Meeting Energy Decline Part-Way - Potatoes?

Before 1999 I had never grown a thing in my life except for chia-pets. I then bought a house in North Carolina which had an existing smallish garden of cherry tomatoes, spinach and blueberries, which over the next 4 years, I turned into a 360 square foot garden with numerous geometric shaped raised beds. This introduction to gardening was more of an art form to me - I didn't care about the end result so much. Fast forward 10 years and I have a larger, more serious garden. In addition to kale, corn, garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, wormwood, peppers, squash, beans, and peas, this year we planted 10 12 foot rows, 6 25 foot rows and 2 40 foot rows for a total of 330 row feet of potatoes. This post is about the energy return from my 15 bushel basket harvest and substituting gardening, at least at the margin, for fast neural hijack.

In 2004, Americans consumed about 342,700,000 (3.4e8) Btu per capita, per year. (Source). This converts to about 86,358,951 [8.6e7 nutritional] calories per year ( Source ) or 86,358,951 / 365 = 236,599 [2.37e5 nutritional] calories per day. But humans only require something like 2,500 nutritional calories (of food energy) per day to survive, so it seems we (very roughly) use something like 235,000 (2.35e5 nutritional) calories per capita per day, for non-nutritional purposes like economic growth, waste, fun and leisure. I hypothesize that there are points between 2,500 and 225,000 calories per day that would still allow us on a per capita basis to live happier and healthier lives with less collateral damage than the current system.

As such, I decided to produce 'some' (a small fraction) of my own calories - and the primary crop of choice was potatoes though we have about 500 pounds of winter squash as well. (Before the Great Famine, potatoes made up the bulk of the average peasants caloric intake, whose diets also included milk, oats, beans, barley, and bread). I ordered 50 lbs of seed potatoes from, including a 20 lb sample pack which contained 2.5 lbs each of 8 different varieties. I harvested about 15 bushel baskets of potatoes this year, even after including a hefty 'blogger haircut'. (Due to lack of time and other priorities, insufficient mulch, weeding and potato beetle vigilance probably reduced my yields far below their optimal levels). Furthermore, I gave many of seed potatoes away to friends and my dog, the gophers mice and chickens took their share. Still, potatoes are pretty forgiving and my harvest was decent, and rewarding.

Depending on the variety, there are about 60 lbs of potatoes in a bushel basket, which works out to 60*400*15 or about 900 lbs. One pound of potatoes, boiled or steamed, contains about 400 calories, so 900 x 400 = 360,000 kilocalories (Kcals). This is the approximate energy output. I can calculate a rough Energy Return on Energy Invested by calculating my energy input, which is in the below table. (actually, due to previously mentioned internet affliction, a decent chunk of the caloric inputs for the potato harvest came from my girlfriend this year).

This example neatly works out to a (fixed, narrow boundary) energy return of 20:1, higher than most alternative energies and even oi. Though I can't drive my car or fly a plane on potatoes, I at least know that along with help of the sun, soil and hydrologic cycle, I have produced some of my own energy budget for the year ahead. (360,000 calories is about 120 days worth of calories if all one eats is potatoes). In reality, I plan to gift many of these to neighbors and keep about 50-70 pounds to plant again next year as seed potatoes that I won't have to order. This is done by putting potatoes in a brown paper bag in a root cellar or basement and once a month turning the bag upside down, so as to 'trick' the potatoes into not sprouting early. I've never done this before.

Because I gave seed potatoes away and was too lazy to keep an accurate accounting other than total weight, I called a friend today, Mary of Blooming Hill Farms in western Wisconsin and asked her for details on production. She too ordered a 20 lb sampler from but she kept track of how each of the 2.5 lbs of seed potatoes performed.

2.5 lbs of Kerr produced 45 lbs
2.5 lbs of LaRatte Crescent produced 115 lbs
2.5 lbs of Purple Viking produced 18 lbs
2.5 lbs of Yukon Gold produced 18 lbs
2.5 lbs of Red Gold produced 40 lbs
2.5 lbs of All Red produced 105 lbs
2.5 lbs of All Blue produced 52 lbs
2.5 lbs of Austrian Crescent produced 74 lbs

for a total of 461 lbs produced from 20 lbs of seed potatoes. (*Mary said this was an 'average' yield and the rows nearest the water hose leak were much higher yield implying that water may have been a yield limiter). So this is about 23 times the starting weight.

What is the point of this post? Many reading here agree that the coming decades are going to result in lower energy availability per capita. Though there is plenty of energy, how much is affordable, procurable per unit time, in a form that our culture has become dependent on, is an open question. Our current integration of oil, transportation, and food systems, is highly mechanized and efficient, but not without risk. Given the many possible post-peak trajectories, my caloric shortfall risk is not only reduced somewhat by having local access to food, but the % of food I eat that is non-processed has improved as well. So, by devoting these 60 hours to this one root crop, I've done a tiny amount of meeting energy descent part-way by netting some few hundred thousand calories from potatoes - about 1.5% of the average Americans annual energy footprint. Most attempts to make us less dependent on liquid fuels will use more of other energy and non-energy resources. We have enough of land and labor to dramatically increase our nutritional caloric consumption, if that route it chosen.

However, although I'd like to say the main reason I grow food is to increase my risk adjusted return in the future, the true reason is I do it because I like to. It gives me satisfaction to watch the progression of seeds to seedlings to plants to harvestable produce, primarily because these things happen on a timeline that is parallel to what my brain can manage without getting overtaxed or overstimulated. So many of our time options in today's culture accelerate our neural habituations. To choose some activities that may not make as much money or fun or social notoriety not only makes sense but in my opinion is imperative lest we become a society of schizophrenics. (schizophrenia results from too much dopamine.

Jevon's paradox suggests that more overall use will accompany improvements in technology on the supply side. I suspect this is manifesting on the energy demand side of our resource equation as well. The more efficient and enjoyable our techno-gadgetry becomes, the more of our days are taken up using it: checking email, using Blackberry, or Iphone, or Twitter, or Facebook, or reading news online, etc. I enjoy much of this, but can see how there are few natural speed bumps with respoect to how technology and information crowd out slower, more human, activities. Sure, I could have bought those 900lbs of potatoes for a few hundred bucks - and my hourly wage was less than minimum wage. But I personally had to draw a line somewhere in a society where what we perceive as societies goals, accomplishments and successes has been overly measured by dollars. So I chose to substitute potatoes for Twitter, and now have 15 bushels of tasty spuds to show for it. Perhaps the goal is to live the Good Life, riding the wave of unexpected reward, meaning, and balance.

Comments, suggestions, and other ideas welcomed.

It sounds like your yield is very good. I have three questions:

1. How do you maintain soil fertility from year to year?

2. I am guessing that you are gardening organically; do you have any idea how much indirect fossil fuel input is needed to support the organic garden?

3. In addition to any fossil fuels that support your efforts, how much in the way of external inputs are needed to maintain soil fertility and assist with planting and harvest?

The soil fertility question is the big one. I attempted field potatoes this year and was a complete failure, the same with field beans. despite assurances on deer eating habits and the density of deer in my area, I was eaten out clean. Thankfully this was a only one of my gardening expansions this year, with a complete success at everything else behind six feet of plastic fence including corn. The corn was done in the Indian manner mixing beans, squash all in the same plot. I will endeavor to triple this style of corn growing next year. This winter my 1200 square foot greenhouse will not be heated and I will be planting all the cold hearty plants that can survive in the relatively mild central pennsylvania winters, the first time I will attempt that.

The breakout for 2010 for me is 5 acres of non-hybrid corn in traditional rows using the corn seed that I used this year, for this I have taken on a partner (a neighbor who has lost his job) and who is willing to do sustainable farming with me. The same question applies, how do you continue soil fertility. Traditionally this is done with a rotation of corn and soybeans around here, plus lots of inorganic additions. We are going to attempt a crop rotation of corn, soybeans with tripods of beans, fallow with tripods of beans, and humanure. I have found a free source of humanure for the five acres which has been sterilized and is "legal" to use. As this is a 15 acre field, we hope to have 5 acres always in corn, ten in tripods of pole beans, and 5 acres in soybeans. Prior to inorganic fertilizers and the soy bean craze this area through at least NYS used to have a five crop rotation. These fields will be stranded in electric wire that is solar powered which I have used very successfully on my orchard for years.

I am sure I will not make too many friends with the humanure addition to this acerage, but I would like to believe that this comes closer to what would be sustainable in suburban and urban areas, and is comparable to what I've seen in Africa.

at least for sweet potatoes 'low'[NPK] land is needed. i have gotten problems with too much composted manure. i think loose soil though is necessary. i got a dumptruck of sand to amend an area. BTW evidently some of that sand had something in it so that it is not growing, even weeds very well.

I tried potatoes in containers this year and got very poor results. I included plenty of organic fertilizer and watered heavily, but that still wasn't enough, I guess.

I think I'll try sweet potatoes in the containers instead next year. I didn't grow sweet potatoes this year but had very good results when I grew them last year. The vines do tend to go every which way and make quite a tangle, though. My plan is to place the containers below my deck and train the vines to grow up along the rails. Vertical gardening is good, it makes maximum use of space.

I've been growing potatos in tyre stacks on the roof of my boat for several years sucessfully. Fill the first tyre with good compost and plant 3 or 4 seeds. Then as the plants grow add new tyres and completly fill with dirt. This doesnt have to be compost and too much rich soil can reduce the crop. Keep adding tyres each time the plants reach a decent hight. Never completly bury the plants. Water sparingly as over watering also reduces the crop. I generally stack up to 4 or 5 tyres and then leave them.

WNC O---I've also had only mediocre success with regular potatoes in containers, but this year I tried growing one sweet potato plant in a very large container, just to see what would happen, and the production was good. The variety I used was Puerto Rican; I had been given some slips by a friend whose wife's family has grown these for more than 100 years. Another friend grew the variety Beauregard in a similar very large pot, but its tubers grew so large they split the pot in two. Just thought you'd like to know...

Thanks for a most interesting post.

I was considering growing Yukon Gold next year but seeing your friend's results I won't.

I maintain my soil fertility with my urine. 1 part urine:15 parts water. It has good levels of NPK along with micro nutrients.

2-3 years ago the water coming from sewage treatment plants was tested and found to have high levels of hormones from birth control pills, chemicals from antibiotics and anti-depression drugs and other bad stuff. Just sayin'.

"I was considering growing Yukon Gold next year but seeing your friend's results I won't."

Actually, you should consider repeating their experiment. Yukon gold are good keepers and do well for us. Which variety does well depends on your local soil and weather conditions. They may get a significantly different yield in different weather. I've learned to always plant a variety of potatoes. Since you're harvesting the root, there's no cross-pollination issue.

Schoff: good sources of fertility include cover crops such as red clover and hairy vetch. These can be seeded in the fall and allowed to grow through spring then plowed under. Another thing is do not waste any organic matter on your property. I'm always amazed at how much mowed grass, fallen leaves, small branches, etc. people throw in the garbage. I compost every bit of organic matter from the kitchen to the yard and spread it on my garden. In the fall, I do a last mowing of the lawn after the leaves have fallen from the trees surrounding us. This is the only time I put the bag on the mower. We spread the mixture of chopped up leaves and grass over the garden and put it to bed for the winter. In spring when we plant, we plant right through this layer into the soil below and then mulch over that with straw to keep in moisture and add extra carbon content. Fifteen acres is much larger than the area we have, but the same principles can apply. You should also consider perhaps rasing some ruminants and practicing managment intensive grazing. Or even a few chickens for eggs or meat or both, anything that can convert some of your grasses to fertilizer and also give you additional products (eggs, meat, milk, etc.). Hope that helps!

I'll jump in with some thoughts;

1. Soil fertility: One can compost humanure, I use manure from our sheep, and cover crops provide fertility AND weed reducing cover. Cover crops

2. Indirect fossil fuel for organic: Much less than 'modern' gardening. Manure is local, predator insects are local, mulch material is local (I use a scythe).

3. External inputs: See #1 above. I sometimes use a small electric tiller, but also have 2kW photovoltaic.

And if you're concerned about the potential pathogen issues with humanure, you can always grow a nitrogen capturing crop like comfrey, and then compost that.

Nate - great post. Have you looked into sweet potatoes at all? They are supposed to be more nutritious ( beta carotene, etc), and have a lower glycemic index. I have wanted to try for a few years, but keep forgetting to order slips until the suppliers have run out.

By the way, I really enjoyed the closing presentation you gave as ASPO. You are an inspiration in many ways.


i do sweet potatoes. much less bugs than regular potatoes for here.

an alternative for slips is go to an organic[they spray non organic to prevent sprouting] store in late winter & buy a few & do starts/slips in a jar or small very protected cold frame.of course the next year u have some of u'r own.

I've been growing sweet potatoes here in central MO for a couple of years. Once you start growing and storing your own they will "reproduce" themselves.

In Spring some of the stored sweet potatoes will begin to form sprouts. Seperate them from the rest of the stored tubers and let them keep growing. When the weather is warm enough for planting just cut off a decent chunk of sweet potato with a healthy looking sprout on it and plant the chunk shallowly with the sprout pointing up through the topsoil.

You can eat sweet potatoes that are sprouting. By late Spring most of your stored tubers will have sprouts. The tubers will feel lighter than normal because they have lost moisture. Just peel them well and boil a little longer than normal to get them soft and juicy again.

Did sweets this summer late July planting 6 slips from one dried out store bought leftover, in a raised bed following snow peas. Dug them a couple of weeks ago just under 25 lbs.. Quite satisfied with that as I had tried field grown years ago with much less return. Now that same spot is in garlic thanks Nate always appreciate the garden Campfires as there is knowledge and soul food to be had. Was a pretty active gardener 30 years ago after college but kids, work and graduate school turned me into pretty much just a mater grower. With the turning events and maturity I too appreciate the mental progressions of raising food. My daughter called from college last week as we were going up to see one of her concerts this week. Asked if I had any fresh green beans left that I could bring up. Said they were now a luxury for her since you couldn't get anything that good in the stores. That kinda added an additional satisfaction.

I have not grown sweet potatoes myself, but I do buy a 25 pound box from the farmer's market in the fall ($8) and find that they keep well into the summer on the kitchen counter (I do keep my home cool).

Potatoes were terrific for me in the garden last year but this year all the rain and lack of sunshine took its toll as did some kind of potato blight. Still I got a 3x return on my seed potatoes, even in a poor year.

I live in the Kansas City area.


This matches my experience in growing root veggies as a subsistence crop. With sweet potatoes and potatoes, grown without irrigation in an average year, I was calculating an EROI (in terms of days of labour input versus days worth of calories out) from 10-20. Should we be taking into account the time spent sleeping in our calculations? I get the feeling something is lacking in the simple analysis.

The variation of yield in different strains is worth noting. If you only grew a low yielding variety as shown above you would have an apparent EROI of 7 in the above examples (I saw EROI of 30 potato varieties I trialed vary from 3 to 20 approximately).

These can seem like tolerable returns but you have to remember to subtract out your starting seed tubers. So the low example of EROI 7 above (18/2.5 pounds) drops to 5 (18/2.5 - 2.5). This is falling into marginal subsistence when you have to leave time for tasks other than tending crops.

Root crops have the disadvantage of storage being a bit tricky. Seed crops can be dried down and stored for much longer periods. And with seed crops a much smaller percentage of the crop needs to be held over for replanting. The disadvantage of seed crops is that you need the weather to be right for drying them down. In humid climates or seasons you can lose the crop to rotting more easily than for tubers (though they can still rot if it is very wet).

I continue growing a large chunk of our potato, sweet potato and parsnip needs for our family (~50% of our tuber intake, ~10-20% of total calories). But I don't see the point in going fully self sufficient until it makes more economic sense. For me the most important thing is acquiring good varieties, learning techniques of growing with minimal inputs, and learning how to cook and enjoy eating the crops.

Going from 0% home grown to 10% home grown is a huge learning curve.

By comparison going from 10% to 100% home grown is just a matter of having the extra space and time.

very good info & thinking. i do similar re learning the produce/store/cook/enjoy to get the processes down.

part of my corn[cornmeal type only] suffered mold- nasty & can hurt u too. this has been a crazyly wet fall. using nonmechanized harvesting i am able to salvage a good amount of it. tractors can't get into fields to get the record yields.

In making the calculation, it seems like there is more than labor that goes into growing potatoes. If there are any soil amendments in future years, these would be part of the energy input. Energy was also used to make wheelbarrows, shovels, and forks for turning the soil, and for building a root cellar. Also, property tax on the land the potatoes were grown on is a necessary cost. Theoretically, one could figure out the values of these if one traded potatoes to get them, and prorate these amounts for a single year's use. The return would be lower if all of these were included.

A different kind of calculation one could make is what kind of lifestyle one could afford, if all one did was grow potatoes and other vegetables. After paying for taxes, seed, soil amendments, and seed, how much would be left over for housing, clothing, transportation, doctor's visits, school, and other things. With the low price of food today, it seems like for most of us, the lifestyle would be pretty modest.

One thing not included in the above calculations is the value of the land the potatoes were grown on. If you are buying the land and have, say, a 30 year mortgage, this could be figured into costs as well. I expect, though, that most people in agricultural societies really could not afford to buy land. They either inherited land, or they went into some profession that didn't require land.

You can take this to the bank-

You cannot raise fruit and veggies or potatos on a small scale and make any significant amount of money UNLESS you can get more than the usual wholesale prices for these goods-meaning selling if not directly to the consumer then selling directly to the retailer, thereby getting a higher price than the usual farm price.

The only way you can make a living at the farm price is to produce on a fairly large scale.

Of course some small farmers well located in respect to adequate numbers of retail customers do rather well.

The difference in the roadside market price of local potatos and the farm price this year in my community is about one hundred percent-the market operator doubles his money- this before losses to rot,etc, and expenses of course.

But even so potatos are cheaper roadside than at the supermarket.

I have lived in a couple of places where roadside prices were actually higher than supermarket prices but it was almost impossible to open a roadside market either place-but my estimate is that the operators were minting money.

And lots of local small farmers have loyal retail customers who come out year after year to buy a bushel or two of this and that-but it takes a very long time to establish such relationships and the modern day consumer out for a day trip is apt to want five pounds of potatos-not worth the bother except to a retailer-whereas her mother or grandmother bought four or five bushels to divide with her family and friends.

That called for drinking some cider, looking at the pigs,touring the gardens and orchard, and generally just visiting as friends for an hour or so-sometimes there were as many as half a dozen visitors on a Saturday morning who would stay for an hour-people who mainly wished they still lived in the country, even though they were much better off financially in town.

At one time we had enougn customers of this sort that we could actually make a living on our small farm-but every year we lose a few more as they get too old to make the trip.

Sometime in the next few years or so I will be going out to tell the few who will still show up that the old folks are gone and that I have nothing to sell-more than likely I will give way a little of whatever they want.There will still be free cider but another way of life will be mostly vanished from this community.

But maybe in other places it will be just getting started.If you are interested in market gardening/farming and close enough to a town or city you can make a modest living this way-if you can stick it out long enough to acquire regular customers.

If the economy gets worse there should be plenty of customers for good cheap locally grown food in bulk quantities.


I have a little different take on it. I'm self-employed. I consider gardening to be my self-unemployment insurance. Works, too. The cash income goes to the cash expenses and some really fine grub goes on the table.

I don't hesitate to agree here.

I would argue strongly that growing food in a truly sustainable way to sell is absolutely uneconomic. The cost of the land alone will not be covered by the value of the crop. Even with the higher premiums for "organic" or whatever.

Learning to grow your own food like this is something to do for pleasure/curiosity for the present. In the long run it might be a useful safety net if things do happen to spiral out of control.

If I was a city dweller worried about TEOTWAWKI who had no practical skills and limited access to good quality growing space I would not turn myself inside out to learn how to grow food.

Learn how to cook from scratch instead. Being able to turn dried beans and rice and a scabby lamb bone into a delicious meal is far more useful.

Human beings have been cooks for about a million years. We have been farmers for only a few thousand.

For Gail I think what I was driving at was a more complete calculation of EROI for the simple case of a person growing zero input subsistence crops where 1kg of tubers becomes 15kg with a days work over three months, and the person eats 2kg of tubers a day. No external costs for land etc come into this cartoonish scenario. Space is unlimited.

This is my attempt: For a year the farmer will eat 730kg of tubers so they need 780kg (1/15 extra) total crop to leave 50kg to plant next year. Assuming the time spent tending the crop scales then they will spend 52 days on the crop (780/15). This is one day in seven out of the year. So our EROI in terms of well-fed time not spent tending crops is 7. Not the apparent 15 or 14 just based on crop returns. Is this very sloppy analysis? Am I missing something?


I agree with you guys in general terms.

If you are short of money, long on kids, and willing to discount your labor, you can add a lot to your family living standard by gardening on a large scale if you have the space, thereby freeing up a considerable amount of money for other purposes.

Folks out of work or retired on an inadequate income can improve thier financial situation considerably if they are good gardeners.

But if you have a good job , and especially if you can earn extra by working extra, gardening and small scale farming should be regarded as a healthy hobby that will more than pay its own way and put some really top shelf treats on the family table.

Now if tshtf,as you say the experience may turn out to be priceless.

For Gail I think what I was driving at was a more complete calculation of EROI for the simple case of a person growing zero input subsistence crops where 1kg of tubers becomes 15kg with a days work over three months, and the person eats 2kg of tubers a day. No external costs for land etc come into this cartoonish scenario. Space is unlimited.

EROI is not at all the same calculation as a balance sheet or income statement. Used to be I'd charge as much as $1500 a day to do internet work. Just today I told a potential client - next door to one of my existing clients "Oh, they said, you're doing THAT stuff for them???" - that no, I don't do that sort of work any more. Because it causes more damage than good. Fricking strange look I got for that. 'My pleasure,' I thought. :-)

EROI is not at all the same calculation as a balance sheet or income statement. A forest that sits on a balance sheet. Even some sort of emergy value that Odum might assign doesn't include the roles that forest plays in so many circles of life. On the other hand, civilization, the notion that resources from away can support us here.

We humans will continue our madness until the end of global "free trade", when we can no longer steal resources from away, when we become therefore "uncivilized", and the horizons close in.


I am a city dweller, with a pretty average size lot (3375 sq ft) and a 1000 sq ft footprint of house. Accounting for concrete paths, a small deck, and the garage, I'm left with about 1000 sq ft growing area, excluding the parkway, which gives me a couple hundred more square feet of (unofficial) space.

I'm finding it useful to use containers on the deck, both upstairs and downstairs, to increase my growing area. Mostly I plant herbs and edible perennials, but I do have about 300 sq ft dedicated to annual vegetables - tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, squash etc.

My potatoes did ok this year (the ones I kept the squirrels out of) but I only had about a 10 sq ft area planted, experimentally, which netted me a couple of baskets of Yukon Gold. Enough for a couple of good stews. I'm trying to figure out a good strategy for growing more potatoes, and a better variety.

There are substitutes, such as Jerusalem Artichoke, which I stealth-seeded on the parkway.

I've been developing the garden since 2006, so lots of room for experimentation and improvement. I agree I won't get many calories from my garden, but I will get variety, in fruits and greens. I have 5 fruit trees (apple, apricot, peach, cherry), hardy kiwi, fig (in a container), as well as small berries - gooseberry, raspberry, blackberry, blackcurrant.

In containers I can do tomatoes, spinach, herbs, peppers, beans, cucumbers etc. I also have an area for perennial medicinal herbs, which could come in handy.

I make heavy use of mulch, compost and humus/manure for the heavy clay soil.

I'm mostly independent of store-bought fruits and veggies, at least April - October. I haven't been able to generate enough for winter storage yet. Oh, and I have 2 beehives which produced about 100 lbs of honey this season.

I'm dependent on purchased cereals, grains and other bulk staples like lentils, as well as animal products such as milk, cheese and eggs. I agree, though, that the ability to turn meat parts, bones, and whatever one can scramble together into a nutritious meal will be a great skill to develop.

Edit : I'm planting winter rye this year as a cover crop. I also found a variety that grows in very cold temperatures (Akusti rye) that may winter over (I'm in Chicago).

Hey spring_tides it sounds like your situation is similar to mine. I'm also in Chicago, roughly Kedzie & Belmont. I've gone to year round growing with the addition of a hoop house and low tunnels. Every year for the past 15 years I've expanded my gardening little by little. Visitors often think I've maxed out the potential of my space, but I know there is still the potential to grow far more food than I currently do.

And when I look out at the rest of the city I see it is 99.9% underutilized for growing food. It takes a modest amount of capital and a fair amount of labor. But it takes a lot of experience. I expect hard times are coming and with it hunger, but it surely doesn't have to be that way.

I can't feed myself solely off of my property and probably never will. But I could survive off stored staples and what I grow for a very long time.

Hi neighbor! I'm not far from you, actually - Montrose & Pulaski.

I agree - the city is totally underutilized. There is much that can be done with parkways, empty lots, decks, rooftops etc etc. I imagine raised beds replacing parking lots some day. If we could just re-channel all the energy and resources wasted on growing lawns....

I take the El downtown a lot and there was someone near California & Milwaukee with their whole yard planted with corn. Maybe we'll see a resumed barter trade across the garden fence.

One of the apartment buildings in my neighborhood had someone who planted a load of tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, which did great. He was giving away the "pickles" because he had so many.

We have a good farmer's market nearby, which is always busy. I hope it remains local though - these things tend to get overrun with the big growers after a while. A group here just started a community garden - Pulaski & Belle Plein. It's been doing really well, and lots of folks are attending the "how to" classes. More are growing veggies in their back yards too, and teaching the kids, which is important.

I just bought a greenhouse last year - looking for a good spot for it. I also bought a seed-starter hoophouse for my upper deck so I can harden off seedlings without the squirrels digging everything up. I have to net everything over - particularly the fruit trees - and use chicken wire on all my containers, or the little wretches would get all of it.

I start seeds under growlights indoors to get an early start. It is definitely a year-upon-year learning curve, and an adaptation to local conditions. How about all the rain we've had ? I had a great year for beans, actually, and a poor year for tomatoes.

btw : did you ever visit City Farm ? (Clybourn & Division). Pretty cool...

Speaking of squirrels ----
The cute little bastards really did a number on us this year. We don't have much space, really a tiny yard, and a big roof-deck above the porch and car-port. Lots of containers -- 5 gallon buckets and 15 gallon plastic barrels cut in half. I've had as many as 85 buckets up there, and we have two 45gallon plastic rain barrels up there and two more down below. This year I was on chemo in the spring and so got off to a poor start and much smaller effort than usual, but the squirrels just destroyed our tomatoes this year. Never had that happen before -- usually they'd bite a few, but no real problem -- this year they took most of them or ruined them by biting them when green. I've got to figure out something before next year -- I could just shoot them all with a pellet gun, I guess. Hate to do that, but I'm not going to let them ruin my garden again. Maybe live-trapping them and taking them away to another part of town.
Also I found out how effective my urine fertilizer was this year. Because of the chemo, we decided not to use my urine on the plants, and the difference was amazing, definitely much smaller plants and yeild. Also I wonder if the squirrels were kept away before by the smell of the urine?


Generally I agree. For urban dwellers with limited space and time and who aren't into the 100% self sufficiency thing (yet!), I would think a good thing to focus on is the cost per pound of what things cost retail. It makes sense to substitute home-grown for those veggies that cost the most per pound, because that is where you can save the most money. Potatoes may be very easy to grow, but they are also very cheap. That is why a lot of gardeners don't bother with them - their space and time can be put to higher-value things.

For some examples:

Lettuce and tomatoes: These are more expensive per pound than potatoes, yet they are pretty easy to grow. Urban apartment dwellers can even grow them in containers. I would suggest that just about anybody start out with those first, at least they will be able to have their own home-grown fresh salads.

Green beans (either bush or pole): Another veg that are pretty easy to grow, and pretty high yielding. They are pretty expensive to buy fresh, and it is hard to find really good fresh green beans. These could also be grown in containers. The only real trouble anyone might ever have with green beans is Mex. bean beetles, and a light dusting of rotenone once or twice will take care of that.

Zuchini: We all know how these produce and produce and produce. The vine borers might knock the plants out before frost, but you'll already have gotten lots of squash before then. Check them and harvest daily and they will all be a nice smallish-size, fresher than any you can buy. Again, those in the store are not cheap. I have successfully grown zuchini in containers, you just need a big enough container.

Winter Squash: Easy to grow, but you need more space, and in the ground. You can train the vines on vertical support to save space, as I have successfully done in the past. Pretty good yielding, and the benefit is that these are one of the easiest things to store over the winter.

Swiss Chard: Incredibly easy to grow, hardly bothered at all by pests, can be grown either in the ground or in containers, cut and come again from spring into winter (with a little protection). This can be anyone's mainstay for fresh greens. Check out the prices in the store for this stuff, and the benefit of growing it yourself will be evident.

Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage: Many people don't like cabbage or don't know what to do with it, but most people will eat cole slaw, and this variety is very good for that. Another problem with all the brassica family is that they invariably attract the cabbage moths. Growing them under Agribon fabric or spraying regularly with BT will take care of that problem, but that makes them a bit less easy to grow. Growing most spring brassicas like broccoli can be a problem, as they tend to want to bolt quickly unless you are in a northern, long-spring area. I've had my best results with Early Jersey Wakefield, it does very well all spring and long into summer - it is the easiest-to-grow brassica that I have found. Also, it grows rapidly enough that even if the cabbage moths do get their progeny started inside, they tend to be concentrated in the base of the plant, and you can just whack that off with a knife and toss that part with most of the worms into the compost.

Lutz Winter Keeper Beets: Many people don’t like beets either, though that is mainly a matter of overcoming initial resistance and trying good, fresh beets, properly prepared. My favorite variety is Lutz Winter Keepers. Unlike other varieties, you don’t need to worry about them getting too big, they just keep growing and growing until frost, and continue being fine eating throughout. You can even keep them in the ground, with a little protection, until very late in the fall. I’ve never had any problem with pests, and they germinate very reliably. Beets are a better root crop to try than carrots, because the seeds and seedlings are larger, and thinning and weeding will be easier; they are a better crop to try than parsnips because parsnips are very difficult to get good germination, and take forever to get started. It is difficult to get good fresh beets at all in the store, and they are usually quite expensive, so they are worth growing.

I know that a lot of favorites are not on the above list. I have not included them because they are not so easy to grow, or because the yield doesn’t end up being so great, or could end up being decimated by pests, or because the value per pound doesn’t end up being all that great compared to what it would cost to buy in the store.

"Winter Squash: Easy to grow, but you need more space, and in the ground. You can train the vines on vertical support to save space, as I have successfully done in the past. Pretty good yielding, and the benefit is that these are one of the easiest things to store over the winter."

I've grown butternuts in a container selfmade out of a pallet. Soil 30cm deep. Got a fairly good crop and they stay good all winter. This year I was eating them in March that had been grown the following year.


Concur on prices for Swiss Chard. One of the local stores here is selling the rainbow colors for $7.95 a plant, in a quart pot. (aha ! - idea for next year's farmer's market)

Also, I recently saw a store offering dandelion greens imported from Mexico at $6.95 per pound. Sheesh...


What you are talking about is the value-added chain. If you only operate on the bottom link of that chain - growing and selling the raw commodity - then you are right, there is very little money in that. Farmers have gotten big bacause the margins are so tiny on that bottom link, they have to make it up on the volume.

On the other hand, if the grower can capture some of those higher value-added links by processing the food, transporting it, and selling it to the end consumer, then they have the potential of earning profits on those value-added links that they have captured for themselves.

The trick, of course, is that it is not easy to do. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

One note: it is a lot easier to accomplish this on a cooperative basis than it is as an individual.

If you are growing cranberries, processing them and selling them to the end consumer thousands of miles a way is very difficult. On the other hand, if you and other cranberry growers form a producer cooperative like Ocean Spray, then the co-op can do all the heavy lifting associated with capturing those higher value-added links (and do it more effectively than any individual farmer ever could), and the individual growers can still participate in that through their patronage dividends.

There are quite a few producer cooperatives out there. Names like SunMaid, SunSweet, SunKist, Blue Diamond, Florida's Natural, Riceland, Land O'Lakes, and Cabot are ones that most TOD readers have seen in the store and probably have bought and consumed themselves. My impression is that the farmers who are members of such producer coops seem to have a little better time of it - not quite so much of an uphill struggle for them. The only downside I see to producer co-ops is that they do seem to encourage the development of monoculture farming within their service area, which isn't sustainable farming.

Also, was the boiling calculated in?

I get around some of that cost by keeping a flat-bottomed (no legs) Dutch oven on the woodstove. Batches of things from the garden, such as eggplant, winter squash, or potatoes, are set in a bowl that fits inside the oven and bake until done -- often, at this time of year, a morning fire and an evening fire, or about four hours on the heat, will do potatoes. Lift out the bowl with a stout pair of tongs.

much of what we use in the woodstove is orchard prunings and coppiced willow, ash, and bigleaf maple in sizes suitable for a small electric chainsaw (we're wind buyers) or even limb loppers -- material that others around here consign to their brush-clearing bonfires.

Vacuum Flask Cooking may be of interest to you.

Marketed sometimes as Thermal Cookers. A half gallon Stanley Thermos works just as well.

Also, was the boiling calculated in?

No - and neither were the non-energy inputs and indirect tools etc. It was a rough estimate.

Solar cooker can remove that input.

For most urban or suburban dwellers, the mortgage is a sunk cost. It's the same whether the space grows potatoes or a strip of ratty lawn.

Potatoes are great, even in a small garden. There are all kinds of ingenious ways to grow them in boxes and bags in confined spaces. The classic is a large plastic trash bag with drainage holes punched in the bottom. Start with the bag rolled down and a foot of soil. As the potatoes grow, add soil and roll the top up. The best varieties for garbage bag cultivation are midseason or longer potatoes. The earlies don't get enough time to form spuds.

The taste of a new potato, freshly dug and popped in the pot, is so superior to supermarket varieties that the space devoted to growing potatoes is worth it.

I have a city garden in a strip of former lawn. Space and time to garden are my major constraints. I like to grow things that I am too cheap to buy or that fill a specific niche. For example, I only have room for a small garlic patch, so I grow China Pink, which is an early garlic that matures in the gap between the previous year's stored garlic running out (or getting sprouty) and the local garlic crop hitting the farmer's market.

Potatoes are good this way as well. There are varieties with different maturities, so they can be staggered for convenient harvest dates.

Potatoes are a dense energy crop, as noted above, not only for the work involved but because they need less space than grains and are less fussy about growing conditions. They need water, though. I ignored my potato bed most of the summer. The guy next door was good about watering his spuds several times a week, and he got twice the yield that I did.

Even with my lackadaisical gardening, I got two months worth of potatoes, at normal consumption rate, for a yield of 10 to 1. Better yet, the new potatoes that volunteered in last year's bed came in the spring for leek and potato soup.


Thanks for the suggestion about growing potatoes in bags. I'm definitely going to try that next year. I have a large, upstairs deck that I think will work perfectly, if I can just figure out a way to stop the darned squirrels digging everything up. Maybe a plastic bin with chicken wire over the top, instead of a bag.
I was reading that you have to throw the soil out and start fresh every year due to diseases, though. Similarly, potatoes in the ground should be planted in a different location each year, like tomatoes. What's your experience with that ?

I tried the potatoes in the plastic bin last year and the chipmunks chewed through the bottom and ate the potatoes.


You are correct about rotating the nightshade family. Potatoes actually make great soil for growing other things. One solution is to dump out the soil onto your raised beds. Another is to use it to fill large pots and plant a cover crop in them. I used to plant fava beans in fall or a spring cover crop like oats in the used potato soil, turn under the cover crop (by cutting the cover crop short, picking up the top half of the soil with the root mass and putting it back in the pot upside down) and then plant summer vegetables like a zucchini or bush cucumber in the container. I had fun showing off my container garden with the oats planted in pots.

By the way, a great way to get a luscious basil crop is to plant a trough with clover in the early spring, and then give it a haircut and turn over the whole mass in the trough. Plant basil starts into the upside down clover root mass and you get pesto from the patio.


Awesome ! On top of my to-do list for 2010...along with about 30 other things I want to try ;)

There are so many different pieces to this. Gail is more than right. And less than inclusive. There is simply no way to do this "productively" in a society where there exists cheap energy at the end of a straw. Taking down the oil companies and the oil distribution network ala MEND is a far more effective approach to decreasing oil dependency.

This past week I've sold my first produce to a local high end grocery/bistro. I drove it there in my car. Toast. Even if for the next year I walk the deliveries.

I've got now maybe 6,000 sq feet in improved raised beds, maybe 30k in "chicken pasture and orchard" feeding into compost and other soil improvement threads. Another acre of less improved "feed-in". I built a 20 yard compost heap this year and will double that next year. Or I could buy those 20 yards for next to nothing in comparison to my labor - mined from the shores, the shellfish, the fish, the commonwealth resources. But the point of what I do here is to do it without external inputs and to see what is possible. Of course, as Gail points out, there are shovels, broadforks, implements and some seeds.

I've got oodles of good food. No money from it, but plenty of food. But the Obambis will implement some sort of "health insurance reform" that will take it all away by giving the state a lien on everything I've built when I get run over by some yoyo. Coin of the realm. No fault. Which brings me back to MEND and the Somali pirates.

You can't grow your own potatoes. You can't grow your own wheat. Not only is it interstate commerce and protected (for the big bastards that suck you dry) but their blight buries you and they get away scot free. What's the penalty for a Wal-Mart or a Home Depot bringing blight into the state on seedlings? In Maine, it's nothing. In Maine, were you to thumbtack a poster to a Wal-Mart or Home Depot or a Nestles or a Hannaford suggesting they might be held accountable, that's a felony.

That law, the law that makes that a felony, that is "technology". The same sort of technology that the likes of Bill Gates and Microsoft export - in exchange for AIDS funding - to less-developed parts of the world (a.k.a. color-challenged, black or impoverished by the best of our efforts to date). That technology is what keeps our way of life bubbling alone. And Ms. Obama, she's an intellectual property rights lawyer. Feeling sold out yet, sucker?

Just got an email across my desk this afternoon - Gorenson's, an organic farm in Maine supplies a lot of seed potatoes - is getting hit hard right now with late blight. To the point they are sending out mass emails to everyone they can think of to come help bring in what can be salvaged. Blight. Climate change. We take too much. We are dying in our own shit.

cfm, growlery, gray, me


Hear! Hear!

I hear what you are saying loud and clear.Mostly.

AfaIac, when I found out about Michelle's exrtaordinarily fast move up in her old job and how Barack won his first election I decided that they were quite the equals in every way of the Clintons with thier WhiteWater schemes or of the Bushes with thier baseball teams and oil buddies and the rest of the scumbags that pass for leaders these days.

At least back in the days of Reagen and Carter you could have some personal respect for the president as an individual even if you thought he was a klutz or senile.

This is not to say that Obama has not inherited the biggest mess of any president since Lincoln.

But I do believe that he with the help of the current democratic congress has conclusively proven that the democrats are just as snugly planted in the pockets of big biz as the republicans.

But you lost me in respect to interstate commerce and growing your own potatos and wheat.

Right now I am reading a very good book titled the Post Corporate World by David C Korten that extensively treats of the things you are so righteously hot about.

I am ordering a copy of his previous book "When Corporations Rule the World".

I strongly reccomend these books to everybody concerned about the state of our society and the world as being chock full of damning information as to how we have managed screw things up so badly.

They may be a little dated in the opinion of some people but the man has something timeless to say, and says it well.

Wheat and "interstate commerce". It's a classic clusterf**k and a stellar example of how the Constitution takes us the wrong way. See also CELDF. Oldfarmermac, you'd really enjoy one of their schools. Do it.

Gotcha-but as far as wheat and potatos go I think those laws are dead letter nowadays-I'm not sure potatos were ever regulated this way anyhow.

But there are still regulations in effect that make it illegal to sell or grow some things.Specially your own herbal smoke-that prohibition being imo in large part due to the influence of the alcohol industry seventy or eighty years ago-they did such a good job then that they haven't had to bother since.

And for that matter I find it exceedingly difficult to understand why I can't make my own liquor-legally that is- or why its ok for the state to run a rigged lottery but not ok for me and my buddies to play honest poker.

I would love to get involved in some activist work but my circumstances are such that I can't travel-I live with my aged parents.My Momma is bedridden and Daddy can't look after her by himself.

Between the two of them I am pretty well stuck in the house-I'm not that busy, I just have to be here as needed.

Which explains why I can spend so much time on this site-It's the only one I've found that is about something useful with an open forum full of sharp people.

Marijuana prohibition would be originally due to an alliance between alcohol producers, cotton growers, and moral meddlers. Add in the incarceration industry now and we have a truly nasty stew.

I still find it offensive, however, when people attribute hostility to things that aid the common man (i.e. most of us) only to the other party. Given some time that I do not have right now I can whip up a whole laundry list of items pushed by both parties that are truly awful.

PATRIOT Act, DMCA, "No Child Left Behind", Glass-Steagal Repeal, etc.

Health care reform, even (especially?) Single Payer is NOT NOT NOT one of those items.

We can have private universal insurance just like the Swiss do, but to do so would involve "Intrusive Government Regulation" of the insurance industry at the national level the likes of which would make the current whining by the insurance babies sound like a gentle lullaby.

That health care is an Industry in this country *is the problem*, trying to fix health care while keeping it as an industry instead of a utility run for the public good is a fool's errand.

"of the corporation, for the corporation, by the corporation" that is the new mantra, and has been for many years, 10 years plus that i know of, the dems and repubs are nothing more than a 2 headed, 1 party system. There is a new world order pushing forward, and Obama is the front man for the USA. His job is to sell or force the USA into new world order. don't beleive me? check Alex Jones: listen to his podacsts. at

lookout for yourself, the govt isn't here to help you. thus campfire!

self sufficentcy is of utmost importance. grow your own. the closer to nature, the better.
think about it, when you go to the grocery store, everything against the walls are healthier than products closer to the center. eggs, meat, fruit, milk. all else is prepackaged products, full of sodium, saturated fats or other items to help increase your blood pressure, diabetes, or cholestrol.

I will grow my own, thanks for the info Nate!

Going from 0% home grown to 10% home grown is a huge learning curve.

By comparison going from 10% to 100% home grown is just a matter of having the extra space and time.

What a great statement. I've been gardening for 7 or so years now, expanding the garden every year (still only about 1000sq ft). I now feel that I could garden a quarter acre or so without too much extra effort.

I've stopped growing potatoes and bulbing onions myself, since I can get them cheaply from local farms ($12.00 per 50lbs for both) without giving up much in flavor. Instead I concentrate on higher value crops like peppers, or things that taste much better when homegrown like peas/carrots/beets.

On the subject of return on investment, my new favorite for yield is beets. A 100 square foot bet gave me about 50lbs from about one packet of seed (Winterkeeper and Flat of Egypt). Both the early and late plantings matured fast and large, with baseball to softball sized beets and large tops.

Vertical farming seems the path to, energy efficient low water consuming, small land footprint and last but not least food production...see article in last release of American Scientific

By the way, what does TOD think of this new report saying that we can meet all our energy need with Wind, Solar and Hydro by 2030 ?

You mean vertical farming like this?

Or just growing things up trellises and walls?

Either way where is all the material for building coming from? From my perspective even the materials, construction and maintenance needed to make modest raised beds outweighs any benefits in yield in staple crops.

Give me plain old level dirt any day for growing hardy staple crops.

When it comes to cramming veggies and herbs into intensive elaborate beds in the city, sure, that is worthwhile for making more use of limited space (as long as you are harnessing urban wastes including humanure and storm water to support the rapid growth).

But staples need space and sunlight.

not to mention with adequate space they can handle some droughts.


We have always done all our farming right down there in the "plain old level dirt" but starting next spring I will be doing more and more gardening in raised beds-and not because of any lack of space or any other asset-except youth.

I am building very tall raised beds simply so we can work them sitting on a tripod stool or standing up.

They are the first raised beds to amount to anything in this nieghborhood.

It won't cost much at all for me to build the beds-I'm a world class scrounger of cheap and free building materials and I have the machinery needed to move the soil already.

I am absolutely certain that given the likelihood of getting fifteen years or more use out of the beds that the effort will be well worth while.

I can sit on the edge of a reased bed with first class soil heavy with organic matter with a water hose in one hand and weed a hundred square feet in half the time I can weed the same area at ground level and get double the yields by working the bed more intensively-I had curly kale six inches high between sweet pepper plants when the first frost hit.

Some people I have visited with manage to get three and even four harvests out of raised beds by interplanting and transplanting while doing no plowing , using only a small one handed hoe to work the soil.

But its the old knees and back that made me make up my mind.My eighty two year old Daddy can still use a goose neck hoe like a young man but both of us have trouble with aches and pains.

Hi Mac,

Any good links for raised beds - we have very heavy clay soil but a slight tilt to the land so there is no issue with ponding or flooding. Any exess water runs into Lake Michigan.

My back and knees would really appreciate a raised bed strategy.

Vertical farming seems to require a lot of inputs--particularly frequent watering, but also fertilizer, as I understand it. They are great now, but it is not clear how long we will have the inputs for them.

My back of the envelope calculation says that we would need something like at 15% tax on personal income worldwide between now and 2030 (perhaps rising in the future, as incomes fell with lower resources of all types) to afford this. Even with such a tax, it is not clear that all of the rare minerals and other inputs required could be obtained. "Ordinary" building would likely get squeezed out.

Vertical farming is an idea that has been kicked around almost forever-we had dormitory bull sessions discussing such future technologies in the late sixties when I was an undergrad.

It is a foregone conclusion that it will never be an economical proposition-there are major technical stubbling blocks in addition to the costs of construction.

I will point out only one, which is enough-sunlight.A huge high rise building cannot be well lit-in agricultural terms-in relation to the floor space by the amount of sunlight that strikes the building.

At one time I believed that it would be possible to build very large greenhouses cheaply enough to raise staple crops indoors-light would not be a problem with a single "floor" and the possibilities in respect to control of pests, losses due to bad weather and so forth are huge.

But so far the costs of the glass and the framing to build that ONE FLOOR are still prohibitive,except for hothouse flowers and a few specialty items such as out of season tomatos.

Farming in a dedicated high rise building is absolutely out of the question in economic terms.The cost of the building in terms of square feet of useful floor space as compared to an ordinary greenhouse is many many times higher.

The amount of steel and concrete that will get a two hundred foot square high rise out of the the ground and up to the second floor is probably enough to build a greenhouse as big as total area of the high rise when its up to fifteen or twenty floors.Not to mention elevators, stairwells, plumbing, etc, none of which are exactly cheap.Nor construction cranes and highly paid ironworkers-green houses are tinker toy simple by comparision.

We are not short of farmland in any sense that makes high rise farming realistic and there will be a major die off before we ever get to that point anyway.

I suppose if you had office building vacancy rates running in excess of 50%, with no prospect of their ever coming down (a very realistic and probable scenario), then it might possibly make sense to consider retrofitting some of the building to some sort of vertical farming scheme. You would have to cherry pick just the buildings with the best sun exposure, and keep retrofit investments to an absolute minimum. Even then, the project might not fly, but I suppose it might at least be worth running the numbers to see if it is feasible.

WncO , that might work if you just stuck to the south side of unshaded buildings and used the offices with floor to ceiling windows-you might get enough light to use the first ten feet or so of floor nearest the windows.

You just can't farm in the shade-light is to a plant as gasoline is to an ice.

They might be more economical once peak oil really starts to take effect. If you can grow food directly within a city rather than transport in it will save on time and costs.

A single building dedicated to a farm though does not seem practical because of sunlight. Far better would be a farm/apartment complex where, in the Northern hemisphere, the farm side would be south facing with the apartments on the other side.

Gail, that 15% tax buys what? You probablyh don't exactly mean "vertical farming"?

I gotta say this looks like another one of those stupid mega-techno-fixes that make no sense, like the guy and his daughter proposing giant (I mean GIANT) carbon-sequestering building/machines, when mid-succession forest would do the same thing with many additional benefits.

How about something human-scaled like greenhouses, cold frames, Edible Forest Gardening, Four Season Harvest, Better Off?

Like Nate says, growing your own food is actually enjoyable, especially if done intelligently. Until we can feed ourselves sustainably, we have no business "feeding" the rest of the world.

At one time or another we have had a dog that would eat almost anything but none of them ever ate a raw potato.I'm presuming you cooked the potatos your dog ate?

I probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for the lowly potato-some of my ancestors-and fairly recent ones at that- might have starved otherwise.

Anybody new to gardening should definitely include potatos in thier garden-the potential for getting soul satisfying results-meaning a big bountiful harvest is higher with potatos than any other crop.

And they grow very well over a very large part of the country-but if you live in the hot places you need to get started very early in the spring or they won't do nearly as well.

I reccomend against sweet potatos if you live in an area plagued by deer unless you have fenced your garden or enjoy deer hunting and venison.Sweet potatos seem to attract deer about as well as beer attracts frat boys.The last couple of times we tried to raise some the deer cleaned up the vines as well as I could have done the job with a lawn mower.

I am holding off on fencing our gardens in hope that the recession will solve the deer problem-there are lots of unemployed people around here who nowadays have plenty of time to hunt.

i too have heard raw potatoes are poisonous for dogs.

i have a great pyrennes that guards the garden; the limited fence is to keep her out. i don't remember a deer track; but yes they love sweet pot. vines.

around here with my first community garden plot, regular potatoes were forbid due to bugs.

At one time or another we have had a dog that would eat almost anything but none of them ever ate a raw potato.I'm presuming you cooked the potatos your dog ate?

Err. no - he ate them raw - a couple a day for over a month. No wonder he was waking up every night needing to go to the bathroom..... I knew it probably wasn't great but he seemed to like it..

I have not heard that raw potatos are poisonous to dogs-I said only that no dog out of the many we have had would eat them raw.All of them have willingly eaten cooked potatos-even just plain boiled with a sprinkle of salt-back when all of us kids were at home our dogs lived exclusively on table scraps and whatever varmits they could catch.All of them lived to ripe old doggie ages too, except a couple that were hit by cars.

Virtually anything that passed thru the kitchen and was cooked the dogs would eat-but then my Momma cooked virtually everything in butter or lard so maybe that's not so hard to understand..We had a couple that would eat well ripened sweet tasting apples such as red delicious but other than the apples none ever ate raw vegetables or fruit other than a nibble if strongly encouraged by petting and hand feeding.

I have heard that famished dogs will eat ripe tomatos and cantaloupes but I have not seen this personally.

OFM, when we lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (near Wallops Island), we acquired a dog from the local dump who LOVED tomatoes. She was a menace in the garden. She would pick off and eat all the ripe tomatoes she could reach. She was the same with the wild berries that we picked at the local park. She would just pull her lips back and eat all the berries should could reach, right off the prickly canes. She liked black raspberries best, but she went after wineberries, too.

Neither of the dogs we have now, a coonhound and a husky-like mutt, is at all interested in either fruits or vegetables, but the cat will get into the bowl of after-school popcorn if it isn't watched carefully.

My dog will eat everything from broccoli to zucchini. American Eskimo. She'll take my hand off for acorn squash or a bite of nectarine. Of course, raw turkey necks work too.

I grew pickles for Paramount as a youngster, I had a daschund mix that would gorge on them while I was picking.

Dogs are actually closer to being omnivores than obligate carnivores like cats. The Aztecs were known to fatten them up on maize, not having the benefit of hogs to fatten.

Raw potatoes are mildly poisonous to humans and dogs. Potatoes are in the nightshade family, and members of this family contain solanine, a pretty toxic poison. Young, raw potatoes have very little solanine in them, and are safe for eating by humans. As the potato ages, gets green, sprouts, or has blight the amount of toxins increases rapidly, making them bitter and rendering them poisonous and inedible. Other parts of the potato plant have more than the tubers, so the leaves and stems shouldn't be eaten either. A dog's low body weight can make it more susceptible to the toxin, and mild poisoning causes puking and the pooping.

It appears the potato is a clever little root vegetable, efficiently extracting nutrients from the soil and sun, and packaging it all up into dense cals. With such a high caloric return, this suggests there's enough of an energy-profit margin here to attract arbitrageurs (growers) for a long time to come who will want to capture those margins at scale. But whether they do so at at scale or not, the good news is that the high rate of return is available to the small scale food grower. I'll venture the potato provides the diversity of higher-returns when mixed in with lower return crops--which are grown, say, for their vitamin not calorie content.

So thanks for the root vegetable math. In addition, there's a touch of irony in your substitution of potatoes for Twitter. Because it looks like the Potato has accomplished for you the very thing Twitter purports: connecting you socially to other people.

Finally, in one conversation of mine at ASPO Denver I was treated to the phrase "gourmet survivalism." I thought this was hilarious but clever in the sense that it seemed a great idea to port at least one artifact from the days of energy abundance: style. To this end, I would make as your next project the following: all the combinations you can discover with differing varieties of olive oil, potatoes, and herbs.


"Gourmet survivalism". That is slow food. Leave it to the italian communists to beat you to the punch (as in the good tasting stuff on the table).

Slow pot roasts using a solar cooker come to mind. Mmmmm, lamb shanks, potatoes, rosemary: place in the sun for a day...


Maybe I've been lucky, but my potato crop came off well also, without much effort, although I used a raised bed.
Potatoes and bananas are the big calorie, small area , easy to grow crops, although blood sugar levels are an issue.
Banana's are ridiculously large producers, although most on the Mainland don't have the conditions.

I've found bananas to be slower than other crops; then again, my "plant 'em and forget 'em" style may not be optimal.

Though the "plant and forget" strategy seems to be working well for coconut and avocados. Trees that produce large amounts of fats and starches appeal to me as a fellow whose body is out of warranty. My greatest hopes have been for breadfruit, but the fill-dirt on a hillside I'm working with has not led to fast growth. Any breadfruit tree experts on here? In years past when I lived on the beach in Waimanalo, there was a tree next door no more than 100' from the water, over 80' tall and constantly full of bowling-ball sized breadfruit. Now that's an impressive starch factory. (hint - they're bowling-ball weight, too - do not try to catch one that falls from 50 feet above you - rookie mistake and painful memory).

I don't see any local potatoes grown here - I assume the bugs eat 'em, though the high land prices may have something to do with it too. I like the thought of covering the roof with garbage bags full of potato plants, just for the neighbors' reactions. Our yard is conspicuous in its lack of manicured lawn.

Great post, I got a smile out of it.

Hi Greenish,

I am woefully illinformed in regard to tropical agriculture but it seems likely that you could grow sweet potatos easily in Hawaii if you get the right variety-most of the books about tropical island societies mention them.

The common potato is a cool weather critter-although there may nowadays be some hot weather adapted varieties,I haven't checked.

Around here you can get a large dump truck load-fifteen tons- of very good topsoil delivered and dumped in a pile (or spread out if the ground is smooth enough to drive the truck over it) for about three hundred dollars.A load or two might be enough to do the trick for you but the cost might be much higher in Hawaii-here a local contractor just scoops the soil up from his own property with his own machine and hauls it on his own truck-the three hundred is basically the loading and delivery charge.

Hi Mac. Yes, I think sweet potatoes will grow at this altitude (basically sea level) but taro might be better. However, I'm working with an inaccessible (by truck) steep hillside with erosion problems that are undermining the house. Any loosening of the dirt causes it to be quickly carried away in the heavy rains we get here. The back bedroom downstairs is already on a separate tectonic plate and migrating downhill. So tree crops it is for now.

Actually, on our big isle lots I had planned to do just as you say - truck in some soil to cover the very shallow debris that overlies the lava, and do sweet potatoes. However, it doesn't look like we'll make it over there for several reasons, so we've had to sell the lots off to cover our expenses (surprisingly cheap in Puna, around 10k per acre). Sold one to this fellow who has quickly made himself self-sustainable with root vegetables just using the shallow soil that's there, adding homemade charcoal, etc. (he's a TOD reader and good guy, and will probably be OK in nearly any future scenario).

Sweet potatoes are one of the most common staples in tropical areas. They grow like mad with heat and water. Very productive, specially if you also eat the leaves, which can be quite good.

I also grow taro as a curiosity and that is also a wonderful edible plant. Many varieties capable of growing in very wet soils, even below water level.

I received a letter from the Purdue University Master Gardener Program that asked that I put all left over potatoes plants and tomato plants in plastic bags to be disposed of due to late blight this year in my area (Indiana). I think this actually was much more of a problem in the Northeast than the Midwest this year.

How do you ensure that your stored potatoes that you will plant next spring are actually disease free? Historically, late blight is a very serious disease.

How do you ensure that your stored potatoes that you will plant next spring are actually disease free?

That's a fascinating question. It works at a number of levels. The first - automatic - response is, "buy certified seed stock", eg TRUST AUTHORITY. I know that's wrong.

Hmmm, I planted spuds this year. The spuds I planted got blighted. The spuds left over from last year - the volunteers in another area of my garden - did not. Only 100 feet away. What did I read, blight spores can travel how many miles in a single day? A lot. Depends on wind direction.

What the AUTHORITIES tell you about our food system is often wishful thinking and often a deliberate lie. That's a clear fact.
So back to the seed potatoes. I'm saving the volunteer crop for seed, not the blighted ones.

But as long as we have a global food chain, this will get worse and worse. Sooner or later either the corporations will supply everything we eat - to their own fine certified standards - or we will get rid of the corporations that want to supply everything we eat to their own fine certified standards.

This program is not lying to me -- they are trying to protect the vegetable crops. I think the program is misguided and using unsustainable practices but they have a wealth of information to share.

On another note, I think the potato originated from the Andes mountains which would explain why they don't do so well at lower elevations.

If you store next year's starting crop with lavender, it is supposed to help keep the potato from sprouting.

but they have a wealth of information to share.

I agree with you, gogH.
I used to do this as a living and helped provide some of the specialist scientific back-up for a major seed-potato producing area.
Potato is quite a technical crop unless grown in multi-species systems in the Andean highlands where it was domesticated. The old-fashioned way in our temperate countries was to smother the crop especially the seed-tuber crop at the right time in copper sulfate mixes against blight, and to grow 'seed' in specialist colder areas subject to low infection pressure from aphis-transmitted viruses. These 'seed-crops' were intensively inspected to weed out virus infected plants. Eventually though the varieties of-the-day filled up with virus. The escape then was for growers in especially favored areas to breed new sexual selections (from true-seed). The viruses did not transmit through the 'true-seed'. Worth remembering that some varieties were maintained over long periods: Russet Burbank was first selected in 1904 (IIFC?) by Mr Burbank and survived as the premier preferred source for those famous 'freedom-fries'.
Some varieties do a lot better than others for growing, pest damage and storage under differing local conditions. Worth experimenting.
Modern clean seed-stock in laboratory culture is a source of mini-tubers multiplied and grown under protected cover. The latter are available to 'organic gardeners' in my area of UK from a guy who has turned the hi-tec into a cottage industry. Relatively low-cost in energy and finance for a very high-value (high utility) product, and not so 'hi-tec' to be unavailable I hope in an energy constrained future.
[BTW, the main reason why potato was so useful was that it could use high levels of soil nitrogen whereas cereal, wheat, barley varieties until 1970 could not. Thus potato expanded for example in subsistence farming in places like west of Ireland, which were marginal areas for barley and oats. Good 'calories return' on hand-turned and renew-ably manured acres, but vulnerable.


Could you recommend any good references that might provide enough theoretical and practical information to duplicate the type of small scale seed potato production you describe?


I can't do it easily or in a brief form. The guy who did this locally came from the research and breeding institutes and was able to obtain his initial sources of clean tissue culture from a bigger outfit already spun off from research. The bigger outfit was in business to supply the big seed-producer companies, but did not mind working with a small guy supplying gardeners. My understanding is that the small supplier needed a 'clean lab' and specialized nutrient preparations where he could multiply cultures under lights and then a greenhouse where he could plant out and raise mini-tubers.
I could try getting him to provide latest technical literature, but it would take a while.
I am not sure what the commercial procedures are these days in the USA and Canada, but there are agricultural research institutes that should be able to help - especially if you are in a seed potato growing locality. Would need discussion and consultation as well as reading, I guess.

I'm with you, Nate, spuds are great.
Just watch the re-use - if you're below 800ft(I think) they will gradually disease. Replace you stock once every 3 years or so, or live high up, or build a very tall tower for winter storage.
Blight is your only trouble, thereafter. Just look what it did to the Irish!

I didn't have blight this year but my father did a few hundred miles east of me (on his tomatoes). As to that, diversification, both in crops and in friends, is about all one can do.

I am below 800 ft - what does altitude have to do with blight?

Potatos grow naturaly high in the Andes. When grown at low altitudes the plants become more suseptable over time to blight. Along with crop rotation you need to re stock with fresh seed potatos every three or four years to prevent this.

There is more than one genetic 'blight'. In temperate climate 'they' typically need, as well as a 'carry-over' source, sun and dry conditions for long distance wind dispersal, alternated by high humidity for local establishment. So-called 'Beaumont periods' are defined by algorithms of these variables and typically are available as 'spray dates' advisories from local Agricultural Services. Leaving a crop in the ground is not advised if you see the leaf spots. Infected tubers will later ruin the storage.

The climate in the Andes is much drier in comparison to lower altitudes, higher moisture levels enable blight to spread while at the same time high moisture in the air will leach nutrients from the leaves contributing to the speed of blight infestation.

Potatoes are grown alongside two other tuber crops in the Andes "oca" and "ulloco", i don't know if they have any affect on blight when grown together with spuds...

Nate, you have placed a 1.5 MEGAbyte photo at the top of this article. It should be only 10% of that size, max. You are choking people with low bandwidth.

Right now people get a lot of carbohydrate from cereals grown out on prairies using big diesel powered machines and lots of synthetic NPK. It seems obvious to me Post Peak we should find an alternative form of starch grown near home. Better still in the backyard.

A personal perspective on the spud is from the fact I have heavy clay soil. First that means I have to make it more friable using gypsum and compost. Don't let the soil bake hard in the sun like bricks. I make mounds or ridges and plant both sides. I use an additional layer of mulch to stop the clay drying out and keep it just moist. Currently I'm growing southern hemisphere varieties Dutch Creams, Pink Eyes, Bintjes and a type called 'shepherdies' or somesuch.

The second clay related problem is that my deep earth cellar flooded with heavy rain. I'm going to reinforce the walls and cover them with a silicone cement render. I'll keep the spuds in the dark wrapped in newspaper though some like to separate them in egg cartons. I haven't worked out yet how late in the season they can be grown. Maybe my new greenhouse will grow them in frost season if they get enough hours of daylight. It's all learn as you go.

Great article. Would just note few things 1) in the little ice age the English monks saved the day by switching livestock to clover and people to root crops - these were not affected by the heavy rains that climate change brought them and hence promoted survival.

2)potatoes have all the nutrition minerals etc needed to survive - one can even find moisture in them - so if you can only grow one crop - potatoes are it

3) the disaster of the Irish was that they grew just one type of potato - a grim lesson in the dangers of monoculture - always grow several potato varieties

4) you can save potatoes over the winter by insulating them outdoors with dirt then a lot of hay - insert a pipe to allow ventilation
(do a search for photos and better directions)

5)if deer and other critters are a problem - you can grow potatoes in bags or even garbage pails with holes poked in them - there are also special plastic (durable - I have had mine for going on 8 years) expandable things sold by most garden supply companies - they have the advantage of less weeding and the wildlife are kept away

6) sweet potatoes are unreliable in the north and mid atlantic - not likely to grow in Pa or NJ and further north

Practice growing now - so you have the skills when the bad times come!

4) you can save potatoes over the winter by insulating them outdoors with dirt then a lot of hay - insert a pipe to allow ventilation
(do a search for photos and better directions)

Keywords "clamp" or "silo"

'the disaster of the Irish was that they grew just one type of potato"
potato nerd says: - actually 2, the "lumper" -ugly as it sounds and pretty tasteless and the "cup".

Grow potatoes ...
but for survival gardening also grow dry corn , beans and squash

Nate, optimised jpeg for bandwidth compromised.

Have you tried stacker beds, where you plant the Potatoes and re-cover them every few days with soil so the growing tips get no longer than a few inches. We've got a massive crop of potatoes this year with stacker beds.

Saving your produce for seed in the case of potato may result in decresing yields as the years go by, aphids and other bugs give them viruses which eventually reduce them to gnarled little golf ball sized thingies.

uggh. sorry for the big image. I did this post in a real hurry. And thanks for re-sizing it - I made the change.

re stacker beds: never heard of them - I will look into it. thx.

I've been buying seedstock from seedsavers for years - I just wanted to try to do it full circle this time. But how would professional seedstock people ( do things differently so that their potatoes don't regress to gnarled golf balls? And if you know the answer to that, couldn't I do the same thing?

OK, no expert, self taught gardener here, BUT, an absurdly successful one.

What they do is take a growing tip from a VERY helathy plant and CLONE it in a pre-prepared sterile bed. This then produces seed potatoes that are reasonably free of infection. Whilst I have not done this with potatoes, I have done it with several other plants, so here is a laymans description.

Go out to your SPUD (potato) patch when it is quite young and identify the best growing tips on your crop. Take off the top few inches, so that the cutting has about a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thickness at the base. Dip that cutting in some rooting compund (indole-butyric acd is a common one) and plant it in a bed of sterile medium (boiled palm peat) and propagate it hydroponically in a closed environment, it will need a cover (plastic cup etc) for about a week to prevent de-hydration. Once that tip sprouts roots and then matures into a crop of SPUDZ, those spudz are pretty disease free. No need to use sodium lights, etc, just put the propagated tips in good, not too harsh (which Vermont is perhaps famous for), sunlight in a bug free environment. This is called CLONING, it takes a bit of time to master the skill, but in the case of SPUDZ, possibly one worth aquiring, given the gravity of our situation. (Not to mention that Life Science is meta-rewarding).

I'm happy to follow this up and provide a technical document on the matter should a formal request arise, BUT, you gotta be creative if you want to be a gardener, and the hints provided should be sufficient for true survivors.

Please write it up. I googled on this subject before but didn't turn up anything useful.

Second that.

Wilco, need a couple of weeks.

re stacker beds: never heard of them - I will look into it. thx.

Often referred to as "hilling".

This post makes me think that even most folks on The Oil Drum do not understand the scope and origin of the problem.

No amount of agriculture will fix our issues on a societal level. This post is only useful to see if as an individual you can survive, but there is no hope for feeding the current world population.

It is farming that got us into this mess. Yes, you heard right, I blame the farmers, the ones way back in Mesopotamia, for our current issues. I do not hold farmers to as high esteem as most of my green friends. They are the cause of over population, and now that we are over populated it has become the new normal we have to support. And our fear of death keeps the system growing.

Agriculture is debt. It is leverage on the future. It pushes death off beyond our normal lifespan. In order for our children to survive, as parents, we must not be afraid to die.

It is farming that got us into this mess. Yes, you heard right, I blame the farmers, the ones way back in Mesopotamia, for our current issues.

As a protest you could refuse to use any farm produced products.

My lack of living the life of a gatherer is unrelated to the truth of the circumstances.

I do not hold onto the common delusion that we can somehow continue the current level of world population. I accept that it is the way it is. I will never promote better ways to feed more people.

Maybe a slight clarification, I am not wholly against farming, I am against surplus farming, where most in a society do not have to expend energy to get food. To me the only job anyone should have is obtaining food. There can be no ecological balance outside otherwise.

Hi Christian,

Although your argument is perfectly sensible, two things come to mind:

1. Like it or not, we are where we are. Yet, 7B humans on a planet that can probably support abut 2B, over the long run, is a problem that begs for a solution. So, I agree mankind is suffering from a massive delusion about some kind of "right" to reproduce indefinitely. And, I also think that the "green revolution" was the worst thing that could have happened for humanity and the planet. Feeding more humans today is not a worthy goal if we want humanity to succeed over the long run. But, we cannot change the fact that planet earth has nearly 7B humans and sustainable methods like hunter/gather and small farmer simply cannot feed us at our current levels. Clearly, if some kind of "Power Down" is feasible, we need current food production methods for the short run to fuel the transition to a lower population level.

2. Assuming we stablize our population around 2B in a century or so, I suspect that lots of today's technologies can be put to good use to enable us to live healthier and longer lives. Assuming, of course, that we have learned our lesson about human population levels. However, I give this happy secenario about a 10% probability of happening.

"Faith in immortality was born of the greed of unsatisfied people who make unwise use of the time that nature has allotted us. But the wise man finds his life span sufficient to complete the full circle of attainable pleasures, and when the time of death comes, he will leave the table, satisfied, freeing a place for other guests. For the wise man one human life is sufficient, and a stupid man will not know what to do with eternity." Epicurus.

The wormwood. Pest control or "other use"?

I thought it was for homemade absinth production :)

I grew wormwood this year. Do you have any links for such process??

Look on Erowid, a couple there. I would post links but content filters may object to Erowid links.

If content filters are stupid enough to block Erowid links, the solution is probably to just place them in the comments of every website.

Nice post Nate.

My takeaway: 1000 row feet per person, per year, to meet all calories with taters.

That's ten rows in a massive 100' long veggie garden per person.

Not that we'd want to only eat potatoes, but it gives an easy way to remember the scale required.

Chris - that sounds about right. We have plenty of land, but its labor intensity is very low.

If one looks at the price of vegetables in the store (or farmers market) and then at the price of meat in the store (or farmers market), I think you will agree that you can save more money buy raising livestock than by gardening.
And raising something like chickens that are walking garbage cans can make you feel good to use up all the waste food in your home (stale bread, excess cooked foods, etc...)
Unless you are a vegetarian, I would advise raising livestock first and gardening second. (ie buy vegetables and raise meat or do both)

Hello to all:

I love reading all this farming stuff and am learning a great deal. As a resident of an urban area with a teaching job, though I grow raspberries, rhubarb and herbs, I'm sadly lacking in the farming inclination. What I do is subscribe to a CSA grower: he makes a living and we get loads of great produce which I cook and also process and freeze. Yum, yum.

I'd like to point out that there are other environmentally-useful, carbon-footprint- reducing, low-energy-input things to do with small back yards: mine is a pollinator preserve full of native plants--and, in the warmer seasons birds, butterflies, many species of bees, both native and honey, native wasps, and so forth. So I'm helping local beekeepers and vegetable gardeners. I'm also what's called around here a native seed gardener: I save seeds and give them to groups that are restoring and maintaining conservation areas. On native plants do our native ecosystems and thus our lives depend.

What will husband and I do when bad times come? I'm not sure, but we have some practical skills which, if worst comes to worst we maybe could use in a barter system.

Everybody should emulate Nate.
Organic gardening improves your diet, gives a chance to your skin to manufacture Vitamin D and is an excellent stress reliever.

It might be safer to recommend 'everybody should emulate Nates efforts to eat more locally and substitute a bit of time and labor for some money and energy.' Emulating Nate beyond that might not be so wise...;-)

I want a cart like you have that has long rails like a sulky or rickshaw for moving mulch around.

I've enjoyed this thread. I think we need to accept that our hunter/gatherer days are over and get used to growing more of our own food. Growing my own food on a small scale has given me a whole new respect for farmers (and, unfortunately, not so many vegetables...) I live near a strictly controlled seed potato farming area in Canada (Pemberton, BC) which exports many seed potatoes to the US market. Seed potatoes are heavy and bulky which leads me to wonder about the long-term viability of the EROI for potato growing under this trans-continental trading arrangement.

Fascinating. I am an urban micro gardener in DC; this year I installed rain barrels, built a (2nd) deer fence and actually kept the critters out. And I'm (trying to) grow sweet potatoes. Don't have as much sunlight as optimal, but did pretty well considering I solved the deer problem mid-season. Here's a blog post/whine about how difficult urban micro-gardening is:

Haven't harvested my sweet potatoes yet, but I have about 15 surviving "slips" that became a beautiful ivy-like ground, and potatoes are more like pregnant carrots, but I have another few weeks before I have to harvest them.

This year I'm mulching ALL my leaves (instead of letting the city truck it away)and hope to improve the soil enough to improve all yields, from rhubarb and berries to tomatoes etc.
I'll never become calorie-self-sufficient, but every little bit helps. And one of my neighbors, reputed to be one of the "Heinz" clan, digs up their whole front yard to plant whatever they please. Others are digging up the grass median strip between street and sidewalk. Urban gardening is catching on.

And 2010 is another year.

Congratulations, Nate! Home grown potatoes are a real treasure, and if you do some research you can make flours and a variety of other things from them as well. They are also a good alternative to wheat, barley, and rye for folks who have any gluten sensitivity problems.

As for Twitter, PDAs, and cell phones, I constantly get razzed about not using any of these things. Yet when push comes to shove at work, I am the guy people need to go to for technology answers. It's not that I don't understand those things, just that I do not and have not valued them. Yes, there is more to life than some people perceive.

Hay Nate some of them spud look mighty good. So you didn't spend the whole damn spring and summer blogging!

You're mighty lucky you didn't get blight - we got absolutely whacked here in the Madison area. Within a matter of about one week the tops of my spud withered up as though blasted by a torch. Yield less than 1/4 of normal. Good thing I will be able pedal to my nearby grocery store this winter/next spring and get me plenty-o-spud from central Wisconsin where they slather on way too many of them chemicals fer that there blight to of took hold.

Spud are God's gift to Man - name any other plant that cranks out as much nutritious food per acre, per hour of labor input, etc. Any nutrients that ain't in 'em, we can do without. Man, we could run a whole civilization on spud! Can't say that for Tar Sandz.


What a great post, thank you Nate!!!
I've been trying for a couple of weeks now to get ready a submission called,
"What is the ROI of food?"
But you seem to have made my efforts moot with this potato post.
's ok, because the comments here are right on, so now i don't have to finish that work.
Our local Transition Town's concern is 'Can Reno feed itself'?
While I fussed this year over tomatoes, peppers, etc.,the stuff I didn't work on too hard did really well.
I planted 7 different potato tires, and yesterday harvested one of them. It gave me a pressure cooker chock full of yummy fresh spuds. And I've got six more to go, and they are even better looking. All I did basically was plant them and water them faithfully.With a little bit of backfill, and an occasional added tire thrown on top, they required no weeding, and I almost felt guilty about how little care they got.
Like wise, many of the crops I didn't even plant grew very well. The amaranth outshone everything else in the garden, the purslane overgrew most everything, the ground cherries came up once again by themselves and needed no tending, and the apple tree vomited forth almost too much to eat.
I didn't even plant these things but they outmuscled my coddled raised garden veggies.
While I planted copious cabbages, I only got 3 good heads in far too long a time, yet the tiny little stand of barley came up almost overnight, and I probably could have harvested 3 or 4 plantings of it it seems.
Next year I'm going to re-introduce jerusalem artichokes, and let them wander freely this time.
After the volunteer peach tree goes to sleep, I'll replant it to a sunnier spot soon.
And, if I can find out what nut trees grow here, I get in a couple and also some more fruit trees as I can afford them.
Next year will be more corn/pea and squash areas, and some friends are going to help get that manure/shredded wood mulch in over winter so I can scrape that back this spring and plant in nice more fertile soil.
Also, I'm going to do a few raised bed containers surrounded by old tires, as I was VERY impressed with both their moisture retention, and early warming characteristics. And, they are FREE.
They don't even look too bad once the foliage covers them up.

My question for readers is: what are the best EROEI crops to grow? That's Eating Return on Energy Invested....
In other words, which grow the fastest for early eating, and which grow the longest for biggest return?
Thank you Nate for bringng this all up, and thank you all for your invaluable contributions to my own personal knowledge.

I'm going to thoroughly re-read all comments, and then print out this whole post so that I have it on permanent hard copy.
You bet!

The breakout for 2010 for me is 5 acres of non-hybrid corn in traditional rows using the corn seed that I used this year, for this I have taken on a partner (a neighbor who has lost his job) and who is willing to do sustainable farming with me. The same question applies, how do you continue soil fertility. Traditionally this is done with a rotation of corn and soybeans around here, plus lots of inorganic additions. We are going to attempt a crop rotation of corn, soybeans with tripods of beans, fallow with tripods of beans, and humanure. I have found a free source of humanure for the five acres which has been sterilized and is "legal" to use. As this is a 15 acre field, we hope to have 5 acres always in corn, ten in tripods of pole beans, and 5 acres in soybeans. Prior to inorganic fertilizers and the soy bean craze this area through at least NYS used to have a five crop rotation. These fields will be stranded in electric wire that is solar powered which I have used very successfully on my orchard for years.

Your friend's pound for pound yields on the various potato varieties range from extraordinary (20:1) to fantastical (50+:1). Your own yields of better than 18:1 are also extremely impressive given your reported lack of attention to the crop, though still within the range of credibility. Just. Rob at One Straw has trialed several different organic potato cultivation methods and come nowhere near these yields. The best I've managed with potatoes is a 14:1 return; more typically I see 8-9:1 returns, which is still at the high end of conventional potato farming yields. Mary's results are so far off the charts that her methods of cultivation really ought to be shared. Please encourage her to write up the details on her own blog or pass it along to you for a guest post.

Has anyone commented about or solved for energy requirement's to cook 900 lbs of potato's? One gets somewhat ill from eating raw potatoes, and think this should be included when discussing the EROEI of oyur crop choice.

Use a solar oven. The energy is 'free'.

I am a sustainable market gardener from Ferndale, Washington. Part of my sustainable model is calculating inputs and outputs. I use kilocalories as my metric, since they are convertible to KWH, BTU, joules and vice versa. Also, kilocalories are usually referred to as calories (sometimes "large" calories or "nutritional" calories), a legacy of the nutritionists that is easy for consumers to grasp, since their boxes of cornflakes, bags of flour, etc. already have the caloric values printed on them. In my calculations I use kilocalorie values from, so I can maintain consistency. The value I use for potatoes is 351 kilocalories/pound. Your value of 400 per pound is for boiled/steamed potatoes and includes some water weight. Also, the standard poundage for a bushel of potatoes is 50 pounds per bushel, not 60. It is much less troublesome to stick with poundage, rather than bushels. The accepted standard for calories (kilocalories) produced per acre of potatoes is 6-8 million. Wheat is only 3-4 million calories per acre, thus verifying the old saying that, "The Irish peasant is more well-nourished on potatoes than the English peasant on wheat."

Here are my inputs and outputs for the last two years. By the way, I use 125 calories per hour for labor expended. I use tillers and hand labor only, instead of tractors. There are certainly embedded energy values in tiller manufacture, as there are in tractors, but short of the nerdboys giving us a hard read on what Odum called "emergy" this is what we have.

F.A. Farm 2008 - 1.00 acres farmed intensively
Inputs: 25 gallons of gas for tillers = 775,000 kilocalories
3000 hours labor = 375,000 kilocalories
Total input = 1.15 million kilocalories

Outputs: 44 kinds of produce yielded 2.24 million kilocalories
Ratio of input to output: 2.24/1.15 = 1.95
Ratio of ouput to human calorie needs: 2.24/.91 = 2.46
Number of people fed per acre: 2.46/1.00 acre = 2.46
Value of food grown using direct marketing and pricing: $25,951.42

Here is my inputs and outputs as of Nov. 1, 2009

F.A. Farm 2009 - 1.49 acres farmed intensively
Inputs: 22.25 gallons of gas for tillers = 689,750 kilocalories
3000 hours labor = 375,000 kilocalories
Total input = 1.06 million kilocalories

Outputs: 75 kinds of produce & grain yielded 3.10 million kilocalories
Ratio of input to output: 3.10/1.06 = 2.92
Ratio of output to human calorie needs: 3.10/.91 = 3.40
Number of people fed per acre: 3.40/1.49 = 2.28
Value of food grown using direct marketing and pricing: $30,126.46

Final note: I cannot sell all that I grow, so the dollar values are not what went into my pocket. If marketing wasn't such a difficult problem, we could all make money farming without tractors. However, it will probably take a real crash to bring that about. I blog regularly on Local Harvest, so if you want more info, you can go to the F.A. Farm blog on