs. per acre. Thus, if you have 1 acre to be seeded, can divided it into 10 sections and use 10lbs of seed to evenly cover the area.
Once sown, the wheat should be covered so that (ideally) it lies 1-2″ under the surface, in tight contact with the soil. Thus sown and covered, the wheat should germinate and be visible in 7 days.
Today, I planted just over 1 iugerum using a simple Earthway handheld spreader to help spread the seed more evenly. We’ll see how Cato’s seed rates do in a few weeks…