Where will our staple foods come from?

It seems like discussions of gardening are often focused on growing fruits and vegetables. The question that comes to me is, "What do we do about staple carbohydrate foods?" like wheat or corn (maize) or potatoes. These foods are ones that store well, and supply a large portion of the calories of the diets of most people around the world. In the US, wheat has tended to be a staple, but it is not easy for a home gardener to grow, and it requires processing that is more easily done by commercial equipment. So the question I have is, "How should we plan to get our staple carbohydrate foods going forward?"

I can think of several answers:

1. Large commercial farms growing grains may continue as before, since commercial farming is so efficient. With a little planning, perhaps we will be able to continue this function on a BAU basis, even if everything else falls apart.

2. Growing of grains can be done in the future by farmers closer to where the grain would be used. This could be done:
a. Using organic gardening, but with oil powered farm equipment, diesel irrigation pumps, electric milling, and transportation to market using diesel powered trucks.
b. Using organic gardening, local wind or solar generated electricity, farming equipment and milling equipment powered by electricity and transportation powered by electricity.
c. Using organic gardening, with animal powered farm equipment and transportation, and water powered milling.

3. Each homeowner should grow his or her own grains, using petroleum powered tools if they are available, or hand powered tools otherwise.

4. Homeowners who want to be sure of a continuous supply of food should plan to grow one or more staple foods that grow in their own area, that are not too difficult to grow. These might be white potatoes or sweet potatoes or corn (maize), or one of many other crops, varying by growing area. If root vegetables are grown, some method of storing them will be needed.

Which options are really feasible, and for how long?

We all have our own opinions as to how long Option 1 (BAU) might be feasible. Theoretically, the use of biofuels, if deployed especially for food production and transportation, could extend the feasibility of Option 1. The feasibility of Option 1 might also be extended by reducing the number of animals raised for food, so more cropland will be available for human food use, or for biofuels.

My impression is that Option 2a (Organic local farming using oil for equipment, transport) is a popular option with some sustainability groups. It certainly has some advantages, in terms of helping maintain soil fertility, better quality food, and reduction in fertilizer need. Option 2a would seem to be subject to some of the same kinds of disruptions as Option 1, though. It would need passable roads; availability of petroleum powered equipment; a functioning electrical system; a marketplace that supplies gasoline and diesel, although perhaps at a high price. It might work, if our primary issue is conserving fossil fuels. It would save some oil, but I have not seen calculations of the amount.

Option 2b (Farms with electric equipment and electric transportation to market) doesn't seem like a real option today. At this point, I don't see the "renewables" as having much applicability to growing more food, unless they are used for mundane uses like pumping water and milling grains. Wind might also be used to create nitrogen fertilizer.

Option 2c (Farms with draft animals) might work, but it would require a lot of planning. Someone would need to raise and train draft animals. Farmers would need to buy up large tracts of land that they could farm with animal powered equipment. Appropriate crops for crop rotation would need to be intermixed, to maintain soil fertility. Even if some entrepreneurs wanted to start farms of this sort, lack of capital would likely be an issue. If we need Option 2c, it seems like we would need to start working on it in several years in advance. Option 2c would at least provide some economies of scale and some leverage of animal labor, so from that point of view would seem to be preferable to Options 3 and 4.

Option 3 (Home grown grain) might almost work--but most homeowners don't have room to grow grains. Harvesting and milling would be an issue. Hand mills would sort of work, but aren't very efficient.

Option 4 (Home grown alternate crop) seems like it might work, if there is an alternate staple crop that would work well--root vegetables might be easier to deal with in some parts of the world, or could be used to supplement other crops. Adequate growing space would likely be an issue, as with Option 3.

What do readers think?

It seems like having adequate staple foods is critical to keeping an adequate food supply. What thoughts have you had about this issue?

Have you tried growing grains? How about other staple crops? Are there any you would particularly recommend for growing at home?

It seems like there are economies of scale with growing staples (and almost anything else). What size farm would be optimal in a post-peak economy?

Is there a way land ownership could be transitioned to allow adequate production of staple foods?

Which of my options do you see as most likely?

been thinking about this for a while. the answer, Beans and peas. ol' Thomas Jefferson thought they were quite important. can be grown in most any of the USA growing zones and one can get several crops a year in most.


Maize, potatoes and sweet potatoes can all be simply cultivated on large enough scale in a large garden plot for a family with relatively simple tools, even hand tools (supplemental power would be nice). They are all very high yielding with such a cultivation method and have kept many people alive in such a fashion. They can also be processed at home and stored at home with relatively simple equipment and small modification of existing homes: handmills and root cellars. If you're thinking of maize, I really suggest you learn what nixtamalization is (it would make grinding in a hand mill much easier and increase nutrition). If you store home grown carbohydrates in bulk you have to be incredibly clean and watch for bugs. We've done pantry moths and white flies and neither were fun. Buckwheat might be another possibility (must try an old Russian peasant trick to remove hulls and if works report back to Drum). Quinoa is another possibility but freeze it to avoid ^%$##@ pantry moths.

I've been pleasantly surprised at how well certain root crops store. I had assumed that a proper root cellar would be needed to store roots effectively, but since we did not have one (and could not easily construct one given our shallow, rocky soil), I tried simply storing them in cardboard boxes in our garage. The mice haven't bothered them (and we have mice galore) and the garage remains just warm enough to keep the roots from freezing (the garage is under the house but we do live in a cold climate -- Western MA). We've kept rutabagas, onions, cabbage and carrots in the garage, as well and have found that they maintain their quality pretty well.

FWIW, I have found that at least some potato varieties can be stored very well at much warmer temps than is typically recommended (just above freezing with very high humidity is optiomal for spuds). I've kept Kennebecs until April in a 55 to 60 degree (F) room with only average humidity, with virtually no tuber shrinkage.

Sweet potatoes seem like a good possibility but they appear to need some care in curing if you want to store them. I tried some last year in containers of potting soil(!) -- no, not sustainable but it was my first experiment. They liked it and I got some decent yields of nice Amish Porto Rico roots and slightly less nice Stevenson's (both bush types).

But after we ate some for one meal, the rest molded. Even scraping it off the skin, they were still unpalatable from it. Since then I have done some reading on curing. They actually cure better in fairly high heat and humidity, which is counterintuitive to me.

So, if you have good, loose soil tilth (the roots can form and grow large more easily) and cure them right, they are not a hard crop to grow. And they prefer really hot, hot weather, so may be a good candidate for a global warming world.

they are essentially pest free here.
yes; counterintuitive re curing. i had to dig mine wet this year- got them towards dry mud before another rain, but they did good in my basement--i left they muddy & draped plastic over& around to increase humidity. they are keeping well-- ate one today & most are still firm.

Leaves are edible too and they make a wonderful ground cover which will grow and produce with quite a bit of shade.

They just need warm weather.

Doing research for another thread I came upon something I didn't know. Lotus plants are a great food source. The seeds, "lotus nuts" can be eaten raw, cooked or ground into a type of flower. The blossums are edible, as are the roots (high in vitamin C) and young leaves. We have a pond at the bottom of our property that I dug for erosion control and irrigation. Several years ago we planted a couple of Lotus plants for their beauty. They have taken over and are very prolific. Good to know that they are a food source, requiring no fertilizer because the soil in the pond is self-replenishing from runoff. If you have a pond in your area, it might be good to "sneak" a few lotus plants in. Cattail roots are also a great source of starch and vitamins. They can be invasive but, if you're hungry that's a good thing.

Lotus info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelumbo_nucifera#Uses

I've grown some buckwheat. De-hulling is a problem. What's the old Russian peasant trick?

Soak the buckwheat until the grain really swells, expanding the hulls, slowly dry/roast the grain on the wood stove. Cool grain and rub off loosened hulls, winnow? Eat the roasted buckwheat (kasha). Lemme know if it works.

Thanks a lot. I'll give it a try.

Seminole pumpkin grows well here in AL. Stores until at least May if the rats don't get it. Keep the stem on and check so you can use the ones that aren't storing well first. Supposedly grown by Seminole Indians. They send roots down from the stems as they cover the ground thus getting more water and surviving even if the stem borers get some of the stem.


Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a good source for southern gardeners.

Girasole or Jerusalem artichoke is a native sunflower with an edible tuber that the Indians used. It is a hardy perenial. This article says it better adapted to the northern two thirds of the country. However it grows just fine in AL

Besides which if someone raids your garden they will likely think this is just a flower and not rob your tubers.

these are hard to control; a good problem in a 'survival' way; so be careful where u plant em.

i just ordered some to put at a couple of properties. might do the edge of forest gardening w/ em.

tedious to clean but diabetic ok[initially] tuber. mild flavor; again very very hardy--a neighbor couldn't get rid of em.

I've planted some in a raised bed - intended for them to take over, but also confined so they won't spread. They are pretty good sauteed in butter and garlic, and make a really good substitute for water chestnuts in stir-fries.

If you are in to guerilla gardening, these are particularly good things to plant. Just call them "wildflowers".

Well if you are hurting for food the problem of them expanding might disappear, replaced by the problem of not having enough. :) or perhaps :(

I have gotten rid of all sorts of hard to get rid of plants. You just be persistent. Hard to remove plants have to be removed several times and watched for any reappearance. My only failure so far is nutsedge. However I don't try all that hard since I have read it is edible and someday I may be glad for it


# The scientific name of yellow nutsedge means 'abundant edible sedge'. Tubers have a mild, starchy taste, slightly reminiscent of almonds. Ancient wall paintings from Egypt indicate that this plant was cultivated as early as 400 BC. It is still grown in the Spanish-Mediterranean region, where tubers are used to make a nonalcoholic beverage.

# Pigs are reported to be very fond of the starchy tuber.

# A Wisconsin field was reported to have up to 35,200,000 yellow nutsedge tubers per acre.

I almost eliminated a weed that came with some leaves from town. Just when I almost had success I found it was edible. It is called Florida betony and its roots are like a mild radish, but it is in the mint family and a spreading perenial.


While wild plants don't have the same yield per acre as domestic plants they aren't as fussy. Learn your local wild plants starting NOW

I have had a plot of them for over 20 years growing in the same space I planted the first batch. The plot is small only about 10 by 10, they have been kept in check as to spreading. But over the years my dad has put them in a few other places to control weeds which they do rather well.

They taste better after a freeze, but you can dig them as soon as the tops die back. Don't go in the plants without long sleeves on, the hairs on the plant and leaves will make your skin itch. Store them in the ground they grew in, until spring, If you can dig them all out and spread them around again, or row crop them if you like.

The skin on the tubers is easy to rub off with a potato brush and water. Boil them with a little salt. Eat them raw, or cook them lightly. They make a great addition to soups. They have a sweet nutty taste so watch how many you add to something that might over powered with their sweetness.

I don't remember what cultivar I bought all those years ago, but there are several of them available from seed companies.


Everyone can just look at their current diet. 2500 +- Calories/day

carbohydrates - proteins - and fats

You are going to need grains/seeds/nuts (actually all are seeds)

or tubers (potatoes, etc) .

Most modern diets get the majority of their calories from fat.

An example of what you need to grow in a year per person would be to look at the
calories you need in a year to survive ...

approx. 912500 calories

The Mormons say ...

300 lbs (136 kg) per person (wheat, rice, corn, other)

20 lbs (9 kg) oil/fat per person

100 lbs legumes per person

but they also add ..

100 lbs per person of dried milk

100 lbs per person of sugar/honey


Need space to raise feed for animals if using dairy , eggs, meat etc.

I was able to grow all my food on approx 2.5 Acres for over 13 years ...

A plant based diet ...

Dry Corn , Beans ,Squash,Olives for oil, fruits and nuts, various year round vegetables ,etc.

Beans and peas are a good option, but a significant portion of the urban population doesn't have any land. In 2008 more than half the world was urbanised for the first time. Zimbabwe provides a good case study for when agriculture breaks down. What is known as urban agriculture provides a high percentage of the countries total food needs, but not nearly enough. A high proportion is met with aid and some formal agriculture remains. The reduction in formal agriculture is associated with political, economic and social breakdown that may be similar to breakdown following Peak Oil. Of course aid will not be available following a Peak Oil breakdown and population densities are very low in Zimbabwe. Additionally the country is tropical, blessed with good rainfall and rich soils. These conditions are not the same everywhere!

Some basic points though:

1. Urban agriculture supplies a significant percentage of food in Zim.
2. The formal sector has shrunk (look on Google earth to see once productive farms now idle).
3. There are social problem associated with theft.
4. There are technical problems associated with increased soil run off
5. There are toxicity problems with heavy metals and other contaminants in soils used for urban agriculture.

A Canadian study into urban agriculture in Zimbabwe can be found here: http://www.crdi.ca/fr/ev-8300-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

A big concern is getting food to large cities. As the world population continues to move into cities the logistics of getting adequate food for the masses becomes more pressing. The good news is that urban women opt for smaller families. The bad news is that a fuel intense transportation and distribution system is essential. A smooth transition to a clean and abundant fuel replacement for oil is an absolute need. I would push for nuclear power. Advanced generation nuclear reactors may be safer, cleaner and cheaper to build.

The best practices of modern conventional agriculture offers the most sustainable source of food. Genetically engineered crops require least chemicals to control weeds and pests and they make the most efficient use of the land. They also are the most effective at controlling erosion because they make no-till and minimal till practices possible. Modern agriculture is also the most fuel efficient agriculture. They also offer better balanced nutrition.

In summary urbanization/industrialization are needed to create a negative population growth rate, plus about 10,000 nuclear power plants for abundant clean energy will bring our population to sustainable level with a reasonably good standard of living. The developed world needs to continue to consume so that developing economies will have markets for their goods. This plan is aimed at elevating the standard of living for developing countries-not lowering the standard of living for the developed nations. With adequate energy from nuclear reactors and recycling of mineral resources we can endure our temporary over population problem. In time the resources and the population will arrive at a sustainable balance. The big concern is that climate change will lower the carrying capacity of the planet so much that a population crash will be inevitable. We urgently need to replace our coal power plants with nuclear power plants.

In summary urbanization/industrialization are needed to create a negative population growth rate

Its hard for me to imagine that people remain confused on this point; but let me just say that urbanization/industrialization do not reduce rates of population growth, or at least not until they are done sending them through the roof!

This graph is worth a look (I don't know the coding to embed it):

Having spent the last couple of months reading all the books I could find in the subject I feel well informed enough to say that the past hundred years of disastrous population policy and theory (including what you listed) have failed on most counts to accomplish what they intended. The one single factor that correlates to a lowering of population growth is the education of women. That's the sum of literally billions of dollars spent studying and monkeying with the issue. I think we can do that without 10,000 new nuclear plants and perhaps build schools instead.

on edit: Its always a good policy to back up strong statements with reference material...the best text I've come across on the population issue, and most particularly its long and controversial history, is "Fatal Misconception; The Struggle to Control World Population", by Matthew Connelly. An excellent comprehensive and agenda-free stand-alone reference.

on edit: Its always a good policy to back up strong statements with reference material.

I recommend Stewart Brand's, Whole Earth Discipline. Brand believes that human growth rate will be negative before mid century and population peak will occur before reaching 9 billion. I also recommend Gwyneth Cravens', Power to Save the World,James Lovelock's, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, and William Tucker's, Terrestrial Energy.

"Genetically engineered crops require least chemicals to control weeds and pests and they make the most efficient use of the land"

Ah where would a food discussion be without john monsanTo eh?

I see a mixed agriculture developing according to region, and actually natural, organic agriculture requires no toxic chemicals at all to work well john..

Trees make the most efficient use of most land and i see lots more nut trees being used instead of grains..

We have had good success with quinoa, in our wet climate, produces quite a lot per plant...

Why use windmills to make nitrogen when urine is such a good fertiliser!!

Replacing ornamental trees with edible ones would improve the sustainability of cities, but maybe they are doomed anyway?

And where would the future be without Terminator Seeds? ('Sustainability, one generation(sale) at a time!')

We could get Skynet to do the field spraying between strafing runs!

The statement about reducing the amount of chemicals to control weeds and pests is not john blowing smoke from his hat. Here is a quote from Stewart Brand. "GM crops are more efficient, giving higher yield on less land with less use of pesticides and herbicides".

Most of the comments on this thread are appropriate for those of us who live in the breadbasket of America. We benefit greatly from locally produced food. There are many ways that we can use what we grow for energy. I raise a productive garden with OP seeds and lots of compost as well as loads of composted manure from my neighbor. My garden is a labor of love. I certain don't need or seek either GE or hybrid crops for my garden. I suppose some of the varieties which I plant are hybrids, but I never ask that question when I buy seeds. I used to, before old age set in, enjoy spading my garden. My neighbor called me dumb Norwegian when he saw me turning the soil with a spade.

When it comes to maintaining the nutrition of 6.8 billion and growing numbers of inhabitants we need to look to maximizing the efficiency of agriculture. I suppose that planning for the days of famine is a good exercise as long as we also plan mitigation strategies to prevent the famine.

"Trees make the most efficient use of most land and i see lots more nut trees being used instead of grains."

This is an absolutely critical, key idea for the future of food. Forest gardening and forest farming are drastically more efficient and more easily sustainable, even with low-energy, largely human-muscle-powered inputs. (I don't know where Gail -- of all people! -- gets the idea that large commercial grain growing operations are most efficient. Least efficient by approximately an order of magnitude, I'd say) Edible forests also provide a big sheaf of other crucial services and materials, besides just food. This includes in our time some possibility, even at this late stage, of alleviating the climate-shift catastrophe, and the re-sequestration of much of the anthropogenic excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And forests can do all this indefinitely, whilst thriving ecologically, and growing to a very high level of fertility. It just takes a forest-integrated human population who understand the techniques, and treat the forests with their due respect (personally, I'd say reverence).

One remarkable nut (seed) producing tree which is much overlooked and neglected lately is Araucaria araucana, aka the Monkey Puzzle pine; or more recently the ancient Mapuche name has grown in use -- Pehuén.

From Wikipedia:

"It is a popular garden tree, planted for its unusual effect of the thick, 'reptilian' branches with a very symmetrical appearance. It prefers temperate climates with abundant rainfall, tolerating temperatures down to about −20 °C. It is far and away the hardiest member of its genus, and can grow well in western Europe (north to the Faroe Islands and Smøla[2] in western Norway), the west coast of North America (north to the Queen Charlotte Islands in Canada) and locally on the east coast as well, and in New Zealand and southeastern Australia. It is tolerant of coastal salt spray, but does not like exposure to pollution.

The seeds are edible, similar to large pine nuts, and are extensively harvested in Chile. The tree has some potential to be a food crop in other areas in the future, thriving in climates with cool oceanic summers (e.g. western Scotland) where other nut crops do not grow well. A group of six female trees with one male for pollination could yield several thousand seeds per year. Since the cones drop, harvesting is easy. The tree however does not yield seeds until it is around 30–40 years old, which discourages investment in planting orchards (although yields at maturity can be immense) [my emphasis]; once established, it can live possibly as long as 1,000 years (Gymnosperm Database). Once valued because of its long, straight trunk, its current rarity and vulnerable status mean its wood is now rarely used; it is also sacred to some members of the Mapuche Native American tribe.[3] Before the tree became protected by law in 1971, there were lumber-mills in Araucanía Region which specialized in Araucarias.[citation needed] This species is listed in the CITES Appendix I as an endangered species. [4]"

Obviously the long lead time before cropping begins is a problem for short-termist, profit-obsessed cultures. But I guess we'll be seeing such attitudes fade a good deal during John Michael's 'Long Descent'. Our children and grandchildren might forgive somewhat the royal mess we've made of things if we bequeathed them the widely-distributed nuclei of a thriving global Auracaria forestry. Over the long term, the food fecundity and the longevity of these trees is phenomenal.

For more on the promise of forest farming, even on modest backyard-sized acreages (sic!), see here:


Or more generally, see Martin's website: http://www.agroforestry.co.uk/

Martin says in the video that his agroforestry practises may not produce as intensively as other agri/horti approaches, but he +is+ speaking relatively there. One of the most heavenly landscapes that my home region, North West Europe, can produce is what I call 'glades in the forest'. Setting up land in this way, with the glades as your intensive permaculture food gardens set within your food forest, can create a phenomenal productivity, without back-breaking labour or endless toil from dawn to dusk every day of the year. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT!

Robert Hart is one of the great pioneer/inventors of forest gardening, and city forests. See here for some idea of the trail he blazed:


Don't forget oaks.

I sent the info on Araucaria to the head of the Icelandic Tree Growing Club, as a possible trial (if they have not already tried it).

The Tree Growing Club works on trials of new species.

Best Hopes,


The best practices of modern conventional agriculture offers the most sustainable source of food.

The 'best practices' are based on oil.

Let us all know how that's gonna work out.

Genetically engineered crops require least chemicals to control weeds and pests and they make the most efficient use of the land.

*points at star link corn*

And when it is part of the human food chain?

Tell us all again how THAT worked out.

With adequate energy from nuclear reactors and

OH, do show the calculations of watts needed to move the soil. I did in the past, but now lets see yours. Also show the copper needed to get that power to the fields - just to prove you are on 'solid ground'.

recycling of mineral resources

Please show how the mineral resources of the land put into the food is being returned to the land. Show the capture and separation of Phosphorus.

Eric, agreed. I might add that weeds are evolving a resistance to those chemicals http://www.biotech-info.net/cropping_up.html and the pests are as well. Mosquitos evolve resistance to ddt very quickly http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ridley/tutorials/The_theory_of_natura...

Per wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide_resistance

Pesticide resistance is the adaptation of pest species targeted by a pesticide resulting in decreased susceptibility to that chemical. In other words, pests develop a resistance to a chemical through selection; after they are exposed to a pesticide for a prolonged period it no longer kills them as effectively. The most resistant organisms are the ones to survive and pass on their genetic traits to their offspring.[1]

More specific definitions of pesticide resistance often apply to particular classes of pesticides. Manufacturers of pesticides tend to prefer a definition that is dependent on failure of a product in a real situation, sometimes called field resistance. For example, the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) definition of insecticide resistance is 'a heritable change in the sensitivity of a pest population that is reflected in the repeated failure of a product to achieve the expected level of control when used according to the label recommendation for that pest species'.[2]

Pesticide resistance is increasing in occurrence. In the 1940s, farmers in the USA lost 7% of their crops to pests, while since the 1980s, the percentage lost has increased to 13, even though more pesticides are being used.[1] Over 500 species of pests have developed a resistance to a pesticide.[3] Other sources estimate the number to be around 1000 species since 1945.[4]

While not a weed, the coca plant in Columbia etc. has evolved a resistance to Roundup - see http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.11/columbia.html its called It is called Boliviana negra

Which points back to selective breeding. The implication is that the farmers' decentralized system of disseminating coca cuttings has been amazingly effective - more so than genetic engineering could hope to be. When one plant somewhere in the country demonstrated tolerance to glyphosate, cuttings were made and passed on to dealers and farmers, who could sell them quickly to farmers hoping to withstand the spraying. The best of the next generation was once again used for cuttings and distributed.

Well, in the tropics, sweet potatoes and taro seem to work. My wife and I have sold off our small big isle lots, and one of them went to a fellow who is doing a good job demonstrating sustainable growing of staple foods. http://sanityandsimplicity.blogspot.com Just accepted an offer on our last one yesterday; under 24k for 3 accessible acres near the highway. Amazing to me that any US citizen can go there and so few do.

Here on Oahu, at a lower altitude, we've planted breadfruit. It's mostly symbolic since NONE of the neighbors grows anything edible, but those trees can be incredibly prolific starch factories. When mature and over 80 feet tall, I think one tree could probably support a family of three 'year-round. I can think of a lot worse idea than giving a tax break for planting Ulu trees in the middle of all the manicured suburban lawns here.

And as far as staples go, we have pickable avocados 10 months of the year with more trees coming into fruit each year... and a constant stream of coconuts, which I hear are edible though few here eat them.

I like trees because you can plant them when young and eat from them when old, which appeals to me more and more.

Some good info here :) I'm moving back to Oahu in May once school is out, and now plan on talking to my friends about planting some breadfruit trees.

But as you say, it will be a moot point if the neighbors don't join in on the fun...

Actually, growing wheat is incredibly easy. You are right that most people don't have the space for it though. At reasonable yields, you should be able to grow a minimum of 200 lbs of wheat on 1/2 acre. this will be as much as you will be able to use if you are employing small scale processing equipment. Threshing by hand is time consuming & dirty work, but grinding flour with a hand mill attached to an exercise bike is a nice thing to do while you catch up on your reading. None of the basic techniques for producing food are difficult, we have just gotten hobbies that we like better. Remember that the difference between drudgery and fun is in your mind. For details, see if you can find a copy of Gene Logsdon's "Small scale Grain Raising" Rodale Press around 1977.

Tropic, I've had thoughts about planting a wheat plot. One question I have: How does one effectively plant small grain in a garden-sized plot? A push-type hand-seeder of some sort? Broadcasting sounds very inefficient.

you are correct about broadcasting. however, i have found that if one is ready and the forecast is correct you can burn a plot of land one day and broadcast rye,oats, wheat, etc. seeds on a rainy day and get good results. Fire has been a recognized tool for thousands of years. Even works in urban areas, but there may be some objections from neighbors. just let them know what you are doing.

Last year I grew a small plot of wheat just to see what it was like. I used an Earthway hand operated seeder to scatter the seed and then a rake to sort of cover them slightly. It did germinate and grow and cutting it with a scythe was quite easy. I think you need to cut it just before it is dry enough to shatter. Then the hard part is threshing it. I just beat the day-lites out of the stuff and that didn't work all that well. I've seen examples of folks making a thresher using a weed eater and another guy made some kind of bicycle pedalled contraption. Overall, its hard work, but it can be done.

Ha! you aren't referring to my pedal-powered thresher are you?


It proved to be no faster at threshing than hand flailing, but a whole lot more pleasant to do.

We gave up growing small grains except as acover crop many years ago, as folur got too cheap to be bothered-westill grow a lot of other stuff including corn.

But you absolutely must have that grain, unless you have plenty of potatos or something else to provide the calories and the considerable amount of protein in grains-you simply cannot live and do physical work on a diet of low calorie veggies!

Broadcasting seed by hand works just fine and you can easily get a nice even stand if you follow these rough instructions.

Simply start at one side and edge and work your way across the plot IN A STRAIGHT LINE by focusing on a spot at the far side.Scatter sed simply by finging it thru your fingers with a side arm motion-SPARINGLY.

Move over about six feet or so and spread seed in the same fashion going the other way,parallel to the first trip across the plot, keeping in astraight line by focusing on a spot about six feet to the side of your original starting point.Remember to spread your seed sparingly.

Once finisheed working forward and back in one direction, say north annd south, them do it all over again from east to west, at right angle to your initial paths forward and back.

You will be able to see large seed such as wheaton the ground very easily even if the seed bed is fairly rough.

The point about spreading the seed sparingly is to make sure you do not over apply your seed in the beginning and not have enough to finish the plot.

Most of the time you will be able to see your foot prints and this will help you to do a good job getting the seed evenly spread.

You will get very good results with this method even the first try.

This method of broadcasting seed does not work on a windy day,especially with small seed , such as the pasture grasses. You can do wheat ok in light breeze though.

When first learning the technique, always reserve a little seed maybe ten percent or so, and walk over the plot looking for bare spots.If you don't find any , just sperad this last ten percent quickly over the whole area.

I takes my eighty two year old Daddy about an hour to seed an acre of bare ground this way, carying the seed in a pail in the crook of his left arm and dipping a small handful and scattering it repeatedly with his right hand.

Works like charm but does require a couple of hours practice to get good at it.

I would suggest that it is a much more efficient use of time and resources to buy a few bags of wheat from a local farmer, or have a farm supply get it for you if nobody stocks it, locally, for now. Of course later on this might not be possible and it is probsbly better to grow a small patch or two of grain to get the feel of the crop if you expect a hard crash.

But your time will be better spent growing things that are more expensive to buy but easier to grow, harvest, and process than small grains.I would much rather swap other crops with a farmer who grows enough grain to make it a labor and equipment efficient crop, assuming there is such a farmer around.

Most people don't realize how easy it is to dry crops that are not often dried, such as sweet potatos but all that is necessary is to peel , slice, and place on a coarse wire screen suspended over a woodstove once the heating season begins.

My Momma never as a rule canned irish potatos, but if they were not keeping well, or if we had a lot towards the end of the winter when they are beginning too sprout and shrink , she would can them in the jars emptied out earlier and we would eat them before the next crop came in.She did apples the same way, leaving them in storage in our root cellar until late winter , when there was little to do outside, and then can them in the jars already emptied, keeping us in either canned or dried apples year around.

Keeping variuos bugs and mice out of grains or flour and meal can be a real problem, but a manageable one.Get yourself a few top quality galvanized garbage cans with tight fitting lids now, or barrels that can be cleaned thoroughly withclose fitting lids.Make sure that whatever goes in has been thoroughly dried, and store your barrels in the driest possible place.

If the lids are not truly snug, bugs will get in. Smaller quantities of known infestation free grain can be stored hanging in tightly closed bags made of tightly woven cloth.

It is necessary to check the contents occasionally for rot due to dampness and for infestations.

You can kill off most insect infestations by freezing your stored food for a couple of weeks at 0 degrees F or everytime by heating it in pans in an oven to a couple of hundred degrees for an hour or two-this does not significantly reduce nutritional value, but heating grains destroys the life in the seed-saved seed must be preserved by freezing, or by the use of an insecticide of some sort , once infested.

Nut and fruit trees are the very best bet in terms of yields and work invested as well as long term productivity, and anyone who is really into self sufficiency simply must have an orchard of thier own, even if it means moving.If tshtf hard, a few bushels of apple, walnuts, pecans , etc, will be priceless, and they will be there even if you are unable to work due to illness or accident.

The old way to preserve grain and dry goods for long periods was to place a lighted candle in a barrel on top of the food. It would be put in a small tin to prevent wax spilling. The barrel would be sealed up and the candle would burn up all (most) of the oxygen in the barrel, then go out. No air means no bugs, and no rancidity of oils in whole grains. I can't believe I didn't see this already on here! I use small beeswax candles, which don't have much effect on the flavor except right on top. I use food grade steel drums with good seals. This can allow whole grains to be stored without spoilage for many times the standard published storage recommendations. The drums get sealed up really tight sometimes when the air inside cools down and I am forced to screw open a bung to break the vacuum. Also, 55 gallon drums are much harder to steal than #10 cans.


bulb thanks.
what about dry ice method ---i also have drums[were food ones] w/ tight fitting lids but rubber seal in somewhat hard--- i was gonna use foodgrade silcone w/ existing seals w/ dry ice.

that's a great method for grain sowing ofm! i'll give that a go this spring...ooopps it is spring here already! better get broadcastin'..

I wonder if you've heard of the bonfils method of wheat growing?


great ideas of canning foods before they go bad--midstorage.

lots to learn.

Mac, thanks for these practical details. Can you remember the details of canning potatoes? In what? Prepared in any way?

Remember too that grains can be grown without tillage, ever. Oh yes it can! Fukuoka did it to high yield standards for many years on his family farm. Here's a link:


If the ideas are unfamiliar at first, persevere. It's phenomenally-useful knowledge distilled from forty years of the extraordinary, visionary trail into 'natural farming' (his term) which the legendary old guy Masanobu Fukuoka blazed after he'd trained and practised as a professional in modern, scientific Western agronomy methods in his youth. He knew both ways to full professional standard.

If No Tillage is a hard idea to swallow, his other strict rules of No Fertiliser, No Weeding, No Pesticides, cause even more scepticism within cultures reared on modern Western methods. All I can answer to that is: don't theorise, just try it. You'll be astonished eventually, though you will have to endure some learning-curve screw-ups, and not quit. The fact is that Fukuoka DID it for many years, and eventually out-produced his neighbours, with a fraction of the labour, capital and machinery inputs which they felt obliged to use. He even grew rice regularly on fields which were only ever flooded at any time of the year for a window of about ten days. Allegedly impossible, yet his regular practise. A man whose unusual insights are worth knowing and using.

Brodcasting IS inefficient, but not too terribly. Industrial grain farmers expect about 40 bushels per acre for wheat. A bushel of wheat is 60 lbs. so you could theoretically grow 60 pounds of wheat on 1,100 square feet. In practice, you will get a lot less, but it will still be plenty. Till up a bed, then broadcast so that you have 1 seed per square inch minimum. Then lightly rake the planted bed just enough to cover the seeds about 1/16". Do this in early October for winter wheat. Then just wait until July for your harvest. While reading up on how to harvest your crop.
Good luck!

Gene Logsdon's book has just been re-issued with significant updating. Now published by Chelsea Green. It's an essential reference for home-grown grains.

I don't know about Gene's new edition but his old one had plans for a home-sized thresher that anyone can build with a few skills. However, what I use for wheat is a "Leaf Eater" which is, in essence, a weed whip in a plastic tub. I think it would do well for most people. The only draw back is it can't take the whole wheat plant. Rather, the heads have to be removed and then threshed.

BTW, I'm trying hulless oats this year. I don't know if they will survive the grouse. I'm also trying another variety of sorghum that can also be used for "sorgo" syrup.


The new edition doesn't include the thresher plans, but has a lot of updated info. There is some info available online for threshers adapted from leaf shredders, plus some commercially-built hand-fed threshers are available from European manufacturers like Cicoria. They are very expensive, though. Your weed-whacker-in-a-tub sounds like it would work fine.

I've read Gene's book and there are strategies that I'm experimenting with since I could not find much information on. I planted a couple of acres of buckwheat, how long will it reseed itself if I do nothing at all? If I can get say 2000 lbs of honey from the hives there, as well as a couple of hundreds of pounds of venison from the deer that forage there, then I have a very energy efficient and small effort return on buckwheat. I would ask a similiar question concerning my 1st field of winter wheat, how long will it reseed itself? I view that field as really cheap storage of food for some number of years.

I too have a couple of hundred lbs of hulless oats to plant this spring to determine if they will reseed as well as what it takes to harvest them.

Meanwhile I will continue to grow corn "Indian style" with integrated beans and squash and saving my heirloom seeds from the corn "fields".

Many of the old timers and their families in my area have small plots for potatos, peas and other crops such as tomatoes which they rotate every year. They use little or no fertilizer. They can grow enough potatoes and peas/beans for the family, for a whole year. They dry the peas, can the tomatoes and beans, and store the potatoes in a root cellar or basement. They grow enough varieties to have fresh food throughout the growing season and enough to store for winter. These plots are quite small and apart from their main gardens. They let the chickens forage in the plots during the winter to help turn the soil and provide fertilizer. Most never use mechanical means to till once the plot is established. Suburbanites could do this in a small yard with a little knowlege. Potatoes can also be grown in containers:


What Ghung says is basically what we have done for 30 years. Along the way, we've improved methods of growing and storage. For example, couple years ago, I added a root cellar to one end of my garage ( which is an end built into the slope of a mountain ).

Photos at http://www.digistash.com/showalbum.php?aid=7893&uuid=2593

Also added a small green house in combination with a solar install. We raised tomatoes there this winter, and use it to get an early start on garden seedlings.

Photos at http://www.digistash.com/showalbum.php?aid=7882&uuid=2593

We garden about 300-400' row/feet of potatoes a year, and have more than two of us can eat, plus the seed for the next year.

50x150' will raise plenty of corn for corn meal ( Hickory King and Reid's Yellow Dent are our two favorites....both OP )plus a fair amount of chicken feed.

Rest of the garden space is about 80x150....beans, tomatoes, greens, etc

Combined with home raised chickens/eggs, couple pigs/yr and small herd of Dexter cows, and quite a bit of what ends up on our plates was raised right here.

Andy, I really need to get with you about your Dexters. We raised commercial cows for decades, but I just can't get into the idea of dealing with the big cattle again. I think you have my e-mail. Maybe we could drive over sometime. Do you sell calves, or know someone who does?

In addition to cattle and other livestock, I have been experimenting with sheep for many years.

Every breed has their problems, but like with the smaller cattle breeds, which we don't do, some of the older smaller breeds should be considered. I have been breeding Soays for years, a primitive breed that has bypassed alot of the domestication in the last couple thousand years. With commercial sheep today, I had several problems, mainly disease susceptibility, nearly constant monitoring in lambing seasons, work required for shearing nearly worthless wool, better gain with commercial feed with some, and other problems. With the Soays, I've found excellent gain on grass, elimination of shearing problems, and completely unassisted birthing, even in bitter cold and snow. They are small, though that's a plus to some. I have been really pleased with their taste, and their hardiness/natural immunities to many problem sheep diseases, esp worms when pastures are rotated proper. As I alluded, the biggest drawback is carcass size. It can be a plus, as butcher time and trouble is minimal. I've tried outbreeding to other breeds, but the haven't had much luck in increasing carcass size. One thing I did note, however, was the extra worm load in the crosses. Soays are not a hair sheep, they have full wool coats, but naturally shed the fleece.


Don't have your email, you don't have it linked here, but mine is....email me.


Hi Gail,

Good post. First, the paleo-diet people suggest that we shouldn't be eating any grain. But I can't go with that so I've been thinking of growing some of my own grain. Sweet potatoes are easy enough and so is corn. There are books (Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers by Gene Logsdon) on growing grain.

I have my own Diamont grain mill and already buy grain in 50 lb sacks to make my own flour and bread. In a total self-sufficiency state, I would grow my own using primitive methods.

Having taken on beekeeping, dairy goats, gardening, chickens and cattle over the last 10 years, with no prior experience, I will say that the concept of doing any of these things is much more challenging than the experience of actually doing it. I've been looking into donkeys & mules and even into using them to help with farm work. My husband won't go along with this so I've left it alone. But my other experience tells me that I would, in the right circumstances, be able to train and use a donkey or mule for help. It would be nice to have an Amish neighbor show me how, but I think necessity could get the job done.

If I had no distractions of the modern age (internet, iPhone, TV, etc.) and my food for the next few months depended on me planting and harvesting food, I have confidence I could do it. Hopefully, the only real PTB such as the rain and sun would help me along.

First, the paleo-diet people suggest that we shouldn't be eating any grain.

Trouble is, Wooly Mammoth are becoming pretty scarce in my neighborhood and even when I can find them, it's hard to get the neighbors interested in attacking a ten ton animal with a flint-tipped sapling.

Seriously, I can't see what problem anyone could have with growing grain. Native Americans cultivated corn sustainably for thousands of years by growing it in rotation with beans and squash. What possible beef could anyone have with this?

I have heard that One of the problems with our heavy dependence on Grains for calories/protien, is the Phytic Acid in the seed skins.. this costs our digestive system a bunch of calcium to digest it, and has been pointed to as one of the factors leading to our poorer bone strength and dental quality, as compared with people who eat more traditionally processed foods.

There are traditional workarounds, like lactofermenting grains, nuts and seeds in whey, yoghurt or sometimes salt to preprocess the acids.. and I understand that sourdough bread will also help reduce phytic acid in the grain. But modern cooking has often forgotten these tricks, or has simulated the results with flavorings and additives, without knowing the reason for the processes in the first place.


Even orthodox nutritionists now recognize that white flour is an empty food, supplying calories for energy but none of the bodybuilding materials that abound in the germ and the bran of whole grains. We've take two important steps forward—but unfortunately another step backward in that now whole grain and bran products are being promoted as health foods without adequate appreciation of their dangers. These show up not only as digestive problems, Crohn's disease and colitis, but also as the mental disorders associated with celiac disease. One school of thought claims that both refined and whole grains should be avoided, arguing that they were absent from the Paleolithic diet and citing the obvious association of grains with celiac disease and studies linking grain consumption with heart disease.


I've known several people with Celiac Disease (caused by gluten). It looks like our bodies haven't yet quite caught up with the diet changes YET. My guess is many of us probably have trouble with gluten, but show no symptoms until later in life. I think we'll evolve like we have (some of us) to digest dairy products (lactose). Those of us that can handle milk/cheese have the unique advantage of storing cases of cheddar deep underground :)!

I personally think tree fruits are the way to go, with a major problem being spring frosts killing fruit buds. An acre of apples can yield and incredible amount of calories, and when mixed up with plums, pears, cherries (sweet and sour), apricots, peaches and small fruits (strawberries, kiwis, blackberries, raspberries) can provide a wide range of nutrients and income/trading possibilities. Disease and insects can be an issue. The dreaded Plum Curculio, Cedar Apple Rust are hard to control. Looking for varieties that can withstand disease is the best method and for bugs, just grow some nicotine (its grown in annual flower beds) and make your own deadly toxic Black Leaf 40.

"Looking for varieties that can withstand disease is the best method"
-or grow them on their own roots!

You might also look at long fermentation of wheat flour as a possible solution.

We ferment all our breads (including pizza dough) for at least 18 hours and for ciabatta type breads even longer. The results are tastier and more developed bread and much less of a problem for those with celiac or crohn's (ie my mother in law)

By fermenting with only water and the flour, the yeast has nothing else to consume BUT the flour and in 24 hours can convert a lot of it into more digestible forms.

Very good to know. I'll look into that.. thanks!

The short answer is that our anscestors for millions of years ate what we now call "the paleo diet." We evolved to process that kind of food. We've only been eating grains in quantity for a few thousand years, not enough time on an evolutionary scale for our bodies to adapt. BTW, I do not believe hunter-gatherers gathered and ate zero grains. They just ate a lot less of them than we do. Still, we've proven we can survive on them, and survival may wind up being foremost in people's minds.

I do not believe hunter-gatherers gathered and ate zero grains. They just ate a lot less of them than we do.

And lots and lots of leaves from many different genera.


There is another option , Steam. In my area we have enthusiasts who have traction engines.

A modern steam tractore could burn wood, plant residues such as straw, and be used for ploughing, harvesting and threshing as well as hauledge, and electricity generation.

I suspect the farm of the future will use a combination of technologies. Local biodiesl or alchohol for instance. Internal or stirling engines.

On another note, for the small scale grain harvest we need a small scale, preferably human powered or electric or equivalent threshing machine. It is easy to grow grain, but the threshing and cleaning the chaff out is a problem. Beating the grain then winnowing using the wind takes a fair bit of time.

The real issue is how people will obtain enough food to survive or thrive. Pre-industrial history suggests in most temperate climates, one acre (more or less) was the rule of thumb for subsistence. With this a small family could work the land for basic food requirements (e.g., fresh greens, dryable or fermentable plants/vegetables, root crops, some grain, fruit for cider), even perhaps a goat for milk and a hive for honey. Any surpluses could be sold/traded for needed tools, fabrics, esthetic items (books, etc.). If you have the land for a draft animal, you can grow enough fodder to feed him year-round and farm an extra 2 or 3 acres. Even at an acre per family we have a surplus of families. Larger, machine-tended farms (one family for many acres) leave an even larger surplus of families and landless farmers.

We've been able to boost productivity and connect markets to consumers because we have invested huge inputs of energy, mostly from non-replaceable fossile fuels, into fertilizers and fuel. The existing infrastructure (highways and and property ownership) suggest that we will see elements of options 1 and 2, even if fuel prices rise and/or agricultural labor costs make food more expensive. Which means that more individuals will need to practice elements of option 4 and participate in a market for grains. Which puts the demand for arable "subsistence" land at such a high price that we will be up against that surplus of families. It will be worst probably in the countries that have benefitted most from the "green revolution," but is likely to touch us all.

Grains in general are a recent addition to the human diet, historically speaking. We don't even digest them all that well as our bodies have not evolved for them yet. Convenient? Yes. Necessary? No. On the other hand, our bodies did evolve eating nuts. Some peoples allergies aside, (I happen to have an intolerance to wheat), many nuts have nutritional values very similar to the grain crops, and they keep extremely well. If you've never tried an Acorn Meal cookie, then you are really missing something. Given that nuts grow on trees, they can be grown almost anywhere if you pick species for your climate. Even in suburban back yards with dwarf varieties. Nuts are harvestable by hand, mature trees can have high yields and have the minimal maintenance of a perennial. Perhaps we should take nuts more seriously.

Option 2c (Farms with draft animals) might work, but it would require a lot of planning. Someone would need to raise and train draft animals. Farmers would need to buy up large tracts of land that they could farm with animal powered equipment.

I think that if things get to this point there will be the need for sharing and cooperation rather than the concept of large scale private ownership. When things are such that folks are farming with animals vs. powered equipment, a lot of people will starve unless they embrace some form of communal farming (at least in the early years). Those who are totally invested in the suburban lifestyle and have made no preparations will be in deep trouble.

Yes, I would agree with other responders here: beans and peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, leeks, rutabagas, turnips, corn, can all be grown without too much trouble in small plots, and many store well also without too much trouble.

Grains: yes, they can be grown on a small scale, but this is where it may be to people's advantage to cooperate to devote larger areas locally to their production. But ... I'm not sure how, if you worked out the cost accounting ,it would work out to do it on a large scale, with relatively few fossil-fuel inputs, say, or without some of the technology currently used for grain production. The common wisdom nowadays says that growing grains on a large scale is more efficient than doing it in small plots, but that depends on how the cost accounting is done, doesn't it?

This reminds me of my disappointment 35 years ago when I thought I would grow sesame seeds. It was a small - though not tiny - planting, but it gave me less than a quart of seeds. The low yield was partly a result of not harvesting them at exactly the right time, so that I lost many to scattering on the ground as I tried to capture the overly-dry, opened seed pods. Although more attention to detail would have probably resulted in saving more, I didn't try it again. You had to be too fussy, I decided.

I tried to post but do not see it hope I'm not posting again. Anyway, I am gluten intolerant and my oldest daughter is corn allergic. We were are looking to grow alternatives. Here is a link to garden scale rice growing.


Thanks for the link. We have maybe an acre of moist bottom land (actually wet most years) that wouldn't be suitable for anything but "wet crops" like rice, the most consumed food on the planet, and a true staple of billions. Rice is on my list. So much food, so little time!

Glad I could provide.

Here are a couple of links for seeds and info for growing rice and other grains.



Grandma, the source you listed says that the "hulls are very tight," which may be an understatement. I grew rice in my garden a few years back. The 12-sq.ft. plot grew and produced just fine, but the jar that holds my harvest of about a cup and a half of rice is still in the back of the fridge, waiting for me to figure out how to get those hulls off. Everything I've tried so far has been dramatically less than satisfactory.

I had better luck with my wheat experiment, but the stem rust (a common fungus on wheat) I think reduced my yields. I ended up with a couple of cups of wheat, but probably should have gotten more.

In the same space, in my yard northwest of Atlanta, I can get 15-20 pounds of spuds or 30-40 pounds of sweet potatoes. I haven't grown a plot of parsnips that large yet, but they do remarkable well here, too, and are plenty nourishing.

I have also read that chestnuts are starchier than other nuts and can serve as substitutes in the diet--not in the same recipes (they won't make a fluffy loaf of bread), but the carbohydrates are there, they are low in oils, and they are filling. If I could figure out where to plant one, I'd grow a chestnut tree. Some varieties have been developed that are resistant to the chestnut blight.

I garden in a suburban yard, so my choices will not be the same as choices made by someone who has more space to work with. For example, I grow a little popcorn (right out in the front yard), enough to keep us in after-school snacks for a few months, but there is no way I could grow enough corn to make all the cornbread we eat.

The chestnut blight was a real disaster, maybe the worst ecological disaster ever in North America. Back in the early days, just about everyone in the Southern Appalachians would just let their hogs forage in the woods, and they would all fatten up quite nicely mostly just on chestnuts. No need to grow feed for them at all, except maybe a little corn to carry the breeding stock over the winter.

Hi all first time post here,

Options 3 and 4 stand out, with under an acre being sufficient size if worked intensively, mind you I'm a beginner.

For those with little experience or bravery, potatoes are an easy option. A one year supply can easily be grown organically with minimal petroleum use: less than a gallon, on 1/16th of an acre or less. If you're interested, a primer on the subject- http://www.sufficientself.com/potatoes-for-dummies

You're lucky to have minimal problems with bugs. I must apply pesticide to the potato leaves because it seems like everything from the microscopic to macroscopic wants to eat them here in the mountains of Arizona.

potatoes outlawed around here at community gardes in past, & oldtimers say buggy too here; though in very limited crops[early only] i've been ok.

recently my wife read where potatoes were added to bad list of top 10 for chemical residues.


consider treating the leaves with neem-based products.

On bugs in grain - consider adding diatamatous earth to the grain in storage. You'll have to have some kind of plan to blow the white powder off the DE - but fresh DE should do wonders to the bugs.

Currently neem oil costs about $1 / fl. oz. retail and is imported from tropical regions. Being an import devaluation of the U.S. dollar would make it prohibitively expensive and requiring long distance transportation, peak oil will make it untransportable. It does not seem sustainable.

1 tablespoon neem oil is mixed with 1/2 gallon of water and 1/2 teaspoon of soap to make a pesticide. The mixture has a shelf life of 8 hours and needs to be applied to plants weekly.

I might try this for a season to see whether it works, but I have already determined that it would be nothing more than an experiment.

Have you tried companion planting with horseradish? If yes, any noteworthy results?

Apple trees can produce a heck of a lot of food in a very small space. Let me share this years experience for me: I'm in Minnesota. I have several trees, 15 years old, 15-20 foot diameter and 15-20 feet tall. So, for one tree (400 square feet) I got 17 5-gallon buckets of apples. Of this, I used 13 buckets to make 102 quarts of sauce.

I saved many more buckets in my (unheated, insulated, 40 degree) garage and am still eating juicy, crisp apples from those buckets. It really makes a huge difference which variety you save: my State Fair apples were mush by October, the Haralsons lasted till Christmas and the McIntoshes are still good now.

I have not sprayed the trees, but the insects are not too much of a problem because I scrupulously pick up and dispose of fallen apples, and put out bottles of stale beer as a trap during the growing season. Then there's pruning once a year and a bucket of chicken manure in the spring whether they need it or not. Easiest food to grow I've tried, and so easy to grow way more than you can eat or even give away.

My son left me a note saying "apples = 65 million kcal/acre". Don't know how accurate this is.


Readers should plant some apple trees in their yard this spring.
Small yard? Use dwarf trees.
Really. Just do it.


Cheaper way to do it is to invest in some pruning shears and grafting knife, grow out some apple seed (free) and graft with known types. I have over 200 apples seedlings in the kitchen right now i'll grow out this summer. I'm in Wisconsin and have found apples to be very rewarding, just watch the squirrels! (protein!). Pruning allows you to keep the tree small. A good trick is branch bending. This induces early flowering and keeps those crotch angles nice and wide.

Readers should plant some apple trees in their yard this spring.

Apples are not viable in New Orleans. I have a planting schedule & outline. This year a satsuma (orange, non-commercial) tree and some fig trees planned. If I get them in the ground properly, then some more citrus and perhaps blackberries.

Best Hopes,


Over the years I've planted 5 apples, 5 pie cherries, 3 beach plums, 1 peach and 1 pear (2-in-1 for pollenation). Will be planting a semi-dwarf Winesap this spring, then that will be about it unless or until some shade trees come down.

(edit) better information says 15 million kcal/acre

Option 1, with biodiesel. 10% of the land is enough to grow enough oilseeds to run the machinery. It would take twice as much land to feed the draft animals. There are a lot of 60 year old Farmall H and M tractors still around, so they don't wear out all that fast. (The gas powered older tractors were and are popular in the upper midwest because you can actually start them in winter.)

This does bring up a wheat question, did the breeders ever come up with wheat that would grow well in the damper climates? Dad said (many years ago) that wheat planted in central Wisconsin would fail every time due to some blight or another.

Potatoes in temperate climate are huge calorie producers in a small space. The only crop I know that has a higher yield is bananas or plantains, but those are more tropical.
Taro is a large producer, and as mentioned, breadfruit (which I have some experience with-it makes great chips!)

On my suburban block in Sydney I have a chestnut tree, a pecan tree, two macadamias and two almonds. The trees are only 10 years old but already the yields are ridiculously abundant - way more than I have time to collect and eat. Perennial tree nuts are high in calories and for a suburban/small plot are a much better choice than annual grains.

Also, if grown using permaculture techniques e.g. surrounded by nitrogen fixing "chop and drop" trees, passively irrigated by swales/roof runoff and fertilised using composted humanure then the system needs almost no external inputs.

First Post. Here in southern New England on a 2500 ft2 garden in the back yard I consistantly have harvested 100 lbs of spuds, similar for storage carrots and lots to tomatoes, hot peppers, pickles - yes plenty of fun foods too - and some apples but loads of berries - pruple raspberries and blackberries, known together as brambles. I hope to add a hoop house and with a better summer - sans late blight perhaps, I can get toward 1/4 to 1/3 of our caloric needs in the off season and 1/2 or more in season. I also work a 40 hr a week job "off-garden" and volunteer as a "Master Gardener." I would/will focus on corn this year as I've had success with popcorn in the past: Tom Thumb. We also get/buy fish. I don't know if I can be totally self sufficient, but if 75% of eaten food is from the back yeard or within 50 miles, that would work. Perennials like fruit trees, net trees, brambles and even asparagus will augment the corn.

I think prairie or broadacre cereal cropping will become too expensive in line with rising prices for diesel, synthetic nitrogen and phosphorous. That means we will have to fill our guts on starch grown close to home, most likely root crops. The FAO suggest potatoes. Instead of bread for a sandwich keep a salad bowl of boiled potatoes in the fridge.

I've grown canola for biodiesel but I've been unable to control diamondback moth infestation at reasonable cost and effort. Since people give you waste vegetable oil for free it's a no brainer. It's easy to grow quinoa as a food grain but I'd rather eat shredded soap. I've been growing borlotti beans and climbing beans as a source of protein now I need to scale up big time.

Instead of celebrity chefs lording about with black caviar and truffles I'd like to see a TV cooking show about 'cuisine pauvre'. 90% of the ingredients would have to be stuff you can grow at home or buy cheaply. Maybe also cook on a wood stove. Basic ingredients would be potatoes, corn, pumpkin, tomatoes, beans and so forth.

People often overlook food sources that are in their backyards. Blackberries are considered an invasive species in many parts of the US, yet are a prolific and productive food source. Many parts of the country have Walnut trees that are considered problematic, as they are "territorial". Both of these are great sources of high quality nutrients and vitamins.

Food preservation will become an issue without refrigeration and other preservation methods. Solar dehydration is an easy and effective way to preserve fruits, berries and many vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, peppers, herbs). Dried fruits and berries added to staples can boost their nutritional value significantly. Blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are easy to grow and are great sources of vitamin C and other neccesary vitamins.

Some info on food preservation methods:

It surprises me, too, how few other people are out picking those wild berries. One year I did finally see someone else picking blackberries at the edge of my local park, and it turned out to be one of the homeless guys who live by the train tracks that run along the back of the park. I shifted my berrying to a different area, since he needed those berries more than I did, but my new spot has been mine alone, as near as I can tell.

Not many people pick up pecans at the parks, either. Most years I pick up enough to at least half-fill a paper grocery sack. It's enough for plenty of snacks and quite a few batches of sweet breads and pies. I keep thinking that other people will see me, and catch on, but it hasn't happened.

The college where my wife teaches has two beautiful old Montmorency cherry trees that are just jam packed with cherries every June 15 without fail. I go there every year and harvest as many as I can. Everybody else just ignores them.

I have no idea what the answer is, or indeed how big the problem will be. But this book
http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10599.php Dirt by David Montgomery
is a must-read for students of the collapse of civilization as it relates to declining fertility, lost irrigation, and lost topsoil.

Possibly its been widely talked about here before, if so, my apologies.

We have a book review in the queue on the book that I expect will be up in the next few days.

Dirt is a great resource, and a good read.

I think the notion that a typical back yard gardener could grow enough grain to provide the caloric intake for a family is not really practical. Most homes are not on an acre - even the McMansions ar built on 1/3 rd of an acre.

I have an acre - subtract the spce taken up by the house, the sheds, the greenhouse, the driveway. Then - I think one needs hardwoods if for nothing else to fuel the wood burning stove. Add space for fruit and nut trees as well as some berries. Now the space for veggies and herbs. How much is left over to grow wheat? Certainly not enough to supply a family of four with the caloric intake for a year.

Consider too that grain crops are very suceptible to damage from rain and of course drought will finish your crop off - no small consideration in an AGW world.

Potatoes and peas, beans make the most sense to me. One can actually live off a diet of potatoes alone. Plant several varieties as insurance against blight and bugs. For the space they take up - potatoes give you the most calories. Supplement with peas and other beans and you can produce on even a smaller plot enough to give you adequate calories.

Fruit and nut trees are so essential - but keep in mind that trees take awhile to get to the age of productive crops. This is especially true of nuts - some trees need at least 8 years before you even get nuts. I discovered this myself - have plenty of fruit trees but only realized we needed nut trees two years ago - still waiting for some nuts! Hope things don't get really bad before those trees start bearing!


Nuts have proven staples to many stable societies over human history. For my temperate climate area, I'm betting on Hazelnuts (high oil content), Chestnuts (starchy), Oaks, and probably a couple of other species for mast. The EROEI on these is much better than with annuals, plus on the slopes I'm working with there's no way I'd ever plow.

In conclusion: Nuts!

The problem with that for many of us would be:


Of course, if one has a shotgun, the upside is a steady supply of Brunswick Stew.

Cats are effective at controlling squirrels because they catch the youngsters and repel the adults. Mice also eat the pinon nuts around here, but when the nuts are plentiful, there will eventually be too many mice for the cats to control.

I'm betting on Hazelnuts (high oil content),

It has been claimed that oil is similar to olive oil. Makes for a fine trade oil.

(I have the screw oil press - just need the rest of the nut processing eq.)

I live in the Willamette valley of Oregon. Here farmers grow more hazelnuts than anywhere in the world besides Turkey perhaps. I live < a mile away from one of the first commercial hazelnut farms. But hazelnuts are just as expensive here as anywhere--little bags at the farmers market go for 5 bucks--I don't understand why. Perhaps hazelnuts, like oil, are fungible. And you would think in our Hazelnut abundance that you would see hazelnut oil. But I have never seen it. But farmers have told me that hazelnuts are susceptible to fungi and almost impossible to grow organically (without fungicides.) I asked the farmer what did growers do before WWII? He told me the fungi are new developments. So if you are planting hazelnuts for insurance in case of a world where petrochemicals stop getting produced I would check this out.

Mono cultures, farms practice mono culture farming, and they hate companion planting, I am sure there are methods that they could use that would reduce the damage of one pest species to the harvest if they only applied themselves a little better.

Edible landscapes aren't just row crops in a grid pattern. They are making use of plants to help other plants and us and the total picture.

I doubt the fungus is a new species that evolved since they started growing hazelnuts in the area. Likely it has been around a long time, and something they have been doing has made it spring to action, or it was imported from somewhere else (which happens all the time). They might lose the crop totally like happened to chestnuts, but hopefully not.

Deversify, don't depend on one species for all your needs. That is what killed Ireland once. Where in Peru 3,000 species thrived.


In my experience , a minimum of 2.5 acres per adult of cropland is needed to get a complete diet. If animal products are eaten , it takes more.

The figures talked about on the internet are theoretical.

Oldfarmer Jmy , School of Agriculture - Class of 67 - CSUF

Truer words were never spoken,jmygann.

A good sized garden, intensively worked, will supply a lot of food in a good year.A few thousand square feet will not get it done, however, if the job is feeding oneself and one's family after a collapse.

There are so any things that can AND WILL GO WRONG in farming that you can't count on getting by with any less, and then only if you keep some food in reserve from year to year.

People in tropical or semitropical climate areas might get by with a little less-but they might not be able to harvest even a weeks worth of food off of an acre after a hurricane passes over that acre.

case in point-We grow apples and peaches commercially.We lost eighty percent plus of our apples this year to late frost, and nearly one hundred percent of our peaches.We actually bought peaches for our family table from another grower.

Then a good portion of our gardens were ruined by deer-we lost some more due to excessive wet weather.Normally deer are not a problem for us, as we eat venison, but this last season we were tied up in the house looking after a bed ridden family member.

Some of our nieghbors crops were ruined by hail- this happens to somebody we know about every third or fourth year, and to us about once every ten to fifteen years or so.

College of Agriculture
Va Tech,72

(Continueing Graduate Studies in
the School of Hard Knocks,the
University of Reality)

OFM, I think most of us "small yard folks" are hoping that larger farms will still be producing our staple foods (grains, beans, dairy) and that our yards will mostly just need to produce supplemental veggies and fruits to keep some variety in our diets. Even that isn't guaranteed in any given year, as you say, since early/late freezes, droughts, floods, heatwaves, tornadoes, etc can demolish the garden.

None of my friends' apple and peach trees had any fruit this year, either. In addition, the spring rains caused all the planting to be late, and the September floods damaged a lot of the fall gardens that people had been hoping to use as a source for winter greens. As a result, none of our gardens produced as well as usual.

However, we have all been thankful for the figs, which produced abundantly in spite of the weird weather. It is likely that growing more than one type in any one category of foods (like fruit) with different flowering and ripening schedules is one key to making sure that something edible comes from the yard each year. Figs flowered after the freezes had passed. Apples flowered just in time to get blasted. My plum trees got blasted, too.

Really, even though I hope that big farms will still be growing some of my staples, I will still make space for my favorites in that category - Pigott's Family Heirloom cowpea (most delicious crowder pea ever!) - and the Dakota Black popcorn that makes me smile every time I pop another batch.

As far as projecting 'Whether there'll still be Farmers?' as a premise in the Keypost, I have to think the answer is yes.

The idea that we have to look forward to 'Everyone needing to provide ALL their own needs', is a bit of an isolationist blindspot that we run into when considering a scary future. "I'll be all alone, and won't get help from ANYONE!!"

One, we're a social species. Your friends, kids, cousins and parents will be growing stuff too. (or many of them, anyway) .. you'll give and recieve advice and barter goods, and just help each other out, and will BE helped out, as someone has too much, someone gets some bad luck, etc..

Two, People also will want to make money. If you've got a bunch of Chickens, you'll be wanting to sell a bunch of those eggs, not just try to eat them all, so there's a bit of cash to buy someone else's Beet-Sugar, or some Flour, building materials, etc...

This was the problem when they did those "Frontier House" Programs. Families succeeded or failed when they tried to 'do it all themselves', but that's a fantasy image of human life. We're not alone.

The varieties are the key. I know of a family that grows 6 or 7 varieties of peach.

In part that staggers the production over about 4 months and makes preservation less of a madhouse, but it also allows one or two varieties to be hit by bugs and not be out for the count.

Another issue is soil regeneration. A local hero in NZ, Kay Baxter learned the hard way the importance of that fact. She grew great foods for 8 years on her plot and in the 9th year everything failed because the soil was exhausted.

As we try to grow more and more on less and less space, attending to the soil will be critical. That will mean leaving soil fallow/ regenerating etc as a key task.

Depending on who you talk to, 40-60% of your land may need to be under regeneration programmes at any one time for the process to be sustainable. Cost that in to your resource availability.

Composting humanure and urine will also be vital. 80% of all our nutrient output is via urine, flushing it away is insane. Flushing away the rest as well is equally nuts; all you are doing is mining your landscape and in the end it will fail.

Then you will starve. Or die trying to steal someone else's.

OFM, i wonder if you've heard of "high brix gardens" do a google, they have some interesting stuff on peaches and frost resistance...

Which is why folks should learn how to store and stockpile grains. Whole wheat berries stored properly will keep a long time.

We keep a couple years of staples in rotating storage and then grow as much fresh produce as we can in our small urban garden. We can't feed ourselves indefinitely, but it would take us a very long time to starve. With sufficient time we ought to be able to come up with a way to secure further food unless things deteriorate into a truly unlivable scenario.

Which is why folks should learn how to store and stockpile grains. Whole wheat berries stored properly will keep a long time.

We keep a couple years of staples in rotating storage and then grow as much fresh produce as we can in our small urban garden. We can't feed ourselves indefinitely, but it would take us a very long time to starve. With sufficient time we ought to be able to come up with a way to secure further food unless things deteriorate into a truly unlivable scenario.

Interesting - Greer claims 100 sq ft / person is adequate. I know of subsistence farmers who raise a family with less land than an acre.

I think you're misquoting Greer. I believe you are referring to "The Long Descent" where Greer cites David Duhon from "One Circle: How to Grow A Complete Diet in Less Than 1,000 Sq. Ft." 100 sq. ft. will certainly not do it.

To say a bit more, Duhon's work is largely theoretical, and we're talking about a meager vegan diet. If you're of the Sally Fallon or paleo- schools this just ain't going to cut it. Furthermore, 1,000 is a liberal estimate even by Duhon's standards. In the book, he actually outlines a 1,400 sq. ft. garden for a complete diet.

Now, I don't know if it's true for "One Circle," but Ecology Action -- the nonprofit that publishes One Circle and pushes the Biointensive method -- has their test farm in Southern California. Not all of us have growing seasons that long and warm! The shorter the growing season, the more space you're going to need.

I also want to make a reality check on many of the theoretical yields pushed by intensive gardening methods. I have no doubt that we can work smarter and get better yields than with a conventional row-system. But a yield achieved one time in one garden should not set the bar for our expectations. Just because John Jeavons claims the theoretical maximum yield for wheat is 26lb. / 100 sq. ft. does not mean that we should expect that's a level we or our land can achieve and sustain. I imagine some of these theoretical yields cannot be sustained over the long term. They are anomalies and no one should expect anomalous yields to sustain them.

That said, tree-crops make much more sense in terms of EROEI. Annuals send down shallow roots, grow quickly and die. They are subject to volatility and boom/bust cycles, as is a culture based on them. They require lots of energy input on a yearly basis for tillage.

Perennials and trees have deeper, more expansive root systems. They hold the ground together and create stability both in ecosystems and in culture. They do not require yearly tillage, so energy input is lower per yield.

.. and as the above implies, and any portfolio manager will tell you,


Jeavons is just over the mountain from me and I have been to his place several times

He has done a lot of experimenting and has probably done more for small gardening than anyone else.

The "How to" books of his and Duhon are using mathematical extrapolations from test beds. Much of the original work was done at UC Santa Cruz ... Chadwick,Jeavons, etc.

I have been studying this since college (complete diet garden), and could find no one other than the 3 of us, who were able to grow all of there food.

The next closest attempt was at Santa Cruz , but was unsuccessful.


The maximum yields that Jeavons mentions might be inspiring, but very, very few (if any) people have actually achieved them. He usually gives a range of three figures, and I suspect that something in the range of the lower two numbers is going to be more realistic for most people. Even those numbers are really only going to be possible for ground that has been amended with lots of organic matter for years, is in full sun, is abundantly watered, and is kept weed and pest free. In other words, only in the absolutely best case situation.

"I know of subsistence farmers who raise a family with less land than an acre."

Link ? or contact ?

Corn grown commercially is a very productive source of starch.
4 pound of corn could provide about 2000 calories of daily starch.
An acre of corn produces enough starch to feed 6 people for a year; at 75 million acres , US corn that could provide enough starch for 450 million people.

For my daily meal I prepared approx 1 cup of dry corn ... soaked and rinsed till just germinating (approx 2-3 days)

ground by hand (wet) into masa with a little olive oil ... then cooked/baked ...

eaten with beans etc.

For an experiment take 1 cup of dry corn .. soak . put into blender with a little water ,salt and oil ... pour into a waffle iron.

Dry Corn is the easiest to grow , harvest, and store.

Staple of the Americas

ground by hand (wet) into masa with a little olive oil ... then cooked/baked ...

please a few more details. i've sprouted once. use my cornmeal grinder at first germinating with a little olive oil thru the grinder?

i've ground dry- pretty hard work then cook slowly to grits/polenta/mush w/ double boiler. quite good as my staple.

btw for those interested i am now using nothstine dent seed from johonny's seeds- tasty, sweet, & early so better options if problems in the field; like too wet last year.


It started when I was asked to teach a class on Crops and soils and decided
also to do a graduate thesis .... that eventually evolved into a ROP class
titled "Small Farm Methods"..

I went into a partnership with another person who had a piece of land nearby

When the State funding ended we decided to take on the project of growing a
complete diet. We had been visiting with and consulting with Chadwick and

The diet came together fairly fast .. maybe due to my training in "feeds and
feeding" of animals in college and raising animals in high school FFA.

It became evident quickly that a plant based diet was the most efficient and
grains would be the basis. From FFA and college I knew that Corn was the grain
of the Americas. We spoke to many migrant workers from south of the border and
learned their methods back to some Aztec-Mayan relatives.

A neighbor had Cherokee relatives in Oklahoma and obtained some corn seed.

No Animals or animal products.

Herbal tea ..no coffee ... mostly Yarrow , Mint, and Comfrey

We had olives for eating and oil

Salt was the one item we did not grow but were lucky to meet a local who knew
where a local salt lick was which gave us a years supply.

So it was a Plant Based Native American Diet I guess ...

With some changes ......

We would have 2-3 jars of dry corn soaking/rinsing .

soak for 24 hours then start rinsing

when the sprout is about 1/4" out of the kernel , we would grind it with a hand grinder daily.


then mix with a little salt and olive oil and knead into a large ball.

make a golf ball size ball in your hand then pat it flat and as thin as you can by hand.

Placed on a disc blade or other steel plate over a fire. this was done every day .. 365 days a year.

We built a fire ,prepared, and ate one main meal a day.

As stated earlier, each person needed to raise approx 400 corn plants

plus dry beans and winter squash to make it threw the year.

The corn was left on the cob and husk in a crib until needed.

Vegetables , greens etc. were raised continuously.

In addition to the Olive oil , we also made wine from the grapes and vinegar
from the apples

No Refrigeration

No canning .. dried fruit .. figs,apples,grapes and apricots

Nuts ..almonds

thanks much! fascinating wonderful to have info!

the cooking method reminds me of 'hoe-cake'--dual purpose tool- of cornbread.

can't say i look forward to this kind of diet as the only choice but neither would i dread it.

i love nature, & having worked at a coal-fired power plant i'd make this type choice...if i/we get too.

As austere as it seems, it was very enjoyable.

Watched the sun rise each mourning ...

No clock or calendar to follow.

No Car,TV, computer, ...

walk/bike to town ,swimming hole ...playing music and dancing with neighbors

Sit around a fire at night (maybe some popcorn)..

Cup of Cabernet Sauvignon before a meal

Corn was also baked in a solar oven ... steamed tamales ...

Salads with olive oil and vinegar - garlic.... steamed beets,kale, onions, etc.

Pots of beans ... baked Butternut squash .. roasted Almonds .

Only potatoes and peas do well in my area, USDA 6 or 7, for staples. I need to learn how to process acorns. Last time I tried I didn't leach them well enough and they weren't really edible. But the natives lived on them before we came. Actually, there are a couple of varieties of dry beans that do OK here too. There were real farms here in the old days, at el. 3,500, but I haven't heard about any of the old Italians growing wheat or oats.

Not all Acorns are alike, some have more tannins in them. White oaks are the lowest, but you still have to leach them. It won't be easy unless you have a lot of water handy, a running brook or spring will help. Storing them in wicker up on poles letting the rain leach them for a few months should work as well.

You can always use the 5 gallon bucket method, giving yourself about 20 bucket changes worth of water, and test a few acorns along the way to see when they start to taste okay. Be careful where you use the water, as it will have tannins in it and will add acid to your soils.

sf, had the same problem with processing acorns,a very overlooked food source. Took very long but had some success. Honey roasting can mask some bitterness. If you haven't seen it : http://www.sanaturalareas.org/acorns.html

My thoughts on carbohydrates, proteins, and oils.

The Three Sisters. Grow corn, beans, and squash together like the American Indians. Or just grow a large patch of squash, It's the most nutrition for the least amount of work. Grow a variety with large seeds and roast them. Seminole pumpkin, a wild squash from the Everglades is delicious, easy to grow and will produce over 100 lbs. of fruit per plant; available from Baker Creek.

Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes are nutritious and easy to grow. Around here and in most of the US Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes) grow wild in abundance and are very nutritious. Their starch is inulin which is digestible by diabetics. You must adapt to them though, at first they are worse than beans for gas. There are probably several hundred lbs. along my little dirt road. They can be dug year round.

My primary grain crop is Golden Giant Amaranth.(not a true grain.) 15 lbs. of seed/100 sq. ft. The seeds can be prepared in many ways including sprouting and boiling as a porridge. The amino acid profile is similar to eggs! Very nutritious.

Their starch is inulin which is digestible by diabetics.

Well, its not really a starch. It's a soluble fiber composed of fructose polymers. It passes though the stomach and duodenum unscathed, but its a fermentable carbohydrate and can be digested in the colon with the help of intestinal flora. Its fascinating stuff.

My impression is that Option 2a (Organic local farming using oil for equipment, transport) is a popular option with some sustainability groups. It certainly has some advantages, in terms of helping maintain soil fertility, better quality food, and reduction in fertilizer need.

This statement is packed full absurdities. I don't blame it on Gail but on the "organic" marketers who promulgate the magic of organic farming.

1. How can ANY farming method "using oil for equipment, transport" (not to mention the square miles of plastics) be called "organic?" Well, maybe in the sense that all those hydrocarbon-based materials contain carbon atoms....

2. "Sustainability groups": They're fooling themselves. They want to have their cake and eat it too, meaning, they want to believe they can practice a kinder, gentler version of standard human rapacity. ALL farming is by definition UNSUSTAINABLE, because it practices takeover (of acreage) and drawdown (of depletable resources). It's unsustainable because farmers actually grow HUMANS, not just plants and animals.

3. "Helping maintain soil fertility." I'm assuming you mean the return of plant matter and animal manures to the soil. Yes, I'm all for it, I practice it here with my series of compost bins and piles of cow manure from our tiny milking herd. But let me tell you something about "organic" farmers: most of them practice what is CERTIFIED: If they have more than a few acres, instead of going through the immense trouble of stockpiling the ENORMOUS amounts of materials necessary to build compost, they IMPORT materials: rock phosphate, greensand, blood meal, seed meal, lime, etc. This stuff comes in tidy little bags and can be stacked until needed. And it's all CERTIFIED ORGANIC.

4. "Better quality food." The chief shibboleth of the "organic" movement. Everyone "knows" this is true. But the scientific studies to back this belief--and it is just that, a belief--are, to put it mildly, few and far between. Some studies even find there's no difference.(source.) The correct answer is, "Beats me."

5. "Reduction in fertilizer need." See 3 above. "Organic" farmers need fertilizers. They just have their own raft of "organically-certified" imports.

What it comes down to is this: Composting and mulching are good. The more physical labor you put into growing things, the less fuel you have to use. Keep it local and FRESH for high quality. But don't fool yourself that you are more virtuous because you practice these old-fashioned methods. Commercial farmers feed a hell of a lot more people than you ever will. And that's our central tragedy: more food = more people that need food.

Some people continue to call such methods "organic." I just call it "farming."

I know there's a preciousness and self-righteousness to parts of the Organic Food movement, but one of the improvements to the food that you didn't give any heed to is the removing of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers that end up in this food, and leave the soil and watertables glutted with this mess of chemicals.

Yes, you can grow food without those chemicals that is not 'certified', but the great majority of the definition is the absence of those chemicals, regardless of what the bureaucratic end of the Organic crowd wants to allow.

Sure, the term 'organic' is redundant. But claiming that they haven't done a lot to bring a new standard to what we allow in our food is unfair.


but one of the improvements to the food that you didn't give any heed to is the removing of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers that end up in this food, and leave the soil and watertables glutted with this mess of chemicals.

Sorry, jo, but this is false, false, false. I, too, believed it as recently as three years ago. I have since learned that this is sheer chemophobia.

DOSE is everything. Don't believe me? Feed one full tablespoon of harmless table salt to an infant and see what happens.

"Chemicals" is just a broad and meaningless term: which chemicals? at what dose?

Bruce Ames is the inventor of the Ames test that assesses the mutagenic potential of compounds. He was at first heralded by environmentalists because he found--shock!--that some "chemicals" humans add to food were mutagenic...at certain dosages.

Then he got the bright idea of applying the same test to NATURAL "chemicals," and--mega-shock!--they, too, were mutagenic...at certain dosages.

In fact, one cup of coffee contains more dangerous chemicals that what you would get from eating a whole year's worth of conventional produce! *

Finally--ORGANIC FARMERS USE PESTICIDES! Pyganic, Rotenone, Sabadilla, Neem, horticultural oil... "But they break down!" So do "synthetic" ones.

Plants that are not sprayed even produce their OWN "natural" pesticides that are harmful ... at certain dosages.

Once again: which chemical? which dose? "Organic" and "synthetic" are purely artificial categories.

The problems with run-off and contamination of water tables is directly related to the scale at which farming is currently practiced.

There are too many g*ddamn people on the planet, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Please, Mike.
Give your exclamation key a rest. I'm not hiding behind 'Chemicals' as some catch-all bogeyman, as if 'the Chemicals!' are out to get us. The fact that the population and the scale and type (tilled) of agriculture are also out of whack doesn't alter the fact that we have toxic loading from pesticides, preservatives, countless compounds that we've wrought that DO NOT break down in the environment, and are now leaching into our food, air and water.

Kern County voters passed an ordinance, by 83 percent to 17 percent, banning the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer on county croplands. For decades, ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restricted the ocean dumping of sewage sludge because it created 'dead zones,' Los Angeles County has trucked its sludge to
its northern neighbor for spreading on Kern County farm fields that produced wheat, corn and alfalfa.

Voters were disturbed by reports that the sludge – 450,000 tons of it a year -- contained hundreds of chemical toxins that could degrade air and water quality and possibly harm human health. Even before the vote, Los Angeles sanitation officials announced that if Kern residents didn't want their 'biosolids,' farmers had been found in Arizona who would take the waste.

What the vote highlights is not only the growing sewage disposal challenges faced by municipal governments nationwide, but the striking inability of wastewater treatment plants to remove many of the synthetic chemical toxins being produced by modern civilization. Neither wastewater plants nor drinking water purification plants are engineered to remove 'designer' chemicals.


We're getting dosed from all sides, and the goal of Organic Farming is and has always been to get the unhealthy chemicals out of our food. You have every right to be riled where there are people in Organic who are producing as rich a slurry of chemicals in the soils as the industrial Ag growers, but you don't cure someone's blindspot by poking them in the other eye.


jo, Just pay attention to the "organics" rhetoric. You will find it is absolutist, dogmatic.

For example--just because I'm a debunker of the "organics" movement doesn't mean I support the dumping of toxic sludge where people don't want it. I hope you are not implying that!

However, that is how the "organics" people operate: it's US or THEM, organic or conventional. They think they "own" some traditional farming methods that many of us practice. They don't.

Once again--your claim about "unhealthy chemicals" is a chimera. Unhealthy chemicals surround us--some are made by plants themselves--and the ones present in "pesticides" have been tested, retested, and found to be harmless in the low DOSES found on produce.

I agree to some extent with some or many of your points, but when the word "organic" appears in a discussion you rant like a fundy preacher does against freemasons. What is this obsession with defeating the evil incarnate known as "organic"?

I get the feeling Mike is letting a very narrow group 'own' the definition of Organic Farming, like some folks let the extreme right bible thumpers lay claim to the title of Religion or Christianity.. to which he has decided to be the opposite and equally-polarized reactant.

The truth lies somewhere in between.

"Organic" isn't (or shouldn't) really be so much about what is or isn't sprayed on plants as it is about what is going on in the soil. Read the classic foundational literature by Howard and Rodale, and you will see how much they go on about healthy, natural soil structure as being critical for plant health and yields.

The key question wrt pesticides isn't so much their toxicity for humans (although that is a concern), but whether or not they are harmful to the soil when they inevitably run off the plant.

what is going on in the soil.

http://www.fungi.com/mycogrow/index.html Fungi extends your root mass to gather water and 'steals' sugar. Upside - gets Phosphorus to the plant.

Soil food web.
http://www.soilfoodweb.com/brief_bio.html Dr. Elaine Ingham is of the belief that the charred carbon of terra perta is from composting not human fire. (I've seen black from the center of a previouly hot pile, yes. No idea if that was CHAR however)

In an ideal soil world you'd not even walk on the soil.


Back in the mid 1800's, in S Wisconsin, in LATE JUNE, there was a hard FREEZE. It was cold enough to kill all the leaves on the trees. The spring had been warm up til that point. Something like that today would devastate the local apple growing (which is very large). There is a reason why people stayed close to the shores of the Great Lakes for farming, the heat content of those huge bodies of water can save your butt in times like that. I don't think Milwaukee has dropped below 0F yet this winter, while i've dropped below close to 30 times and i'm only 140 miles away.

Gail --

Thanks for the thought-provoking topic. A few tidbits to share...

The current issue of Mother Earth News has a piece on growing wheat at home. Their description noted that it is somewhat labor intensive, but it certainly sounded possible with no power tools. I was even tempted to have a go at it myself.

I don't have any experience storing potatoes for a really long period of time, but my grandfather stores his from harvest until they are eaten in large bins in a shed. The spuds are put out in a single layer and sprinkled with lime, and seem to keep fine even during summer in Tennessee where it seems that every summer day is well over 90 and the humidity is shocking. Presumably the lime keeps them from getting too moist and seems to deter pests -- these bins are just built into the back of a shed that is otherwise open. He plants two crops -- spring and fall -- and generally has potatoes year round.

As for your options, I see some of "all of the above" happening. Business as usual will be preserved for as long as possible, but as costs increase (fuel becomes ever more expensive) we will move from you option 1 into option 2. If that becomes cost-prohibitive or unreliable, the industrious will take matters into their own hands.

I did not note comments on optimal farm size, but have given this some thought. In the Southeast where moisture is not usually a big problem and hardwood trees normally grow, I'd like to have at least 20 acres at my disposal. This would provide wood for heat and lumber (10 acres), garden space, and hay/pasture for livestock & draft animals. One could probably get by pretty well on half that, but with more room your management schemes do not have to be as finely honed.

I think the lime is also helping to keep the Ph levels high (base is high, right?). At least for grains, when they get 1)moist, 2)warm and 3)slightly acidic in their surroundings, then they get their trigger to start the sprouting process. It seems the lime would be the 'pin in the doorlatch' to prevent this..

That does perhaps ring a bell -- I believe the lime may have been to keep them from sprouting. But I had always been impressed that the potatoes would keep so well in clearly adverse conditions - heat, humidity and predation never seemed to be a problem. Grain and anything else edible had to be shut up to keep critters out, but they never seemed to bother the spuds.

It is generally accepted that soydiesel has an EROEI in the low 2s. Some other crops (say cotton seed, where seeds are a byproduct of cotton and have almost no energy invested in them except pressing out the oil), have higher EROEI.

Adapting Chevy volt batteries to farm equipment should give equipment for most chores (spraying for example) that run on electricity and do not weigh too much. With no till agriculture, I believe that electric planters are viable. Past efforts with electric farm equipment were backyard tinkerers working with lead acid batteries. If Ford (which makes farm equipment) applied car EV technology to farm equipment, with Li batteries, a LOT could be done !

Agro-diesel will be needed for planting for some crops and for harvesting most crops. The specific energy requirements exceed current technology# and The world is centuries away from not having enough FF oil to harvest crops, but in the distant future, enough agro-diesel (without further technological advances) can be EASILY grown for harvesting. Hay (required for beef) may be the most energy intensive "crop" when the final edible calories are counted.

Add some GMO to increase the oil yield for, say, cotton seeds, and the EROEI improves.

#(harvesting could be done with electric, but slower, and with harvesting "time is of the essence".

Best Hopes for Understanding the technology available,


John Howe is working on electric cultivation:



sorry ... but that picture gives a false impression.

those solar panels will not pull a plow.

lots of myths on the internet.

It's obvious you didn't read the info on the link. It's very open source. He gives all of his numbers, even the number and type of BATTERIES he uses (the ones you can see on the tractor). But if you had checked, you would know that and avoided such a knee-jerk response.

To avoid any further misconceptions:

Work Capacity: The Ford 8N requires almost 5 Hp just to energize and move itself in soft ground. An additional 7 Hp is required for maximum continuous work like 16-inch plowing or double disk harrowing in new ground at 2 mph. The total of 12 Hp (about 9 Kw) requires 75 Amps. This can be supplied by the 1300 pound battery pack for two hours. (18Kwh or equivalent to 2 gallons of gasoline). This output will plow or harrow ½ acre in two hours.

Recharging: With 75 Amps out and about 5 Amps in (in direct sunlight) it does not make sense to carry the array on the 8N. It requires 30 Amps (six times direct sunlight) just to power the tractor. It would require 15 hours to recharge the batteries with two 4-panel arrays (10 Amps times 15 hours equals 150 Amp hours). A full-wave bridge rectifier will recharge at 10 Amps if grid power is available.

So he admits that the tractor mounted array doesn't make sense. He later goes on to explain that grid charging would be more efficient (as would a larger fixed array). My take on this is that even with the array as seen, parking the tractor in the sun for a couple of days would allow useful work from this tractor. He's pulling a turning plow, one of the most energy intensive tasks a tractor is likely to do (I know), and can plow for 2 hours. With improvements (better batteries and controller) it could very well do better. One might be able to harvest several acres of grain on a full charge. Beats the crap out of walking behind a stinky old mule, IMO.
My point is that some people are working on mechanized agriculture for life after fossil fuels. It might make more sense to produce your own biofuels.

"But if you had checked, you would know that and avoided such a knee-jerk response."

I have seen/read this article for a long time.

"He's pulling a turning plow, one of the most energy intensive tasks a tractor is likely to do (I know), and can plow for 2 hours."

How many watt/hrs per acre of plowing ?

" With improvements (better batteries and controller) it could very well do better. One might be able to harvest several acres of grain on a full charge."

very well ... very well not
might ... might not

I have 2 solar charged EV's ... solar tractors are just a dream ... IMO

"Beats the crap out of walking behind a stinky old mule, IMO"

Folks have farmed/gardened for centuries without draft animals or tractors.

I'm sure you've seen this link before as well.. (probably from me)

No doubt they won't be for everyone, but it sounds like there are people who are more than satisfied with these as working tools.

Dec 2009 Update: LOTS more Electric G's have been made. We stopped counting at 100+. Even after all these years we still love ours and the batteries are still working fine (see my note in battery section, though! I'm kind of blown away by how popular they got in 2008! Herman Niekamp is the machinist that we write about in these pages and last year he created his page with more pictures and by far the most up-to-date information on what's happening with the G's. He sells kits that make it even easier to do this conversion yourself (you STILL NEED instructions and pictures on these pages, but his work eliminates 100% of the "hard parts" that I write about in the conversion. Check out his web page for more information!



- (My dumpy little Felt Hot Air box was blowing into the house at more than 110 today! I've had some 17 of the last 20 days giving me a bunch of free heat!)

It seems we have a standoff on the electric tractor thing. Maybe I'll build an electric rototiller instead!

And jmy, if you had read the article and new that the tractor ran on batteries, why your original statement about it running on PV?

As I suspect this was his point, I think it was considered a bit misleading to show the panels so prominently, as if THEY alone were supposedly running the tractor, or even that they would really be sufficient to keep the batteries charged.

Frankly, I'm not so worried that people are constantly mistaken on such a point. It's a great chance to tell them otherwise. On a tractor, I'd probably agree with Howe, that the rough terrain would be too likely to trash them before long.. but otherwise, I'd expect a tractor to need a roof from the hot sun, and may as well keep a steady trickle going in. It does add up.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of testimonials from people who are having success with electric tractors and pickup trucks for simple, local work. But I won't get into a fight over this one.. I'll just keep cheerleading so we can continue "FAU" (Farming, Albeit Unusual)


So he admits that the tractor mounted array doesn't make sense.

I suspect the main reason for it is to say: "Hey, look at me! I'm driving an electric tractor!"


It's probably already been said but the simple answer is we need far far less grain than we currently grow since a majority goes to feed animals and making sweetener and now fuel. There is a reason "A chicken in every pot" was such a grand promise and one we can't relate to in the least today.

All the questions and predictions put forth about food revolve around the broader economy more than fuel I think. If, for example, the hundreds of thousands of former construction workers now unemployed never again find employment in construction and the next generation of auto workers (or whatever the poster child of factory workers) is paid like a walmart greeter and perhaps the half(?) of employment provided by governments gets smaller, then you can bet the demand for bacon eggs milk and steaks in going to plummet.

As long as there is shipping, grains (though certainly not in todays mix) will continue to be grown on large acreages without irrigation and shipped fairly long distances, simply because of the economy of scale. As you go down the scale of scale to subsistence farm level you are going way way back in tech history to a point where I certainly hope we never return.

"As long as there is shipping" - i think we can say there will always be shipping, maybe not huge tankers, but there are already people in canada transporting grains by sail boat, there's a bit of a renaissance in sail delivery of food in europe too...

"As you go down the scale of scale to subsistence farm level you are going way way back in tech history to a point where I certainly hope we never return."

May not be as you have been told. IT may be better.


Thanks for this campfire topic. The advice and links above are very helpful. As a newbie gardener in San Francisco, I've been wondering how I'm going to store potatoes and other root vegetables without a root cellar. Glad to hear bins/boxes in my garage will work. My next project is to figure out which fruit and nut trees I might be able to grow. I've already got a Mission black fig, and I know Meyer lemons do well here, but apples? I'm hoping there are a few cultivars that will work in our quirky microclimate. (I live on the sunny side of the city.) I've got some raspberries planted, a thornless blackberry, some asparagus and artichokes. (I don't expect to get much from any of these this first year.) It is spring here, the daffodils are up and plum trees are flowering. I'm a happy camper just puttering in the garden wondering if I can really manage to grow all the nice little seeds I've bought. Seed potatoes and strawberry plants will arrive in a few weeks.

Here in the Southern Appalachians, people traditionally grew corn (maize) - this was the staple for the Cherokee as well as for the settlers who followed them in. It is very feasible to grow corn with only hand tools, that is a big reason why that is what was grown.

People living in the towns didn't tend to grow much corn for themselves, but concentrated on vegetable gardens. There were plenty of people living in the countryside surrounding the towns who would grow a surplus of corn for sale in town. Of course, a fair amount of that surplus would also be fed to the hogs, or to the still. Both resulted in value-added products that yielded a better return for the farmer.

In the towns, people would be more likely to grow quite a few potatoes in their vegetable gardens, and to have a root cellar in which to store them. Root vegetables didn't tend to store and transport as well as grains back in the early days, so it made more sense to grow those if you were going to grow anything.

A great many of our yards have trees in them; all of them should have fruit trees, and if these are not planted yet people need to be doing this. That being the case, it will be a challenge for many people to have enough land on their property that gets enough full sun to produce much of a grain crop. Potatoes are quite a bit more forgiving. While you cannot produce a crop in deep shade, a patch of ground that is shaded a few hours each day can still produce a pretty good yield of potatoes. Furthermore, potatoes are even easier to grow than corn; all you really need is some sort of spade or shovel, and a bucket or anything else that will work for watering them. Thus, to my way of thinking it makes a lot more sense for town and city dwellers to concentrate on potatoes to the extent that they have land to do so, and then to rely on "imports" from the countryside for the grains.

great topic gail; thanks.
for drying lotsa produce here's a link to a solar dryer i am building.


Modern wheat varieties don't shatter readily. They have been bred to withstand the rigors of mechanical harvesting. Instead of growing wheat in residential gardens (and dislocating your arms trying to flail the grain from the chaff) befriend a wheat farmer in your area and offer him $20 for a bushel of wheat. I've been doing this for several years. I live in rural Kansas and walk across the road at harvest time with my bushel-sized laundry tub. The farmer scoops the grain directly from the combine. I have a hand-crank grain mill that can turn out three to five cups of bread flour an hour.


If you are seriously considering home production of food, start to do variety testing now. Don't just grow what the nursery, a catalog or your neighbor grows/offers. There ARE significant differences between varieties. In my case, we have tested well over 50 varieties of tomatoes alone and decided upon two. We've done this for all the crops we grow. And, I try new stuff for comparison every year. This year's big trial is straight neck summer squash where I'll be testing about 10 varieties to find a replacement for a hybrid we can no longer get. Some will be OP and some hybrid.

The same thing applies to tree, berry and bramble crops. While these can be hard to trial, you can at least visit someone who is growing (or tried to grow) what you are interested in.


visit someone who is growing (or tried to grow) what you are interested in.

This is good advice. Find out what your neighbors have had success with. I tried several varieties of raspberries with mixed results until a friend gave me some of his "old timey" berries. He didn't know what they were called, just some heritage variety he said had been growing on their place since before he was born. They're not thornless, but they out-produce any of my other types in buckets. Big and delicious (my mouth is watering, can't wait for this summer). Look for varieties that finish at different times to extend your harvest.

I've decided to stop trying OP varieties and go instead with hybrid varieties with high inbred disease resistance. I'm taking the calculated gamble that it is still going to be possible to buy seeds for quite a while at least. If things are getting worse and more people are going to have to be growing gardens, I don't see why that should mean that all the seed cos suddenly go away; just the opposite, I would think. In any case, I don't really have the space to be growing isolated extra crops for seed saving, and if things get that bad then whatever I grew would probably get stolen before the seeds matured anyway. I never have viewed the most extreme catastrophic collapse scenarios as being survivable, so I don't worry about them.

On the other hand, I do have a limited amount of space, and I do need to make the most productive use that I can of it, right now. I can't afford to lose crops to disease if the simple expedient of planting disease-resistant varieties can prevent it.

Sorry, I know that to some this is heresy, but that's the way it is for me.

WNC-O, I've always grown Better Boy tomatoes, as a kind of crop insurance, alongside the other varieties that I considered to be more experimental (usually OP types), but this year the Cherokee Purple and Rutgers (both OP types) outperformed the Better Boys by a mile. It was a bit of a surprise, but I think the experience underscores the need for me to not rely on just one variety, be it hybrid or other. Maybe that's just a lesson for my yard (NW of Atlanta), but it could extend to the rest of the Southeast.

I totally agree with the need to choose disease resistant varieties. One problem with the OP types is that they are not big enough money-makers for the seed companies to invest in the kinds of trials needed to determine whether they are disease resistant, and to what. I'm developing a pretty long list of OP/Heirloom tomato varieties that are NOT resistant to the Verticillium and Fusarium tomato wilts that are in my yard's soil.

When I try a tomato variety for the first time, I grow just one plant, so if/when it dies, I haven't lost much. If the plant dies very early in the spring, it's no problem to replace it with a variety that is known to produce well in my yard. If it dies later, I replace it with a completely different kind of vegetable.

I also have limited garden space - a problem that extends to most suburban gardeners I think - but I have been growing food in this yard for more than 18 years, so I have had plenty of time to hone my list of dependable producers.

Growing 400 corn plants.... How hard can that be ?

My grain for a year

It can be enjoyable/pleasurable.

Its all about photosynthesis and storage.

Seeds (Many kinds)are for storage and when they are germinated/sprouted the food value changes.

10 olive trees for oil.

Speaking of oil...

There hasn't been much discussion about it so far but if people want to live they'd better consider how they will produce their own oil.

I've been testing various varieties of sunflowers for about 6 years and have finally settled on a variety. Sunflowers aren't that hard to press: grind them up (you have a grinder, don't you), heat them in the oven or solar heater (you get more oil this way) and then press them using a bottle jack and a couple pieces of pipe (you can find plans online).


thanks todd.

i've been wondering about a way to press oil, & had done a little research before but missed this. great practical design; & very very good- seems thorough- info on entire growing to oil process.


Option 2b (Farms with electric equipment and electric transportation to market) doesn't seem like a real option today

Best I can tell its not and it won't be. It takes alot of watts to move the earth. Hard to do that on a standard 120 volt 15 amp circut.....

I've not tried it (was going to try last year) but potatoes in the 55 gal drum. One can create the spring microcliment via glass on the top of the barrel and painting the barrel black As the summer progresses, shade the barrel. Tader's will end up being many people's carbs.

The gardening advice generated by this post is amazing and great, but, unless my memory doesn't serve me well, the reason that the Green Revolution happened is to generate higher food yields per acre. Again, if my memory serves me well very large increases in yields from a wide range of crops were achieved by the Green Revolution -- anything from 40 to 200% seems to come to mind.

If we are unable to get the first 2 options to work, then the implication is that we will suffer from a reduction in the production of grain and other foodstuffs (at a guess) in the order of 30-40%.

There isn't a very large surplus of food, if any, in the world. We will be seriously short of food. A 40% reduction in food production translates to something like 2.7 Billion people starving to death. This figure does not include the current approximately 1 Billion people who are already malnourished.

A famine of this scale is pretty well beyond imagination.

I like the gardening advice though.

accurate point.

irrigation is the other biggie; let's us use marginal land.

for corn yields went from avg.
20 bu/ac to 150+. almost a factor of 10.

rice actually had the best gains from the green revolution.

I think my point is that we have been managing to feed a growing population by more and more intensive agriculture that is more and more dependent on fossil fuels, fertilizers, irrigation, and the extension of agriculture to more and more marginal lands.

I don't think that we can go to a system of agriculture based only on human and animal labor without severe dislocations and mass starvation. I doubt that we can afford the drop in yields that options 3 and 4 imply. Option I should buy some time, but time for what. The Green Revolution was supposed to buy time for the rate of population increase to abate. Unless I misremember, that argument was made in the early 1960's when India had a population of 340 million, China had less than 500 million, the USA had a population of less than 150 million. The list goes on and on with increases of 2 to 4 times population growth over this period of time for large portions of the globe.

It is possible to keep up with this growth for a while longer using the status quo and then transitioning to Options I and II, but it might not be a good bet to make.

What we all have to think about is that every yard is different. In fact most yards/farms have their own little climates and soil types, and they change with time. What grew in my yard 20 years ago does not do well in my yard today, or at least not where it did well back then.

We also don't live alone in the world, If we are going to survive we will still need the friendships of others, even when we are all back to farming for our food.

As someone said above, we are social creatures, we also can't do everything by ourselves, and we will still have towns and small cities even if the large places can't support the power needed to run the systems that support tall buildings.

One thing we are all forgetting in our posts is water. Where do you get your water? How sustainable is your source?

If you work all day trying to live off the land, you will use a lot more than 2,000 calories a day, figure at least 2,500 to 3,500 for active days.

We would do well in most places if we looked at the total number of edible plants that our areas grow, most of them will be considered weeds by people. Traditionally any plant growing where it is not supposed to is a weed. But many plants that others think are weeds are actually edible, purslane is one of them that grows in the planters around the streets of Little Rock. Winter sorrel in my neighbor's grassy lawn.

The more you learn about what you can grow that is edible, and the more you grow of as many different kinds of food crops the better off you will be in the long run.

But just because you can grow all your own food, don't depend on it, things change fast and fire, pests, weather and vandals are just around the corner waiting for you to be unawares. So build up your social networks as best as you can.


Dried winter squash lasts for years if well stored. also, take a look at Home@Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative for some info about hazelnuts. I have about a hundred of these large bushes - got about 250 - 300 lb high protien/high fat nuts last fall. I don't think they are developed enough for a commercial crop but as a fallback position they are great for adding variety - which will be sorely missed, and maintain reasonable quality for several years in rodent proof common storage.

Of course you could invest in a truck load of MREs. I see them sold by the pallet lot on ebay a lot. It is something to think about adding to your shelf if you really think the world will end soon. Or you think the stores might be hard to get to when the snow piles up over your mailbox. Or a storm rips the roof off everyone's houses.

For anyone that has a Bug Out Bag, they do come in handy to have a few selected forms of ready made foods placed in them.

If nothing happens in 4.5 years you start to eat your stash and buy a new one with the money saved from buying at that store.

What ever you do as far as staple foods you should also look at foods that will give you the vitamins and minerals you need for good health.

On a side note, All those Asian carp that might get into the great lakes, should start being put on the menus of resturants of the region, it'll be the fastest way to kill them off, over fishing.


I notice that there are a few comments and threads like these with very good info. I wonder if there is a site where information like this is made available in a more systematic and "centralized" way? Like a directory to all this precious information.

Up to now I've not been able to find nothing of this kind. Does anyone has suggestions? Or maybe even we can start something like this?

www.soilandhealth.org is good, also journey to forever

I think the position I took a year and a half ago is still correct. (google Is Industrial Agriculture really such a bad thing) If you take away half the trips to restaurants, and half the trucks that deliver to restaurants, etc, then the price of fuel will decline significantly. That's because there is no measurable return on energy investment for driving to a restaurant to eat. Aside from conducting business there is no reason to do it, but even then that's just a cultural thing. People used to invite business interests to their home for dinner, instead of meeting at a restaurant. We need to get back to that way of thinking, and we probably will eventually. But the important key point is that when we do have that cultural shift, it will reduce demand for fuel. This will be part of a generational shift to more efficient living. This type of change is relatively easy to make, compared to something like relocalization of agriculture. And the rewards will be much greater.

Having been a gardener for over 30 years, the idea of having to rely completely on home grown produce terrifies me. The pests, the diseases and fungus, the ground hogs and moles take a terrible toll on produce where I live in New Jersey (not to mention the deer, but I finally put up a 12' fence). I cannot let my chickens roam as I would like because the foxes eat them.

And all of that is going to be quite secondary as the impacts of climate change manifest, and weather becomes more extreme and unpredictable. I am quite surprised that people who recognize the dangers of peak oil seem in these comments to be practically oblivious to climate change. For instance, anyone near the ocean surely realizes that the oceans are going to rise significantly?

Yet another aspect of burning fossil and biofuels is the impact of emissions on vegetation. It's commonly accepted that ozone causes cancer, but actually vegetation is even more sensitive. Ozone is toxic to plants, interfering with the ability of foliage to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll by damaging the stomata.

Where I live, in New Jersey, the ecosystem has passed the tipping point and is currently in freefall. Trees of every age and every species are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate. I stopped planting trees two years ago - there's no point. If we continue emitting tons of nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, and peroxyacetyl nitrates into the atmosphere, trees that produce apples, cherries, plums, pecans, and walnuts will be just a memory!

I have been posting photographs and links to scientific research at www.witsendnj.blogspot.com, in the hopes that people will wake up to the destruction around them and figure out a way to stop it.

Trees are in trouble elsewhere, too. Here in western NY a tremendous percentage of pines have suddenly died over the past few years. Some think that the milder winters allow bark beetle populations to increase. I've come across your site before. In what part of NJ do you live? Is it the local effects of the NYC pollution or a broader climatic change?

Hi! I live in Oldwick, central western NJ. The milder winters DO allow bark beetle populations to increase, but the trees weakened by pollution encourages insect infestations too. Most professional foresters like to blame insects, disease, droughts etc when trees die. They don't want to admit something as fundamental and intractable as our way of consuming energy is at the bottom of it. But the declines are too widespread to attribute to individual sources. This video is of actual tests done with ozone showing that it encourages insect infestations and other damage: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2010/jan/21/climate-change-f...

Thanks for the link. There are lots of things out there we don't want to admit.

Alternative one since small, large and very large commercial farms indeed are more efficient the tiny hobby farms. Its easier to retool a thousand large operators then for a hundred thousand hobbyists to learn the trade and get the needed tools.

And there will be more hobby gardening and local small operators, probably as a reaction to loosing the airfreighted year round or exotic vegetables and fruits due to high jet kerosene costs.

This is a link to a video I found while watching others on ChowHound which is a website all about food and eating it.


The video talks about an urban farmer, in Oakland, California who has been raising her own food for a while. Including goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs and rabbits for meat, eggs and milk.

Granted this thread is about staple food, but I would consider meat a staple food that we won't have to do away with later just because the world might crash.

Even though she might be classed as a totally sustainable farmer, it does have a positive influence.


A " totally sustainable farmer raising her own food ".

And buying food for the animals and her.

there is a difference between growing and raising.

WRT grinding grains, I have offered plans for my solar powered grain grinder here for some time.
I still do have a couple of the motors available....
While it is only a minor fix for the energy needed to make foods, it is a fix.
A BTU saved is a BTU earned.
I have grown on my very small plot some wheat, barley and oats.
The thing I notice about them is their VERY quick maturing, and if you can keep the birds away, can get some small quantity of grains.
I could probably grow several crops worth in one good season.
Just planted some Jerusalem Artichokes a couple of days ago. They are great, and while they do tend to overtake gardens, they can be held in check with not too much effort. In fact I lost my crop by weeding too severly.
AND, they come up regularly year after year, as well as being a stealth crop, which not too many people are hep to.
Regarding lack of land, most of us have south facing windows, and old plastic milk cartons can grow lettuce and other crops in winter in windows.
Mr.Chavez in Venezuela has been promoting square meter gardens for the slums which allow great quantities of tomatoes and squashes to be grown for the poor.
Hemp is a good possible crop for providing essential healthy oils and for other materiels.
Regarding GM foods, PLEASE do a search on Klebsiella Planticola before spouting that Good-GMO crap....
I got your Roundup right here, bucko.
Regarding Nuclear Power, I thought some 35 uranium mines were shut down due to lack of uranium here...where we gonna get more of that magic mojo?
And where you gonna store that uber-toxic waste?
Here in the Nevada Desert, I've been growing stuff in old used tires. It works well, allows an earlier spring start (black tires heat up in daytime), and uses much less water than normal gardens.
AND, there is no taste of rubber even in the root crops I've grown.
As far as growing grains vs potatoes, grains will store FAR longer than spuds.
OFM, THANKS for the tips on sowing grains....
Lightbulb, thanks for the great idea on exiting oxygen using a candle!!!
rlmrdl, thanks, and chiabatta bread is MUCH easier to make than standard, and requires NO kneading. Love it.
gyrash, my dad used to make acorn cookies. After running water over them to leach them, they were very edible, and VERY good.
Here locally, amaranth, ground cherries, purslane and other edibles are self-sowing and considered weeds by many.
While many folks dis soybeans due to some imagined agenda against them, they are very high in protein content, and not difficult to grow.
Solar dehydration works well for drying crops, and I've built 7 cheapo air heaters so far. They do tomatoes just fine.
I really want to get some chickens this year.
I do pee on my trees and compost pile.
Grains and beans will keep for years and years, and will add essential vitamins when sprouted.
AFA transportation, check out www.mb-soft.com/trans
As long as our 7 day JIT supermarket-food supply is functional, I'm growing my garden mostly for the seeds for next year.
I really don't think we need 2500 calories a day to survive. I've been going on 10 years now of eating less than 3 meals a day.
God, I LOVE this site and all you TODers.
Thank you all.
Thank you so much.

Sorry there was a typo, I meant to type, NOT classed as a totally sustainable farmer.

better luck next time in my editing.

She could given her area do a better job at growing more of the foods for her goats, but she'd have to plan better, and plant more.


This is an excellent topic, and here is my experience. I live in Japan, and have for 10-odd years grown my own rice (I also have a large kitchen garden, but I'll just write about the rice here).

A matter of decades ago, people up here in the hills were still using horses for tilling, and human power for the rest. Now everyone uses machinery, of course.

In my case I have four small rice paddies totalling about 900 square meters. In the spring I till them with a 4-hp rotary tiller, flood them, and then muddy them with the same machine after changing the blades to rotors for the purpose. In total this preparation consumes about 5 liters of gasoline (the water is diverted from the river into a channel that everyone uses). Because rice planting machines plant the rows too close together, they necessitate pesticides to control disease and insect outbreaks. Therefore I plant by hand, spacing rows 30 cm apart, as they were in premodern Japan. My yields differ little from those who plant by machine and use pesticides (in fact I have surprised some of the old-timers with my yields). I do all the planting myself, so it take several days, although I have to spread it out over a week to 10 days because of work.

Minimal effort is required for weed control during the summer, and so there is little to do until harvest time except watch the water level. In the fall when the rice starts to ripen, the paddies are allowed to dry out. Then a neighbor cuts the rice for me, and I hang it on racks to dry. After it's dry, the same neighbor threshes it for me. I have in the past cut the whole crop by hand.

I've never weighed my crop, but it's enough to feed a family of four for a year, with some left over (I donate the excess to a hospice).

As you can see, I use machines as a time-saving measure, except for planting. But eventually we shall have to return to the old ways, and the peak oil-conscious people have been discussing our course of action when that happens.

"900 square meters" ..."enough to feed a family of four for a year" ??

You mean enough rice for a year

What else is eaten ?

Meat , fish , dairy , eggs , roots/tubers,vegetables, soybeans ??

Is rice eaten every day ? I cup per person/adult ?

Approx 9688 sq ft for a grain for 4 people ??

what % of the daily calories does it supply ???

Admittedly that is hard to understand for someone who does not live in Japan and eat rice. I should have been more specific.

Consumption is on the average three bowls of rice per person per day. I have no idea what the calorific value is. One important fact that I forgot to mention is that we eat brown rice. It has greater bulk, and is more filling and much more nutritious. So one gets "full" on a smaller amount of rice. If we ate white (milled) rice, my harvest would probably not be enough for the year.

Of course we do not eat only rice. I have a large kitchen garden, and we buy things that we cannot grow. If push comes to shove, we could be self-sufficient, however. It would not be gourmet eating, but we would not starve. Just a few decades ago people here were basically self-sufficient, so it's not impossible.

Well, you cannot over look squirrels and rice, along with roasted acorns.

Amaranth is probably the simplest grain for the home gardener to grow. It is a beautiful plant that doubles as an ornamental. The seeds easily separate from the flower heads and all that needs to be done to get clean grain is to winnow the harvest. Last year I grew an experimental crop to get an idea about what is involved. This year I'm going to plant a more substantial amount along the fence where the beautiful copper spires will brighten the neighborhood. I like it as a porridge for breakfast instead of oatmeal. When you cook it, you can see the protein ooze out into the cooking liquid. Add a few pieces of dried fruit and enjoy a very nutritious breakfast!

How do you separate the seeds from the head ? How do you winnow it ?

Any idea on pounds per sq ft ?

To me corn is still the easiest.

One seed source claimed 15 pounds of seed from 100 square feet. Which is the size of a 10 by 10 bed. I am sure just googling the seed (its not a grain really), you can find the numbers for the vitals.

Ages ago in Organic Gardening Mag, One story told about a farmer who planted two fields, one of corn and one of Amaranth, that year there were some dry hot weather days, the corn failed and the amaranth didn't.

I know you like corn, but if you can't water it when it is dry, depending only on local rainfall, you can lose a crop. If you plant several things, being able to survive on any one of them alone, but still planting several different species. If one fails you still have the others for back up. if they all do poorly, you have planted enough of all of them so you still manage.

Don't get stuck putting your eggs all in one basket.


It's both a relief to know that there are so many knowledgeable and caring people concerned about the 100% sustainability of this planet, and worrying that the deadlines for its realization are so close - please see peakoiltaskforce.net for some high-level awarenesses!

We have absolutely got to realize the seriousness of the End of Oil, coupled with Global Climate Change! We have only 4% of the world’s oil, but consume 25% of the world’s supply, the US Defense Department is the world’s largest single consumer of oil, and Iraq has the largest remaining reserves! 2 + 2 = 4!

Can we consider anything less than 100% sustainability if we want our great great great great great great grandchildren to live lives that in any way approach the comforts that we enjoy? So, voila, I challenge the whole country to design something more sustainable than the blueprint that I have left at www.greenmillennium.eu, knowing that our great great great great great great grandchildren will either reap the benefits, or pay the price, for your work and ideas! Is there any higher motivation?

PS: It is only 20 times the generations, grandparents to grandchildren, that we will have met in our own families back to the year zero (20 x 20 years/generation x 5 generations = 2,000 years)! Where will the components of our genes, arguably eternal, be 2,000 years from now without technologies to replace oil? Please see my website for further details!

With much higher energy costs, grain will still be grown in the areas where it is the highest value crop. It will best be grown by experts with specialized equipment and knowledge. Grain stores well and is a concentrated food source. It can be transported by the lowest cost slow means. If the future baker pays 10x the current cost of wheat a loaf of bread is still an inexpensive item. The barber is better off cutting more hair rather than using part of his time as an amateur grain producer.

The economy doesn't go away. Answering the question of "where do we get are carbs" isn't an agricultural question, it's economic. I don't know how the poorest 1/3 of the world is going to be fed. But the average north american isn't going to need to learn to care for oxen. It's more likely she will be paying 35 cents more for a package of twinkies.

Run the numbers. Huge increases in commodity prices mean little to North Americans.