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The people of ancient Egypt grew everything they needed to eat.
The pharaoh got the rich peasants to do the farm work on the rich lands.
Most villagers were farmers. Farmers lived in towns too, along with craftworkers, traders and other workers and their families.
Egyptians grew crops such as wheat, barley, vegetables, figs, melons, pomegranates and vines. They also grew flax which was made into linen.
The most important crop was grain. The ancient Egyptians used grain to make bread, porridge and beer. Grain was the first crop they grew after inundation (flooding season). Once the grain was harvested, they grew vegetables such as onions, leeks, cabbages, beans, cucumbers and lettuce.
Farmers planted fruit trees and vines along paths, to give shade as well as fruit.
The Egyptians grew their crops along the banks of the River Nile on the rich black soil, or kemet which was left behind after the yearly floods. The fertile soil was ideal to grow healthy crops.
Egyptian farmers divided their year into three seasons, based on the cycles of the Nile River:
Akhet - the inundation (June-September): The Flooding Season.
No farming was done at this time, as all the fields were flooded. Instead, many farmers worked for the pharaoh (king), building pyramids or temples. Some of the time was spent mending their tools and looking after animals.
Peret (October-February): The Growing Season.
In October the floodwaters receded, leaving behind a layer of rich, black soil. This fertile soil was then ploughed and seeded.
Shemu (March-May): The Harvesting Season.
The fully grown crops had to be cut down (harvested) and removed before the Nile flooded again. It was also the time to repair the canals ready for the next flood.
The main farming seasons were the:
- growing season
- harvest season.
In the growing season all the crops were planted. The harvest season was the time when crops were cut and gathered.
Reapers cut the ripe corn with wooden sickles edged with sharp flints. Women and children followed behind the reapers to collect any fallen ears of corn. Cattle were used to trampled over the cut corn to remove the grain from the ears. Then the grain was tossed into the air so the breeze blew the light useless chaff away.
Read more about harvesting
Every June, the Nile flooded. This was known as the flooding season. During this time the farmers would mend tools or make new ones. People would go fishing for food or extra money.
Ancient Egyptians had simple farming tools such as winnowing scoops, hoes, rakes, flint-bladed sickles and ploughs.
They had both hand ploughs and ones pulled by oxen. The ploughs were used to turn the soil.
Wall painting of a hand plough
Another piece of equipment used by farmers was the Shaduf. See further down the page.
The majority of the tools were made entirely out of wood, or a combination of wood and stone, however, some copper tools have also been found, indiscating that they had some metal tools too.
Once the floods receded and the fields dried, the plants would wither and die. The mud that the Nile left behind needed lots of watering in the hot sun. The ancient Egyptians tried to trap as much flood water as possible, so they did not have to constantly get water from the river.
They built mud-brick reservoirs to trap and hold the water. They also had a network of irrigation canals that filled with water during the flood and were refilled from the reservoirs.
To lift the water from the canal they used a shaduf. A shaduf is a large pole balanced on a crossbeam, a rope and bucket on one end and a heavy counter weight at the other. By pulling the rope it lowered the bucket into the canal. The farmer then raised the bucket of water by pulling down on the weight. He then swung the pole around and emptied the bucket onto the field.
Wall painting of a shaduff
|Shaduf (shadoof) is a machine to move water from a lower place to a higher place.
Animals were very important to Egyptian farmers. Animals helped them with jobs like trampling in the seeds, pulling the plough, eating unwanted grain or wheat and providing the Egyptians with food and drink. They kept animals such as cattle, goats, pigs, ducks, cows, and geese.
Peasants also hunted for antelope in the desert beyond the hills and fishing in the Nile.