Nitrogen acquisition by field pea (Pisum sativum L.) and spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) grown on a sandy loam soil and availability of N in three subsequent sequences of a cropping system were studied in an outdoor pot experiment. The effect of crop residues on the N availability was evaluated using N-15-labelled residues. Field pea fixed 75% of its N requirement and the N-2 fixation almost balanced the N removed with the seeds. The barley crop recovered 80% of the N-15-labelled fertilizer N supplied and the N in the barley grain corresponded to 80% of the fertilizer N taken up by the crop. The uptake of soil-derived N by a test crop (N catch crop) of white mustard (Sinapis alba L.) grown in the autumn was higher after pea than after barley. The N uptake in the test crop was reduced by 27% and 34% after pea and barley residue incorporation, respectively, probably due to N immobilization. The dry matter production and total N uptake of a spring barley crop following pea or barley, with a period of unplanted soil in the autumn/winter, were significantly higher after pea than after barley. The barley crop following pea and barley recovered 11% of the pea and 8% of the barley residue N. The pea and barley residue N recovered constituted only 2.5% and <1%, respectively, of total N in the N-fertilized barley. The total N uptake in a test crop of mustard grown in the second autumn following pea and barley cultivation was not significantly influenced by pre-precrop and residue treatment. In the short term, the incorporation of crop residues was not important in terms of contributing N to the subsequent crop compared to soil and fertilizer N sources, but residues improved the conservation of soil N in the autumn. In the long-term, crop residues are an important factor in maintaining soil fertility and supplying plant-available N via mineralization.