SnowBear Farm – Ten Thousand Hours and Counting

This guest post from Jim Dunlap (Oil Drum name Wyoming) is a progress report on the development of his farm in Virginia.

A year ago I wrote a lengthy article for Oil Drum - Campfire describing the beginning of my conversion from a career of professional life often an desk to one of a farmer. Due to the interest and spirited responses to my article of last December I thought that Oil Drum readers might find it interesting to know what has transpired this past year on the farm and what I think I have learned. If you get lost a bit I would recommend reading the previous article.


For a variety of complex reasons (which continue to evolve as this experiment continues) I have come to believe that our future world will require a significantly larger number of farmers than it has today. The short term causes of this need can be found in energy issues as often discussed on TOD and in the status of our financial system/consumer economy, while the primary long-term driver is the onrushing freight train of climate change. I believe that we have unwittingly raced into a civilizational dead end and need to quickly retrench and reconfigure our place in this world (although I do not expect this to happen). I am convinced that we cannot avoid massive change nor probably catastrophic upheaval. I do have hope we can adapt. With this in mind I have chosen to move forward and work towards a possible future. Many of us must learn small scale farming. Farming needs to become more local and it needs to be performed as ecologically as possible (sustainable farming being something of an oxymoron). We need to grow our numbers of farmers and reduce their average age from approximately 60 to a more demographically supportable age. We will need to reclaim land from suburbia and the pet horse industry. Who is going to do this? Well, for one, I am.

A quick bit of additional background to add to last years data; whether it clarifies or obscures what I am doing is open to one’s interpretation I guess. I am 55 years old and a retired CIA officer. I was formally educated as an electrical engineer and spent my entire professional career with the United States Government. I have traveled the world extensively and have directly witnessed some of the highs and lows of the human race on this earth (more lows than highs I am sorry to say). I am of an analytical bent imposed upon an operational background. I have expended significant thought and heavily researched the issues, mentioned above, which have brought me to my conclusions. I performed the due diligence, to the best of my ability, which such serious concerns demand. I am convinced and, thus, my duty is to act.

Year Three


When one compares the below production figures for this year with those presented in last years post it is critical to remember that the farmed acreage was significantly greater this year than last. I had about 2 acres in vegetable crops this year (as opposed to 1 in 2008) and about 1 acre in fruit this year (roughly the same as last).

During the growing season this year we raised 35 different vegetables, 4 herbs and various fruit/berries. For reference: in 2008 we grew 23 different vegetables and the fruit/berries. With the extra acre in production this year we naturally grew a lot more produce than last year. However, the difficult and unusual weather during the year mostly wiped out our fruit production and adversely impacted many of the other crops. The only fruit we grew in any volume this year was blackberries and pears. The rest did not survive the weather.

For 2008 I estimated that sold production was about 1 million calories of food and that total production (to include that sold, what we consumed, what had to be thrown away due to it not selling, donations to the poor, and that composted due to its not being deemed of sufficient quality for sale) was 2 million calories.

For 2009 I estimate that sold production was about 2.9 million calories and that total production was 5 million calories. We are getting better at this.

FYI: The total calories of production of produce of any kind that were edible are naturally higher than the above sold production numbers indicate. A lot of product never gets harvested due to its quality not being sufficient for sale in the current environment, lack of labor to harvest and/or insufficient markets to sell the product at. This may change in the future.

Energy Use

For 2009 the farm consumed the following energy inputs (actual thru end of Nov and estimated thru end of Dec):

Total Fuel: 1067 gallons
673 gallons – Gasoline/Vehicle – Pickup and Van
217 gallons – Gasoline/farm tractors/mowers/weed eaters, etc
31 gallons- Diesel for tractors
87 gallons – kerosene for greenhouse heater
59 gallons – propane for greenhouse heater

Electricity, $60/month May to Nov – primarily for AC for refrigerated vegetable storage room but also consumption due to the presence of farm workers

Numbers for 2008 were respectively:

Total Fuel: 950 gallons
681 – Gasoline/Vehicle – Pickup
200 – Gasoline/farm tractors/mowers/weed eaters etc
17 - Diesel for tractors
52 – Kerosene for greenhouse heater

Electricity aprox $30/mo

Of particular note is that the largest component of my farm’s energy use is transportation fuel that is almost totally consumed in delivering product to my markets. This year’s transportation fuel number of 673 gallons was 8 gallons LESS than it was in 2008 while the product delivered was approximately three times higher.

Production/Energy Ratios

I have used the same methodology to calculate total calories as detailed last year. The results are impressive (to me at least). Once again these figures are sold production. Another interesting number, in survival terms perhaps, is Total Production to energy consumed, but that is more of a topic for a different post. FYI: there is great room for improvement in the area of sold production as having more labor and sales outlets would generate much greater revenues from the same amount of crops.

2009 Results – Sold Production
Produce Type cal/lb lbs calories
Vegetables 145 20,000 2,900,000
Fruit 272 300 81,600
Total cal 2,981,600

2008 Results- Sold Production
Produce Type cal/lb lbs calories
Vegetables 145 6500 942,500
Fruit 272 500 136,200
Total cal 1,078,700

Production per Gallon

For 2008: 7.4 lbs Production per gallon of fuel
For 2009: 19.0 lbs Production per gallon of fuel

Labor Issues

For the first 2 years of farming I was the sole worker (with small amounts of assistance from my wife – approx 10% of my hours). This last year I intended to have one full time worker in addition to the time my spouse could spare. The issue of hired labor has proven to be a hard lesson in one of the ‘gotcha’s’ of small scale vegetable farming. A few items for illustration purposes.

I advertised for one full time worker for the season; 50-60 hours per week, Mon – Sat, all farm labor duties, etc. The first worker signed up for the season and lasted 2 months. He decided he wanted to work 40 hr wks, not on weekends, only was interested in greenhouse work and was bothered by having dirt stained hands. This kid grew up on a large cotton farm. The next 3 workers were laid off landscapers from the local area. One worked one day and did not return. The other two I fired for lack of effort, talking/texting on cell phones while working and not showing up for work on time or for entire days. The next worker showed up after driving clear from Massachusetts, and did not even work a full day. The next worker was a dream. A 17 year old 6 months out of Mexico (US Citizen – but non-English speaker) who worked rings around me and more than twice as hard as the best of the others. He had to return to high school at the end of August. The last worker was a recent college graduate who had failed to find work after graduation. Nice person but not a very hard worker and kind of depressed.

I have heard from many other vegetable farmers that it is very difficult to find good farm workers among young Americans. Most farmers want to train and use young Americans as they recognize that our future is dependent on finding our replacements, but the core requirement is to get the work done efficiently. Almost all of the small farmers I know, however, are heavily dependent on immigrants to get the heavy hauling done. Why is this the case? It may be because young Americans are not willing to work hard, as I frequently hear stated, but I am not so sure. I believe it may be because most young Americans do not know “how” to work hard. In my limited experience they have simply never been trained how to work hard physically. I tried to explain to them how my father taught me to work hard when I was young and just got the minimum wage stare in return. I would tell them that, even if you are 20 years old, if you work hard physically all day for 10 hours you will not be going out to the movies at 11 pm during the week because you will be asleep before that time. It just did not sink in. My parents thought my generation was getting soft and told me so. It seems that the current crop of youngsters is mostly clueless when it comes to hard times and giving 100% effort. I suspect that they are going to get to learn how to perform the hard way.

Another annoyance was that none of the American kids I hired spent any time thinking about what they were doing and trying to become better at it, as on the last day they were here they still had not adequately learned the tasks we were doing, nor had their ability to work harder/faster improved. The Mexican boy was completely different and worked like his life depended on it from minute one. He was smart. He never wasted time. He immediately found something to do when he was done with his last task without being told; he learned my way of doing things within a day or two (rather than arguing about it); he was always thinking ahead to the next thing to do, would jump right in and take something over if he could see that he could do it faster than I could, was never late, never wasted time, etc. I was amazed. I paid him much better than the others as well.

For next year I will return to the well for American workers, but I am going to try and be much more selective. I want to find 2 workers who are really motivated to learn this type of farming; hopefully they will have some experience and ideally they would be a couple. And I am going to try to hire the Mexican boy again for the summer. Plus my wife intends to join me full time on the farm as she has decided that she really likes the lifestyle and has all sorts of plans on how to add to our operation. So that means 4-5 full time workers next year. A big change. And probably some big headaches!

Labor for 2007 – Approx 3000 hours
Labor for 2008 – Approx 3300-3500 hours (spouse included)
Labor for 2009 - Appox 3300 hours, spouse 800 hours, hired labor 1400 hours for a total of about 5500 hours

Equipment Issues

For three years I have used the type and scale of equipment (2 wheeled walk-behind tractor, small power equipment and heavy use of hand tools) recommended in the very popular Eliot Coleman organic farming books. I have come to the conclusion that this scale of equipment is not suitable if one is trying to operate a profitable farm as opposed to operating what most would consider a large personal garden. By ‘operating a farm’ I mean that one is trying to grow an amount of food well in excess of one’s family needs and to try to generate a workable income. A ‘family’ feeding operation can exist and persist with significant inefficiencies, especially in the presence of a large number of family members, but a profitable farming operation must be highly efficient in order to turn a profit. My presumption is that large farm families with many children, structured along the traditional lines of the past, are not only going to be much less common, but are not desirable in any sustainable sense. The only other farmer that I know who was using this same type of small equipment has evolved to larger more capable machinery.

The 2 wheeled (walk-behind) tractors are excellent machines for certain tasks (tilling, running a flail mower and limited rotary plowing), but are not capable of efficient work at many required farming tasks; among them being furrow plowing, as they are not capable of rolling the sod over to speed its rotting nor are they capable of flipping over large rocks; cultivating, as it is not possible to exert sufficient steering control over the machine to cultivate close enough to the crop rows; pulling a transplanter; bed forming; root digging, as the machine is not powerful enough to pull a root digger even when loaded with substantial amounts of wheel weights; etc. One’s opinion may vary on this issue if the soil they have to work is very soft and largely rock free. That is not the case here in Virginia.

For my operation there are 3 core farm efficiency issues: weeding (cultivating), bed preparation, and transplanting. None of these activities can be efficiently performed using small scale equipment. It is either not powerful enough, accurate enough or just does not have enough weight and HP. A large amount of hand labor is required and with the problems in finding good workers and the cost of such labor it seems better to use human labor on tasks that generate greater return on investment.

Future Equipment – Year 4 and beyond
I have purchased a 45 HP Kioti DK45S tractor with creeper gear
I will purchase the following this winter:
Spader with power harrow
Bed former/drip tape/plastic layer
Transplanter – water wheel
Rotary Mower (Bush Hog)
26’ by 60’ greenhouse

Current Equipment
1994 Chevy pickup
2004 Ford van
11 HP Diesel BCS 853 2 wheeled tractor
Flail mower
Rotary plow
Tool Bar with cultivating teeth
Root Digger
Troy 20 HP garden tractor and wagon
MTD 25 HP riding mower
Troy Built rototiller
MTD rototiller
Stihl weed eater
Cub Cadet mulching mower – 20 inch push
Wheel Hoe
Stirup Hoes 2 ea
Mechanics tools – large set
Carpenters tools – extensive set
Plumbing tools – medium set
Electrical tools – extensive set
Chain Saws, axes, mauls
10’ by 40’ greenhouse
Large shop
Refrigerated room
Large wash room
Misc - lots

Profits (or Not?) and Costs

Last year I chose not to discuss revenues as I considered it, at the time, to be extraneous to the subject at hand. I no longer consider that to be the case and wanted to offer some comments on this issue as it does directly impact those who might consider attempting to transition to this occupation.

If one is embarking on even very large scale family gardening where the goal is to provide their family’s total sustenance then scaling for profit is not the point. Rather keeping expenses to the absolute minimum is critical, otherwise you are better off financially going to the supermarket. In this world using mostly hand tools, physical labor and maybe a tiller is all that is necessary.

Farming is another story. The purpose of this occupation is to grow large amounts of food so that others can work at other tasks. Doing one’s part for The Division of Labor. After 3 years of using small scale equipment, inputting huge amounts of labor and having access to fairly lucrative farmers markets to sell my produce at, I think I can say with confidence that one cannot make enough money via the above methods to make this a viable occupation. At this point in time I am just about even in terms of expenses and revenues (not counting as the CPA’s do - depreciation and all that- but in raw terms). This means that I have worked about 10,000 hours and my spouse has worked about 1100 hours for $0/hr. That is not a typo. $0/hr.

I am not counting as income the decent collection of equipment, tools and knowledge I did not posses before I started that could come in very handy in the future. But we are attempting to build an intermediate future that lands somewhere between the unsustainable present and civilizational collapse. So it is necessary to scale up the farm’s capabilities without drifting into full industrial farming practices. I expect that in my “research/experimentation” process that I will try a number of the modern practices of vegetable farming used on 5-15 acre vegetable farms and see how they fit my needs/goals. Examples of these techniques would be plastic mulch ( I am using straw at this time and will do both in 2010) and a heavy concentration on using transplants.

It is worth noting that my 2009 revenues were 2 ½ times that of 2008 which were 2 times that of 2007. This indicates to me that I am learning and making progress even though I have not made a “profit” yet.

Costs: Home gardening can be done on the cheap. Even large scale home gardening can be done relatively inexpensively providing that one has the time and physical strength or a large family. Farming requires resources. Those resources can be partially counted in terms of family, paid workers, draft horses or slaves (the future anyone?), but it is certain that those resources will need to include lots of equipment and (dare I say it) machinery if the farmer is expected to generate enough extra product to allow others to perform their part of the division of labor. Equipment costs…a lot.

For this kind of farming to succeed in the future food is going to have to cost the consumer a lot more and a lot of other professions are going to have to give up their overpaid ways.

Health and Welfare Issues

Another factor pushing me towards increased mechanization is the physical toll that minimal equipment farming takes on your body. I have reached the age where, no matter how much effort one puts into maintaining strength, there is an inevitable physical decline year on year. Over the last three years I have noticed some of that decline and suffered a number of minor issues that I can attribute to aging. My knees and lower back cause me problems if I kneel or bend over for many hours while harvesting and weeding. This will only get worse and is a common complaint of vegetable farmers much younger than I. I have one shoulder that is very painful at times due to arthritis and one can expect the other to follow in due course. I have a partially bum hip due to an old work injury that flares up occasionally. I age … unfortunately. Increased mechanization will allow me to extend the timeframe that I can perform the physical work of the farm. On the plus side I think that I can claim that I am much more physically capable than the average 55 year old and the positive impact of this occupation/lifestyle on ones mental health cannot be overstated.


These are resources that are very useful to someone working towards the type of operation I am running. Always keep in mind that what works for one expert grower on his farm in a certain part of the country may not work well in your circumstances. Some of the claims that people make in books leave so much of the rest of the story out that they may as well be making it up (Though I have seen it written I do not believe that one person can farm 2 acres of crops, harvest them and sell at markets and gross $25K an acre. That is a 5000 hour/yr job).

Growing for Market – magazine
Johnny’s Seeds – catalog, has great info on growing various crops
High Mowing Seeds – catalog, great growing info as well
How To Grow More Vegetables – Jevons
Square Foot Gardening – Bartholomew
The New Organic Grower – Coleman

Though I have a lot of books on farming/gardening and have read many others, I have not found a really good book on how to farm. People like Coleman write books on advanced gardening and other farmers write books that are for experienced farmers. I do not think a high quality book on beginning farming exists. Most of farming seems to have to be learned by direct observation, hands on attempts and through trial and error. Planning skills are crucial. Crop knowledge is crucial. Markets are crucial. Everything is crucial.

The Future

One can always change their minds of course or have life decide to shove you down a different path, but I think this is it for me. I figure to run this one full out to the end. My wife is planning on ending her own personal life sentence in the business world and will join me in the spring. She has a lot of ideas and is very enthusiastic not to mention a workaholic too. It looks like full commitment with no intention of looking back.

I'm surprised your workers were so bad except for that one kid.

In my experience, being of the ethnic "majority" means getting paid less, having to work harder to have the job at all, and indeed, working as if one's life depends on it, because it does. In every job I've had, I was what the unions call a "speed king", or someone who just works all-out. I had to or lose the job.

This is why becoming self-employed was such a relief, it was hard work but I could take it more easy when I was feeling sick etc and make it up later. And I worked LONG hours.

I'd like to know what planet these presumably ethnic-majority kids grew up on, *shaking head here*. I think they were just raised to be very un-physical. I grew up hiking and wrestling and doing yardwork so it was an easy graduation to the kind of work available to once such as me, hard physical work no one else waned to, or had to, do.

Somewhat un-PC joke: Why are aspirins white? Because they work hard until they're used up!

Too bad you're on the other end of the US, I'd sure consider working on your farm. The good jobs (dishwashing, cleaning hotel rooms, shoveling stables etc) here are all taken,

Hi fleam.

I've been following your comments with a great deal of interest.

If you really are willing to work hard all day day after day there are plenty of farmers who will find you a very unoffocial place to live such as a camper parked inside a barn and supply you with water and a minimal amount of electricity plus pay a modest wage of maybe seven dollars per hour in my part of the world.Plus there are usually benefits in the form of free veggies, often a place to hunt and fish, opportunities to do extra little side jobs for nieghbors if you have salable skills.

But getting connected is hard since providing housing under the table is somewhat of a risk to the employer.

But I know of half a dozen farm hands living this way within ten miles or so.They can actually save some money if they are frugal.

I've got a good hide-out here, it's that $7 an hour that's so hard to come by. I was doing OK going 50 miles to Santa Cruz and hustling crafts on Pacific Avenue, the trouble with that is, about 4 months' no work over the winter. This is my first year-around cycle here and I"ll just have to know next year to prepare for 4 cashless months. I do some help around here and it would take a lot to make me want to leave this Doomstead, I actually thing it's a pretty good place to weather the Apocalypse.

If you have a place to live, you can sure save up money on $7 an hour, it's a lot of money when you think about it.

The trick is life is to have a place to ride out the coming Doom in, and to earn money some way that's not traceable. Preferably in some way that will be useful in the coming times, not something that depends on the modern economy. I was all set to play my musical saw for tips around here, pick 15-30 places to play so I'm always someplace different, and just get out there and do it. Lo and behold, for some reason it overstresses some weird little muscle or tendon more like, in my elbows and hurts like hell if I do it much at all. I was all set to go out and play Xmas carols to get started, I wanted to develop this because I don't have to do a 100-mile commute to do it.

Since that doesn't turn out to work for me, I'm kinda noodling around for other things to try. If the money situation gets really bad I guess it'll be time to hold a sign by the freeway onramp.

Getting back to the article, I'm just flabbergasted, but can understand, that the Nintendo generation has no idea what physical work feels like, and fears it. I'm flabbergasted, and don't understand, how they actually feel that their being white Americans, which I'm assuming they are, gets them any easier jobs or higher pay etc. In my experience being a white american gets you the butt end of everything and they'd better get used to it.

Well, Jim, you are learning what we learned in the late 70's and early 80's. We were the first certified organic "farm" in our area and I was very much involved with the Mendocino (CA) County chapter of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Besides our "operation", I did certification inspections and we were part of a group that set-up a farmers market in another town.

Our major crops were early season tomatoes and strawberries. We hardly made day wages and had no success hiring "kids" - they seemed unable to recognize a ripe strawberry. We eventually reached a point where we had to get a lot bigger and invest really significant capital (a major part of which was large greenhouses) or go out of business.

At that time we had a lock on local organic produce - we could sell everything we grew (besides tomatoes and berries). But, we chose to shut down and only grow for our own use. Why?

Basically, it was that if we spent the capital, we had to rely on a return of that capital to survive. It was too risky when I could get a job at our local school district as a groundskeeper which paid a real salary plus it had benefits (health and retirement). I get over $5k per year from my school retirement - plus I chose to have it carry on after my death for my wife - which beats the hell out of what I could have put aside as a grower.

To put this into perspective, we had a CCOF friend who had 40 acres of certified apples. He went broke because he had a hard time filling a semi truck for major purchasers. He survived a long time on his workers making grape pruning wreaths for Cost Plus in the winter.

Those who haven't done it can't understand it.


Let me also add that Mendocino County also produces a lot of wine grapes (not where I live in the mountains). A $hit load of the small growers didn't even pick this year because the price was less than the cost of picking the grapes. Further, labor contractors aren't interested in small vineyards so they have trouble even finding anyone to pick in the first place. And, this assume they have a home for their grapes. FWIW, "hang time" is becoming a big issue for all growers.


PS - yea set-up a "pick your own" operation. Good luck.


You have put your finger on a very serious problem that I attribute more than anything else to meddlesome well intentioned govt.

All the nice little bueracrats have meetings in the nice buildings at Tech and Virginia State and scattered all around the capital area and learn all about how the guys in California are getting rich selling wine to tourists.And once such a little bueracratic cancer comes to life killing it is impossible.

All the bau boosters and all the news paper columnists and all the sophisticate-wannabes jump in and of course the trophy wives of the more successful lawyers and surgeons SIMPLY MUST have thier vineyard or they WILL NEVER be able to hold up thier face in public ever again in polite society.

Pretty soon we will have enough wineries here to supply the whole frickin east coast just in Va and of course they have just as much faith next door in NC in perpetual growth and apparently the idea is that all the folks who have been producing wine more or less forever overseas are going to just close their businesses and buy from us.Then we will be shipping to the moon and Mars of course, since it is to be expected that the colonists will want old virginny in thier cellars.

And of course all you rednecks out in California will want old virginny too, since we have been around another a couple of hundred years longer, giving us the advantage in snobbery points. ;)

I suppose it is time I give up calling myself a conservative in this forum because the term means something else entirely to the readership here, having been coopted and disgraced by the right wing and transformed into a synonym for idiot by the liberal press.

A real conservative is as rare these days as a real Christian.

But at least the example of the grapes and vineyards might just give a couple of people some idea why leaving decisions to the govt is not always a good idea, why more govt is not always the solution.

I'm glad to see an honest accounting posted of the realities of small scale farming as opposed to links to sites that make it look easy.A while back the site was overwhelmed with posts to links promising pie in the sky.

The owner has my sympathy.

I don't see anything to explain why so many different crops were planted in such necessarily small areas given the limited acreage but my guess is that the idea is to have as continious and as varied production as possible for marketing purposes.

Selling a little bit of high dollar produce seems to be a fairly easy thing to do if you are located right-near a prosperous town with the requisite purchasing power.Selling a lot seems to be the problem-that's apparently very hard even if you kill yourself trying to have ten different items to take to market every day.

As far as hiring and training farm hands goes, if you can find people who were construction laborers or machine operators used to production work on ana assembly line, you might have some small hope of success.

But unless you are able to tie your help down by providing housing and other subsidies, good workers will be gone like a shot for an easier job as soon as one becomes available-unless you can pay a substantial wage premium.

And larger stores seem to insist on dealing with wholesalers who can gaurantee delivery of everything ordered on time even if the quality averages a lot lower.

Now I will venture a wild axx guess that if this same hard working guy had planted his acreage in maye four different crops his total number of hours of work per dollar of revenue would have dropped like a stone.

Assuming of course he could have found a buyer.

Farming simply does not scale down as easily as most of us have been lead to believe.

On the other hand you can do very well by growing your own if you are willing to credit yourself with early home grown tomatos for your own table at the going supermarket price.Cutting out all those middle men makes up nicely for the inefficiencies of growing only very small quantities.

For what it's worth there is still enough small scale but industrial quality farm equipment around that you can put together what you need by shopping farm estate auctions in areas that used to have a lot of small farms.

These items include turn plows up to three bottom,specialty plows as for hilling and harvesting potatos, disks and harrows, rakes and grader boxes, rotary and sickle bar mowers, two wheel carts, four wheel wagons, front loaders fertilizer and lime spreaders, hay balers and so forth.It might take two or three years and a dozen trips to sales to find everything you need but if this stuff is in good condition it will last indefinitely.

Of course using this next step up sized stuff means that you will also need a tractor.Be sure to buy a popular make and model so that it will be easy to repair and find parts.Our 67 Oliver would have easily lasted us another twenty years but parts are very iffy as it was an unpopular make so we retired it for a 72 Ferguson that will probably be easy to find parts for even thirty more years down the road,unless tshtf of course.

As far as draft animals go, they are fine for subsistence farming or as sitf backup insurance and a well trained horse can pay it's way sometimes if you have the right work for it but plowing and cultivating an acre or two is not enough .

Now if you could use the horse to snake out some firewood, plow , cultivate, haul a few bushels of apples in from the orchard, and pull a wagon unattended except by voice command while loading cabbage ,and a few other jobs, plus maybe riding him to the nieghbors place occasionally instead of driving, then a horse might earn his hay and pasture.

But that Ferguson has been sitting in it's shed for three weeks now and it hasn't eaten a thing and the only care it needs on a daily basis is to make sure it hasn't been stolen.


The large variety of crops has two purposes. One is that I am trying to learn the particulars of growing as many different varieties of vegtables as possible in as short of time as possible. Real knowledge requires actual experience. The other main reason is that I am selling at the local farmers markets as my sole outlet. One simply could not survive there if they showed up with 4 different products. I have scaled what I am growing along the lines of local market farms that are growing on 10-15 acres. I just grow in smaller amounts. The amounts will grow as the acreage grows.

I don't want people to think that the approach I am using is primarily directed at figuring out how to make the most profit. It is not. While profit is getting more important since I am getting deeper into this I am still focused on the learning side of things. I am plowing all the net income right back into infrastructure rather than paying myself. If I had not intended to grow the operation next year I coule have taken the net and paid myself a subsistence income. I have neighbors who are making solid incomes growing on 10 acres and selling in the farmers markets and through CSA's. I will be adding in a CSA soon. It will be interesting to see where revenues are this time next year. They are climbing pretty fast.

I understand about the farm auctions. The ones I have gone to around here just do not have much worth buying. Farming was pretty much pushed out of this area some time ago and it is rare to find what I need. What area of Virginia do you live in that the auctions still have a good selection?

I agree that the horse idea that many have is not practical for many reasons. It is not just caring for them but having to take 25% of your acreage to grow food for them. Small tractors are more efficient even when counting in the embedded energy I expect. At least when we are talking about supplying a lot of food to other people. In a big drawdown we will not be able to afford to set aside lots of land to grow horse feed. I think.



Wyoming, I live down in the south western part of the state near the NC state line.Small farms seem to have lasted a full generation or maybe even two generations longer in this area than down in the piedmont to coastal area.The local guys took jobs in the towns but held onto thier family land and there are still a lot of farmers with fifty beef cows or ten acres of apples or twenty acres of cabbage and so forth, plus a scattering of larger operations of course.

Of course it makes sense that you as a new operator would have to try everything possible to figure out your best bets.We're still doing some of that even after retiring and just fooling around a few hours out in the fields every week.

I lived just north of Richmond for quite a while and dabbled in a little truck farming there but found it a lot easier to make some money doing lots of other things.Almost anything else actually.

How far do you live from an urban area , or more precisely, from the farmers markets where you sell most of your stuff?

And how big do you anticipate getting?

You just can't move enough stuff here at the local farmers markets to make a go. There are too many farmers and not enough customers and futhermore these Scots Irish women are thrifty and expect to buy cheaper from a local guy than from the supermarkets.Extra fresh and extra nice will not fetch a price premium around here.

I know a couple of guys who are making a go of selling at farmers markets by hauling down to the Charlotte NC area but they spend so much time on the road and at the markets they really ought to be called truckers and green grocers rather than farmers.And yes, they buy more for resale than they raise.

If tshtf , they will go broke fast between hauling costs and thier customers cutting back to the cheapest stuff available.


I kind of thought that you might be way down that way.

I am 50 miles north west of the Washington Monument. There are literally several dozen farmes markets within a 90 min drive of my place. Some of the ones in DC and in close are very busy places and the prices are compareable to those for organic produce found in Wegmans or Harris Teeter. Even conventionally grown produce demands a very good price at these markets. Things are expensive in the city and people pay more for food too.

The ideal place to have a small market farm is within easy driving distance of a big city. There are good farmers with infrastructure an acreage that are making solid incomes.

I will be maxed out on my land soon (most of it is not suitable for crops) but I have neighbors who have indicated that I can lease from them so I have that option. I would like to total no more than 10 aces of crops. That is plenty enough to make good money on and still be manageable. It would require at least 5 workers in addition to my wife and I if we were selling it all at farmers markets.

Yes, the buying and reselling as if you were the producer works for some, but it will not survive when things go bad. A lot of the markets around here require that you grow what you sell and they kick vendors out of the markets when they find them cheating. They do inspections of the farms to keep an eye on you.

I think that as energy supplies get tighter food is going to get a lot more expensive than it is now. Transportation of the small farmers products will be a big factor and I think that me just running down the road in my truck will not likely be the best choice.


i think there is a big diffreence between farming for a profit and growing enough to feed your family.
If you're trying to produce and sell enough to have a decent income in the money economy, then this is going to indeed
be a _lot_ of hard work. If you're trying to feed your family and maybe have some extra to share with neighbors, friends, etc, then you have a whole different equation to deal with.

One big thing is, what brings in profits for small scale operations tends to be vegetables and higher profit specialty items. Nobody growing row crops on a small scale or below
the mega-industrial standard of the day will be able to compete in the marketplace at all. Even more, things like being able to bring produce to market early in the season
brings much bigger profits than turning out the same crop just a few weeks later. Being able to sell product at a scale that
the corporate buyers of torday want to deal with is also an
issue, as the fellow in Mendocino had to struggle with.

To grow food to meet the calorie and nutrition needs of a family and enough surplus to share and set aside for a rainy day is a very different demand.

Vegetables and a lot of high-profit crops, for example, tend to have low calorie content. A perfect aubergine at the right
time of year could bring a couple dollars at a farmers market,
but you would have to eat a big pot of them if your sole food
was aubergines, just to get the calories you need. Half
an aubergine with a bit of rice or something and suddenly
the equation changes a lot.
A quarter acre garden will even with the average skill one
can find in most neighborhoods (the dedication and discipline to check up on things, weed and water as needed, know what to
plant together and what apart, when to plant, when to trim,
when to harvest, etc etc, is important but yes the motivated
individual can learn to do this) provide more vegetables than
a single family would _want_ to eat (in most places where
there is enough rainfall, of course). One person can take care
of that part-time. If it's a family feeding itself then
everyone does a bit of the work and nobody is out there doing
hard labor over the garden.. it's daily or weekly chores.

keeping trees likewise is work, but how many trees would a family keep? a few of each kind and you will be giving apples
or pears or walnutes, etc, to all the neighbors, even after
boiling down and canning heaps of them or piling up the nuts
for shelling later. Collecting the ones that are ready every few days during the season is a chore, but it's a chore for
a couple hours, not a mad race to get in a crop of many tons
before they pass their prime marketable condition. A family
of five would have a hard time using the produce of five apple
trees, much less 40 _acres_ of apples! (and if the apples have
a bad year, they might go without pies or cider for a season,
but they won't be bankrupted)

Keeping a few dozen chickens around, and they almost take care of themselves. The closer you get to trying to operate them
like a business the more work it becomes. If you put the
work into keeping a place for them to roost and nest and give
them enough treats that they keep coming back to 'home', then
beyond some basic things like fences, yes a fox or a cat or a hawk will get one from time to time, but thats just a trade off against additional labor. You'll never compete with the
operations that go through tens of thousands of chickens every week or two- but is that the goal?

Growing wheat, barley, lentils, peas, etc, on a 2000 acre
monoculture mega-farm is an impossible task for just a couple of people, without tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment and a large recurring cost. Growing such things
expecting to get 1/10 the yield per acre, over just a few acres, though, provides plenty for five or six people, for
a very manageable amount of work. You'd go out of business
in a day, trying to compete against the mega-farms this way-
but this is not the point of small scale farming!

If you have enough land, and for a family of say five or so,
this needn't be a whole lot of land, then you have the luxury of trading a lot of raw productivity per square foot for a
position further down the curve of diminishing returns.
If you're doing it for a profit, then you have to push right up against the very limit of that curve , same as everyone else.

While many people here might be anticipating changine scenarios and indeed preparing to farm to produce a sellable surplus, i think a comparable or larger number of people are
thinking not at all about farming to make an income, but of
growing enough to be independent or most of the way there
when they might need it.

just wanted to bring up this persepctive to keep in mind as we
talk about commercial farming post-peak.


I agree completely.

What I am trying to figure out how to do is much harder than family/neighborhood gardening. That can be done much lower tech and lower cost. The more folks that do what you describe the easier it will be to accomplish what I am trying to do. You could even have the home gardeners in an area specializing in some small value added production to help out the farming system. Say seed production of specific vegetables which is hard to do on a farm like mine since I am growing so many varieties that I would have cross polination problems if I tried to save seed myself.

But someone has to feed the city folks who have no land. If we can do that then they can do other things of value. Speaking here in terms of how we deal with a big drawdown and the shrinkage of the giant industrial ag machine. We are going to need a host of people taking up small scale farming in close to the population centers IMHO.

Good thoughts.


"To grow food to meet the calorie and nutrition needs of a family and enough surplus to share and set aside for a rainy day is a very different demand."

As far as I know there is no one currently doing this.

None of the small farmers in my area are making any money on their farming operation.

If one looks at the IRS "Profit or Loss From Farming" SCHEDULE F on there income statement you will see that they are using outside $ to live on


I personally know at least 5 small farmers (I have a limited pool of farmers that I know so this is a high number precentage wise) who are making solid incomes. None of them work off farm. They are only farming. All the operations are small (15 acres of crops or less) organically run veggetable operations in the DC metro area. They sell through farmers markets and CSA's exclusively. Surprisingly none of them are doing value added operations.

The most succesful of them is generating net income near $100k/yr and the others are also generating at least lower middle class income.

Now what the schedule F says is often different than the reality of lifestyle you also need to remember. Farming is a business so you keep your taxable income reduced by depreciating all of your equipment and buildings. You grow a lot of your own food and most farmers are not into the consumer leisure life styles that require vast sums of money. So taxable income is not always the best measure of lifestyle.


What a fine article this is! Thank you. Very sobering.


I haven't finished the whole post but when I got to your equipment I knew I had to make a suggestion.

When I did a lot of very large scale gardening I had a couple of very good pieces of equipment.

One was a walk-behind 10 hp Onan powered with a front PTO and dual wheels. The name escapes me but it was orange and white and I think no longer made. I let it go at a auction and am still kicking myself.
I had all the attachments but the best of all was a front mounted 'rotary plow'. This allowed me to very very easily throw up ridges/hills. Or dig furrows quite easily. I miss it greatly.

The other was a Internalional 140 tractor. This was the one used by tobacco farmers ,having an offset engine. Mine was made in 1975. Went at the auction but I got it back. Back with almost none of the attachments. I had all of them plus a 'front loader'.

This little tractor was a workhorse. I could pull a single plow, attach cultivators,pull a small disk, move dirt with front loader and much more. I even had a belly sickle bar pittman mower that would cut 5 foot.

Of course I had a large IH 574 but that was sorta overkill for gardening. But with it I could easily pull a subsoiler, a 7 ft. disk, a three bottom plow and much more.But didn't use it on my gardens, just for haying work and so forth.

So the proper mix of good proven tools is essential. For instance the 140 had a very simple side-dresser for adding fertilizer alongside say,,a corn row or whatever. The 140 I can hardly do without to this day.

Your post, as far as I have read , excellent and full of what we need more of on TOD ,IMO.

Now back to the rest of this very fine piece of work.



Later on you will find a list of equipment I have if Jason left it in the article. They forgot to tell me the article was being posted tonight and I just happended by.

I have a 2 wheeled BCS 853 11 hp diesel with a rotatry plow, flail mower, tiller and root digger.

I am upscaling at this time. I just purchased a 45 hp Kioti and am getting a bed former and transplanter. I borrowed a 3 bottom from the nieghbor a few weeks ago and plowed up another 1 1/4 acres.

Looking forward to more input.


Great Post Jim.
Are you looking into alternatives much? Compost piles inside the greenhouses and biomass/thermal mass can offset a lot of your fuel usage. I agree that horsepower is required to make a farm profitable these days. I tested my tractor on biodiesel as soon as I got it just to know what my options were. Ran great with plenty of power running B-100. I'm just curious what your contingency plans are if TSHTF, because your food's going to be a lot more valuable if that happens. I'm planning a greenhouse that won't require fossil fuels or grid power, just in case. Any thoughts?


I have thought about what I would do but I have not taken any action on modifying the greenhouses for more passive operation. I will wait on that for awhile. There are a lot of cheap and easy things to do that do not take much time so I will defer on that for now. I know someone who collected all the old barrels they could get their hands on for awhile, painted them black and filled them with water and put them in the grrenhouse to provide some extra heat during the night. The also had a sort of insulated blanket that they unrolled over the greenhouse at night. It was not a commerical size greenhouse obviously. A barrier of trees on the upwind/north side helps (we have some of that).

I am more interested in setting up my own small biodiesel operation as soon as I reach a point that it makes sense. My diesel usage is so small at this point that even that does not makes sense. Most of my fuel usage is transporting my produce to the markets and back. This fuel useage, of course, would not likely occur well into a drawdown as other mechanisms would have replaced my truck for supplying the far away city markets. I would envision coop style pooling of produce from many small farms at a rail link for shipping into the city. There is an existing rail link less than 15 miles from here and an old rail bed only about 1 mile. But we are a ways from having to actually switch to such methods though it is good that some folks are thinking hard about them.


I agree that a tractor is key equipment. A good diesel can run on a lot of alternatives. It's not a total coincidence that our tractor and backup generator have the same basic Mitsubishi 35HP diesel. I've even seen one running a small sawmill on SVO.

A greenhouse I saw had salvaged 4" drain pipe in trenches of gravel under it. They were connected to black plastic drums that thermosyphoned water slowly under the greenhouse and stored heat in the gravel. They even had a simple control system. It cut their fuel use alot and they used solar fans and a small amount of fuel to moderate the temp. The thermosyphon "ups" the energy in the system. Keep it simple, save a lot.

Hi Ghung,

We don't have a green house as such and locals wo have tried greenhouses here nave not made a go of them due to lack of markets .

But I am tempted to build a small one for the use of our extended family exclusively.Just because you can't find a buyer for stuff you grow doesn't mean you can buy it cheap in small quantities!

I lost the link but one of the state ag colleges up north built a greenhouse or two heated by a lot of pipe buried in the ground under the greenhouse itself.A large electric fan is used to circulate the air 24 hours iirc so that the excess heat trapped during the day is transferred to the soil underneath and is restored to the growing space at night when the temperature falls off.

Supposedly this design requires quite a lot of excavation and pipe but it is supposed to run dirt cheap since the gas fired heater seldom runs.

Being a world class pack rat I put my hands on a few thousand feet of heavy duty inch and a half hdpe electrical conduit in rolls when the dot com bubble burst just for the hauling.And I have a backhoe and time on my hands.But not being an engineer I'm afraid to tackle this job myself by just looking up the values and trying to figure out he heat loads and so forth and plugging in a formula.

Building something that might not work that takes up so much time and money is a risk I don't want to take.

If anybody can post links to sites covering this kind of green house construction I would really appreciate your posting them .

Thanks in advance.


I was sent a private email by a TOD reader not too long ago which included some great pictures and information on their greenhouse in Western Massachusetts (if he is reading this maybe he'll send you the same info) If you'd like I can send him an email and ask if would be ok to forward you his contact info.


Thanks Fred but I have tons of literature on green houses in general including nothern state design; its free for the asking on line or for printing and mailing costs fron the different state extension services.

It's just this one particular design which is almost sure to be impractical for most people I am interested in.It might work fine for me since I have the pipe and the excavating machine in hand at very low cost, including my own unpiad labor.

I also have a couple of large low speed belt drive fans that came out of old textile mills suitable for the job except I will have to replace the three phase motors with single phase.Such fans are well over a thousand bucks in industrial catalogs but I got them for about thirty bucks in near new condition at the local scrap yard.

Hi Bud,

Well, I have a post above yours and you are getting into the crap we hate - get bigger or get out. Let's cut to the bottom line - there are hobby farms and then the are farms.

WTHSHTF hobby farms might make it but I have doubts because they will be competing against the big guys and price will be an issue.



This is a very interesting discussion to me. I am not sure (hmm.. actually I guess I don't agree) that it will work that way.

Let's say that ole WestTexas is right with the ELM and 5 years from now there is a problem with imports of oil. And worldwide there has been a significant drop off in global production. How does that change agriculture in terms of where things are grown, shipped etc?

I have no doubt that Big Ag will get preference on fuel supplies to keep the massive scale going (if they do not then it's a dieoff they will get it). But that does not mean that efficiencies on the local level will not find a place in the scheme of things. As things wind down the Big Ag folks will have no choice but to be growing the mono crop staples like wheat, corn, rice, etc. Vegetables on a massive scale will eventually not make economic sense. Just like in the past. That makes a hole that folks like myself can fill. Of course that means that when things really wind down then my replacements will have to slowly shift to grains and beans from the veggies.

Global shipping of food will devolve towards the concentrated things like grains. Flying grapes and apples from the southern hemisphere and veggies from way south of the border, etc will fade over time due to the increased costs. All food will cost a lot more and this works to the small farmers advantage over time. I know some small farmes who have arrangements with restaurants in the city who trade them used cooking oil for veggies. The farms then process it into biodiesel and operate all of their equipment off of it. Helps profitability a lot.



I am willing to bet the farm on small farmers being able to get the few gallons of gasoline or diesel they will have to have for production purposes unless tshtf hard and nobody gets any fuel deliveries.

Nevertheless I keep enough on hand to meet our abolutely essential needs for between five and ten years if it becomes necessary to drop back to a subsistence lifestyle with very little contact with the outside world except our nieghbors.

I guess that if things get that bad I will have to sleep in the fuel shed. ;)

Yeah, I'm betting that if there are fuel problems, a small acreage that produces food will get you bumped up a few notches on fuel supply priority.

Hi oldfarmermac,

I assume you're using some sort of fuel stabilizer? If so, may I ask what kind? Have you ever used ten year old gasoline or diesel using such preservation methods? What are the results i.e. did it work ok? What about the fact that non-premium gas is "watered down" with ethanol, does this affect longevity? Perhaps you're using only diesel but I'm still curious : ) Sorry for all the questions but you, like so many other generous contributors here, are a bounty of great info : ) Thanks.


I have not attempted to store gasoline foe very long periods and do not anticipate doing so but have reason to believe that gasoline stored in a cool place in drums that will maintain a pound or two of pressure will keep fairly well for at least three years.There will be some problems associated with the lighter and more volatile components evaporating and when the gasoline is used there may be hard starting problems with a cold engine-easily cured with a whiff of starting fluid introduced into the air cleaner.

I have seen fuel injected cars started up after sitting for five years and run just fine on the gasoline in the tank -of course the fuel system of any late model car is fairly well sealed against the intrusion of air and moisture.

But I am storing only diesel for the long haul.So far I have not used any stabilizer but simply add a hundred gallons of fresh diesel to a five hundred gallon tank about once a year to keep it topped off.We use more but not out of that tank which is the sitf backup.

Some of my nieghbors have stored diesel in drums for ten years without any treatment of any kind and it runs just fine today.This fuel was set aside for some reason and just sort of overlooked like so much stuff packratted away-I have often went to the hardware store for something I have on hand because it's easier and quicker than hunting some small cheap item in a barn full of stuff.

I will use a commercial diesel stabilizer of the sort sold at truck stops if tshtf just in case but I don't think even that will be necessary if the tank is kept tightly capped so that it maintains a slight internal pressure.

My guess is that even if there is a very hard crash some limited amounts either conventional or biodiesel will be available again within five years time, or that during that time I can train a steer as a draft animal and get such small amounts of plowing and wagon hauling done as would be necessary to produce food for a small family.

But without fuel I would have to abandon our orchard for the most part and since we don't have a diesel truck I would be dependent on customers coming to us-unless I can get a wood burner running,which is a distinct possibility.

I know that sometimes a particular bacteria (or possibly some other kind of microbe ?) sometimes gets into diesel fuel and actually consumes the it as food but I have never seen this happen.I am not sure but i think some additives are avalable which are supposed to prevent this problem.

If you are in a homestead situation and own a small diesel tractor used only for essential crop farming/ gardening purposes for family consumption two fifty five gallon drums should last you for five years or longer.

I don't really know what effect the ethanol in gasoline will have in terms of long term storage. The cars I have sen run after suitting for a long time may not have had ethanol in the gas.A tractor or generator of other machine with out a pressure sealed tank-meaning any older machine -will require that the fuel tank be drained and cleaned before running it if left sitting for more than a year.In three or four years the gasoline will turn into something resembling kerosene that looks yellowish and smells like very old paint thinner.This stuff is very bad news if it gets into a fuel injection system.

If this get's into a carburetor sometimes it gums it up so bad it can't be cleaned and the carburetor must be replaced.This is rather common on old tractors and other machines with fuel tanks mounted above the engine so the fuel feeds by gravity.Since the carburetor has a vent the fuel in it will slowly evaporate, and refill from the tank.Sometimes the varnish and sludge gets so bad you can't even gouge it out with a screwdriver.

If it is necessary to store a gasoline engine tractor for long periods without starting it, it is by far and away the best policy to run it completely dry of gasoline first.But if the fuel cutoff valve below the tank works perfectly you can just run the carburetor dry and leave gas in the tank.

The best thing if possible is to run the tractor for a few minutes, long enough to warm it up thoroughly at least every couple of months if possible, and run out the fuel in the tank every few months, refilling with fresh fuel.

You can add few gallons of old fuel out of a seldom used tractor to the tank of a car or truck to use it up without any problem so long as you are careful to keep it clean.

> I know that sometimes a particular bacteria (or possibly
> some other kind of microbe ?) sometimes gets into diesel
> fuel and actually consumes the it as food but I have never
> seen this happen.I am not sure but i think some additives
> are avalable which are supposed to prevent this problem.

Yup, algae getting in the fuel. Diesel has a tendency to absorb water,
and temperature & pressure changes can cause some of this to
eventually pool at the bottom of the tank even if you keep the tank topped off to avoid stuff like condensation. The algae actually need the water to metabolize the diesel, and if there's free water in the tank you'll usually find them at the interface between the water and the fuel. If there's enough water dissolved in the fuel, they can also live in the wetter parts of it. It's a pain in the ass if you get a culture of it
growing in your tank, because the only way to really be rid of them is to flush the tank and clean it out. There are chemicals that can be added to kill them or help prevent their taking hold to begin with, but the only one i've ever seen was
actually chemically kind of evil- barium was a major ingredient! quite a toxic elixir!

I had a half-full tank of diesel in my car sit over a summer
and after a couple of months indeed found myself on the side
of the road with a fuel filter clogged up with black grit- the
mass of algae.. knew about the possibility for it, but took
a while to find someone in town who actually had any of the
gunk to kill them.

Keep the fuel dry and sealed from the air is the best prevention. Fresh fuel into a clean tank, all the way full, and seal it off. If the tank can tolerate changes in pressure all the better. Algae won't form in it then. It's repeated opening of the tank, mixture with humid air, and the container being partially full during changes in temperature that cause condensation inside the tank which all introduce water into
the fuel and make an algae growth possible.

Kept sealed and dry diesel should be good for 5-10 years without really a second thought. If it's exposed to freezing
temperatures (not sure if you get down below zero F where you
are located, but most 'winter' fuel which has some kerosene
in the mix is pretty good down to maybe a few degrees below zero without other additives) repeatedly you might find some
stratification of different fractions in the tank as the longer chains seasonally freeze and sink to the bottom of the
tank in order of length and freezing point, if the tank sits still for years at a time. after some years of it you might want to stir it up before drawing some.

I have a 300 gal storage tank that I bid in at a farm auction years ago. First I used it to hold regular leaded gas back about 1985 since I didn't have a diesel tractor on that particular farm. It worked well and when I moved it to my current farm where I did have a diesel tractor I filled it plumb full of farm grade (off road) diesel.

Over the years I kept varying amounts in it. Sometimes I ran it almost empty. And frequently it held diesel for long periods when I quit custom baling and baling my own hay.

I had a regular farm style screw on filter at the hose tank fitting. I also had a pressure cap on the tank and it was inside the barn, away from heat and weather.

So I used it off and on and never had any problems. I did change my twin fuel filters on my IH 574 as needed, most likely once a year or less.

Again never a problem starting or running.

I had heard of the algae problems. I never put any type of additive in the tank. I was concerned of course but just kept using the fuel. Sometimes it was over 2 years old.

So I was perplexed but just kept using it.
An aside: A local gas station had a tank put a load of diesel in one of his underground 'gas' tanks. He never told anyone about this but just mixed it with more gas and sold it as normal gas.

My neighbor got some and it destroyed his big outboard engine on his boat. I think I got some in the rear tank of my Ford pickup and one a trip when I needed that back tank it died on me. After getting back to the farm I had to remove that back tank and found it was full of this incredible black thick sludge. Ruined the fuel pump, the filters and in fact I had to seal off the tank and never use it again.

That station is still open but never gets any of my business.
Mixing diesel with regular IMO is dealing with an unknown but I have heard that if someone puts gas in your diesel tractor tank and you start the engine then it will self-destruct. Just hearsay but I think it could be true. Much like using too much ether to start.

I have heard stories of a farm wife injecting far too much ether trying to start a tractor and blowing the engine. My tractor had a bottle of ether and a lever to inject it with but I disabled it for that very reason and instead just squirted a tad into the intake air filter.


Gasoline destroys the lubricity of diesel fuel, which lubricates most injection pumps.  That's probably the mechanism at work.

Biodiesel is reputed to be a superb lubricant, and small amounts are sufficient to compensate for the lubricity loss from ULSD.  No personal experience here, just reporting.

Thanks gentlemen. I'm surprised that one can use preservative free diesel stored for long periods without too many issues.

Thanks for the key post Wyo. The amount of knowledge and experience required to run a food production concern is intimidating to say the least. Just witness a simple issue like fuel storage! My appreciation for farmers has grown immensely in the years I've been reading TOD.


You never remember all the details the first time around once you get old I guess.

Everything I have ever seen that Airdale posted about maintaining machinery is" by the book " or
"on the money " but he can't tell your everything he knows-that would require writing a large encyclopedia.

We have a filter on our diesel fuel tank out let that uses a disposable cartridge much like the iol filter on a car or truck which we change yearly.

In addition the tank is so mounted that one end is about two inches higher than the other, and the fuel outlet is an inch above the bottom of the high end. This means that when the tank is empty for pouposes of withdrawing fuel there is still three inches in the deep end.

The lower or deep end of the tank is fitted with a drain plug and once or twice a year when we need some diesel to soak some metal parts to clean them or start a pile of brush burning we draw some thru the drain plug.

This should be done at least once a year , and you will find that the fuel drained off is likely to be nasty and mixed with water from condensation. You don't necessarily have to drain a lot-a gallon or two has generally been enough.Over a period of years the deep end will accumulate quite a lot of sludge and goo.

When the tank is filled with a high volume pump mounted on the delivery truck this sludge gets stirred up and mixed with the fresh fuel .

It IS A VERY GOOD PRACTICE to refrain from drawing fuel from a freshly filled tank for at least four to eight hours to give the sludge time to settle out again.

Fuel tanks should be protected as well as possible from temperature extremes which means in a shed out of the sun and wind and rain.This will reduce condensation and evaporation considerably.

The importance of changing the fuel filters on diesel machinery cannot be overemphasized-the fuel injection system is extraordinarily closely machined and CANNOT BE REPAIRED except in a shop specializing in this work and it is VERY COSTLY WORK.

Most of the time however the filters do thier job perfectly and keep the rest of the system clean and just get so clogged up that the engine won't run-it may skip and lose power for the last few minutes or days as this happens.

Changing the filters will usually get you running again.Some diesels have a hand operatied priming pump to get the system filled with fuel, others don't.

The ones withut this feature can be a real pain to get started and the best thing is to get a good mechanic to start one if it doesn't start easily after running out of fuel -watch very closely and you can do it yourself the next time.

I can say from hearing this directly from a couple of mechanics that if gasoline is added to the tank of a diesel by accident in any large quantity ( in relation to the amount of diesel in the tank) that the odds are very high indeed that the engine will suffer what hot rodders refer to as a "rapid unscheduled disassembly".

The gasoline will ignite from the heat of compression far to fast and violently and the likely results include broken pistons,scored cylinder walls, bent or broken connecting rods, and worse-repairs might not even be feasible.

It would probably also destroy the fuel injection pump too if by some accident the rest of the engine survives long enough.

Ether is like whiskey -a little bit judiciously used by someone experienced with it is a fine and sometimes necessary thing.

A single one second blast into the aur intake with the throttle set to full is usually enough to start a small diesel engine in the thirty or forty hp class.If it spins over freely without "hitting a lick or two" for five seconds another one second shot is ok.

Any indication of backfire or " kicking back " against the starter is an indication to back off , you are using too much ether.

Excessive use of ether absolutely can result in severe engine damage.

Once the engine fires and runs reduce to a fast idle immediately -around eight hundred to one thiusand rpms-DO NOT ALLOW THE ENGINE TO REV UP UNTIL IT HAS RUN FOR AT LEAST A COUPLE OF MINUTES, ESPECIALLY IN VERY COLD WEATHER. Do not apply a heavy load to a cold engine, but is is now considered good practice to run at moderate rpm with a light load to make the engine warn up a little faster.This might for instance mean driving at a low rpm in low gear from the shed to the place you will be working.

When you shut down a heavy duty engine such as a truck or tractor engine that has been pullung hard, especially one equipped with a turbo charger , it is VERY INPORTANT TO IDLE THE ENGINE FOR AT LEAST FIVE minutes.Failure to do this may result in cracked cylinder heads , cracked exhaust manifolds, siezed up bearings in the turbocharger , warped valves and an all around bad hair day.

All the info I post along these lines is consistent with the contents of a considerable collection of factory and dealer supplied service manuals but some individual manufactures may disagree with some particular procedures.


You hit every nail right square on the head.

My IH 574 had saddle tanks behind the seat and was therefore gravity feed to the dual filters and then on to the injection pump(Bosch). It was an easy matter to prime it by loosening the last filter output tubing leading to the injection pump.

When it was cold that engine always blew some black smoke out the exhaust stack until the block warmed up so the fuel would atomize better.

I put a inline heater in the output side of the radiator hose. Started every time in winter then. Had a huge battery and if it wasn't at full charge the freezing temps would reduce the output enough to prevent starting. You gotta baby the battery on a diesel in the winter.

Semis with turbos, like Macks, which I drove , required attention to the shutdown and cooling. Something about the oil in the turbocharger and such. Forget it now. We only got about 3mpg on those semis during harvest.

I remember the time I 'split' that 574 tractor to install a new pressure plate and throwout bearing. Back then I would tackle anything.


Semis with turbos, like Macks, which I drove , required attention to the shutdown and cooling. Something about the oil in the turbocharger and such.

Any turbo without a water-cooled center bearing needs that.  The turbine leaks heat back through the shaft, and the heat has to be dissipated through the bearing.  If the turbine is hot enough and the bearing has poor enough cooling (which happens when oil flow shuts off in a bearing without water cooling), the shaft temperature can get high enough to coke the remaining oil.  Putting nice, abrasive coke in your bearing is a great way to grind it to pieces next time it spins up.

I found the hard way that you really need both water-cooling and synthetic oil to avoid this in a modern turbocharged gas car.  My turbodiesel car seems to run cool enough EGT and/or has a good enough cooling/oil combination that the turbo just hums along happily.  I do admit that I tend to coast into stops (sometimes coasting for half a mile into highway rest areas), but I cannot claim responsibility for the lifespan of the machinery as I do for my fuel economy.

rebuilding diesel injectors is not that hard, assuming you can buy the nozzles, springs, and heat shields somewhere. There's no rebuilding those, they're 'consumable'. This is for older indirect injection engines, of course - anything before the early or mid 90s for sure, and most simpler/cheaper engines since then (and most non-automotive engines, where smoothness and noise are't important). Rebuilding them involves opening them up, replacing the nozzle & spring, closing it up, and then
putting it back on a fuel line, turn the pump to get spray, and adjust (which means adjusting tightness
of the spring) until you get a spray pattern thats about right. The heat shield disc is replaced
any time you pull an injector anyway, since it gets brittle with heating cycles and tends to crack if you install and remove it multiple times. Of course, for most injectors, the nozzle and spring will run about 1/3 the price of just buying a whole new injector (which is often rebuilt at factory anyway)..
they're cheap enough these days, anyone who owns some diesel equipment might as well stock up a
handful of nozzles and maybe a spare injector or housing or two, and a packet of heat shields (which
cost pennies apiece). Unless you do something horrible, running something thats really nothing
close to fuel through them, diesel injectors tend to last over a thousand hours, and often can last
much much longer, 2 or 3 thousand hours in automotive applications, without ever thinking about them.
The thing you'd really want to stock up on are filter components and glow plugs if your engines use them (many non-automotive diesels don't), and lubricants. Those are 100% consumable, and having to build a home-made fuel or oil filter would be a lot of work to make someting decent. lubricants are
way more advanced these days than they were just a few decades ago. Most newer equipment is made
assuming their use, and most older equipment is better off with better lubricants as well.

Gasoline in _small_ quantities is no problem in diesel. indeed, on older engines it was sometimes
even recommended by the manufacturer to thin out fuel in extreme cold. In large quantities, it can
affect performance and eventually overheat the cylinder. Gasoline that has ethanol in it, though,
is even worse for most diesels (indirect injection particularly).. alcohols detonate even earlier
than benzenes in the injection process and will cause much stronger, sharper waves of pressure in
the prechamber, and will overheat, crack or shatter a prechamber before long. Then you might have bits of metal loose in the cylinder, which is an invitation in most any engine to trash a valve, bend a rod, score or perforate a piston, ruin a valve seat, basically bad news. so yeah, don't put anything with alcohol in a diesel engine...

I should have been more specific and instead of saying repairing the system as a whole being impossible at home, that the injection pump is the real problem if it needs work. The pump itself is somply a specialist job in a specialist shop and even the factiry dealerships generally send them out or in to a centrally located dealership with a pump specialist.

Sometimes folks that own old worn out doiesels that don't start easily will add some kerosene to the fuel , maybe up to fifteen or twenty percent.

I don't know anybody who has added gasoline to thier diesel fuel but otoh, we don't get much subzero fahrenhiet weather around here. Everybody I know personally has bought fuel conditioner on the rare occasions when it has been cold enough for the fuel to refuse to flow or to actually jell up which happens only rarely here.

I have seen people build a small fire, carefully attended of course, under a tractor engine in order to get it started in zero weather.We have towed a diesel tractor to start it using a 4by 4 truck in low first gear at maybe two mph with the tractor in a gear that turns the engine at idle speed.This is potentially very dangerous and should be done only by an experienced operator and a truck driver who absolutely will not go faster than the very minimum the truck can go.

My personal emergency method of starting our old worn out tractor (no longer used) was to put a kerosene space heater of the kind used inside residences under the engine and throw a large tarp over the tractor .After about two or three hours she would start at the turn of the key because both the engine and the batteries were warmed up.

oh yes, you are definitely right about that! few shops can rebuild those, and it's expensive.

Many failures on the low-pressure side of the pump can be repaired without a rebuild, especially
one of the more common failures, which is just leaking seals (can lead to bigger problems
later if not addressed though).

Putting kerosene in does lower the temperature where the fuel stays fluid. Winter mix fuel is basically that very thing, done for you at the refinery. Where #1 diesel is available, that's also basically the same fraction as kerosene.

I lived for a number of years in Pittsburgh, and remember one winter where i did go and set a small
burner under the engine for awhile to get it started (was driving an MB 240D, one of
the finest automobiles ever made).. and had fuel gel up on me once as well.. and have done a tow start
once as well. that did indeed take some pretty good coordination (and the luck to find a guy with a pickup in the area willing to give it a try), but it did the job. fun times!

With a tractor you'd have a lot better access to the mechanics than with a car, i wish i could've
fit a heater under the engine and thrown a tarp over the works!


in my line of work we use this product in marine diesel applications:

There are bacteria and fungi which will digest diesel over long periods. Even when we top off tanks on one of our boats, which gets only intermittent use, we usually add this product to keep the microbial/fungal life in check. A bit of this stuff will treat hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel.

Another product is the STA BIL line of fuel additives.



I think that if TSHTF you will be in a much better position if you can produce your own fuel.

Does anyone have a gasogene design suitable for your tractor?  Being able to run your gear on wood chips will let you do stuff even if there is no liquid fuel.  A diesel truck will let you use that WVO to get your stuff to market... assuming there's any WVO at the market.  Wood chips in a gasogene are hard to beat for reliability of supply.

EP, I've been looking for a real live three dimensional example of this particular Abominable Snowman for years.There are a few around, you will see a piece occasionally about someone who has built one-but never it seems within less than a thousand miles.

There are plans on the internet that are thirty or forty years old posted by some branch or another of the Federal govt and the UN for the benefit of farmers primarily if tshtf .

I plan on building one of these contraptions myself and can probably make a go of it fron the plans but a good look at a real machine and a talk with its builder and operator would be almost priceless.

I like to tinker but tinkering consumes time and materials that can be put to better use. I have already done as much preliminary research as I profitably can and have reached a couple of conclusions.

One is that such a vehicle will not be allowed on the public roads unless it is old enough to be grandfathered on emissions until after the collapse of bau.

Another is that gasoline or diesel will have to be REALLY expensive or simply unavailable before it will be worth the trouble of running one of these machines-prepping the fuel wood is time consuming and more than likely the contrption will need very frequent maintainence.

Engine life will most likely be short given the difficulty of building a really good air / fuel cleaning system to keep corrosive tars and abrasive ash out of the engine.

There will be a major loss of performance.

The roads will be in very poor condition.

Working under these assumptions I have set aside an old four by four ford pickup with the "granny gear" transmission and the 3oo cubic inch carbuerated six engine.It will run on any road a horse drawn wagon can travel, it can still go with a heavy load by gearing down even with half the gasoline horsepower by shifting down as necessary,and used parts will be plentiful for longer than I am around.

And it is easy to work on-there is plenty of access space around all the drive train components compared to a typical newer vehicle.That extra under the hood space will be priceless when I start trying to fit all that extra plumbing in place.

I think given the lack of cargo capacity and inherent built in obsolesence converting a passenger car is a bad mistake unless the job is undertaken as a learning experiment.That old ford can be kept running forever if properly maintained.I have nothing against an older similar chevy except they tend to rust out a lot faster.Finding parts for old Dodges may be hard, they weren't nearly as popular back then.

FEMA wrote the document. One copy is here. The Soil and Health library has another copy here.

For the reasons you mention, woodgas is either a stopgap or you'd have to plan to overhaul the engine frequently. Supposedly you want multi-cylinder engines for this. I was told my two cylinder garden tractor engine had too few cylinders to do this well. When I move up it will be to another spark-ignition tractor, probably an 8n, in part so I can run it on wood gas.

I found an interesting article about "fendt" tractors in germany during the war. They were built to run on woodgas due to fuel shortages and were pretty strange looking. To give some figures their bioler was filled with 230 litres of wood(about the size of a bath?) which enabled them to work for about 3 hours...
The finns seem to be still using woodgas to drive cars, even carrying extra fuel on a trailer behind the cars


It really depends upon how one envisions the future. Are there even places serving food? Will people be able to afford, what is in essence, artisan food even for home use?

If we look at people using food stamps, they buy high calorie foods to the exclusion of high quality nutrition but lots of calories. Why? Because they can afford it.

So, in essence, everyone producing on a small scale assumes BAU. That's the only way it works. I don't think this is realistic.

I think that the way it is going to work in the long run is that local growers will get the equivalent "wage" per hour as others in the area. Unfortunately, this will exclude the capital cost of being able to produce food...since anyone can "grow" food."




If cities still exist in the future the people living there will not be producing much of their own food. They will need farmers in the near vicinity of their city to grow it for them since shipping it in from far away will not be practical. That is what I expect the people who replace me here at my farm to be doing in the future. I will likely be an old man before this happens (at least that is how I think it will work out), but if it happens quicker then I will be prepared I think.

If we have complete collapse then all bets are off and each little area has to get by on its own. Who knows how that would work out, but for some it will. But the farm will still be the farm and of use to someone in any case.


No I am not for Get Big. But some have to transition to get to the proper goal and level. Power equipment might help to transition.

However my advise is one thing and how I do live is another.
Thats because I wish I could do as we did in my youth but at my age I don't think I can. When you throw a clot or have a physical shutdown? Then its all over for the gardening pretty much.

So I do what I can and able and hope I could go all the way. A few mules and horse drawn equipment perhaps and blacksmith on the side.

I could blacksmith but the rest is undoable as time passes on.

Just no call for blacksmiths at this time.


There's a surprising set of equipment available for garden tractors. I have an 18hp Craftsman (hey, stop laughing!). It has good bar tires on it now, and rarely gets stuck on our clay. We have a single-bottom plow, a disk pair, a cultivator that I can alternate regular tines or ultra-wing sweeps on, potato plow, chisel plow, crow-foot cultipacker, belly sickle-bar mower, and a few other things. It's more than enough to pull our manure spreader, old drill, two row planter, chain harrow, broadcast and drop spreaders, etc. And that's all with just a sleeve hitch. If you can get one with a cat0 three-point hitch, there's even more you can hook up.

And it was cheap. I got the tractor for $600. Another $500 on tire replacements and tune-up and I had a decent small tractor. Last week I picked up a swappable engine for another $50. It only burns about 5 gallons of gas a day even plowing our clay.

The problem is that it only works 4' width of anything at a time. At that rate, it takes the better part of a day to disk an acre.

The walk behind tractor I spoke of above , I now remember to be a Gravely. It also had a 'surrey' seat which you could ride in and steer with the normal handlebars.

This piece of equipment was powered by a 10 or 12 horse Kohler engine. It was a very very capable piece of equipment when you had the attachments. Even a front mounted sickle bar mower and a small rotary bush hog.


I get kinda snapped at if I describe what we do here as "farming" the word is "gardening" and this is because, Farming is growing for sale, Gardening is growing stuff to eat yourself.

Farming is a hard go because you're competing with fossil fuels.

Gardening is done on a much smaller scale, takes no more than an hour a day, and is done to keep you in veggies, corn, etc. And it's fun! If you value your time at $10 an hour, and your gardening is taking you an hour a day, obviously you're not beating Safeway. But if you value freshness, organic-ness, flavor, and especially if you're not even making ten dollars a day, gardening is highly profitable.

There are only a couple things I've considered here, one is growing herbs to sell, and another is growing roses, to sell for $1 each walking up and down the business district, in bars etc. I'd be an herb farmer or a rose farmer.

The "default" price for bread in the market now is $5 a loaf. Eggs have doubled, they're $3 a dozen for the cheapest ones. Walnuts are $5 a half-pound and most veggies $5 a pound. At these prices, it's no wonder we're seeing more gardens going in around here.

$5 for a loaf of bread sounds like you are getting ripped off if it is commercially baked and stock standard white loaf. The people charging this sort of money must have a monopoly or something as I just can't see those prices in a mainstream supermarket. OK IO live in Australia but we are not that differnt to the US.

It'z nutz.

This is at Safeway, the default supermarket in my part of the US.

My own response is, I just don't eat bread. My starches come from pasta, the starch component of greens like collards, and the oatmeal I eat for breakfast.

If I just had to have a type of bread, myself, I'd just have tortillas instead, no not those awful flour ones, the nice corn ones that come half-cooked, you toast them or steam them just before eating. Corn tortillas, YUM.

Get less dependent on stuff like Safeway bread and your diet sure improves. Just good old corn, beans, squash, peppers (capsicums) then all the other growable and wild edibles around here, this is a great area.

Oh, on the bread, X. here is a big bread-eater and he gets the Safeway brand sourdough for $2 a loaf.


Bread in the local farmers markets costs about $4.5-5.0 per loaf. Deep in the city heirloom tomatoes sell for $3.50/lb or a little higher and commerical tomatoes sell for up to $3/lb. Potatoes $2.50/lb, Onions $1.50/lb, peppers $2.00/lb. Prices like that.


I would really recommend herbs,they did really well for us this year...

It took me 7 years , following exactly same path as you. Started at 1/4 acre and I can handle 1 acre alone, full time. After raising field size to 3 acres, went down to employment security and asked rep to send out worker who is qualified. She sent out older Mexican gentleman and his lady who has since retired to his family farm in Mexico. They were wonderful, loyal startup for my operation that is now 60 acres and employs 13 to 18 people year around full time. This couple did introduce us to their extended family and friends from their home village in Mexico. No turnover in labor and all have developed their own skill sets. Some of summer/winter labor pool is shared with other farms in region.

I used a 1950's vintage tractor and frankly was not success until markets were established. Keeping a product line that is unique and quality and availability of a complete line of goods is key.


Wow. I'm impressed. That is great.

Tell us some more about yourself and your operation.

My wife loved your last line. It is almost word for word what she keeps saying.

I am tapped out for new equipment for now but I have my eye on a rebuilt Allis Chalmers Model G for sometime in the future.



My crops are different from yours and my 'mo' differs in that I set up my operation under the corporate umbrella of another farmer using his land and equipment. At start he set up a checking account with $1000, which was a place to put farm income. I did not draw any personal income for 4 years. After then only subsistence. Having wife that worked helped support family and I also did outside work.

Freeing myself from duties as business manager allowed me to focus on product and market development. Finding compatible people to operate under using this strategy is critical. Now about 23 years into this venture. Best retirement I could imagine. Staying physically fit and mentally sharp with focus on a great job I shaped for myself. My venture eventually took over prior business model and here sustainability is adaptive behavior that changes in sync with our real world situation.

What is nice about farming when you have self liquidating strategy (not mortgage constrained) is the freedom to spin on a dime and find your niche. Once you find your cash flow and develop understanding of customer base you are able to realize what you can do year to year. There are homesteaders and solo operators around here who have done well and others who only complain. It's not the organizational strategy but you and the customers and employee talent you attract and allow to develop under your umbrella.

When I think about oil shortages and providing food, the first thing that comes to my mind is buying a horse or two for transportation, plus finding some high calorie food to grow (like potatoes or grain) for sustenance. If I had enough energy left over, I would grow vegetables and fruit too, but that wouldn't be my first priority. If a few animals could be grown in a low maintenance way, these might be added as well. I am not sure I could make a profit this way, but this is really the only model that seems sustainable to me.

What always strikes me as strange is how everyone seems to think a system that uses little oil is much better than a system that uses a lot of oil. Isn't the real issue our ability to keep up a complex system working in the first place? (Also, all of the embedded oil in all of the equipment?) If we can keep a system going in which you can drive your pickup to town all of the time, and buy new parts for your farm equipment, it seems like we can keep up a much bigger scale system as well. If we can't keep such a system going, then I expect we can't really handle a system that uses smaller scale equipment either, especially if it uses parts from around the world. Instead, we need horses and very simple tools that perhaps we can manufacture and repair locally.


I know that everyone likes horses, but for most folks they would be better off with an industrial bike with one of those cool aluminum trailers. Properly taken care of they will last 30 years. even in a bad downturn you will be able to find grease and be able to do basic repairs. Stock an extra chain and a few tires. If your horse is not a plow horse he will not be of much use in farming. And they require a LOT of land for growing their fuel.

There is an issue with the embedded energy of course. But if we are going to embed energy in something is is far better that it is a small tractor than a Lexus. The Lexus is junk in 5-10 years and is pretty useles at pulling farm equipment. A small tractor can be kept running almost forever. Even in a bad collapse it will be a LONG time before the tractors are qll broken and unfixable by the clever. I mention up thread to Airdale that I would like to buy a used Allis Chalmers Model G. They are still around for sale and are used all the time by small organic farmers . They have not been made since circa 1960. Most are still in use. Lots of small farms use tractors that were made in the 50's. A new tractor, properly cared for, will get as much as 8000 hours on the engine. If you use it 250 hours a year (that's is a lot) you have a 32 year life. I know folks that have tractors with over 7000 hours on them that have had no major failures.

A good blacksmith or even myself with what I have can be pretty clever about making parts from stock steel. We will have lots of that for the forseeable future. I was in Cuba for a time once and saw craftsmen using files, hacksaws, drills, et(c but no milling machines) making car parts from stock metal to keep the old US cars running.

I thin the issue about the complex system is not to have one but the scale of it. What it is unlikely that we can support is a multi-billion population that lives in a complex society. We either have a managed drawdown or we have a freefall. But even in a freefall it is possible that enclaves of compexity will survive. Those enclaves are going to be populated by the people that prepared to find a way to support themselves. It is not the automobile or air conditioning that created civilization. It was having enough food and security to allow the philosopher/mathematicians and artists enough spare time to think and explain things. That is what I do not want to lose. Electricity is not all that important in comparison.


"Electricity is not all that important in comparison."

We're off grid and you can bet I have a big circuit running from the inverters to the shop. A good electric grinder, a drill press and a small welder will mean a lot during transition years. An electric metal chopsaw beats the hell out of a hacksaw anyday. These things are storable efficiency that will help when TSHTF. How long does it take (and how many calories) to drill out a broken bolt without an electric drill. When a plow breaks, what may take a blacksmith hours to repair (when you find a blacksmith) may take 10 mins with a small welder. I learned to not equate technical advantage with complexity.
How many man/mule hours can a tractor running 30 hours a year offset just turning soil?


Yes, I agree completely. I was more trying to point out that even after the electricity is gone one can actually make something if they really need it. As one could expect a lot more available hand labor in deep drawdown conditions one could reserve the use of the remaining power equipment for the really critical needs.

I expect that there will be some very nice setups just for that purpose eventually. Not to mention that the guy who decides that he will specialize in being the local communities blacksmith will have incentive to create these systems just to make his niche in the community more valuable. The community could even help support such critical capabilities in order to have him there to support them.


re electricity
northern tools makes 3 sizes of generators that are power takeoff driven.

I help make and install these ;-)
This one is a 1.2KW PV array feeding into what amounts to a 6KW off the shelf pure sine charger inverter with a 48 volt DC battery backup. The home is on grid but has a section with full amenities including AC that we configured to draw about 1.8 KW fully powered up (not the intended goal)This system is intended to be used as an emergency off grid backup system in case grid power is lost in a hurricane for example.

Solar generator

Talk of a plowing horse ... got me thinking (Cows, pigs, wars & witches; the riddles of culture : Marvin Harris).

Thats why they use ox (bull) in India. Much better plowers and hardy animals. Since in India most of the farms are traditional/organic (and non-machinized) - they keep a few cows as well. That makes them completely self-sufficient.

A horse is big and eats a lot.
But how about a smaller animal like a goat, or a pig or a rabbit or chickens? Of course, they don`t do much work, like pulling a plow. But they can provide fertilizer and eat waste leaves and stalks. They might provide a bridge, a kind of transition, to the time when people might start to use horses again. (Horses provide excellent fertilizer besides transportation and work ability). These smaller animals can be eaten and grown locally. They can provide milk or eggs.

Of course its big. The size does vary though.

But you can ride it to town or the local feed mill or to the blacksmiths or to a neighbors. Lots of good uses plus it can be hitched to a buggy and haul various items.

They are not expensive to keep unless you are one of those pretend cowboys. I never went to rodeos or horse shows, maybe one time. I rode my horses in lieu of autos, when I wanted to just go thru some country or just trail ride for the heck of it.

A horse can get plenty of protein via hay if the hay has good quality. Some can test as high in protein as sweet feed. 12 percent or so if its good hay and done right. Big round bales are bad news due to the mold it develops if stored outside.


Gail, IMO you are right about the long term, but timing the transition is difficult. While it may well turn out that the complex system that supports tractors will unwind faster than most folks want to believe, for the forseable future draft horses cannot generate enough cash flow to justify their use. For now, almost all small-scale farmers and doomsteaders need a cash flow in order to buy what they don't produce and pay taxes.

I will testify from my experiences in investing, one can be completely correct on a trend long term, but lose one's shirt on timing.

I think the problem is the other approach doesn't work either because, as Wyoming has just said, you can't sell the produce for enough to make it financially viable. If one includes covering the cost of paying for the farm in the calculation, that is definitely not the case.

If what one is looking for is something that is sustainable long term, then one needs a system where one does not depend on all kinds of imports, whether it be gasoline or replacement parts. Our standard of living is going to be a whole lot lower though.


There is no need to buy land. Lease it, tenent farm. These are the old ways.

I am plowing all the net that I generate back into infrastructure right now. But the net is already subsistence level if I did not want to grow into a larger operation. If I add in another 5 acres there is a reasonable income there in today's financial climate.

As we draw down the well off with large amounts of land will facilitate this process just like in the past. It makes perfect sense. Most of our ancestors did not own the land they farmed. They were tenent farmers or share croppers. The system works fine that way. There is this ownership issue that often gets in the way of solutions. An artifact of modern times I guess. Property values are so false today that it only makes sense to buy if you are in the right financial position. I don't expect that the property that I own will ever again rise to what it was in 2005 and it does not matter if it shrinks to less than what I purchased it for either. I own it outright and intend to stay here for the duration. If I were young I would find a situation where I could lease everything that was possible; land, lodging, equipment.

As water supplies shrink (see link in below post), energy costs rise and climate changes the whole way we do things now will evolve towards other structures. 20 years from now Northen Va will be covered in small farms like it was 100 years ago and the Central Valley of Calif will be returning to the desert it belongs too.

Our standard of living is false in any case so having it reduced to what we can actually afford without spending what belongs to other generations is a good thing not a bad thing.


In terms of EROEI, I put my bets on perennials and trees. It still befuddles me that so many folks think a move to sustainability means just rehashing the 1800s with draft horses. Were the 1800s sustainable? I'm not so sure.

Plow horses take a lot of work to feed and maintain. Tractors require fuels that may be in short supply in the future. There's a lot of discussion on this site about EROEI and quite frankly in terms of calories most farming methods -- even small scale organic/"sustainable" farms seem to fall short. I imagine if all the energy entering and leaving a small farm was considered you would find either a very low EROEI or possibly a negative EROEI. This is speculation, of course.

I would think tree-crops would be much more efficient over the long-term in terms of EROEI. Plowing and turning the soil takes a lot of work, and I'm glad to double dig my garden beds once or twice for vegetables, but in terms of calories nuts are my choice for the food of the future. After initial planting, the only work is ongoing maintenance and mulching and perhaps pruning. It does not require that massive energy investment of turning the soil. Anyone who's done this by hand knows that's some good work.

Let's take hazelnuts for example, which has commercial yields of up to 2,000 pounds an acre in shell. Shelled, we're looking at maybe 700 lbs. for good cultivars. 700 lbs an acre doesn't compare to the commercial yields per acre for crops like corn and soy. But, hazels can live for 50 years. If we estimated that we'd get solid yields for 30 years off of one planting, a single planting could yield 21,000 lbs of hazelnuts. Compare that with thirty much more intensive plantings for corn and soy and there seems to be a major energetic difference!

It seems that an operation which sought to minimize energy inputs while maximizing production would turn to tree and perennial crops that don't require continual tillage. A no-till fukuoka method of grain production would also seem to make sense in this regard.

Am I just totally off my rocker here? Are small-scale farmers thinking in terms of EROEI? What am I missing?


There is a place, of course, for gathering nuts from trees and harvesting from perennials. It is the scale of the issue that creates problems. The last time there was large scale nut harvesting in the US I believe was before the arrival of the blight in the American Chestnut trees. Up until that time in the Appalachians the poor mountain farmers gained enough income/nutrients from the chestnuts to make the difference between making it and not. When the trees died small farming in the mountains pretty much died. If you think about the amount of trees that bear nuts it would take to feed a large population you will see that it is not a practical solution. You have the same issue with perennials. How do you support large populations from the harvest from such plants.

If yo eliminate the vast majority of the people on earth you have a lot more options, but there is no way to get from here to there - in a sense. Well get somewhere of course. We have to be able to produce a lot of foode for a long time still or we will definately collapse. The EROEI of provisioninig that food will be negative as it is now, but we will be forced to do it a lot closer to 1:1 than is currently being done.


On the nail Gail.

The issue is not the absolute consumption but rather, like PO, what it takes to keep the system up so that ANY product can be delivered at a price that wont collapse the other markets dependent on it.

I'm interested in what else is missing from Jim's calculations as well.

He says

Production per Gallon
For 2008: 7.4 lbs Production per gallon of fuel
For 2009: 19.0 lbs Production per gallon of fuel

What he doesn't give is an EROEI for the calories he produces which is what I would expect on this site especially. ie, does he produce more calories than he uses to grow them? If not, he has scaled down industrial farming that only enables us to eat the oil but his approach is not part of the solution to the problem.

There are other major gaps in the story as well. Every calorie is wrapped in N,P,K,C and a host of trace elements that he is currently extracting from his land and exporting to the market. He doesn't mention any way to close that loop and refund the soil with the lost nutrients, nor any energy budget for doing that.

There are other BIG questions.

  1. By focusing on production, Jim is buying into a product based model instead of a sustainability one. Frankly, the first few years needs to focus on making sure that the soil is healthy and that systems are in place to maintain that health under production. Of course you need to grow stuff as part of that and some of it will feed you and any surplus can be sold to the market, as long as there is a return flow to replace lost nutrients, but that can't afford to be the focus at this stage.
  2. Plowing the soil and relying on plastic (oil-based) mulch has a short future under PO/ economic sitf conditions. Some of the permaculture people aim to have only 40% of the land in actual production while 60% is being renovated at any one time. Without that attention it is just mining the soil.
  3. There is also no water budget in the piece. How much rain does he get over time? How much of that does he trap and how? How long will his supply last under different conditions and seasons? How much pumping is needed to move it to where it is required?
  4. The herbs are obviously also seen as a product but a healthy landscape will have not 4 or 6 herbs but dozens, not just for flavour and medicinal purposes but as garden chemicals and environmental supports. The wormwood I grow keeps the predators off almost everything, the comfrey mines the deep clay and returns leached nutrients to the soil, acts as living mulch, protects the potatoes from many soil borne diseases and is a great foliar feed, Calendula attracts pollinators and is an antiseptic for minor abrasions etc etc. I have about 20 perennial or self seeding annual herbs growing in my quarter acre property and every one has a purpose in maintaining the production. I'll have 50 by the time I'm much older.

Another thing about the permaculture approach is that it enlists the critters in the landscape, birds, wasps, bees, worms, slaters, earwigs etc as part of the labour force. If you aren't recruiting and enabling those guys you are wastign vast resources.

We don't know if permaculture will actually be permanent, but its better than anything else so far.

Those of us interested in a sustainable alternative future need to make the alternative calculations. We need to look at what it will take to maintain our piece of land, whatever size, as productive forever. Then we need to optimise the production within that capacity. Only then should we be thinking of trading with the rest of the planet.


It is clear to me that you did not either read the articles or you arrived with an agenda and want to push yours.

I will baldly state that permaculture does not have a chance in hell of preventing a catastrophic collapse as energy supplies decrease. Period. Permaculture is an excellent concept for a sustainable form of agriculture AFTER we have eliminated about 4-5 billion people. But if the drawdown is catastrophic because not enough farmers learn to do what I am trying to learn to do then you will not get your chance to show what you can do.
As to your points.

No one would even suggest that I produced more calories than were used to grow them. Besides all the embedded energy in the equipment you still have the 2nd law to think of. This type of farming is far superior to massive scale industrial and, in IMHO, is a the bridge to a sustainable future. We live a lot longer at this scale than if we only farm at the massive scale. We have to transition.

Your point about me not mentioning how I am dealing with the nutrient and trace mineral loss caused by selling off farm rather than consuming entirely on farm indicates that you did not read the articles as it is well covered.

Item 1 in your post is not accurate either. No production no food. No food no civilization. In reality I am doing exactly what you describe in a fashion that will make a difference. I am taking unused pasture and turning it into excellent gardening ground. But I am also in the process of creating a viable farm. The two HAVE to occur at the same time. In your approach the vast majority of farmers would never make it to economic viability thus defeating your goal. We don't have the time you need to execute your method as we have to be able to produce enough food to feed huge numbers of people using a different scale of agriculture than is used now.

Item 2 misunderstands the situation in the same way as item 1. Permaculture will not support feeding billions of people if it requires 60% of the land to not be in production at any given time. Seems obvious. As to plastic mulch and other kinds of plastic (drip tape for instance) these items are currently essential to get high productivity while keeping overall costs down. As time goes on this will evolve. But it is always wise to remember, burning oil is a lot different than using plastic made from oil and recycling it. Very different effects. Mankind may self destruct but not from using plastic to feed people. How are your permaculturist going to transport their food to the city where most of the people live?

Item 3. Water issues were covered extensively. To reiterate; we get an average of 40 inches of rain a year, I have a large pond (2 acre feet of storage) fed by a strong natural spring on my land. I irrigate from the pond as needed via a gas pump and drip tape. I also have a supplemental rain catchment system that collects rain from the roof of a large building that is also used for irrigation.

Item 4 I only listed the herbs I sell not all the ones I grow. Anyone who is farming by organic rules, or any gardener period, knows what you are talking about and follows the same practices. This is not a permaculture invention.

There is nothing in permaculture practices that is not familiar to organic farmers in terms of how to leverage from companion plants, to attract beneficial insects, drive away pests, etc.

You really annoyed me as I am sure is apparent. That being said I wish you the best in your endeavor as I think it is an important effort for the long term. It will take a lot of learning and research to determine how effective it can be. I do not believe that it is critical for the short or medium term due to the points I mentioned above. If we cannot manage the transition (which permaculture cannot measurably assist us in) from massive population and idustrial agriculture via some method to a sustainable future the permaculturists will not get a chance to prove what they can do. If you are running around stepping on others that are contemplating doing what I am trying to do you are shooting yourself in the foot. It is a problem that is going around a lot lately.

Regards, Wyo

Thank you that was very useful. I intend to start major selling next year, and am blessed with an incredibly well travelled road
and owning a corner intersection, so i'm hoping that the road outlet removes some substantial portion of the fuel costs. I
have both a BAC and a series 500 john deere (15 years old, i bought it new). the deere i couldn't imagine doing without when
i till 2-4 acre patches of ground. From your article and the comments some things come to mind:

1) my good friend who owns a winery in Virginia also pushed having some kind of living quarters, for the wine side of the farm
I have one more modest outbuilding to build for the tankange and press, that is definitely going to have some dorm space. I
will also have at least one camper location on my 60 acres. I like wine for year round cash flow (along with winter greens
from the greenhouse), and for future trading.

2) I've been buying labor for a while to fix/upgrade this beaten down old farm. day to day stuff, or week to week. the price of
labor has dramatically decreased in my community over the last 24 months. I haven't yet hired anyone for production, but what
i have hired for my purposes has been mixed as well.

3) I decided to take a different slant on labor, I took on a partner, and have hopes that between the four adults (2 couples)
we can go without too much labor. I've had a lot of success in business partnerships over the past 30 years so I'm more comfortable
with this method then some.

I've become very pessimistic about the bits that symbolically represent $'s in my bank account in the future, so putting them into
material goods that have some production value from chicken coops, to 4x4's for fences, to grape plants, and apple trees. This just seems to make sense to me, the brown eggs from my free ranging hens of 3 years ago, bring in more money today, i suspect my sweet corn, and other misc veggies will do all right as well, but we will see.


The living quarters issue is big. I am in the process of restoring a part of our old farm house that has never been livable since we purchased it (only about 1/2 the house was liveable when we started here) just to house farm workers. This type of farming requires lots of help and it is very difficult to find workers who can commute (which sort of makes no farming sense anyway).

We had two different farm workers live in one of our spare bedrooms this year but it was too awkward for everyone I think.

I understand what you mean about $ in the bank. I sometimes think that I will wake up and they will all be gone into some bankers pocket. I feel more comfortable with tangible goods too.


wow wyoming
nice documentation of u'r all's venture. thanks for sharing.

i have worked at getting a 7500- 10000 sq. ft. garden going & it has been one heck of a learning curve-- these past 6 or 7 yrs. land is bad- dense rocky clay- but luckily a closeby horse barn gives me all the manure i want. i probably hauled 30-50 tons + leaves + sand.

we bought for location near relatives; & near a metro area so 3 acres was all we found we could afford.

i started with no equipment, hired one plowing, & then some in beds double digging. having now lost a couple of inches in heigth due to disk problems i have changed my attitude towards mechanization. i use a tiller for weeding only & inherited a 60's JD 3010 with loader, & allis chambis C. can't say enough about the utility of the JD. dug a pond, lift 1500 lbs, etc. it has it's quirks but has served my dad & now me; i don't think it has been rebuilt either. there are things it does like turning this hard clay that would take teams of human - grinding- labor weeks to do. like u said as a culture we don't know about this kind of work anymore.

we recently bought a house, & lot- a couple of hours away- in a large river village 'for a song'- near good farm land. can't afford land for now, but got our foot in the door if things get dicey here. u'r giving concrete info is real helpful as i see this as our way of life- if we are fortunate enough for such.

i resonate with u'r 'scale w/o complexity' comment as the alternative is a dieoff as u say. recently -i've practiced scaling up winter calories- sweet potatoes & corn for cornmeal. thanks again; informative & inspiring.

It is article like this one that makes me want to hurry. We might need to be further along recreating a farming infrastructure in these parts. A huge amount of the stuff in the produce section of the local Giant comes from there.

Wyo - what a pleasure to read your essay - and what an impressive job you have done.

The URL re: groundwater loss in Calif was disturbing - not to dismiss the importance of peak oil - but water is the real liquid gold of the future. It suggests to me we will see major geographic shifts in the locations of agriculture - although how we will un- suburbanize to create more farm land in the water logged mid atlantic and north east is a puzzle to me - but if farming becomes unsustainable in Calif and the bread basket due to water loss - then such a shift will have to occur.


You hit on a core motivation for me. Form what I have studied water will be a major cause of reconfiguring agriculture on a timescale that is not far off that of peak oil. One can point to a host of locations around the world where looming water shortages for agriculture is going to be catastrophic; for instance there is the central valley of Calif, the American midwest (the Ogalla acquifer), the breadbaskets of India and China were ground water levels are dropping at 3-5 feet a YEAR, the Murray-Darling drainage in Australia to name some of them.

Land productivity in those areas is going to plumet in the not to distant future. And then there is the changing climate that will add in adverse effects as time goes on. A rececipe for disaster.

You mention the need to convert suburban/exurban lawns and pet horse pasture back to agriculture. This is exactly what I am doing. My property is the central part of a very old farm that was developed. I am surrounded by very large homes (as much as 7400 sq ft) whose croppable land is mostly just giant lawns. A few are keeping theirs in land use by having a local farmer come in ane cut hay on it and there is one poperty that has sheep. There are many thousands of acres in the DSC metro area that could be cropped by small farmers pretty efficiently. Especially if it has become really important to do so. This is where the small guys like myself have an advantage over the giant operations you see in the Central Valley. Their scale just does not work in the environment that I live in. The advantage will swing away from them in many locations as time goes on.


1. For labor, you should be able to get as much as you need here on The Oil Drum--I would think there would be several who would like to serve as an apprentice.

2. A very major question was not answered here: exactly how does your operation compare to traditional farmers in terms of energy efficiency? While you gave numbers on how much energy you used, I have no idea how much energy traditional farmers use. Anyone? There should be studies around.

I'm just getting started in this type of small farm operation myself.

My first lesson learned was that every task takes much, much longer than first imagined and will leave me much, much more exhausted than I ever thought possible.

The second lesson is that the breadth of knowledge required and the diversity of experience needed is astronomical. Maybe that's why there aren't too many useful texts on the subject. Most 'beginning farming' books are romantically anecdotal and hopelessly incomplete.

I've found that some of the farming handbooks of the late 19th and early 20th century are much more relevant than 21st century editions. I got my reprint of "Traditional American Farming Techniques" (1926 edition) at Tractor Supply. One contemporary book that I can recommend is "Eco-Farm" by Charles Walters, because he starts with the basics of plant biology and soil chemistry. Otherwise, large-scale gardening texts like Coleman's are the most useful. The internet is indispensable, of course, but confusing.

The biggest tragedy of our last half-century of agricultural 'progress' is how much we have forgotten.

Here in New York state, there is an organization called NOFA-NY (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York) that provides ample amounts of support and intercommunication in all aspects of gardening and small farming. There is a similar organization in Virginia called VABF (Virginia Association for Biological Farming). These groups can provide a much-needed sense of community and common purpose that the conventional farming organizations cannot.

Compact diesel tractors and basic tillage and mowing implements are universally available. However, here in the USA, small-scale planters, cultivators and harvesters are either scarce or ancient. The Europeans and Chinese produce suitable machinery, but it's getting extravagantly expensive because of our degraded currency and increased shipping costs.

So far the most useful and effective tillage machine I've found is the 'spader', a tractor-driven device that digs up a 30" row with an articulated series of shovels on a crankshaft, leaving an 8" deep bed ready for planting without the pulverizing effects of a rotary cultivator or the soil inversion of a moldboard plow. They come in a variety of sizes, and most are made in Italy.

A neighboring farmer who works thousands of acres with giant machines stopped by a few months ago as I was gathering up some late-season hay. Among other commodity crops, he grows kilotons of potatoes for Frito-Lay. After swooping abruptly off the road and parking his huge diesel pickup right in the middle of my lawn, he strode across the field and demanded to know just exactly what I was up to with my 'toy' equipment.

After I explained that the hay was to be composted and mulched, I was surprised to find that he was not immediately dismissive of such an idea. Maybe 'conventional' farmers are more aware of 'sustainable' or 'organic' practices than we might think.

I hope so.


I plan on purchasing a spader with power harrow next winter. I have to pace myself. As the combination costs near $10,000 it is a big purchase. They are to tool of choice however and besides greatly improving the soil quality they reduce the energy usage of the farm significantly by eliminating one pass of the tractor. A spader with harrow can make a run down a bed incorporating old crop residue and prepareing the bed for transplanting in one fell swoop. Everyone that I know that is really good at this has one.

Most of the really good small scale farm equipment is not made in the US. Italy being the most common location for implements with almost all of them in Europe - though Asia is rising. For example the 45 HP Kioti (South Korean made) that I purchased has a good reputation and cost about $10,000 less for the equivalent Kubota (Japan) and %50 percent of the price of a John Deere (parts made all over the world).


Had to look up a spader. Never heard of that before. Here's an article I found on them. Cool.

Regarding the 'spader'. To me it appears to be sort of rototiller in that it cultivates the soil,sort of like a cross between a plow and a disk.

For my own self I prefer to not overly 'work' the ground nor the top of the soil. For this I use a real cultivator but set it deeper so as to be more on the order of a subsoiler.

A subsoiler 'plows' the soil beneath the surface. Designed to break up a hardpan or compacted soil.

First if you work you ground at the time when it is in 'case', which means just the right amount of moisture and no more, no more to cause clodding. Working soil at the wrong time can create havoc.

So I usually ONLY use rototillers to very lightly removed the early shoots of grass and weeds. Just the very top. I also have side shields on my rear tine tillers to throw up hills.

I may disk the soil over the whole garden ONE TIME in the spring. Maybe late fall or in winter if possible. From then on I try to not disturb it so that the fertility is not destroyed by microbial entities when oxygen is thus introduced.

I keep a mulch on top when possible of course. But on corn not easily done. So its a mix of techniques that vary depending on many variables and only if you are very familiar with soil and gardening are you able to judge these variables.

For this reason my grandfather never hurried with is fields. He worked with the seasons and weather. We only had animal manure to put fertility back in our ground as well as fallowing.

Therefore turning hogs in your garden can result in a real good job of enriching the soil as well as then eating much of the weeds roots.
Ditto cows and horses, IF you run a chain harrow over it to spread the manure/droppings.

Guess I will pass on the 'spader'. Use my converted hitch mounted cultivators as chisel plows. Chisel plows are like multiple subsoilers. Today the farmers use paravanes which do about the same.
But for gardening, I try to put a very light touch on the soil's surface.

Airdale-of course many can disagree, but this is my way and it works very very well for me and MY SOIL. A very very rich Collins Silt Loam,which btw will never create a hardpan(Fragipan?) unless one treats it in a stupid careless manner and removes ALL but the lesser clay particles. Then you will have merry hell to pay for a very very long time.


There are 2 kinds of spaders. One is rotating and the other is reciprocating. The lessor of the 2 in terms of churning the soil is the rotating. WHiel it does not churn the soil like a tiller does its action does (over time - several passes with the spader) turn the soil over. It can also create a hard pan over time, but not like a plow would.

The reciprocating spder works like a shovel that is stepped on and then levered back to break the soil and then ppulled straight out. It does not turn the soil and does not create a hard pan.

One runs a power harrow or a tiller set very shaoow behind it to prepare a seed bed. In many cases the spader works the ground well enough (it will incorporate the old crop residue by sjhoving it into the ground) that one can transplant right into the bed without even using the harrow.

These are great machines and even industrial ag folks are converting to them. They makes huge ones these days that are 10 feet wide or more and can spade more than 24 inches deep. They eliminate the need to use chisel plows or subsoilers to a great extent. Some of the farmers using spaders/harrows are no longer disking either.


I really appreciated this post. As someone who grew up on a farm, I can appreciate how difficult it is to make a living at it. But to this day I still love to grow things, and am now experimenting in the year round growing season in Hawaii. The biggest thing out here is the bugs. I like to grow broccoli, but it keeps disappearing. I just need to figure out what grows well, and stick with that. (Although I am trying to grow some vegetables that thrive in Texas like okra and jalapenos).

The good thing is that I have several fruit trees, and always have plenty of lemons and limes. I am also making lots of good contacts among those who are really good at growing food here.

I have tried WWOOF for workers , but not much luck

I would recommend the Yanmar 155D 4x4 tractor , which is what I use

Howard 3 point tiller and two ripper shanks is what I use to make beds

Probably the best walk behind is the Howard Gem Rotovator if you can find one

Here's another site for the Yanmar. The craigslist page will probably disappear in a week or two. This site might last even longer, and they have lots of Yanmar equipment. That's a nice machine!

I don't have anything against Yanmar or any other make of equipment sold by small companies new to the American market and some of it is bargain priced no question.

But there is a big difference between buying an import car with dealers in every good sized town and more or less wearing it out in five to ten years using it for a couple of hours almost daily and buying a new tractor and wearing it out over a period of thirty or forty years because it sits unused so many days.

There are tons of aftermarket parts available for a thirty year old Ford or Ferguson meainng you can buy a wheel or fuel pump or alternator or hundreds of other frequently needed parts at Napa or a tractor supply and service center.It is not unusual for a dealer only part to cost as much as five times as much as a good quality aftermarket part.

This is not the case with these low volume imports and personally I would not bet my money or being able to get ANY parts for a Chinese or Indian or Korean made tractor in twenty years -or maybe even in ten years.The junkyards are full of chinese scooters that were sold for a couple of thousand bucks retail and junked within two years for lack of parts.


Check with your local organic growers re the broccoli. They will know what the situation is with bugs and broccoli for that climate. Broccoli is a cold weather plant and it may just not be the right climate in Hawaii. But it could be just that you need row covers and some beneficial insects. Or maybe one of the organic pest controls like mild soap.

You might need some soil amendments also. I have no idea what volcanic soils are like. It might be interesting!

You should talk to the local growers about their energy and mineral usages in the Hawaiian situation. It would be interesting to see what the differences/problems are between there and here.


There is a farmer's market every Saturday very close to my house. Probably a good idea to visit with the local broccoli growers.

Regarding climate; it is actually cool where I live. Night time temperatures down in the lower 50's, and daytime temperatures in the low to mid-70's. That should be pretty good weather for broccoli. I do have one plant that is really coming on now. As long as they make it past a certain stage, broccoli are pretty hardy.

This operation cannot survive the far downslope of Peak Oil and Peak Phosphorous, but then that's true of most farming. Some claim (Pimental?) that food has an EROEI of about 0.1, that is ten calories of input for every one of output. Working on
19.0 lbs Production per gallon of fuel I get an EROEI of about 0.95 or nearly line ball in energy terms.

Somebody check that. I used 3.4kg fuel per US gallon, 2.2 lb per kg and assumed energy densities of 40 MJ/kg for liquid fuel and 15 MJ/kg for food with high starch and low moisture. While that sounds good compared to agribusiness it is not sustainable long term. What happens when there is no
- synthetic NPK or farm chemicals
- store bought fuel to power machinery
- quick transport to market?


Very interesting numbers. However, if they are accurate, I think that the opposite conclusion would be warrented. It would mean that I am achieving a pretty high level of sustainability already. And I can do much better in the future.

If one of the TOD experts on EROEI would like to check the above figures and chime in I would appreciate it.

If I have achieved near 1:1 EROEI this soon in my operation one could conclude that it is highly likely that farming techniques like mine are not only viable but they will become essential in the downslope of peak oil. Your figures indicate that I am almost 10 times more efficient than the equivalent industrial grower!! I think that there must be some error here as that is hard to imagine. I can see a lot more efficiency gain from where I am at today. If you notice from my figures there was a couple of million calories more food grown that was not sold or used (composted). On the downslope that food could have been consumed.

You touch on issue of what happens when there is no more synthetic NPK and chemicals. I DO NOT use them now so that is not the issue. I use organic methods. That is not to say that obtaining organic fertilizers and needed minerals will not be an issue in the future because it will. Just in different ways.

When one ships large amounts of nutrients off-farm (the produce I sell) then one is required to bring replacements on farm or over time the soil will deplete and the system falls apart. Right now I am purchasing organic fertilizers and compost, I create my own compost as well (it is just not possible on a little place like mine to produce enough), I plant cover crops to put nutrients into the soil (primarily nitrogen) for my production crops, I rotate crops to take advantage what a preceeding crop can leave for the next one and to disrupt the pest cycles. There are many such techniques.

I do need fuel, but I can likely convert substantially to bio fuel in the future. I think that it will be a LONG time before there is no fuel available to farmers. As rationing comes to the fore you can be that those who produce food will be very high on the list. If they don't feed you then you will not need any fuel in any case thus freeing the fuel up for the farmers again. Simple solution :)

As we draw down the small farms will naturally evolve towards the mixed farm systems that existed before industrialization. In such a system the animals provide a significant boost to the fertilizer mineral requirements. In the past it was also common to incorporate human waste into the agriculture inputs stream to provide the needed nutrients. This is still common in many parts of th world. Surrounding my farm is a large area where the land is very suitable for grazing, growing grain, raising chickens, pigs, not to mention what I am doing. There are multiple strong springs and 4 ponds within a 1/4 miles of my house and probably 50 croppable acres. The people who live here could make a go of it should they choose to. Between the residents here there are already 8 small tractors and even some implements beyond mine.

Besides getting ones phosphorous from manures one can also get it from rock phosphate (since I have naturally low PH soils this works for me as well as the manure based fertilizers).

Transport to market will evolve as energy supplies change. One thing that will happen is that food is going to cost a lot more not less. Some of that cost will be to offset transportation costs. As things wind down a long way older methods of transport will return. There are many wasy of making this work. Downtown DC is only 50 miles from here and inbetween us there are literally hundreds of thousands of other people who will want food supplies. A healty young man with an idustrial bike and trailer could hop on the bike path a couple of miles from here and, since it is mostly down hill from here to there) get there in a few hours, sell the produce and bike home. Hard work but doable. There are ways. It is hardly hopeless.


Hi Wyo,

Very happy to read your post. Am wondering what cover crops you use to affix nitrogen and when you sow them? Also wondering if you (or anyone else on the TOD board) have tried implementing any of the methods of Fukuoka? I am reading "The One-Straw Revolution" right now and it seems like an amazing book, but I am no farmer and am wondering if anyone has had any success with the methods outside Japan.


The cover crops I used this year were buckwheat during the growing season inbetween different crops and over the winter I am using a mix of field peas and oats. The peas/oats mix is excellent because it winter kills. You can start crops on the beds very early in the season.

In the past I have used winter rye and vetch both. The issue with both of these is that they do not winter kill and want to take off growing in the spring. This can present real problems. Yo have to let the rye grow until the seeds start to form before you flail it otherwise it will just keep grwoing like grass. The vetch is great at bringing in nitrogen but it is very expensive. One can also use clover and I have tried it some. I have a lot of white clover in the pastures just for the bees.

I think that Fukouka is the Effective Microorganism stuff. Right? IF so I know one grower who is very committed to that practice. However, I have read what the sicentists who have studied it said and, from a scientific perspective, it does not seem to be valid. Sort of in the same class as bio-dynamic. They seem to be faith based approaches (and I am not digging at them in any way) and my outlook leans towards the provable systems.

As one farmer told me, "Don't stress too much about your plants. Don't do anything stupid and they will grow. That is their whole purpose for existence and if you leave them alone pretty much they will be just fine."


Hi Wyoming, great article, thanks for posting it and bringing up so many important issues..
I would agree that small scale farming manuals are few and far between. I know there is a growing movement in the states -"tiny farms"- seeking to share knowledge and tips about this.

It's interesting to note how much of your equipment is for tillage. I wonder if you've heard of the book "plowman's folly"? it's a very interesting look at what ploughing does to the soil and ways in which the author worked around this.

I currently farm/garden 2 acres doing as little tillage as possible, and am working towards what people seem to be calling a "perennial polyculture" - i prefer forest garden, it seems friendlier somehow!
large scale mulching with organic material is not always energy efficient..
i suppose the ideal would be for a replica of a young woodland of fruiting trees, interspersed with clearings of intensive crops. Commercial permaculture, with minimal inputs...

I'm glad you stress the hard work aspect, and no it does not seem to be a uniquely american thing for people to be clueless about hard work, or even the difference between a weed and a bean plant!!
i think all the perfect workers are already farming somewhere else..

farming is so, so underestimated and undervalued it's funny..

Something that's really worked for us are herbs - we make hand creams using olive oil and beeswax which sell for 4-5 times the price of the herbs that we put in them if they were sold on their own..
the advantages are a product that doesnt rot for a long time, perennial crops needing little attention, a good income in the winter, etc..

My ultimate aim would be to grow enough biomass to put through a pto driven woodchipper, and to then run the tractor on woodgas to do things like heavy lifting and seaweed haulage-almost sustainable....

I would also invest in a refractomoter - most soils are deficient in one element or another and all the composting in the world won't change that...

thanks again for a great post


I think that you may be misunderstanding about how much tillage I am doing.

Mosst farmers, even organic, disk down their entire fields each year and reform the beds. This means that they will disk, till and bed form in the spring. They will also till and rework beds during the season as they switch from crop to crop.

I do not do this. My beds are permanent. I do till the top couple of inches inbetween crops as there is no real avoiding this. You must knock the weeds down or your new plants will be outcompeted for the sunlight.

Almost no one plows (I am talking about a moldboard plow that rolls the sod over here) any more. But when you open up new ground you have no choice. The pasture grass and roots are very thick and heavy. You cannot till the top of the soil and kill them. They will just grow right back up. It is a nightmare. You need to roll the sod over in the fall and let the roots be exposed all winter. that will kill most of the grass. Then you disk it a few times to help kill more of the grass and break up the grass clumps, etc. This is not good for the microbial life as you mentioned but you have to do it or you will get no where. After this is done you do not plow it again and you set to letting the natural life recover and you getr serious about "cultivating" to keep the weeds down. Cultivating is not plowing. It is scratching the surface of the soil to kill the baby weeds that sprout like crazy. It takes years to knock the weed seed bank down to where you will not constantly have large amounts of weeds popping up.

What I do not have yet that I need is called a "spader". This machine is a mechanical equivalent of a shovel. While it cannot double dig it has the same effect. The spader has a bunch of very stong spades on a reciprocating set of arms. It rams a shovel into the ground and levers the ground backwards and then pulls it out of the ground. It does not turn the soil over very much at all and it airates the soil and breaks up hardpan. This really improves the soil. One usually attaches a power harrow on the back of the spader to prepare a seed bed. Thus you can use the spader to incorporate the waste from the previous crop into the ground as the spader shoves it down into the ground and then the harrow stirs the top inch of the soil and you are ready to plant. Pretty slick.

I get most of my mulch form the farm that is next to mine. They run a 900 acre cattle operation and grow their own feed. This means that they have about 120 4'x5' round bales of barley straw available each year. There are also other farms in the area that grow wheat and rye that often have straw that has started to rot that they give away.


ah ok, seems that there's a lot more ploughing still happening in england..
yes a spading machine is on my list, they are not too common round here and are pretty expensive new, i'm looking at converting a rotovator into a sort of spading machine..
the trouble with any tillage is in killing of the mycelium network just under the surface which is so essential to nutrient recycling.. the book "mycelium running" really opened my eyes to this.
I still have to find out how deep you can safely till (if at all) without damaging the mycelium..
we have tried a CSA for 4 years now and find it is a nice steady income but can be hard to keep the members committed, yet we do find it plays it's part within the enterprise.

I wonder if Stamet would be game for a guest post.

My farm management plans call for many years in perennial pasture with rotation through annuals. The mycelium network will be re-established and then weakened during tillage cycles.

What this meant for me as a former small CSA veggie farmer was that I couldn't afford to do this myself. Didn't have enough land nor the expertise and equipment to do the pasture cycle. This led me to think differently about how to farm at a scale that permitted the necessary land-use rotation.

This led me to think differently about how to farm at a scale that permitted the necessary land-use rotation.
hi jason, curious as to what conclusions you came to...

If you had canada thistle, or any other root-spreading perennial weed, how would you deal with it?


I am sure that we all have perennial weeds. We have thistle and mint and some others that I do not know their names. You just keep tearing them out of the ground and cutting them off at the surface. Most of them will give up the ghost due to being starved for sunlight if you are persistent. That is the hard part. Keeping up with them. I have read and been told that it takes years to really get a good handle on the weeds. And you can never rest on your laurels. One reason that so many farmers just disk everything down is that it solves the weed problem so effectively (albit temporarily).

A thorny problem.


Wyoming, I would bet you don't have canada thistle, or you'd have a different answer! No one disks to get rid of canada thistle - it just makes the problem worse. But I'm not worried so much how you'd deal with it; I'm sure you'd handle it just fine.

The question was for Dylan. There are three ways I know of to deal with canada thistle. One is to clean cultivate, which is basically a lot of plowing (actually cultivating, but with sweeps). One is to use herbicides. The other is to smother the heck out of it with a good smother crop, cutting the smother crop several times during the season. And it has to be a serious smother crop; buckwheat and rye won't even slow it down.

And Fukuoka (One Straw Revolution) is a form of no-till. More like no machinery, no chemicals (not even manure), no till. It seems to me that you have to more or less eliminate the worst weeds before you try something like the Fukuoka method. He gets around it by rotating in flooded rice. I think that drowns most perennial weeds. He also worked his fields in a more conventional way for many years before he settled on his final method.

I've read Ploughman's Folly, and I doubt Mr. Faulkner had to deal with a really nasty perennial weed. He talks about handling annual weeds, but doesn't get around to perennials.

hi kjm, i don't have experience with canadian thistle, and i think what scale you grow at will determine how you deal with something like this. Over here in Cornwall, England things like bindweed and docks are a problem. However plants which are so successful are also great nutrient accumulators, bringing minerals up from the subsoil where some other plants don't go.
By carefully scything them down by hand we can then put them in a water tank to rot down and be used as a liquid feed later in the year -"the problem becomes the solution" - is a permaculture way of looking at it, that sometimes helps..

maybe there is a use for canadian thistle? (hopeful) maybe you need to just tire it out by cutting it relentlessly as wyoming suggests..

I know every situation is different. Over here japanese knotweed is a huge problem, impervious to normal strength herbicides - i think they feed it to pigs in japan, maybe that's a solution!

Boof:  US gasoline is about 115 kBTU (~120 MJ) per gallon, diesel about 140 kBTU (~155 MJ) per gallon.

You're absolutely right about transport to market being the difficult part for liquid fuels.  This is where rail, especially electrified rail, can make such a difference.  There are already scheduled trains of refrigerated produce carriers from the big produce areas to the rest of the country, and electric rail transport can nearly eliminate petroleum even for a two-thousand-mile salad.

Hi Wyo,

My experience echos yours very closely. I have about the same size operation and use a walk-behind for most of my bed forming an tilling. I do have an advantage for this type of tractor in that my fields are sandy loam. I couldn't dig up a rock if I had to.

Re: employees, I had much better luck hiring four part time workers - ag students from UVM. I paid them $5/hour+farm share for 25 hours a week for the season. This gave them enough time to work restaurant jobs where they could make additional $. The important thing here was the sense of camaraderie among the workers. I sought opportunities for them to work in tandem, we had the big meal of the day at lunch which we provided (frequently home made pastas and fresh veges and pizzas) and I allowed them to do their own farmers markets for a split of the profits if they desired (and they did). Note: this time was above and beyond the 25 hours they owed me for farm operations. The sense of ownership really helped their productivity.

The employees also helped combat my loneliness from long, long hours of working alone during my first couple years of operation. Next year will be my fourth. Turning a small profit, but also feeding myself and my wife off the farm and bartering veges for most of our eggs and meat. My wife works off the farm most of the year as a teacher for additional $ and benefits.

I was formerly a corporate exec with a 60 hour work week + a 5 hour daily train commute from CT to mid-town manhattan. It was tough going, but allowed me to save enough to buy the farm and equipment outright. I couldn't imagine doing this while trying to pay on a mortgage and loans. Bottom line: farming is the most difficult thing I've ever done, but I love the lifestyle and independence.


Hi Vermont,

Good to hear from you again. I am glad that things are going well for you.

I like your idea about using the students. Unfortunately there is not corollary in my area. Except in rare cases the workers have to live on the farm as it is so expensive in the area that the only people who could work farms that live here would be students living with their parents (who pretty much take a dim view still of this type of activity - they'll learn over time) or immigrants like the young Mexican boy who worked for me last summer.

We are looking for a young couple who have experience in organic farming and want to make a life doing this. They can work for us and we can help them buld up their resources in terms of money and experience. If the right couple came along we could even make arrangements to let them live here in the off season and get jobs in the local economy till the next farming season. We know of other local farmers who are leasing part of their land to young farmers just to help them get started. I love that concept.

I understand about the loneliness of working by yourself all the time as I did it for 2 years myself. It helps to have others working with you. Next year my wife is going to join me so that will be a big improvement in lifestyle. I do not miss the commuting and I especially love not having to spend half my life flying somewhere. Yuck! Plus we will have to have 2-3 workers next year. The place will seem busy.

Like you say. The lifestyle is priceless. I almost never met anyone when I was growing up in Wyoming that left the ranch unless they had to. Finances there are tough and most have to leave, but they don't want to. I work every day and don't mind doing so. I want to be out there every day. I took only my second day off this past weekend since February and was getting the yips from sitting around by early afternoon.

Your resouce situation is a key here. I am in the same boat in that I have not had to borrow any money to make this happen. I have been paying my way as the operation grows just because that is the way I think one should do it and it gives me time to learn as I grow. There are tons of well off landowners in this area who could set up farm worker lodging, buy some equipment and hire some young folks with experience to run a small farm on their property. Think of the difference that would make over time.

Take care,


Social dynamics are key to this. The amount of additional energy I have when NOT working alone on the farm is tremendous. Thanks for bringing this up.

This post is dear to my heart. I live in the UK where land is scarce. We have six acres. The investment to date runs to $10 of thousands. I gave up counting. Soil conditions are heavy clay and the only option was to build a raised bed system in a modular form. We now have multiple raised beds of about 200 square metres which crop brilliantly along with two polytunnels and a greenhouse of about 20 square metres with a highly insulated floor with undefloor heating; total covered about 70 square metres

The greenhouse has cropped into December with chilli peppers, sweet peppers and tomatoes with no additional heat.

I have a policy of total recycle as far as possible. All organic waste is composted and the compost heap is huge, and I mean huge (60 x 30 x 10ft). The flock of 10 sheep provide a significant amount of compost material but it is never enough. We buy in hay and straw which is effectively a biomass import and all paper and cardboard is shredded and composted.

We are moving away from extensive tilling. This degrades the soil biomass much faster, opening the soil structure to much more UV degradation. Intercropping proved very beneficial and we are extending the way that we intercrop- such as mixing beans, corn and squash, with good result.

We are amiming to be self sufficient in vegetables and fruit, which is not easy. We are getting better and have extended the growing season to nearly all year round. Winter brings on the leaks, cabbages and sprouts.

We have room to expand but large scaling up requires more investment and labour. That is not the plan as it would also probably be less sustainable in the long term. Fossil fuel consumption at the moment is low. Diesel consumption is about 60-80 lts/ year( which is a mix of kerosene and canola 80:20)and gasoline about the same. The gasoline very much depends on the leaf blowers/ vacuum. For tilling it is a mix of hand and a Mantis (do not underestimate this machine for homegrowing)

Work in progress is another greenhouse and a large 32000 ltr water storage for rainwater harvesting. I also have a large storage of kerosene planned, enough to see me out.

The one point I would make is that this process takes time. You never stop learning and improving your technique. The food quality far exceeds anything you can buy. By the way when we have it, any surplus is readily sold to the locals - zero food miles.

This years records: 2 ft cucumber weighing in at 2.4 lbs and a 18i nch round pepper weighing in at 1 lb. Yes both were edible and tasted great.

Couple of questions:

1. Can you guestimate how much land do you think it would take for a couple to live off -modest protein needs, say a chicken a week + a couple of eggs a day from chicken flock, no beef or pork...
2. How did you insulate the floor?

Have you thought about Aquaponics?


That depends _a lot_ on local conditions. Rainfall (and its distribution!), sunshine, soil quality, drainage, soil and ground chemistry, etc etc etc. Practically speaking I don't
really have much belief in some of the claims one hears about
feeding people on a quarter acre or whatever. Every time you
investigate such a claim you find that they are bringing in
literally tons of manure from somewhere else, effectvely
increasing the land area from which they are collecting biomass
and concentrating it onto a smaller plot. More realistically,
I wouldn't expect less than an acre or two per person, and that's for a diet without a whole lot of protein or animal

As a data point, in my ancestral Greece, in a not particularly
farming-friendly climate with average annual rainfall somewhere between 15 and 20 inches (and widely variable),
where there is _no_ rain from may til september, on land
steep and barren enough that most of it was terraced over centuries by hand, for poor families growing mostly wheat, barley, and lentils and keeping a few trees scattered in the fields, the generally observable pattern was that families who
owned more than about 8 acres tended to stay solvent- any
family who owned less than that eventually went into debt and
either moved away or became tenants on someone else's land.
And that kind of growing produces a pretty poor diet, not
enough protein, etc. Everyone had a small kitchen garden or
else shared in basically communal garden plots where the soil
and water were good for it.

You'd have to research the details of the place you are and
see what grows there, how it grows, etc etc. If there is any
remnant of more traditional living still in the region it
is highly advisable to find those folks and talk to them!
(most of them would love to have an eager audience, at least
from my experience in trying to soak up the wisdom of our
older generations)

In a previous discussion it was stated that it would take approx 2.5 Acres per person to get daily calorie requirements year round.

That is about what it took me with a plant based diet.

yeah, i wouldn't want to go with less than that myself, either. Depends on lot on the particulars of
your location, but there's not much getting below some minimum.

still looking for my 10-15 acres somewhere...

Hi carnot,

If I may ask, why was your only option to use raised beds on your heavy clay soil?

Was it due to poor drainage or some other soil condition?



My apologies for those who commented with questions. Since I made the post I returned home to experience some awful ( for the UK ) weather.

I will try an answer the questions as follows:

We opted for raised beds after trying for several years to improve the heavy clay soil. I live on the north side of the Weald Dome, which is a dome structure that has seen the top of the dome eroded away. The down slopes are covered in a thick clay layer (gault) with a thin topsoil that drain poorly.Many vegetables simply did not grow (carrots, asparagus, parsnips). Other vegetables gave poor yields. We started with one raised bed and imported topsoil, which was a big improvement but lacked biomass. Drainage was greatly improved and the soil allowed better root aeration. Subsequently we have expanded the raised beds and our current system uses concrete slotted posts and what we, in the UK, call concrete gravel boards. The concrete posts provide support for the various structures that we emply. The most useful structure are steel hoops that allow us to cover the bed in fleece or poyethylene film. To keep the slugs and snails at bay copper pipe is fitted between the slots. This is effective and green and does not poison the birdlife.

When we set put on this path we had a lot to learn. On our 200 square metres we grow a lot but we are not self sufficient by any means. We do not grow wheat, so bread and flour is bought in. As more is produced the next problem is storage; this is a major issue. Potatoe, carrots and onions can be stored but care is needed and a lot of space. Temperature is important. This year we stored many potatoes in the ground. We took off the tops to avoid blight and left the potatoes in the gound which has worked well and has freed up space for something else. Carrots are difficult; we use sand but results are mixed. For many vegetables freezing is a last resort. We have vegetable all year round but it is sesonal, and winter time is particularly difficult. Brassicas and leaks provide the winter crop but it can get a bit monotonous. We do not produce any meat products, the sheep are pets (rapid composters). We are doing our homework on poulty. The best advice is that per chicken an area of 80 square feet is required to avoid the ground being destroyed. I aim to build a chicken run of about 500-600 square feet to house 6 birds. I am particularly interested in animal welfare so intensive keeping is not an option.

In reply as to how much land per person is required I would say a great deal more than we have under cultivation. If we were to be totally self sufficient then I would expect that we would need to expand our operation significantly, probably by more than 10X. Growing feed grains is no easy task and is probably best left to the experts. If we kept chickens for meat protein then the feed requirement would increase alarmingly. Raising something like 50 chickens per year would take something like 500 -700 kg of feed, much of it feed grains. For other carbohydrates and protein then per person I would estimate about 150 - 200 kg of wheat, corn. This would take some careful storage. I am fortunate in having the land available but I do not relish the challenge.Various estimates have been given to the per capita land requirement but it very much depends on soil quality and water. I would agree that something like 0.4 hectares ( 1 acre) is a minimum and even that might not be sustainable.

The real issue is maintaining soil biomass. I would recommend that all potential growers read the paper on Peak Soil. We process a huge amount of biomass; animal manure, wood chip, leaves, paper, cardboard, food peelings, and plant residues. What really concerns me is how little this subject is considered. Biofuels present a real threat to soil biomass and bio-diversity. Stripping the soil biomass is akin to soil mining and will drastically reduce crop yields unless extensive fertilizer use is employed. Our soil has a very high biomass content which we adjust for each diffrent crops by addding sand, grit or topsoil. I estimate that we add about 10 to 35 ltrs of compost per square metre per year. This is due to natural decomposition of the biomass. I also have some woodland and the soil depth remains constant. Leaf litter and tree debris disappears over time to keep a near constant topsoil depth.

One of our key reason for going down this route was also product quality. Until you have eaten sweet corn within 15 minutes of picking you have not eaten sweet corn. Likewise for tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, peas, beans, carrots and many others picking it fresh cannot be beaten, and all of the produce is grown without pesticides or artificial fertilizer use.

In response to the question on aquaponics this is not a route I would consider. The experience with Aquaponics in the UK have not been met with much praise, as the produce tends to lack flavour and texture. I also do not see this as sustainable as it require inputs of power for pumping, and nutrients in the form of synthetic fertilizer.

Moving onto the greenhouse. The base consists of 150 mm of reinforced concrete base onto which is 3 cpourses of facing brick laid out to the size of the greenhouse. 100 mm PU foam foil coated insulation fllowed by 75 mm of concrete screed followed by dense concrete slab. This acts as a heat sink/ store. The concrete screed is embedded with underfloor hot water heating pipe which will eventually be connected to a solar panel. We are currently seeing what the effect is without any heating.

Finally I would ebd by saying that there is no standard model. Each location will have its own set of circumstances dependent on insolation, water soil type and weather patterns. It varies across the UK by a significant degree. If you have a the best conditions you can do well. If you have non ideal conditions you will have to work much harder. Many thanks to all those who replied.

Gardening for self-sufficiency is one thing, farming to produce enough of a surplus to actually earn a living is something else - and a very difficult thing to do. My hat is off to those who try to make a living in farming, it is truly hard work.

The major part of the problem is that the economics are all wrong right now. Markets are terribly distorted by government subsidies (which includes hidden structural subsidies that have the effect of favoring large-scale corporate farming, large-scale corporate food processing, large-scale corporate food retailing, and large-scale corporate everything). There is also the distortion caused by the widespread use of FF-fueled mechanization. And there is also the distortion caused in the labor market due to improper upbringing and education, unrealistic expectations, too much compensation for unproductive and counterproductive activities and too little compensation for honest productive work, unfair competition globally, etc. Farming is difficult enough when all the economics are right, and unfortunately at the present time you've got the extra burden of swimming against the current.

Something to keep in mind: There is another model that people could consider besides just scaling up small-scale home production for self-sufficiency to produce enough of a surplus to live on. What many, many households have done in many times and places is to combine small-scale home production of food with one or more other sidelines. They might produce some craft goods for sale, or practice some sort of trade as a sideline. One might see households where they have three or four or more sidelines going, none of which is enough to provide a living all by itself, but adding the multiple streams of income together is enough.

There are several advantages to such a "multiple streams of income" approach. Maybe the biggest one is diversification - you don't put all your eggs in one basket. If you have a bad growing year due to drought or pest infestations or whatever, maybe the other sidelines can pick up the slack, or at least provide an income floor. There are also some advantages in terms of time management and utilization, especially here in the temperate climates where food production is far more of a seasonal thing than is the case in the tropics. One could spend a lot of the winter slow time working on hand crafts for sale the rest of the year, for example.

One could still make the production of some surplus one of those multiple income streams. The difference is not putting all your eggs in one basket. Maybe just specialize in a couple of things that will produce a good return for the inputs that one has invested in them, but that can be produced alongside the home garden without too much extra effort.

Another adavantage of such an approach is that it provides the opportunity to pre-position oneself for the time when the economics change, and what is presently not profitable enough becomes more profitable.


The diversification that you speak of is exactly where we are going to 2010. With my wife working with me it gives us the opportunity to jump inito the "value added" part of being a producer. She has excellent skills at baking and preserving many different items. She cans a mean salsa and tomato sauces. There are good markets for such things and the profit margins are good. It also gives you product to sell at the beginning and end of the grwoing season thus upping your revenues a lot.

By doing this we can utilize a great amount of the produce we currently throw in the compost pile. Then our product sold to energy invest will improve substantially as well as revenues. And as you say the more skill one has at preserving food the better off they will be in the future.


Hi Wyoming,

What type(s) of soil do you have, and where do you obtain your water for the crops?

Also, could you elaborate on the methods you use to maintain/improve your soil?

Thanks for sharing your knowledge!



All of our soils are different kinds of silt/loam. the best one (and what occupies the most of our land) is called Catoctin Loam which is the best soil type in Virginia according to the Virginia tech extension service. Note that the civilians all think that the soils here are clay (they are sort of redish), but clay is much harder to deal with. Loam is in general the best kind of soil to have.

Water is obtained in two ways. First, this part of the country recieves an average of 40 inches of rain a year (about 50 this year). Second, we have a strong spring on our farm that comes out of the ground under our spring house. It fills a large pond (approx 2 acre feet of water) and I use this for supplemental irrigation purposes. It is worth nothing that even in a place that gets 40 inches of rain you will need to irrigate to have high levels of production. Mother Nature does not choose to ask exactly when the plants need their next drink unfortunately.


Long time lurker here, first time poster.

I remember your post from last year, one of the first campfire posts, and I wanted to complement both on the post and the job you have done. But back then I was too late to the party and the comment section was blocked. I was struck by your honest approach and the hard work that you put down. One thing that I noticed is that it may be necessary to have sufficient social capital to be able to pull of such a project (IRCC, your wife). Do you think you would have been able to do this without your wife support?

Mark that I have not yet read this piece and will not be able to read it before the end of the comment deadline. Therefore, I am curious about what kind of progress you have made and what you have learn over the last year.

I guess I did not add much valuable ideas or comments. Anyways keep up the good work!


That depends on how you mean to ask the question. Could I have afforded to do it without her help? Yes. Would I have done it without her support. Most likely not as I would never have ended up in this time and place if I had not had her support.

If you want to do something like this and your spouse is really against it I would think that the prospects of success would not be high. Mall Queens are not particularly suited for immediate conversion into farm girls. There is something of an ajustment period :) She is a Wyoming girl, born on the reservation and did not grow up with that silver spoon. She is pretty tough and independent and not taken in by consummerism nor advertizing.



Is there any rule-of-thumb for the cost to purchase or long-term lease arable land for a small-time venture such as yours?

I have some acreage, but today it's rough old cattle country -- scrub wood and white-tail deer mostly. From reading your story, and similar ones, even with great land and a good location farming is hard. I'm not sure it would even make sense to try on what I have now.

What is your water supply, and do you keep track of irrigation usage? Seems like water will be as critical as oil in the not so distant future.


If one wants to consider using land for agricultural purposes one has to honestly evaluate that land to see what is possible. It does not pay to force a solution.

The lay of the land is critical for cropping. If it is too steep then it is just not a good idea. Is it suitable for orchards or just for forest products. If it is open is it suitable for grazing. Do you get enough rain. Do you have your own water source. What type of soils do you have and what are they suitable for. Is the land extremely rocky. Is it really wet.

There are a host of issues to consider. Not to mention where it is located makes a difference in terms of markets and customers.

If you need help figuring out some of these things you should call up your County Extension agent. That is their job. They will look up your soil type and will visit the land with you to look at it and give you an idea what your options are. You can also find farmers in your area that are going to have solid knowledge about what tends to work there and what does not.

Lease rates vary widely depending on location and soil types. I would have no idea how to answer unless I had personal knowledge of your location. But the extension agent and local farmers can help you there as well.

Outside of living where there is a lot of rain (40 inch average per year) I have a strong spring on the property that fills a large pond. I do not keep track of the total water useage from irrigation. I keep track of the fuel I use but that is it. If the crops need water they get it. Since I own the water I do not have to worry about rationing or scheduling my water usage as many farmers do. Since I am not pumping from deep in the ground I do not have large pumping costs which have to be taken into consideration in terms of farm profitability.

There are going to be wars over water in the next 20 years as the looming shortages turn into reality.


Wyoming, thank you for the update. I remember your honest post from before and enjoyed the update. I keep thinking of starting an organic farm or CSA that can be as self sufficient as possible post-oil peak. I'm curious of any farmers here have some opinions on these questions.

1. It seems to be that close-in suburban land would be much more successful than rural land as transportation costs go up. Does it make sense to buy 3 acres within a mile of 500 suburban houses or 12 acres 30 miles away? If gas is $10, no one is going to visit your farm to pick a CSA share.

2. For running a CSA, does anyone provide delivery? We joined a CSA for a year and it was honestly a hassle to drive the 25 minute round trip to pick up our weekly share. We probably would have continued if it was delivered. (Yes, we are overly busy suburbanites)

3. How many land do you think you need to devote to create enough veggie oil (soybeans?) to power a tractor, etc. and be self sufficient in fuel oil inputs? If you had 5 acres and 3 were soybeans, could you make enough oil to run all your equipment?

4. Has anyone successfully hired an experience farmer to start up a farm/CSA on land you own? I'm about 2 years away from being able to quit my job but wonder if I should get started now with longer term plants (fruit trees, berries, cover crops to help the soil, etc.).

5. Or what about finding a partner? Anyone successfully started a farm/CSA with a partner (wives don't count! :-)) or a group of people? I'd love to find someone experiences to investigate the possibilities with.


1. Well I think that it just depends on the specific conditions that you have where you live. And one needs to consider how you need to farm now to make money and what will work later on if both situation are your focus. What kind of affluence does the 500 house suburban development have and where do they currently buy their produce. Could you sign up 50 of them to a CSA? Does the 3 acres have infrastructure? If all you have is bare land and no place to live, no shop, no storage, wash room, produce storage room, do you need deer fence, etc. The 10 acre place might have all of what you need. Or not. If you can sign up a full CSA in one general location then delivery to there is practical. Many options.

2. There are CSA's near me that deliver (some 700 shares) quite a distance from the farm. They charge A LOT! Some have on farm pickup (25 to 170 shares). This has it's own headaches. And some that have various pickup points that they drop off multiple shares and the customers drive there to get them. This is often done at farmers markets.

3. I have no idea, but I am sure that there are readers here that could give you a good estimate pretty quick. An alternative choice is to partner with a restaurant to collect their used cooking oil (maybe you trade veggies for it?). Then you make your biodiesel out of that. Lots of farmers are doing that.

4. I have not done this but it is done all the time. There are employment adds all the time for experienced farmers to take over large farm/CSA operations. I know of one operation where the owners do not farm but have hired a farm manager to run the farm and hire workers as needed. They provided the start up financing and land.

5. I'll pass that on to my spouse. I keep telling her that she will have to work her way up from basic farm worker just like all the rest! What's that progression again? Worker, 2nd mate, 1st mate (thinking in Tiger terms here :), partner, spouse. Something like that. I'm sure it will work out. Seriously though. Finding a partner that you are not related to or bound to in some fashion will be very hard if you do not have a thick resume to bring to the table. But if you have land and resources who knows.


This will also be my 4th season farming vegetables, And I'm 56, but I have 35 years of experience in other parts of agriculture. Vermont has a thing called the Farm Viability Enhancement Program that my wife and I are doing this year I recommend checking it out. And I highly recommend this new book This guy knows about Peak Oil. If you go through the whole process he describes, you will figure out what you need to do to make a profit. People do make a profit. Good luck.

Wyoming, Thanks so much for one of the best articles (and following discussion) that I have read on this topic. I'm not surprised at your problems with labor unfortunately. I have seen similar things here even with my own teenagers. Long days of physical labor, working at fast steady pace will be a real shock to the majority of Americans who are used to more mental pursuits and easy success. I've been humbled by my own gardening and small animal husbandry. Like you, I'm trying lots of things now in order to learn how to really do it myself. Judging from your story you sound like a fast learner! I'm converging upon varieties of plants that do well in my microclimate. Please keep up the reports. I think you are at the front end of an important trend, like folks who bought gold at $600. Good Luck!

One last thought for markets. Here there lots of CSA's too. One new trend is some of the organic markets (Sprouts and Sunflower) having captive farmers who supply only their store. It sounds like an interesting business partnership and could fit in with how you have a diverse number of crops.


I think it was in Jeavons where one can read "Work the area you have to the highest standard before you increase the size of your operation" ...worthy of thorough consideration.

Best wishes

My congratulations .. you are doing much better than I am.

On your 11 acres you previously stated ...

" I am currently growing on 5400 feet of 4 foot wide raised beds. This sounds like a lot but it is actually only ½ acre of actual planted square footage. In normal farming terms one would say that I am growing on about an acre as everyone counts the aisles between the beds and a border around the actual area one is growing on when they state their acreage"

Is this still the acreage you are farming ?

Any idea on the number of acres you would need , to break even or be sustainable ??

there is a big difference between "Gross Sales" and "Net Profit"


For 2009 I had near 13,000 feet of raised bedsd taht were either 3' or 4' wide. Approximately 2 full acres. I did not use all of those beds last year as some were fallow.

For next year I will have 3 1/4 acres of beds. All the beds will be reconfigured to a standard size so I do not have figures yet on the linear feet of beds.

By IRS counting methods I will have made money this year, but not much as I have large amounts of depreciation that I can still take against revenues.

But as a good guess (and assuming that you are paying for your own equipment) I think that it will take about 5 acres to make a solid livable income in my area. This will vary widely depending on where you live, what you can grow on your land, and the markets available to you. The typical engineering answer, "It depends."

It is always worth keeping in mind that farmers like myself can count income different than a lawyer. They can't eat the paperwork they produce while I can significantly feed myself.


I recieved a regular email about this article and got to thinking that my reply might be of value here as well. It goes into some of my thought processes of why I am doing this the way I am.


Thanks for the input. One of the problems with writing articles like the TOD ones is that there is pressure from the blog not to write a book. The articles could have easily been 2-3 times as long. This would have allowed me to explain things in more detail and would likely have created less misunderstandings. I just figure that I have to explain things in my responses.

The method of berry propagation that you describe is exactly how we have created our berry bush beds. Every year we root the suckers in pots and then eventually transplant them.

I currently have about 13,000 feet of raised beds that are 3' or 4' in width. They have been permanent. I am opening up another 1 1/4 acres of pasture this winter and will have a little over 3 acres of vegetable beds next year.

Due to the new equipment configuration for 2010 and beyond it will be required that I change the bed widths to a uniform standard. It is an efficiency issue. The old equipment will work just fine on the widths that the new equipment requires so I will adapt to a new standard and then leave them static. This means that I will be forced to disk the old beds down and reform them, but I just have no choice in doing this. A side benefit is that this will dramatically reduce the rock issues as many more will be turned up. And the soil health will recover over time.

I understand where you are coming from with the value added items like jellies. We too will be entering into this arena in 2010. We were waiting for my wife to be able to work here full time. She is the expert canner, baker and preserver. We expect to generate significant revenues via value added next year and beyond.

The growing techniques that you describe are exactly how I started. Some aspects of intensive planting work well at the gardening level but do not translate well to a large scale. I am just breaking over into the larger farming world. I still will use certain aspects of the intensive spacing and I do use lots of straw mulch (I have 19 bales 4'x5' ready for next year). I am evolving away form some techniques because they do not work well with equipment.

Now, a few comments about the energy cost issue you mentioned and what our purpose, intents and goals are here. My interpretation of how you describe your activities leads me to think that what you are doing is a modified version of a very intensive family gardening operation that is scaled to provide a small financial return via value added and maybe selling some of your surplus veggies. If I am correct it sounds like you are proceeding exactly how I would do it if that were the same thing we were doing. However, what we are doing is significantly different.

If we chose to we could live almost totally off the system on our farm. We could easily grow and preserve our own food. We would need to buy almost nothing in terms of food products. We have our own water supply and meat. We could add chickens we have fish in the pond. The forest is full of firewood. To farm this way would not require anywhere near the amount of equipment I already have and the fuel requirements would be minimal.

Our goal is different. I believe that the system (civilization) is going to come down hard. Real hard. Now one can just sit back and let it come to them or one can decide to do something about it. I don't necessarily believe that we will come out of this as a 'civilization' in any kid of good shape and what I am trying to do may make no difference at all. But I am wired not to give up and to try and work towards a solution. My solution is along the lines of this.

If we are going to save enough of 'civilization' when the drawdown takes place we will have to have mechanisms and structures functioning that facilitate a measured drawdown. Farming is key. So is gardening. Everyone that is capable and has ground should learn to garden and preserve food. That will relieve pressure on the farming system which has to feed large numbers of people who will not live in a place where they can grow their own food or who are so busy fulfilling their obligations in a different area that they cannot devote time to farming or gardening. If civilization is to continue we must still have division of labor. We must have a LOT of small farms in close to the cities that are run as efficiently as possible which generate a very large surplus of food that can be transported into the city. I am not here to feed my neighbors in the future (though I am now) I am creating a farm to feed the people in the city. Local farming is critical for the future. As you say, transportation costs are going to rise dramatically, water issues and drought will lower production in places like the Central Valley, Mexico, etc. If we do not have a strong local farming structure in place things will get ugly. My vision is that much of the farmable land in the DC metro area will be turned back into small farms over time. I am just on the early edge of this. My farm is the only one I know in the area that has specifically returned what was becoming suburbia back into farm land. I think that many of the wealthy will be converting part of their properties back into farm land out in my area eventually. I intend that places like mine will be a model of how to accomplish this effectively and efficiently.

Absent very large amounts of hand labor (which carries its own issues and may not be available in the future) it is just not possible to grow a very large surplus of produce without resorting to equipment. I am trying to figure out the best scale of equipment to generate the most produce from the least equipment/energy inputs. I will make mistakes, but I am learning. One thing that I think that experience has taught me is that the intensive gardening techniques as described by Jevons and Coleman do not scale up beyond the vary large garden stage. I have discussed this with other small scale organic growers and the concensus opinion agrees with this assessment. There are many other sides to the stories that Coleman and Jevons write about that impacts scaling up. Some of their techniques just don't work well on a large scale unless there is access to very large amounts of young labor that will work very hard. Now their techniques are viable at the scale they work at. And that scale may well be what everyone works at eventually - after the full drawdown. But, I believe, that you cannot get from here to Their there via their techniques. You cannot generate enough food and thus you will not have a measured drawdown but a rapid collapse..a catastrophic disaster. I believe that we must figure out how to raise the bar on farming in terms of efficient production with small equipment. Because of the embedded energy and use of liquid fuels you can grow a LOT of food using equipment. Now the EROEI is not on the plus side since we are using fossil energy. But we have no choice for the time being.

I have no doubt that as energy supplies become very restricted that agriculture will be at the top of the rationing list. Especially Big AG as they will have to produce the vast volumes of grain that will be required to prevent mass famine. It will get harder and harder for them to succeed. Riding this wave just behind them will be people like me. Small farms, using little to no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals (those will be restricted to use by the Big Ag farms growing the bulk food). As agriculture evolves back to a more traditional structure the small farms will once again become diversified operations where they produce meats and grains as well as veggies and value added products. Over time the growing of veggies will slow and the growing of beans, grains and other staples will rise on the small operations. This will be as the energy costs rise. When energy costs rise the point will eventually be reached where the CAFO operations will no longer be financially viable. They only exist because we have access to very cheap energy and because the Govt subsidizes corn/soybean production. Much of your grocery store processed food also depends on this situation. In the future all of this will be washed away by rising energy costs and shortages. Thus the diversified small farms close to the population centers will dominate once again.

As energy supplies continue to shrink (long after you and I are gone) there will come a time that operations scaled like mine may pass too. Unless, we have manage to maintain some semblance of 'civilization' via these methods so that we can find clever ways to utilize alternative energies, maybe invent a few more efficient technologies, learn to live on less, etc we will not make it into the future.

My purpose is to help buy time so that a workable solution can be found. Mother Nature (physics) does not negotiate and we must deal with reality. BAU is no different than suicide. Like it or not we collectively have created a system that will sink or swim as a team effort. I am just trying to do my part.

I hope this helps you understand better what I am focused on and why I am doing what I am.


Jim Dunlap

Great article from Wyoming, and great follow-up in the comments. It's really inspiring to hear the exchange of ideas. It's also reassuring to hear so many people thinking the same way about the changes coming up. I resonate strongly with what Wyoming is talking about.

I'm in semi-retirement and ended up in Louisiana, north of New Orleans. I have a passion to start farming and can't even find a farm that will take me on with no pay! There are some great organic farms here, but maybe they aren't interested in expanding or using an extra hand (although that's just really hard to imagine!) I did find a part-time internship at a vineyard, though. I will keep trying.

BTW, Wyoming, it sounds like you might have done some work with my dad. I grew up all over the world and the family settled on a couple acres in Great Falls after selling the house in McLean. My dad was an electronic engineer for the same company as you and was DDS&T before retiring. Sound familiar?

Rick Oliver

In terms of having enough food around when things get a bit hairy- I've been experimenting with taking apple cuttings on their own roots. This is in temperate England, where if i stick a foot long apple stick as thick as my finger into the ground, i will most times get a small tree taking root by the following spring..
This is an effective and easy way to cheaply propagate large numbers of apple trees without the expense and expertise of grafting.
it doesnt take long to put a few hundred cuttings into the ground, and a standard apple tree will produce a lot of apples after 5 years (100 - 250 kgs)
Placed around the countryside and given to friends i'm hoping this will build up an "edible infrastructure" in the surrounding landscape to feed people.
I am due to move to the states in the next few years and wonder if anyone else has experience with this? do you need supplemental heat to produce cuttings/ will they stand over one of your vermont winters?
this site has a good background to this technique:

You say that you lost a lot of calories in produce that was not marketable grade etc.
I would submit that it is probable that you could obtain a net calorific gain if you kept a small pig pen with 2-3 hogs to eat the waste.
Buy weaner's and raise them over the summer autumn months when their is the greatest oversupply of production then either homekill or have them slaughtered having been fattened primarily on waste food.
If you have 3 hogs say you could sell two to the butcher to cover costs of butchering and the minimal grain (depending on your produce) needed to feed them, and have a whole hog's worth of meat essentially for free. You woudl also have the waste pre-composted through the pig's digestive tract.

From a three year lurker, Wyo,
I'm 55, in same situation, or close, based on outskirts of Hamilton ON, pop 500K.
Been on the farm for two years, about 22 acres, 15 workable silt loam, now have it fenced and paddocked for rotational grazing of cattle (10+/-), pond, greenhouses, 3000 sf veg garden, etc.
I just happened on this thread from a cross post at energybulletin, and read just about every comment, all 120 of them! in the past two hours.
Have thoughts to share on equipment, farming for sustenance or for income, post peak (which is now but not evident), long emergency future unfolding.
I am taking a permaculturish approach (agree with the post that perennial crops are the way to go, long term, but too long to wait for the first harvests), hope to share ideas on that here.
See for designs on underground heating and cooling designs for greenhouses.
Old 99 Farm
Dundas ON

Thanks, interesting site.

BTW use .com not .org

Thank you for the very interesting post. I was particularly struck by your description of labor issues.
1. I've reached the same conclusion regarding future needs for food production. This is more of an issue for developing countries, in the sense of calories, as you are calculating it. In the US though, there are also plenty of unmet nutritional needs beyond caloric; and I think it might be interesting for you to calculate production at a more refined level. This is a slippery slope, since there is great variation in food composition depending on crop variety, soil, sun, etc. But, one could do worse than starting with the "averages" in the USDA Nutrient Database at
and then of course one could get into the specialized literature on the species one is growing. Next year, you might like to claim, "I have pumped 2 tons of copper into the community," for example.
2. That brings us to economic embedding. You will have read (at some point, (I'm even older than you and just "discovered" it)), Socrates' "Economics." It is posted under Xenophon, Apologia at, where it is book II. “Then you must watch, and try by experiment whether you are capable of understanding.”
I shall say no more but for one modernity note. There is a mistranslation. In the 4th Century BC usage, "Slave" would be heard by us as "Worker." The word is of continuous usage, as in many countries workers are to all practical purposes, slaves. As you know, people are like that; but Va. is not Pk. The future in Va. is of "gentleperson farmers'" economic community; and you have told its immemorial story. The agricultural worker problem is solved in most stable agricultural communities by the practice of hiring one's neighbors' children. That's to say, we must modernize the spirit of the "labor market" to the "working community." Given where you live it is difficult to imagine that if ag becomes a university system interest, this is where your cultivation of the "gentleperson worker" will find fulfillment. I'm not saying give them a share of the farm; just that you will be able to pay good if they work along with you like professional agronomists.
3. Given this is the Oil Drum, I am surprised that so many of the commenters who are people with on-the-ground experience have ignored their carbon footprint issues around equipment. Net emissions less sequestration is the appropriate metric. And you better not think you can get out of it by buying a horse since the world wants to know your net methane, too!

Hi Jim,
I admire your energy! I have a little farm myself, in western NJ, but I have not had to rely on it for food or income. Yet!

I have many concerns about being able to be self-sufficient but the most urgent is that from what I have seen the past year and a half, something toxic in the atmosphere is causing rapid and rampant damage to vegetation. The trees were the first exhibit symptoms of poisoning in the summer of 2008, with wilted drooping leaves that became scorched and singed. This fall the deciduous trees dropped their leaves over a month earlier than normal, and the coniferous trees continue shedding needles. Some are now completely bare, it's impossible to find an evergreen where you can't see through to the other side.

More worrisome still is that by the end of this summer all annual and even aquatic plants exhibited the classic signs that foliage is unable to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll - stippling from damaged stomata, discoloration and prominent veins, leading in the most severe cases to overall shriveling and dissolving. I have seen the same condition from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Because this intense degree of irreversible tree decline is relatively sudden, and is affecting specimens of all ages, I doubt that cumulative ozone is the main factor although it fits the description. I think perhaps the recently mandated addition of ethanol to gasoline could explain it, since according to a Stanford study release a few days ago, ethanol emissions are worse than gasoline. And/or the massive quantities of nitrogen based fertilizer to grow corn for ethanol could be playing havoc. There is an unprecedented spreading of a lichen that thrives in high levels of nitrous oxide that could indicate a jump in the concentration.

Links to this research and other reports along with photos can be found on my blog,

I appreciate any thoughts you have on this topic and look forward to more reports from down on the farm. I also am interested to know what steps you expect will be wise to ensure security in the future.


I forgot to add that you might be interested in this blogger if you're not already familiar with his writing. He's put together some very thought-provoking charts of counties declared disaster areas by the USDA:

It isn't just trees. Its about everything. Birds,insects,bats,frogs,.............

we have finally started and gotten far enough along in killing the planet that those who live with nature can see it happening.

The 'canaries' have already left. In the woods that 'canary' is mushrooms. All but oyster mushrooms no long come up here. Oysters grow on dead wood so they do ok. Not a single morel can I find anymore. Not one.

All life is now IMO starting the dieoff we speak of here on TOD. Its just most TOD folks do NOT live in the country. They talk about it but they do not really understand it. Its just chatter and jabberwocky.


Airdale, I agree. I have been collecting (and cooking) edible mushrooms for 40 years. Morels and chanterelles disappeared the last couple of years, very sad. And the spring peepers and fireflies are almost gone, as are most of the birds, I believe, except starlings.
The trees are important to me because I have always admired them but mainly, they are the foundation of the rest of the ecosystem. All other species are dependent upon them, one way or another, for food, shelter, and shade. When they go, everything else will follow. It's tragic; it's breaking my heart.

I can remember not so long ago when the natural world was beautiful and filled with glory. Check out this link at mongabay, the complexity of the relationship of the tree to other species is utterly bewildering and magnificent:

What have we done?

hi gail just saw your post and wanted to say there is a direct link between too much nitrogen application and reduced copper levels - excess nitrogen blocks copper uptake aswell as other minerals- which help plants against moulds and other decomposing organisms.
Also there are people working to bring trees back to life so to speak, by using various trace element applications..after all most disease is malnutrition in one form of another..

Hey thanks Dylan for that information and the link to that blog. There seems to be quite a bit of debate in CA about the cause of sudden oak death, with one side saying the fungus is opportunistic. That begs the question and I think they really ought to take a closer look at the atmosphere. Here's some of their discussion if you haven't seen it, it's quite interesting.
Certainly adding nutrients can help preserve a tree but if it's not disease but basically more like being suffocated from damaged stomata, there's no amount of supplement that will prevent irreversible decline. Furthermore, as entire forests are affected that's just too many trees to treat.
Ultimately the only solution is that we have to clean up fossil and biofuel emissions.

i'm happy that there are people like Jim (as well as many more on TOD) who are making serious efforts at farming on a human scale. Jim mentioned that there needs to be more farmers which is the reason I came back to my family's farm. It's a large scale "industrial" corn and soybean farm but I'm trying to start up the small farm on my own ten acres(on it's 2nd year now). How to get more farmers is the question I struggle with almost daily.
It seems that our cultural ideals will have to change before that can begin to happen unless it just happens on it's own in which case it's probably too late. The dominant paradigm for the for the middle class is still to get the professional white collar job in order to have the good life. Here in my part of the midwest (southern MN) the few younger farmers who are here while being fairly intelligent and hardworking don't seem to see anything wrong with the industrial commodity-based agriculture and will continue on this path for as long as they can.
Maybe the key to getting more farmers is trying to change the cultural paradigm we're in through popular media. does anyone know any film producers? While my small farm SLOWLY takes shape even as I continue to work on the big farm to earn a living and keep the land, I want to know how to get more farmers.

It's hard to know what is appropriate technology, appropriate crops, appropriate traction, appropriate markets and all the other decisions required when trying to build a new/old farm in the face of more expensive energy.

I'm in the same boat, about the same age and just about as far along as the OP with the exception being we concentrated on learning grass farming and raising dairy calves our first few years and are only now going into market gardening full-tilt this year.

One thing is sure, whatever little niche we find to make money in todays economy will have long since evaporated by the time drastic changes are required in the way a micro farmer uses energy. In fact, my guess is our kids/grandkids will use this place as a subsistence farm in the transition between the oil age and what comes next.

If you want a good book on farming, check this one out: The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook by Richard Wiswall. It's a good companion to Eliot Coleman's or Joel Salatin's You Can Farm....

here 'tis:


Thanks, I already own it. I learn something from everything I read and there is good stuff in the book. However, I do not think that many of the thiings he goes over are valuable to me and he did not address many areas where I need assitance. Being an ex-engineer I am pretty familiar with the core of his message about tracking costs and figuring out what crops are the best money makers. But most farmers that I know already know this stuff without figuring it out in such ways. When you sell at farmers markets it hits you in the face straight up every day pretty much. None of the very successful farmers I know use his techniques. I also have a somewhat different agenda than Wiswall as you might have noted already so some of his information is more valuable in a past tense sense. It will not be as useful in the future. I learned more from his descriptions of his actual farming techniques than anything else.