"....... We Wasted a Day of Sunlight!"

This year, for the first time I have attempted to grow a meaningful amount of my own food, at least enough to store during the winter and supplement (hopefully) fewer trips to the grocery store. I planted 38(!) heirloom tomato plants, which has proven to be a few too many. I literally have had days with bushel baskets of tomatoes. Some go to friends, many are dried, many are partially cooked in a solar oven, then frozen. This post is not about tomatoes or solar ovens, but about paradigm shifts and tipping points. It relates to a comment my Dad made.

First some background:

I go out in the morning and pick whatever tomatoes are ripe. On sunny days, I wash and core the tomatoes, then quarter them. In July, I wrote a post here about the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, where I bought a Solar SOS oven. I really like it, and use it most days either to cook a snack or blanche/prepare some produce for storage. It can get to about 225 degrees and about 275 if you use the solar reflectors (not shown here)

I then put the tomatoes in the pot, put a little olive oil on them and some oregano and italian seasoning, close the lid of the solar oven, point it towards the sun and rotate clockwise 30 degrees, and leave to do whatever else is on my agenda for the day.

Several hours later (or as little as 2 hours), I return to juicy delicious tomato concoction, which I can eat with bread or such right then.

But lately, I've been dumping the contents in freezer bags and throwing them in my (energy star) freezer, to remind me of summer during the long Wisconsin winter. But heres the moral of this story.

My father is one of my favorite people, though politically and economically he hits it pretty straight down the fairway. He's a peak oil agnostic - though he does believe that oil is finite, he doesn't think there will be meaningful supply problems in his lifetime (on this we disagree). He is a nature lover, and very knowledgeable about the natural world, though I suspect this is related to the deer and ducks he shoots. He has always been a very hard worker - even if nothing really needs 'doing' he will find a 'project' of some sort to occupy his time, usually outdoors.

Though Ive thought Ive gotten under his skin the past year or so - warning of peak oil, explaining how dependent our system is on liquid fuels, articulating how fragile the food transport economy is, etc., perhaps there have been positive externalities from these talks. He helped me build a decent sized garden this year, and we have been storing (and eating) from the garden for the past few months.

(Punchline)Yesterday I was too busy to go use the solar oven. At about 3 in the afternoon my father returned from some various outdoor chores and inquired 'Whats in the solar oven today, Nat?" I told him I had forgotten to put anything in it - that I was too busy. His reply, (the title of this post), was a vehement "What?!! You've wasted a day of sunlight!!" And you could tell from his expression that he actually felt this as a 'loss'. (It's possible he was thinking that we'd now need to use the oven, which would cost money in KwH, as opposed to free sunlight)

After the initial shock and some chuckling, I thought a bit about this. My father is old school. For him to think in terms of 'energy' as a currency to pay attention to, is important. He is not in the peak oil crowd, but just a normal guy pursuing his lot. It gave me renewed confidence in our collective ability to change, when I heard those terms meaningfully spoken, from someone who has worked hard his entire life but never viewed 'sunlight' as something of value.

Today's societal metric of success is pecuniary bigger and better stuff. This metric was not one created overnight. Our world has been morphed by a collection of baby steps, too small to notice day by day, but quite significant when they accumulate over decades. So too, will the world of our children be created by such small steps. The change to a biophysical economy will also be a long process. To me, being chastised by my Dad that I wasted a day of sunlight, is a baby step in the right direction.

Im not suggesting that everyone be farmers. But to change small aspects of our lives to be more in sync with natural systems is an improvement in our demand infrastructure that will add up over time. These ‘food chores’ may appear wasteful to an economist. My time, knowledge and experience should be able to provide more societal utility that would translate to monetary value for me and more resources to society as a whole via my comparative advantage. Indeed, the amount of money I could make in the time it took me to procure one batch of tomatoes would probably be enough for me to have dried heirloom tomatoes to my door by federal express. But I a)enjoy spending my time this way, b)eat healthier unprocessed food, c)have more opportunity to create social capital with neighbors and d)have less opportunity to spend my time consuming other stuff...

Had my Dad not been traveling today, perhaps he would have told me I wasted a day of rain...;)

My father is 87 and still strong – especially in mind. He has clear memories back to his maternal grandfather (born 1861) and the way of life they had, and then his father through World War I, and of course what my parents went through at school, during the Depression (which hit Australia extremely hard too), World War II, and the raising of their family through the 50s and 60s boom.

He is part of the Greatest Generation, and he is not that unusual (well in some ways he is exceptional, not just through longevity) in his broad range of skills, independence, knowledge, but above all, his sense of community and a belief in a social good. He also dragged himself out of the working class, and now lives in old age quite comfortably with my mother. But they have never retreated to a individualism that is the dominant theme today – they are curious and interested in the world, and in old-fashioned values such as self-responsibility, justice, equality, and fairness.

We occasionally have long talks about the way the world has changed – at all sorts of levels. He is a total believer in Peak Oil, but equally, just about Peak Everything. The world may change incrementally, but by some measures the world has changed at lightning speed during his lifetime (1920 – ). He is a guy who can still use a wide range of beautiful hand tools, but is also quite au fait with the Internet – and everything in between.

He bemoans (as I do) the destruction of community caused by the motor car – and while he acknowledges the enormous freedom mass car ownership has afforded, he is very critical of the neglect of public transport, and the spread of suburban sprawl outwards from every city. Along with the neglect of public transport, there has been a major change in his mind – a neglect of the commonweal on just about every level.

He reserves his greatest criticisms for wars – especially resource wars. His (our) whole family has been dramatically affected by war – over many generations – and his strong anti-Vietnam stances were almost career-threatening at the time (he was a life long schoolteacher and then college lecturer). His greatest contribution to his small circle has been his long-standing resistance to mindless consumerism, and he and my mother both quietly shake their heads watching the rampant spending of their grandchildren, and all their friends.

They see the wealth these young people enjoy, but understand intuitively (and to some extent analytically) that it is simply not sustainable for very long. They are aware that the massive paradigm shifts will occur after their lifetime, but in some ways it is ironic. If the world did change dramatically while they were alive – it is in fact their generation that would clearly be best equipped to deal with it. Much better than my cohort (baby boomers), and certainly more than the iPod, plasma screen, jet-setting younger generation. Interesting – and scary – times indeed.

The APEC Summit concluded in Sydney on Sunday – and energy issues were virtually absent, despite the presence of Australia (as host), USA, China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so on. It is as if the whole world cannot emerge from the denial – to do so publicly would bring it all down in ways that are too unpredictable to be allowable.

Us seniors recall when the world was not so crowded.

Especially with lawyers.

We're trying to do something about the lawyer overpopulation.



Legally, of course.


Read The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton. Written in the mid 1600s, it was one of the first books for the popular press. Long diatribe against lawyers in there (along with some great fishing lore.)

Excellent post.

The rot of unaccoutable fiat takes time to control the mind.


Cargill is a heavy duty name in Ag.

I have been reading about peak oil for several years now. I was really scared about it for a while. This spring I decided that the best response to peak oil that I could execute personally would be to start a garden. I read "The New Organic Gardener" and started the garden as a crazy project.

Low and behold, my whole family got excited about it. Everybody planted their patch of the garden and we had a huge crop and cooked it all up. We had an enormous amount of food and the yields were great. We pickled and preserved some and ate the rest. Getting my family into the habit of caring for the soil and growing and preserving foods will be good in case we ever need to grow our own food for real.

I want to put in a cistern that we can use to catch rain water for gravity driven irrigation next. Have any of you guys done so? Do you have any recommendations?

Here's a note from a related application. Just put in a pond w/ 10-ft of head above a new garden spot and have been investigating drip irrigation techniques. Most commercial systems require 10psi (or approx. 23-ft head) to operate as designed. So . . . low head applications require a different approach. I'm headed towards 2" diam. siphon line from pond into undetermined diam. distribution lines.

I work alot with gravity systems. For surface water and drip, I've never had much luck. Cleanest surface water always has some sediment, which clog emitters within a season, even at 28 psi in my experience. Need a good filter. Another problem I've had is bacterial deposits clogging emitters. That black head in the sun is a perfect incubator at times. Chlorine drip? Not worth it. I use large emitters for trees, but in my opinion, the constant checking of emitters and risk of losing a young tree in the orchard is not worth it. Easier to dump 5 gallon buckets.

Low head is a problem. At about 20 feet of head, (never checked the gauge for psi) I've had luck with lightweight 1/2 inch thread plastic impact sprinklers on pasture. I run 1 1/2 poly for a mainline, then 2 1 inch laterals, trying to keep cost down. You should lower friction losses with your 2 inch. Also had luck with 2 3/4 inch head brass nozzles on each end. 1/2 inch brass, esp rainbird, I've never had much luck with. They just are too tight to spin properly. The biggest thing is keeping any air out of the lines.

For low pressure sprayers take a look at 'wobblers'.

At 10 psi they will throw a 24' - 30' circle of water and throw nice large drops that aren't blown about by the breeze.

I've been using them for a few years and am quite happy with them.



Seems to me that going to 2" water line is going overboard. Unless you have a long run or are moving a lot of water it just doesn't seem necessary (or effective).

Check a micro hydro site for psi loss calculations.


For a low cost drip system visit a local restaurant/bakery and get some (usually) free five gallon buckets. Drill a hole or two just above the bottom, set them beside a tree and fill with the hose.

The water will flow out slowly and get absorbed rather than running off. And you'll have some idea of how much you gave the tree.

I agree with your thoughts on 2 inch. On another gravity system I also use 1 1/2 for mainline, probably up to 600 feet on 30 to 50 feet of head, depending on lateral location.

As I recall, frictional losses between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 are about double, worth the pipe cost.

Another line, though, at 1800 feet and wanting 15+ gpm, was worth the money for 2 inch.

Wobble link looks interesting, any problem with clogging? You using their 1/2 line and tubing? What is your water source? I tried years back a homemade system w/o emitters where I just cut tubing to length to get a desired flow. Had clogging problems with it on pond water, running about about 25 psi on lateral.

Thanks for the thought, but I don't have 10psi but rather 10ft of head. Much different energy gradient. Many more options become available at 10psi, such as the one you suggest.

My calcs are showing approx. 24gpm after losses for my 2" PVC trunk line. Intended application is 4000SF vegetable garden, so I'm thinking I could use all of that after I try to branch down a number of rows.

24 gpm on 4000 ft is one heck of alot of water. Might as well just go furrow flood.

As I haven't done this yet the feedback is interesting. Thanks.

By my calcs 24gpm on 4000sf work out to just over 1.5hrs to apply a uniform inch of water. I was thinking this was just about right, but you're saying this is too much?

24 gpm, about 5 garden hoses on full, can give you real erosion problems unless it's really spread out. Tubing would require a maze to cover 4000SF.

Furrow irrigation is the choice among growers with flat land and plenty of water, which you appear to have. It's quite effective, having complete field saturation, as opposed to overhead which tends to overwater certain areas while leaving others drier. It works best after the crop is established, as it often can destroy seedlings. Any slope and you are liable to get gullies.

If you are limited to 3 or 4 psi, and wish to conserve water, I suggest a small gas water transfer pump, assuming the pond is too far from electric power. They usually will run a couple hundred. Like a chainsaw, the few liters of fuel it would consume are quite worthwhile in operating sprinkler or drip systems. Perhaps there are now reasonably priced solar pump systems you might find.

If your pond is just established, you might wish to wait a year to get a handle on its seal and evaporative losses. That could point you in a different direction, with some pond evaporative losses exceeding an inch/day.

Thank you very much for the advice, it's much appreciated. Would you have any particular reference sources for irrigation practices? Email address? I have a yahoo email account under the name 'onewoodturkey'.

If you get enough rain to make it worthwhile, you don't need irrigation. A rain catchment that supplies all your indoor needs is easy. Irrigation requires too much water.


I haven`t escaped from reality. I have a daypass.

Actually you only wasted two hours less of sunlight than you usually waste. Still much better than me and most of the developed world's residents. Today, American's will probably waste about 250 million days of sunlight (or person days or sunlight). Same tomorrow. This is great reminder of how society does have a huge numbers of options for more efficient use of energy resources. They just never occured to us when energy was cheap and easy.

Not I, said the Rat. Made about 7 KW today.

Might as well tie fathers and tomatoes together.
Back when I was about 7 years old, living in Bakersfield, there was a vacant field behind our house, and a tool rental place on the other side. There were some volunteer tomatoes in the field, so my brother and I figured we would entertain ourselves by throwing tomatoes at the tool rental back wall. Unfortunately, somebody recognized The Flying Rat Brothers, , and Dad had to end up washing it off.
I'm not sure what the punishment was, beyond a spanking, which I know we got. It wasn't nearly as memorable as watching him clean the wall, so it was either bearable, or so bad it has been completely blacked out. Bad Rat.

Shouldn't wasted sunlight be measured in TxM^2 (hours * area)?


Your father follows an old American tradition of discovery.


That is a great letter. Benjamin Franklin is someone I definitely would have liked to meet. (almost as much as Charles Darwin)

I thought your key-post as initially presented (at least to me) was rather lean, and even truncated. I quite liked it - leaving it to the reader to fill in all the gaps relating to the tomato-cooking process and discussions with your father. It is now much more normal-looking of course.

That is too funny. I had just started to write this post and PG apparently had it on 'autopost' to automatically be frontpaged at 5 MST. I didnt even know about it until I came home, then took it down and finished it.

You raise an interesting point. We are all used to the same social routines, and we notice when things are out of place. You actually LIKED something out of place.

Another baby step...;)

I admire all your hard work!

Have you found a way to process and store tomatoes that doesn't involve using a freezer? It seems like the energy used in keeping them frozen might offset the savings from the sun cooker.

well theres canning of course, which Ive done a bit of but am not an expert at. The freezer actually doesnt use too much energy - about $25 per year currently. But you raise a good point - I am not an energy efficiency poster boy by any stretch. Im sure I still use way more than the average american. But Im trying to use less not because I should but because I want to.

Great Story and it touches my heart. 30+ plants and you won't have to ever buy tomatoes. I've been doing this since a kid, and I highly recommend a pressure canner. We've been using the same jars for over 30 years with less than 1% yearly bottle fatalities. The rings are good forever if you wash them quickly (acid from the 'maters will pit them), but you have to shell out for lids.
Your freezer sounds pretty efficient, but if you really want to save energy, ignore the pre-treatment and just toss raw tomatoes in a bag and freeze them directly. The texture goes straight to hell, but for soups and sauces it makes no difference. When you're ready to use them, poor a little boiling water (left over from the morning coffe prep) and the skins slip right off; chop them while they are still frozen and you don't have to clean up the juice from the countertop.
The other great thing about pressure canning tomatoes is that their acidity can help preserve other veggies that you might have to worry about--beans and summer squash in particular. Botulism can thrive at neutral pH and low osmolarity, but a nice sauce of tomatoes and salt and no problem.
Keep it up and drive another nail in the coffin of store-bought tomatoes.

two comments:

1)I was under impression that tomatoes and other veggies had to be heated (blanched) a bit before freezing to stop the 'growth enzyme' otherwise they would rot during storage?

2)if youve grown tomatoes your whole life, you will know what I mean when I say, I just cant buy a store bought tomato anymore - they taste like cardboard. Seriously - I don't think I ever will (unless Im starving of course)

veggies had to be heated (blanched) a bit before freezing

blanching seems to slow up color changes.

If you want to get a pressure cooker - I suggest supporting a "local" https://store.wafco.com/ezmerchant/home.nsf business and buy "All American"

(Personally I bought my 41 quart unit because its this unit
http://www.autoclave-parts.com/z-all-american/1941X-main.html w/out the #4 part and a whole lot cheaper!)

Canning tomatoes is not that hard - their acidity makes them less susceptible to contamination than a lot of other foods. I usually can a few dozen each year - there is quite a joy in walking down to the basement on a cold February, and opening up a jar of late summer.

My tomatoes are from the local market - there is a period of two or three weeks where the stores just can't handle the bounty of tomatoes coming in. They are at their peak, (no pun), and perfect for canning.

Half a steel drum, a propane stove (both borrowed from Italian neighbours), and mason jars are all I need. A good book on canning food in general is putting food by.

Right. Acidic foods such as tomatoes don't require a pressure cooker. You can can quite nicely in a hot water bath.

I make up big pots of spaghetti sauce (sans meat) in the late summer, toss in a lot of extra garden veggies (zucchini, eggplant, carrots, onions, etc.). I simmer until really tasty and then have my own "Ragu" ready to roll when the snows come.

Also tomatoes dry well. I've got a gas stove with a pilot light so I just halve the paste tomatoes and spread on cookie sheets in the oven for a few hours.

Outside in the hot sun works well also. Cover with some screen wire to keep the bugs off. If you're worried about your dried tomatoes not keeping well just pack them down in a jar and cover with olive oil.

I like the pressure cooker merely because it is fast! Propane burner in the back yard and 16 pints are done in minutes! (I do the boiling trick as well--especially for apricots and peaches--pressure destroys the texture)

Canning is also a relatively high energy process. It preceded what we are doing today, but it was relatively new then. It requires lots of glass jars (which can be recycled) and lids. While it is a useful technique, I think we need to be finding ways of preserving food that are not so technology-dependent. Thus, I think we need to be thinking about learning to dry food - "sun dried tomatoes" for example.

By the way, after trying some tomato plants here in Georgia last year and failing, I didn't even try this year. It seems like we need to be learning to grow plants that are adapted to our local environment, and tomatoes are definitely not adapted to the Georgia climate. Here, we need to water tomatoes almost every day. Also, the native soil is not very good for tomatoes - we need to use purchased "garden soil" and quite a bit of fertilizer. This doesn't sound very sustainable to me.

Last year, back when infinite postings and other of back of envelope posters were in abundance, I tried to get a energy comparison of home rangetop canning vs home freezing for a year. Could someone take a reasonable stab at it this year?

Hi Doug , this doesn't directly speak to your question but I think that a reasonable storage in mason Jars can last for about 10 years whereas freezing is usually regarded as one year then dump (though some things will stand up better than others). Right now, for instance, I think we have a surplus of canned jam which takes up two large shelves and should last us over 5 years and I am thinking of talking to the local market to see if they can take some fruit. I would also think that you could also bring into that energy comparison what you personally save in energy by freezing rather than canning. Small amounts of stuff that I am going to use within a year I would freeze as not only is it less time consuming but keeps vitamin content better.

BTW a handy household hint: when canning, the method described of using a hot bath to sterilize jars before filling is better done by steaming in a covered pot for a minute or two, great energy and time saving that way.

CR- Canned vs frozen, can is supposed to be longer life, though some of my meats and cider have stayed frozen years-stews or sauce doesn't show much difference.

We run 3 large chest deep freezes for our food, plus canning, root cellar, some fruit dried. Beans and veggies, even beets, seem better froze. Some fruits, like cherries and peaches, seem to taste better canned, tho maybe it is conditioning. What I'm curious about is the energy. Most freezing calls for 3 minute blanc, then cool. Then freeze. Given my kwh charge, I can compute the energy in the deep freeze system for a gallon of green beans at say 6 mos. What gets me is figuring the energy for boiling stovetop-depends on batch size, loss of energy around pan, etc, and with canning, trying to figure energy for canning involves size of canner-say 5 qt jars in prob 2 gal water-but then each food requires different times-what is the energy to maintain canning pressure for 30 min?

What would be nice is figures from industry also-so one could compare the efficiency. Perhaps even with food mile energy charges, industrial beats home by a long margin. It could easily be expanded to a nice top post---Nate, are you game?

As for the surplus of canned jam, a couple teenagers would knock that off in no time.

My, my Doug Fir, all that and you do 3 minute blanc as well? I see you also use a little livre de noir? I serve that with a little sauce called hot link au gratis.

My French is as poor as my Danish.

Typing I nearly flunked in high school, run on sentences I picked up later on.

I also should make more use of the pronoun we, as in my wife and I.

get manual defrost freezers as they save much energy But also preserve the food by a very significant amt. for instance 7 yr. old peaches still very good. in a defrosting freezer 6 mo. to 1 yr.

defrost manual freezers 1x per 1-3 yrs. if not in & out a lot in humidity. 3 hr. job.

nice post Nate [ is you're freezer manual defrost- i bet it is]. family ,community & food ; the spice of life & my brain took it in so much easier than most oil drum matters; not that it doesn't need the exercise!


Here's a stab (really a pointer toward possible sources of answers rather than the answer). You can probably find the answer to your specific question in the LCA Food Database.

The relevant methodology for these comparisons is "Life Cycle Analysis" - Wiki & WordPress tag

Jim Prevor's Perishable Pundit post What is 'Life Cycle Analysis'? contains a comparison of commercial frozen vs. canned green beans (canning wins by 2x). He provides the original report as a pdf

EnviroStats! also reports some LCAs under a tag. Comparing packaging is interesting.

FWIW, Life cycle assessment of farming systems in the Encyclopedia of Earth.

Thanks for the information. I finally tired of looking for the energy data in the LCA links, but then I don't read Danish, which kept popping up on me.

The pdf is good, showing commercial production, if I'm reading his flowcharts accurately, at 317 kWh per tonne green bean canning (assume 2200 lbs) canning vs 1012 kWh/tonne freezing, (.46 kWh per 1 lb package)only considering the energy for the food, not transport or packaging.

Production of steel can raises it, but wouldn't be as much a factor in reused glass jar home canning. I need to recalculate my frozen green bean estimate, not sure I can beat that, but nearly half of commercial kWh I won't see. (that attributed to processing as I use gravity spring water in daylight.) A quick and dirty estimate gave me 1.3 kWh per lb. My freezers are set in a cool basement, and shut off as they empty.

It'd be nice to see a home canning analysis, and compare it side by side with the Oregon study.

FWIW, below is the abstract of an "old" paper on the question - no numbers. Full pdf is available on-line for a fee from the journal.



Technical article no. 15865, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

ABSTRACT: Carrots, zucchini, and summer squash were processed by canning, freezing, and dehydration according to procedures used in the home. Energy used was measured and the cost of preservation was calculated with the packaging and amortized equipment cost included. Reduced ascorbic acid and carotene contents were determined within a week after processing and after 6 months of storage. Sensory quality of the processed vegetables was evaluated in less than a month after processing. The vegetables were cooked with salt added for sensory evaluation. Freezing required the shortest processing time and resulted in products with the highest sensory quality, with ratings well above minimum acceptability, and the most ascorbic acid (assuming the canned liquor is not used) and carotene. More energy (electricity) was required to process and store vegetables by freezing than by canning or dehydrating with a commercially available electric dehydrator; however, the overall cost for freezing preservation was estimated to be as low as or lower than the cost for the other two preservation methods if the freezer could be kept full. With the freezer only half-full freezing would cost more than canning or dehydration for a long term (> 6 months) storage. Canning used much less electric energy and was slightly cheaper in overall preservation cost than dehydrating with the electric dehydrator, and the canned products retained much more ascorbic acid and carotene than the dehydrated products. Nearly all ascorbic acid was lost during dehydration. The canned and dehydrated products were rated low in sensory quality, with ratings mostly below minimum acceptability.

Another on-line paper: Energy use in food processing for nutrition and development David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel

Thanks a bunch!

My impression is that by not having kids (at least, not more than one per couple) and not eating meat, your "footprint" would be vastly less than any amount of transportation/home energy conservation scheme you can devise...if that's incorrect, someone enlighten me.

I have been canning in my solar oven. There's the embedded energy of the jars and lids of course...

Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each quart of tomatoes, place in oven for a couple of hours until boiling temperature for a good while. Take out cans and turn upside down to make sure lids get really sterilized.

I often place whole tomatoes in crock pot and leave the lid off so they cook down. Makes thicker sauce. Can also run through a food mill to remove seeds and skins.

Make sure you read yourself about canning or else you can die of botulism if not done correctly.

Doing work like this enrolls just about everyone in your cause even if indirectly.


if you are so inclined...

and, erm, sorry about the ol' autopost there Nate. :)

Hey Prof,

Am sort of confused about my use of homilies should I say, " adversity makes strange bedfellows" or merely that "the devil is in the side bars"?


Nice little article, and I enjoyed the photos. Although I wasn't aware that heirloom tomatoes were the cause of Furryfoot Syndrome (FS). You really should have that looked at.

Perhaps you've awakened in your father an instinct of self-sufficiency which I suspect is dormant (and deeply, in most cases) in the Baby Boom generation. Kids these days.

BTW, growing herbs is about as easy as gardening gets. Grow your own oregano, basil, and thyme for your tomato concoction. Tip: a dash of basalmic vinegar into the mix adds a great flavor (and makes non-pressure canning more comfortable).

Perhaps you've awakened in your father an instinct of self-sufficiency which I suspect is dormant...

Doubt it. Dad missed his lunch - a very good tasting one.

Teach him to cut up a couple of tomatoes, drop them in a bowl and turn on the solar oven.

cfm in Gray, ME

A local TV show demonstrated how to make a year's
supply of pasta sauce
http://www21.sbs.com.au/vasilisgarden/index.php?pid=recipes&active_ancho... without vacuum sealing.

Bravo to you Mister Nate Hagens.

We really are all a bunch of whining hypocrites in this easy world of easy toil, energy, and of easier indebtful inductions of monetary solutions.

I have grown many a tomato on a smallscale humble effort of a few acres- selling 10 bushel at a time at the local stores and farmers markets every week.

In hindsight, my problems began when I green revolutionized my patch of dirt with fertilizer. I have disease problems now. Things were rotated well enough. Now I grow less tomatos and more broccoli. Tomatos transmit diseases through the ground more so than other plants it seems. I am not an ag engineer, I have just observed this with my own dirtpatch. I also suspect that G-M seeds has something to do with it.

I however doubt the oldschool needed a funny munny brandishing to observe what worked and what did not....And I doubt it will be the collective funny munny abilities of sumthin' fer nuthin' mentalities much beyond thee eventualities of physics of no other choice that remotely solves problems.

When I was about 8 years old in the early 70's, my papa had some off cambered schemery of producing a solar water heater...Pretty far out there for this po-dunk neck of the woods in that era. He built this rather large solar device with hopes of alleviating the fuel oil cost for heating the home. It was in the shape of a triangle. I would guess about 20'x 8' with a hollow center containing a hand molded fiberglass tank to store the water in. On the Southerly facing side of this triangulated structure was the business end of the operation....lolol. It was covered in used Anderson windowall sliding door panels, and underneath those panes of double walled glass panels were verticle strips of many water veins...The veins were made from aluminum downspouts flattened by the rear tires of our Simplicity garden tractor, and then painted black...( I can still vividly picture my father aligning the downspout sections on the cement while older brother backed over them with the lawnmower.

It worked quite well. On any sunny day it made 180 degree hot water in cold Michigan. In hindsight, the ratios of the holding tank were all wrong and, the engineering spark of my father left for more pressing concerns of supporting a wife and 3 kids. The middle kid used the unfunctioning north side of the long defunct wooden solar triangle structure to bounce tennis balls off from as to gain better baseball reflexes.

Ive got a newer plot of more fertile ground to try the tomato growing again, and I am kinda getting a burr in my ass to construct a windmill with solar collection on the rotating blades. :o)

Takecare TOD. The hope, and infinity of the human world is always making mistakes. And yet the persistence to carry on learns from them.

Tomatoes are weeds. Weed being defined as any plant my wife can't kill by cultivating it. We don't have a problem with too many tomatoes. My golden retriever eats them off the vine when they are ripe.


I haven`t escaped from reality. I have a daypass.

Your father sounds like a very cool man, with a perspective that could only come from living through the momentous events that have transpired during his long life so far. And I'm glad you're open to receive that message despite the frustrations he may express with you over your messages to him about the changes that peak oil will bring.

It also sounds like you could use a solar dehydrator. They are easy to construct, and could remedy your vegetable and fruit over-abundance easily, and provide you with plenty during your long winter months. I do my share of canning and freezing, but nothing beats the sun for long-term preservation. And some fruits (e.g. peppers and tomatoes) actually taste better after dehydration.

The whole discussion of home gardening brings out a bit of mixed memories for me....

My grandfather lived in what to this day would have to be viewed as the most "complete collapse" proof place I have ever seen to this date...

He had a creek behind him, a freshwater spring on the property, raised and killed pigs, cows, and chickens and of course harvested his own eggs, and he and my grandmother gardened and canned or root cellered such a variety of vegatables that it was like eating at restuarant.
At one time there was even a waterwheel on the creek that was used for grinding grain, and the county newspaper was printed on the farm in the early part of the 20th century using a hand press!

He had two mules and used them for work well into the 1960's as draft animals. He blacksmithed, and could work with iron, and was an excellent carpenter, building his own barn and chicken coop. I have not been able to this day to find anyone who had a lifestyle that was more "self sufficient".

Alas, he was also very poor. He had no health insurance, no retirement investments. Like most of the male members of my family, he suffered from hereditary hypertension, which went untreated his whole life until he suffered a disabling stroke in his '70's. His medical care was then provided by the state, and he had never even paid in the required 40 quarters to be eligable for social security.

There is a price to be paid for not being engaged in your own culture.

My fondest memories of home gardening were in the 1970's....when Rodale press published a newsletter called "The Cornucopia Project" predicting by the 1980's that the American agriculture transport and production system would collapse due to the coming collapse of energy availability. Many people I knew took up gardening, They bought the old "Foxfire" books, and tryed to learn to can and use root cellers.

In 1982 the oil price was what collapsed, and the "survival gardeners" became hobby gardeners, bought an SUV to be able to haul the garden supplies, and a Troy Built tiller that had more horsepower and used more fuel per acre than my granddads first tractor.

I have never seen stats done, but it is almost certain that the 1970's gardening boom cost the country more in fuel, fertilize, and money than it ever made, probably a net energy sink compared to buying store food.

But it got folks out in the sun! :-)


I've maintained that gardening or home food preservation is not a matter of money (throw all those seed co ideas that state "I saved $500 on my food bill last year)-it has to be choice because you want to do it, and for quality. We grow, butcher and preserve well in excess of half our food-fish, meat, fruits, vegetables. The time and effort is considerable, it is justified not by $, but quality and satisfaction. If these don't matter, forget it. You won't last the second weeding. I like dairy products, but not the work involved. So that is bought. OTOH, not many would go the trouble I do to raise fish. But you can't beat 4 minutes from pond to pan for freshness.

I tend to agree with your comments about the back to nature movement, with some reservations. The "back to land" movement of the 70's had their greatest energy use in promoting even longer commutes, the desire for a "country estate", the endless proliferation of gas toys to use on that estate, (half of the Deere catalog, and most of its ads, are on this line), subdivision of forest and farm, and the new green lifestyle. Live forty miles out, buy some groceries at a farmers market, and haul a 4 horse trailer with a 350 dually. The rototiller could run on the lost fumes of the other toys. And power that old tractor for several acres.



'Round here are many back to the land folks who moved to these mountains in the '70s. (I didn't make it until the '90s, when I retired.)

As far as I can tell, none made long commutes but found ways to make a living closer to home.

None drive dually(ies?), drag horse trailers, make big use of rototillers or other gas engines (chain saws, excepted).

Most make their own power via solar, wind, or hydro. Some of us use a bit of petroleum to fill in the gaps if we're not lucky enough to have enough 'green' to cover us around the calendar.

Most grow a lot of their own food. And limit their runs to town.

I suppose things might be different elsewhere. I've certainly seen a bit of that sort of "mini-ranch" attitude closer to cities.

Certainly wouldn't view any of those folks as 'back to the landers' by any means. More of pretend cowboys.


You might want to try solar canning for next year's tomatoes. I have an SOS sport and I have done lots of canning with it. It takes about 4 hours to do 2-3 quarts in the summer sun. Eleanor Shimeall's book will tell you how to do it. Cherries also are excellent canned this way.


I can't comment on the chapter in Eleanor Shimeall's book, but the linked page on solarcooking.org describes a very dangerous method of canning. Bringing the contents of a jar to a boil isn't good enough, and letting any of the contents (except steam) bubble under the lid is unwise.

But we're in complete agreement that solar canning is well worth learning how to do and an excellent application for a solar cooker. Just learn to do it safely. (Safe canning isn't difficult to do, but it requires that you hit appropriate temperatures and pressures for a specific time-period. These factors are determined by whatever is being canned and are well published.)

Some peak-oil thinkers and others (inluding, at the extreme, the survivalists among them) often express the desirability of learning to "grow your own food." This is usually framed in the context of becoming less dependent on the modern food distribution network associated with our petroleum economy. In this post, growing food is presented as beneficial to restoring social bonds that have been badly fragmented in our generation and that will become more important as the systems we take for granted come under increasing stress.

My understanding is that growing vegetables offers only an illusion of increased self-sufficiency, and social bonds could just as effectively be fostered by organizing coloring-book parties. Simply put, human beings do not need vegetables to survive. Humans evolved eating primarily animal protein and animal fat, and this is how we function over time and thrive. A diet without animal protein and animal fat leads to weakness, wasting and sickness, low birth weights, still births and, over time, bone density loss (among other ill effects).

This is why animal husbandry predates grain-based agriculture by many thousands of years - and hunting predates both by many millions (approx 6). Its based on EROEI. A vegetarian in nature would starve before he could obtain his first meal. Spending valuable calories to pick rice or grow tomatoes simply isn't worth the energy return. We moderns would be better served by learning to trap, kill and prepare birds and squirrels.

Serveral concerns here,

1) Human needs are variable. Central canadian Inuit have a taboo against plant food and eat it only in times of famine, and the large fat loaded game of the area carries enough fat that they are able to do this this. As you noted in your followup post, protien has a poor energy yield and too much lean meat will kill. On the other hand, other population eat low meat diets without problems. The famous Tarahumara running tribe subsists on a corn centered diet and eats very little meat. The point is that evolution has had plenty of time to differentiate human populations with respect to diet.

2) A meat heavy diet is resource expensive and this would further reduce the assumed carrying capacity of the earth.

3) As for your original point concerning a "false sense of security", The center of a garden based approach should heavily emphasize higher calorie foods, something like corn/potatoes/beans/other. Personally, I would also want a good fat source, maybe sunflower or pumpkin seeds. If I remember right, pumpkin seeds have a fairly balanced EFA ratio.

I, personally, function much better on a heavy meat/animal fat diet. I am concerned that in the future this will be forcibly reduced in favor of the "social good".


I agree, John; human needs are variable, and in the example you cited, the Tarahumara, even a low meat diet can sustain while a no-meat diet cannot. But the garden based approach, that is, a diet of calories obtained from starches as opposed to fats, will always lead to sickness and disease. And while we think of a meat-based diet as resource intensive, in a normal world this is not so. Most of the animals we tend to eat are grass-eaters, not (agribusiness) grain eaters. Therefor, they (and thus we) are meant to depend wholly upon the sun and the rains. Can we go back to that? I think not. But it helps to know how and to what extent neolithic/agricultural ("civilized") man, and now, petroleum man, is a distortion of our biologically appropriate diet. We certainly won't find our way back through the garden.

If you have ever seen a biomass pyramid, you would see that those animals which rely only on meat are comparatively few compared to herbivores. This is due to only approximately 10% of energy being passed on from each trophic level. A human population reliant solely on meat would be far smaller than today's population, which, as I'm sure you know, is fed by staple foods such as wheat, corn etc.

Indeed, a recent study has concluded that it was starchy foods from foraging gave humans the upper hand: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6983330.stm

People today eat far too much protein, and it is certainly worthwhile to grow food locally rather than several thousand miles away for numerous reasons - it reduces fuel use for transportation, nutrient loss from top soil (as you don't export the waste produced from the food imports back to the country of origin) and supports the local economy - which might be vital if long distance transport becomes unsustainable in the future.

Plus, of course, it's just bloody satisfying to grow something yourself.

Human needs do vary, but there are only a few amino acids which are essential (i.e. need to be obtained from an external source) - about 10 depending on age and to quote wikipedia: "All essential amino acids may be obtained from plant sources, and even strict vegetarian diets can provide all dietary requirements".

All other amino acids can be obtained from intermediates of certain biochemical cycles. The reference to Inuit seems out of place. They eat meat because, surprise, there is not much edible vegetation up in the Arctic circle, and I have no idea where you get the notion that fats are more healthy than carbohydrates, when carbohydrates can easily be converted into fats by the body itself (but not the other way around).

Bottom line, before agriculture, and waaay before intensive, oil based farming, humans were hunter gatherers who occasional had the luck to eat meat, just like chimpanzees today.

The comments on the inuit are to show the degree to which humans have adapted to various environments over time. These people are healthy and have little disease. From what I remember they have a slight degree of bone loss in old age, but little in the way of common western degenerative diseases. Saying that "people" are eating too much protien without respect to their genetic history is an overgeneralization.

Of course, simply naming two healthy populations and their diets does not prove that the two populations could not also survive in each other's environment. I'm pretty sure actually genetic evidence is available, but I don't feel like running it down right now.


...carbohydrates can easily be converted into fats by the body itself

Yes and no. There are essential fats and essential amino acids. There are no essential carbohydrates. The body does store excess energy as fats, but that does not mean it has the ability to create all the various fats we need.

It is very bad to eat more than 30% of your calories as protein. It is also bad to eat an excess of carbs - especially the simpler carbs, as this often provokes an insulin response (though this can vary from person to person far more than, say, the protein limit mentioned above). Fats are the one basic food type where there is no amount that is necessarily bad for you. A certain few types of fat are problematic in quantity (trans-fats, mostly, but also animal fats from animals fed grains - note animals raised on grass have very different fat makeup). But most fats are good for you and people can live almost exclusively on them. The same cannot be said for protein and carbs.

You acknowledge the Tahahumara example where their diet is 75-80% carb, mostly from starch, 12% fat, and meat only accounts for 6% of their protien intake; but you insist that such a diet must lead to sickness... even though they have little western disease and are some of the strongest runners in the world. I don't understand.



Hi there, while i cant find the source for this i know that i read, relatively recently too, that there is a sertain amount of variation in genetic expression in individuals that makes different foods more sutible for them to eat.
In one itteration the gentic expression produces more protienase or some similar enzyme that acts on protiens, and in the other case the individual will have a higher production of an enzyme that works on vegetative food sources.
OBviously this is a sliding scale, but individuals are geneticaly more suited to one food or another - unfortunately i believe the only way to find out is through some complex (read expensive)gene testing process.
Can anyone confirm this story please? i am fairly certain of its accuracy and appologise for not being able to be more specific.

The book 'Why Some Like it Hot' goes into the issue of genetic variations induced by dietary differences. A good read.

I think the book referred to is "Eating Right 4 Your Blood Type" , which is controversial, but does make some sense to me - based on the evolution of the 4 major blood types. O being omnivore and A primarily vegetarian - B and AB in between

coveredwagon, for most of H sapien's history, we were hunter-gatherers at best and scavenger-gatherers at worst. Most surviving hunter-gatherer cultures eat a much larger variety of foods than does "civilized" man. There are reasons for this:

1) Ya eats what ya gots. Different plant foods are available at different times of the year, or even different years. Some years you get a bumper harvest of plums, some years you get none at all. Some plant foods can be sucessfully stored with simple techologies, some not.

2) Hunting (with a few seasonal exceptions such as the salmon run or caribou migrations) is a hit or miss proposition. I can testify to this from personal experience.

Now turning to personal opinion/conjecture, it appears to me that humans have been selected to want to eat fruit (and tomatos are a fruit). Most people perceive a sweet taste to be pleasurable and think fruit looks appetizing. In fact, I think that people like seeing a cabochon ruby hanging from a chain because their subconscious sees a nice, juicy raspberry hanging from a cane and says "yipee!".

Errol in Miami

...though we would eventually succumb to "rabbit starvation" as there isn't enough fat on birds and squirrels (and rabbits) to sustain us either. Maybe we should use our grass lawns to feed goats for their milk. That might do it - if we can keep the grass growing!

I'm from Romania (that's in Eastern Europe) and I liked (and was a little bit amused) your story about gardening and cooking. Since my country is by some standards about 50 years behind in development (though I have a good internet connection, modern car and pretty much anything you can think of), the traditional ways of life are a little bit fresher in memory.
I also own a garden and I produce most fruits and vegetables for my family. Just wanted to tell you that you can very well conserve tomatoes at room temperature as tomato sauce. You can even store them for the winter already mixed with peeper and spices to have a readily available base for most any dish.
The trick is quite simple... bottle in glass bottles the squashed and sifted tomatoes (there's actually a hand tool that makes this a lot easier, though not sure it's available in developed countries anymore). Then boil the bottles in a large pot with water and that's about it. The bacteria that alters the food dies in the boiling process, cannot enter since the bottles are air tight, and the result is good for the next 2-3 years at room temperature.
The freezer has been around for the last, what, 100 years? Still, humans have lived happily even before that...

You can also store tomatoes for a while.

Storing Green Tomatoes

"1. You can pull the vines, hang them upside down
in the garage or basement and, when the fruit is ripe, pick it from
the vine. The temperature should be 55 to 65 degrees. One problem:
You'll have to clean up the dirt and tomato-vine debris later.

"2. Pick the tomatoes and refrigerate the ripe ones. The pinks can
be ripened in a ripening bowl (a large plastic-covered bowl with
holes drilled in the top). The cover traps the natural ethylene gas
and speeds up the ripening process. The air holes allow air and
moisture circulation.

"3. For long-term storage, wrap each tomato in newspaper, then place
them, no more than two or three layers deep, in open crates or
baskets. Store in a cool, dark place."

"Another storage method is to set the tomatoes on a rack without
touching. Cover with a cloth or newspaper. The temperature should be
between 55 and 60 degrees and the air a little humid, not damp.

"If you need ripe tomatoes, place those that have turned pink in a
ripening bowl or in an area with a temperature between 65 and 70

"No matter what method of storage you use, check daily for ripened
fruit and store them in the refrigerator."

From Alice Colombo's 09/21/94 "Cook's Corner" column in "The
(Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal."

Tomatoes are about all we got this year. Vine borers (getting worse over the years) took out all of our squash before they hit a reasonable size (plants and often the fruit).
I've got "boars heart" tomatoes - like San Marzano I believe ( flesh + a bit of thick jelly holding a few seeds together) - skin them, cut them in half and dry them and they're wonderful.
Our solar drier just doesn't work - our black Ford Escort Wagoon gets hotter in the sun and we keep aligning the dehydrator every hour or two to track the sun.
Our Energy Star freezer is around 50W average draw - so $45/year. Putting it into the garage would make a dent in that as it wouldn't turn on much in the fall/winter/spring.
Leeks, squash and eggplant also dry nicely and we had some great camping meals at a canoe-camping trip.
This is the best time of year to go and the time of year when the crops are flooding in.
Everbearing raspberries are just starting again.
As for canning - we're thinking of a pressure canner. The sheer amount of water/energy required for tomato canning (we usually hot-pack as that cuts the water bath time a lot - but there is much to be said for the Italian technique of draining the water and then cold-packing them in the bath; but the last thing we want in the heat of August is to have a massive pot boiling on the stove for more than an hour.
Reasonable tomatoes are available at local markets - 25lb for $8. It takes about 25lb to do a batch in a pressure canner; and that's about 3 batches in our non-pressure canner.
A pressure canner just isn't worth the money and space - but it would be great to have our co-housing community with which to share one - but the rest don't really have time the time/interest to garden much less preserve.
Are you really over the top when you wonder "my gawd - they just had a 3rd child are they freekin nuts as this world is already massively overpopulated" about friends (who then proceed to get a monster polluter to truck the family that could fit into a car)?
I think that my father would not be in the Peak Oil camp. He'd bought into the Amerikan Dream - and in a way lived it.
He had the optimism of the post WW I and II era - that we can do anything; that there are no limits ....
He came over here with nothing, started and did well with his own business and had the impression of success. Lots of trucks, cars, massive houses and toys were part of my life - along with a belief in not wasting, in growing your own and having skills to build with your own hands and have a "real" job/skill as opposed to being a paper pusher.
When I met my wife, read Your Money Or Your Life, Diet For a New Planet, Diet for a New America, Circles of Simplicity, everything came together; before I discovered Peak Oil; that consumption is destruction, that our society has been on a path downhill and that none of us really know what community is; much less it's value and that the only way forward is to live the sustainable dream - find a "good/sustainable life" that can be "exported" to all people in the world.
In my neighbourhood I can be walking to the community garden wearing a long sleeved shirt because it's cool and pass house after house with the A/C running - they're all zombies living in plastic worlds totally isolated from the real world and they're utterly, completely divorced from reality.

Here we are - the "peak" of civilization - a peak of disposable income, of power, of influence - and yet we walk a path of greed, destruction, me-first and we're sick and obese and destroying the world for our kids.
There are so many ways forward - so many small steps to start with ....

This is neat. Someone finally said it - the pollution of China is due to OUR ecological footprint!
William Rees:

I believe that there is a video online somewhere.

"Our Energy Star freezer is around 50W average draw - so $45/year. Putting it into the garage would make a dent in that as it wouldn't turn on much in the fall/winter/spring."

No data yet, but an experiment underway.

I'm building a new house and am working in a 'cool air wash' for the back of the fridge.

I omitted the insulation under the floor where the fridge will sit. I'll add a vent through the wall above the fridge and then build a 'cabinet' that the fridge will slide into.

That will allow warm/hot air from the fridge to rise out the vent and pull cool air in from under the house. If necessary I'll add a small fan to improve the process if the temperature differential between 'back of fridge' and under house is significant.

"As for canning - we're thinking of a pressure canner. ... the last thing we want in the heat of August is to have a massive pot boiling on the stove for more than an hour.

Think about a propane 'turkey boiler' - one of those devices used to deep fat fry turkeys. Free standing, runs off a propane bottle. That will get the heat outside.

Canning in a pressure cooker isn't necessarily cooler. You have to wait for the cooker to cool down before opening. There's quite a bit of mass there to store - and release - heat.

A turkey boiler also gets a lot of the mess outside where cleanup is easier. I use one for canning albacore and moving the smell outside is a big plus. Additionally the devices put out a lot more heat, thus getting 'whatever' up to temperature faster and speeding up the process.

Great post! My father, 86, has less than fond memories of gardening during the Great Depression. But it helped feed him and 7 other kids.

You were right to pick up on your father's comment. Very few Americans in any generation are aware of the natural world around them. They shut it out, turn on the television, and try to ignore it.

My garden is just getting started and I can't claim much for it yet. But I belong to a CSA, and the amount of produce coming in at this time of year forces me to pay attention to it - to process it, freeze it, deal with it. It makes me aware of the lives of my ancestresses, undoubtedly doing the same thing at the same time of year.

But I also look forward in time, to a better relationship with the natural world than they had, to valuing things (like a field of native grasses) that they saw as "waste," to enjoying the rhythms of the year rather than trying to escape them.

I read this back with some amusement. What do I know of hardship? Enthusiasts get crushed! And Peak Oil will probably overwhelm any enthusiasm. Nonetheless, I can see the way I'd like to live, and that I can start now.

Nate - at 800 words and 4 pictures, this post caught my attention. A couple of questions and points:

How do the tomatos taste without the olive oil and oregano?

The note you make up thread about your freezer is interesting. Is it possible to make a super insulated freezer that uses hardly any power? This could easily switch on and off every time there is a puff of wind.

And one parting thought - The world's endowment of oil has taken roughly 200 million years of sunshine to form and we are going to consume all of this in roughly 200 years. So each year we use / waste approximately 1 million years worth of sunshine. Each day we waste / use about 1 million days of sunshine. Each day we use / waste about 2,700 years of sunshine.

I hope I done my sums right - the numbers are boggling.

My experience with growing tomatoes is similar to Nate's. The yield is phenomenal. This is one of the reason's I discount the starvation talk heard heard on TOD so often. It is also the reason Iowa farmers grow corn instead of tomatoes. There is no way to store them cheaply and they will spoil in a few days. Even if you could store them, the demand for tomatoes is really pretty limited. If Iowa were turned into a vegetable garden and there were some way to profitably preserve and sell it all, it might be able to feed the the whole country IMO. As it is, we are stuck with corn and beans and without ethanol corn would be even dirt cheaper than it is now. A 56 pound bushel of corn at the local elevator brings less than $3.00 which is a little more than what a gallon of gas costs around here and works out to about 5 cents/pound. Cereal makers will put that nickles worth of corn in a corn flakes box and sell it for $2.49. If the price were to double to 10 cents per pound they would probably complain of doubling input costs and raise the box of corn flakes price to $4.98 and blame it on ethanol. For decades a bushel of corn use to bring the price of 2 to 3 gallons of gas. At least corn is easily storable if dried and there is a ready market for it, albeit at a very low price.

Thanks for the post Nate -the tomatoes look lush!

I have no experience of farming whatsoever but in a bit of a quest for pseudo sustainability I bought two tomatoe plants and a chilli plant (HOT!!) for the balcony. I've been pretty impressed with how much I've got out of them but then I am using a throw-away nutrient rich 'grow bag' and a bottle of tomato-grow fertiliser (both come in disposable plastic containers to add insult to injury and the whole setup cost more than the amount I would spend at the local store for Spanish tomatoes imported 2000 miles from 'sunny' Spain).

I think most of the doomsters look to a future scenario where multiple factors combine to add to the woes: topsoil is completley eroded, the gas and phosphates used to make fertiliser have run out, the water pumps are underpowered/wells have run dry and we don't have huge combine harvesters to reap the crops anyway, or about 20-30 years hence depending on whose crystal ball you are using...

What are the replacements for these items? Perhaps we can use seaweed or algae grown in ponds for fertilisers, perhaps we will grow more stuff at sea, perhaps bio-tech will come up with a grain that gives twice the yield for half the water?

One possibility I have posted on previously is 'aquaponics' -the combination of hydroponics and aquaculture. Check out www.backyardaquaponics.com -I am now building myself a low cost 'Balcony Aquaponic' system that I intend to push to the limits of return in a small space: ~2 metre cubed. OK, its verging on a "tech-solution" but I don't intend to start plowing the land any time soon. IMO we can multiply the 'Victory Garden' output many times over with this simple concept. Still needs fish food though but this can be low grade and come from many sources...

Regards, Nick.

Tomato yield if highly variable.
1) Kids garden - unaugmented clayish soil gives studented plants and a very low yield.

2) Augmented home garden has poor light (late morning to mid afternoon) but the soil was augmented with compost for years and then buried under 8" of good garden soil. The plants fruit much better - often getting as tall as myself. Clearly they're reaching for light.

3) Community garden - has 1 shovel deep of crap clay soil with rocky clay below but excellent lighting and watering issues (trying to get to it every few days for water can be an issue and it only takes a bit of water before it starts running off). Plants there are stunted and fruit fairly well; but not as well as at home. They fruit earlier even though I put the plants in later than those at home.

4) "Square foot garden" We did a garden 1/3 peat, 1/3 aged manure, 1/3 vermiculite and the plants grew to a respectable hight and fruited heavily. Brandywine did ok but the boars heart pretty well all had blossom end rot. This garden has to be water AT LEAST DAILY - more likely 2x a day.

But the growth of the latest and smallest of my seedlings was astonishing. I put in the smallest, youngest runts we had after May 24 and they just turned dark green, shot to a medium height and then started to lay out fruit like mad.

My wife insisted that the "soil" in this raised bed garden be isolated from the regular soil. I would not do that and would not recommend it.

Yea at the market you can get tomatoes $6 to $7 for 25lb of Roma. They're ok for canning but my fav is the boars heart.
Dry 'em and enjoy them as they'll easily last for a year.

I have been drying fruit for over 10 years and apricots/apples/pears/plums/tomatoes easily last 2 years when dried to a crisp.

But - biointensive (Jeavens) growing points to potatoes and onions as the highest yield per acre. They're cheap as hell but if you want something to store and keep you alive they're it. I would rather have squash (buttercup, acron, pumpkin) as it easily lasts until Jan/Feb stored in a normal kitchen (except for last year with tons of early spoilage problems) but it's not as reliable and those #@$#@$ vine borers are driving us insane. We've given up on squash.
Now I know whey they're one of the most heavily sprayed crops.

Staking true (indeterminate) tomatoes plants like Brandywine and the boars heart I grow is a real issue as the weight of fruit can be stunning and trivially break of branches in a light wind.

Blight is an issue I have faced for years - early blight but often the plants can outgrow it. We rotate where we have the plants and don't compost the old plants to keep it under control.

Nate - at 800 words and 4 pictures, this post caught my attention.

Yoon, That is more profound than you know - communication via 'pictures' has a much longer neural history than human language - the saying a picture is worth a thousand words is really true - which makes it hard to convey difficult concepts in a forum such as this - there is a tradeoff between accuracy/completeness and readability/time. Its really a quandary...

Regarding freezers - mine is basically outside, meaning at times in the winter I will literally turn it off and it will insulate the food from below zero temperatures. Im sure there are super insulated freezers - the Amish around here get ice from the lake in early spring and dig it way into their homes and it cools their food until mid to late summer. Of course Im told they have a 50% child mortality rate due to botulism or some such.
See you next week

Thank you Nate, I very much enjoyed this story. I see paradigm shifts like this all around me, including within myself. I'm a pretty mainstream person but now I'm trying to eat 99 percent vegetarian, primarily because it's a more sustainable diet. The changes in myself surprise even me.

On the tomatoes, I'm intrigued by the solar cooker. But I wish I could get the kind of yields you're seeing!

Hi Nate,

I enjoyed your article. I use my solar oven during most of the year here in north-central Georgia. I have exactly the same feeling of wasting a day of sun when it's sunny out but I didn't have time to set out anything to cook before I left for work. When I wake up in the morning and see that it's sunny, I think, "It's a good cooking day!"

I have developed a policy of cooking when the sun shines, even when I don't really need to, in case I can't cook another day. Of course, with our drought, nearly every day is a good cooking day. :-(

Nice post Nate.

Your idea of getting serious is a level above mine. My goal this year was just to maintain a garden that gave us some produce. In past years, something has always happened that has caused the garden project to fail. A few year's back a small rabbit ate most of our veggies. The following year I put in a metal fence and ground barrier only to lose the plants due to late planting, bad weather, and an overabundance of weeds. Last year we left for vacation in August and lost essentially everything but the kale--something we have found we really don't like that much, although the babysitter said she did enjoy the tomatoes we left for her to harvest.

This year, given all that has occurred globally, it was my determination to get a garden up and maintained to the point where we actually ate the bounty. My 7-year-old son couldn't believe how much I worked this year and complained we didn't spend as much time together. My wife called me a fanatic, and I responded "No, just committed." (and she retorts, "Yeah, you should be.").

There were serious issues along the way. The one example I'll give was with the tomatoes. We got blossom rot pretty early on, and I had to scramble to figure out what it was. The internet was instrumental to figuring it out (there has to be a way to insure its survival post-oil) and understanding that it was a result of calcium deficiency (and fortunately not some pest, because I'm trying to do it organically). Quick action saved the day, and we are now enjoying a small but delicious harvest of tomatoes.

The blossom rot prompted me to start composting, for we consume our share of eggs, and it made sense to just use our waste as the garden input. This too brought jeers from the household, but they seem to be behind it now.

The garden has been a lot of work. My son and daughter are now both enamored of "farm fresh" produce, and my wife is behind it because the kids seem to eat the veggies that we grow in the garden and that they see and help grow. We've definitely crossed a tipping point here. Next year we intend to grow more and attempt to store the excess. The solar oven is an excellent idea. I think we may try it.

Here is a link to a Home Power article with information and plans on how to build a solar dehydrator. I built this last year and am very pleased with its performance.



That link didn't work for me.

Actually you don't even have to cook tomatoes before you freeze them. When I have about a half dozen more than I can eat or give away, I rinse them, core them and pop them in a freezer bag and into the freezer (Sometimes I even throw a diced green pepper or two, an onion, jalapeno and some garlic into the bag with the tomatoes). When you want some sauce, take out a bag and put the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 10 seconds, take them out and slip the skins off and they're ready to cut into pieces and cook down into sauce or whatever you want to make this winter.

You can also fry or dill your green tomatoes at the end of the season. To fry them, just slice and dip them in fine cornmeal or a cornmeal batter. And you can find a great recipe for water canning dilled green tomatoes here: http://www.jewish-food.org/recipes/grtompi7.htm Yum, they are so good.

My dad was raised on a hardscrabble farm at the turn of the last century. They plowed with a mule team and even after I was born, and we lived in Wichita, he kept a big garden in the backyard until the year he died. Heirloom seeds are the best for growing anything, I think, because you can learn to save the seeds for the next year.

Happy growing.


Bountiful post & harvest, Nate!

Prompted me to recollect my dad, a first gen. American entrepreneur, who used to embarass us by picking up nuts & bolts others left on the ground, then jarring them. 30 years ago US made fasteners only cost a nickel at the hardware store, so did he have a preminiton of a carbon/consumption tax in the middle of the US hypergrowth era?

An even more basic step before we all plow up our yards to plant a Peak Oil Victory Garden is for Americans (at least) to again learn how to cook. Refilling the grocery cart with basic ingredients instead of processed food would go a long way to offsetting rampant food inflation. Moreover, localized food production is dependent on people knowing what to do with seasonal produce. Like many elements of present day society this will take a great deal of effort to unlearn our habits and to reacquaint ourselves with the habits of just two generations back. However, cooking skills I believe are more easily learned than gardening or farming skills. They also do not require the land or physical energy as gardening/farming.

This is not to say I disagree with a focus on home food production. The grass lawn is a wasteful artifact of the English country house that exists mainly in our imagination. Edible plants must be integrated into our yards. (Widespread animal husbandry is going to be a tougher sell, at least until things really get tough.) However, the "low hanging fruit" is to subsitute highly processed foods for the more basic produce of the farm.

You are forgetting something basic. If you want to do it organically, you need good soil. Building soil is the most important thing to learn. No good soil and everything will be difficult.

Also, it takes a LOT of organic matter to build good soil. You can't imagine how much if you haven't tried. Now, we can do it cheaply, with more or less ecological means. In the near future, it won't be easy to get a truck of something to throw in the earth ... and somebody might decide to recicle it instead by burning it.

I also recommend trying some perennials. You might get less produce, but most of the time, they are much easier to care for.

People can start building their lawn soil by overseeding with clover instead of whatever lawn grass they typically over seed with.
I live in an upscale subdivison , near the golf course the whole landownners association, keep up your yard etc and no one has noted, mentioned , turned up their nose.
From 20' away my lawn looks as green and nice as the 100% fescue/ bermuda lawns of my neighbors. It's only when you are standing on it you realize it has a high % of clover. The normal schedule of mowing keeps the clover flowers down.
Also, people should plant fruit and nut trees in their yards instead of ornamentals IMHO

We use our solar cooker almost daily.

As far as growing your own food . I have done this. For about 12 years (but not currently) without meat.
Did not go to the grocery store.

But then we have class 1 soil, good water and growing season.

Dry Corn and beans , olive oil ,nuts - vegies etc.

You are absolutely correct (except you meant the reverse of what you said, substituting basic produce for highly processed foods). And it's quite interesting too.

Like many others here, I'm getting back to learned behavior from when I was a kid, though we never did any canning. So this year my wife and I bought a bunch of tomatoes and pickling cucumbers and canned them just to see how things turned out. It was fun and very satisfying and the results are very good. While we still have a lot to learn about gardening and preserving we're getting better each year and it feels natural and normal now. As this post PO future unfolds I expect we'll be a little bit more ready and comfortable with it then we might otherwise. If nothing else, it conveys a feeling of self sufficiency which allows one to sleep a bit better.


We have found that our chickens love tomatoes. Best if we squish them enough to expose the seeds; they take over from there. I seem to recall that crushed eggshells are good for tomatoes; perhaps they're heavy calcium feeders? If so, feeding the tomatoes to the chickens closes the loop, assuming that we continue spreading crushed egg shells in the garden.

Calcium is Viagra for Tomatoes

Calcium deficiency (along with fluctuating moisture levels) can cause 'blossom end rot'. The 'bottoms' of tomatoes go nasty.

Crushed eggshells are a source of calcium. Along with crushed oyster shell, lime, etc.

Adding compost and mulching help keep moisture levels more constant.

I put in only about 18 plants (tomatos) this year and maybe I am lucky...but they are as close to weeds as I can imagine. It is a jungle of tomatoes, and I cannot keep up with the harvest.

My neighbors love it...I give away a harvest every day.

Freeze some, and make spaghetti sauce to can.

Re: solar oven got one this spring from LATOC (thanks Matt) and didn't get a chance to use it until August.

Very cool, however I learned a little more about site selection for solar apps, Large maple trees to the south...bad idea. Still I got it up to 350F and cooked a one pot chicken dinner in a couple hours...yum.

There is a very effective growth management technique you can do with tomatoes: you prune them by pinching off the suckers that emerge from every "elbow," or side shoot. In this way you can control their natural tendency to go "fractal." Left to their own devices, tomatoes will produce a shoot; the shoot will produce a side shoot (elbow joint); a sucker will emerge from the joint of shoot and side shoot to become a new shoot; and so on. I've heard it said that French gardeners grow tomatoes on single string trellises by rubbing out all the sucker shoots so that the plant remains a single vine that can be trained around the upright string.

But you have to stay on top of it, and ruthlessly pluck or rub out the sucker shoots every few days.

This scared me, because it made me realise how the UK, despite being so packed with human resources, has such a scarcity of what it will need in a century or so - space and sunlight. I grow nice tomatoes in north Northumberland, but they only work in my greenhouse, in which I can fit four or five plants. It cost me a grand (nice greenhouse), and might last 20 years: a pound per tomato? Maybe not quite that bad, the vine makes decent grapes and it starts off my other veg in April, but it shows that in harvesting sunlight at these latitudes the EROEI is not very favourable. And what of the land on which this sunlight falls? In some places agricultural land is now £30,000 per acre, driven upwards by hobby farmers (probably people like me with a bit more money), and nobody has a big garden when housing is so expensive. In parts of London residential property is £3000 per square foot, which as productive land might yield a cabbage a year. Basically there are too many of us, living too far from the equator, and the future without FFs is bleak. Wind-driven hydroponics, anyone?


Mission: improve the soil

The answer is simple ... grow something adapted to your climate. Growing things adapted to your conditions will make things a lot easier.

There are many things you can grow which I can't because of not enough cold. This no-winter I was eating fresh tomatoes in january and february...

Well, Leah and I wasted our day shelling and canning black-eyed peas. The jars cost more than cans with the peas already in them.

But something about this just feels right.

Thanks for sharing.

Don Henry Ford Jr.

I did inhale.

Meanwhileback in Merry_ka, I saw two sights on my commute.
One A humongous RV called Georgetown by Forest River.
with a Triton V 10? 6.8 L 9 mpg costs 100K plus
Don't they realize that this beast is hazardous to both Forest and River?
Next a delivery truck for Frito Lay Potato Chips.
Frito Lay - Food for the fun of it!

To which all I can say is Praise the Lard.

Ain't nothin' in the world that I like better
Than bacon & lettuce & homegrown tomatoes
Up in the mornin' out in the garden

Get you a ripe one don't get a hard one
Plant `em in the spring eat `em in the summer
All winter with out `em's a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin' & diggin'
Everytime I go out & pick me a big one

Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes

You can go out to eat & that's for sure
But it's nothin' a homegrown tomato won't cure
Put `em in a salad, put `em in a stew
You can make your very own tomato juice
Eat `em with egss, eat `em with gravy
Eat `em with beans, pinto or navy
Put `em on the site put `em in the middle
Put a homegrown tomato on a hotcake griddle

If I's to change this life I lead
I'd be Johnny Tomato Seed
`Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don't bury me
In a box in a cemetary
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin' up homegrown tomatoes

Guy Clark

If there were an effient way to convert cluelessness into usable energy, the United States might become a world power again.

Michael Vickerman
RENEW Wisconsin


Hey Nate,
Great post. Thank you.

I have a question about Solar Ovens and Dryers.
First off, I grew up on a farm in northern NH but now live in DC and am trying to grow whatever I can on my little patch of land in NW. Trees shade a lot, but I still get 6 or so hrs in portions of my lot.

I also practice "vermiculture" (have a 3-shelf "farm" in my basement) and find the end result --putting it politely-- works wonders for my garden.

I too have a solar oven (a "Sun Oven" and it has reflectors, getting temperatures up to 325 F on a good day).

My garden was devastated by the drought -- good soil practices, watering be damned-- so I didn't get much this year. But there's always next year, and I'm hoping to use my solar oven as a dryer, perhaps "lifting the lid" a bit so it doesn't get quite so hot.

Any ideas about that? Hate to buy an electric-powered solar dryer when I think I should be able to get the same result with free solar heat and convection.

One last question -- why boil the tomatoes in your oven before freezing them? I'd think you could just freeze them (unless you're trying to reduce some of the water... and that's tough in a solar oven since water takes a while to heat up).

Bob in DC
~live sustainably~

My younger brother read this post and asked that I add this post script:

Could you add a post-script about how when Honey Bear wouldn’t come in when it was 95 degrees outside, you’d just leave your kitchen door open for her to make her way in eventually, and then inevitably forget it was open, thereby pumping your AC at 63 degrees for about four hours with the door wide open?

At least Dad and I have operated consistently over the years, in regards to energy efficiency. You’ve got to do a lot of solar cooking to do to bring down your lifelong KwH average to match ours….

I dont know if he really wanted that as a post script but there it is. I dont particularly remember that incident but it wouldnt surprise me. I do not profess to be the worlds energy saviour. I did what I did then out of ignorance. I am now changing my ways, little by little, more because I know, by empirical research (Easterlin) and personal experience, that 'more is not better', so Im trying to retool my lifestyle with simpler and more meaningful things.

YUM! I just finished eating dinner, but this post is making me hungry. We also have a garden, but have a hard time keeping the critters away from the tomatoes. Oh well, I can't say I blame them!

They don't seem to like the squash, eggplant and peppers, so we use them every day in our cooking. We also have six basil plants and have made several batches of pesto. The pesto pairs well with the tomatoes, so perhaps I should leave some out for the deer!

For those who are interested, here is the recipe (given to me by a gardening friend):


1 tightly packed quart tender young basil leaves, washed and patted dry (wet leaves makes watery pesto)

4-6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (I add more)
1/3 cup pine nuts, walnuts or almonds
1/2 cup olive oil (I add more when I go to use it)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (I add more when I go to use it)
1/2 teasp. salt
1/8 teasp. black pepper
juice of 1 lemon ( I add more when I go to use it)

Place all ingredients in a food processor with metal chopping blade and buzz to a fine paste (about 1 min.)

Either freeze in small containers or as cookie dollops on a tray and then put in plastic bag. I do both.

Note: It just occured to me as posting this that several of the ingredients are "petroleum" intensive (transported from afar). In the spirit of the OilDrum, if you have any suggestions for local alternatives, I would love to hear about them!

Well there is American olive oil, but most I've seen is Italian or Spanish. But then some things are *necessary* even if they have to travel far and IMNSHO olive oil is one of them.

Disconcerting note however. A couple of issues ago the New Yorker ran an article on how virtually all olive oil from Europe is adulterated with other types of vegetable oil. Even the big brands like Bertolli. What was interesting was that sometimes they use hazelnut oil which is really expensive in the US. I suppose it is whatever is available on the market for cheap. At least they aren't using ethylene glycol like the Chinese toothpaste additive.

But then some things are *necessary* even if they have to travel far and IMNSHO olive oil is one of them.

Hazelnut oil has most of the properties (health wise) of olive oil.

(I personally was pondering the issue of olive oil and the future thereof, when my research into hazelnuts claimed the oil from hazelnuts was the closest analog to olive oil.)

If only my (fathers owned land) soil chemistry was "right"....and there were less wild animals trying to eat all the sweet,. sweet goodness

What was interesting was that sometimes they use hazelnut oil which is really expensive in the US.

Not at all, when one considers that based on the chemistry is about the same.

Olives grow in a wide variety of climates, and not only survive, but thrive in dry trashy soil - probly not such a biggy in parts of the US at least? Im in New Zealand so i dont know. We can grow olives fine here.
I know that walnuts and pecans grow great in many parts of the US - they're definitly an acceptable sunstitute for pinenuts. We used Macaadameia (Sp?) nuts grown on our place to make pesto last year, tastes great!

I love macademia nuts. They have a mild taste that goes well with chocolate. Chocolate...hmmm. Another food item that is transported from afar!

I wonder how well I would fare on the 100 mile diet. Too many of my favorite foods have to be shipped in--even the healthy stuff.

Olive trees should do ok in parts of SW and probably SE. A very resistant tree which can grow with very little water. Doesn't like wet feet.

At least, I know I will have olive oil around. Still some 1000 and 2000 year old trees around still producing wonderful oil.

There are large olive groves in the central valleys of California.

I suspect that labor costs keep olives from becoming a larger crop. Can't shake them off the tree like you can almonds and walnuts.

Olives, ripe black olives, can be shaken off the tree and caught on sheets ect. not as easily as some other crops but it is do-able by hand - ive done it.
In big olive goves, growing for oil, they use a giant mechanised shaker to remove the olves. THis they do to what i would consider predominantly green olives though. Maybe to avoid dammage by birds? i dont know.
But post peak, if you can keep the birds off, i submitt that it would be emminantly possible to shake-pick oilives in rather reasonable quantities by hand. :-)

Thanks for the update.

I guess technology has advanced since I lived on Olive Orchard Road back in the '70s. ;o)

We grow olives... basically two types exist .. canning and oil olives.

when you buy a california ripe black olive in a can it has been turned black with chemicals. they are all picked green.

Oil is made from tree ripe black olives or imature green olives or cannery culls.

Most all olive oil is produced with large centrifuges and not pressed

There are modern varieties that can be mechanized. Machine to pick them is similar to the one used for grapes. Of course, they are pruned differently so that machines can go over the trees. Trees are kept small and planted very near (about 1 meter apart).

making oil from green olives? aaarrrgg ... "vade retro satanas" The more ripe the olives, the better the oil.


Have you considered using a design like this:


In the solar cooker? Can the 'tomato puss' (the clear yellowish juice) as it makes a great base for soup (10 PSI - 15 PSI "burns it") or reduce by 1/2 before canning.

Use a:
or a
to make a paste to can (or use the paste to make a tomato 'ketchup')

Tis the season of abundance! In our mild pacific northwest climate, I like to keep root crops in the ground most of the winter. Some of the best "stealth crops" are parsnips and carrots - just dig them up when you are hungry! You can also grow various greens all winter long. Swiss chard is a great overwinter crop and gets very productive very early in the spring when there is little else fresh. Winter squash keeps well for a good fraction of the year sitting on the kitchen counter. With a little planning it is possible to have fresh produce much of the year - cuts down on all the canning and freezing you would otherwise have to do if you just relied upon late summer's abundance.