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How Many Of Each Plant To Grow As A Percentage Of Total Calories

 
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Jan White wrote:

Tomatoes might be one of these. They definitely are for me. Yields vary so wildly depending on type, though... Might be a tough one.



I'm definitely growing tomatoes and don't argue that they can be a significant portion of ones diet, but excluding them comes down to two or maybe three essential features.

The first is ability to store them without processing. Tomatoes go bad relatively quickly if they're not processed. Everything else on the list can be stored pretty haphazardly and will last for months. Certainly tubers will degrade faster if they're stored in less than ideal conditions, but it'd still be hard not to get several months out of them even with pretty atrocious storage conditions.

The second is universality. Tomatoes have wide appeal and many uses, but they aren't used quite so universality across the vast majority or cuisines or dishes like onions are. Onions are a essential ingredient in French mirepoix and the Cajun holy trinity, which makes them an almost universal aromatic season in nearly every savory dish from those two cuisines; and while other cuisines might not use fancy words like mirepoix and holy trinity, onions are still called for in the vast majority of savory dishes around the world. Hell, I've even used a recipe (Dutch in origin, IIRC) that consists of apples cooked with onions.

And while I don't think variability is as huge of an issue as the other two, it's certainly an issue. Yield and culinary qualities vary a lot. And because tomatoes largely haven't been grown as a large percentage of the diet (except perhaps in Italy), they've been bred to need more pampering than the other crops. Most of the staple crops around the world either fix nitrogen or have been bred to perform in relatively poor soils. Tomato yields can be pretty abysmal if they aren't fed well. And if the problem we're trying to solve is feeding ourselves given limited means, one might not be able to acquire the fertility that tomatoes require to produce well, and from a numbers standpoint it means that it's practically impossible to predict what yields someone might achieve. I don't think it's entirely unfair to say that a beginner gardener with limited means and perhaps a less than ideal climate could yield 0 pounds per plant, even doing a lot of things right. And 100% x 0 is still 0.

People should grow, eat, and enjoy tomatoes just as I'm going to, but I think there are just too many things working against them to include them as a dependable source of calories.
 
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I do not rotate crops. I consider pests and diseases to be a blessing in my garden. Because they help to select for stronger, more resilient plants.

I often plant cucurbits, or pulses after corn, but that's only because they are large seeded, and thus better able to handle the large sized detritus left by the corn stalks.  
 
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We can plenty of green beans, tomatoes and so on. Why not? Not that much trouble but how many calories are in those things and what if something happened that made it difficult or impossible. Freezing stuff? We already have enough, generally brief but still enough power outages to demonstrate what a bad idea that is. Sure there is always solar, if I could afford it and knew how to install it and all that. Then of course like anything else I'm sure maintenance never ends.

That leaves me, like previously mentioned, with crops that don't need any of that and that means beans, cowpeas, grains other than grasses and my big one sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes keep with little degrading from harvest to harvest with no special conditions. If you can keep your house above freezing, you can keep sweet potatoes. All those other things just seal up, I like using 2 liter pop bottles, and if no electric is available just set them outside  in subfreezing temps to kill any possible pests.

When it comes to crop rotation, I do that to a degree. Really not much more that just planting something in a different spot that they year before. My gardens are small enough though I doubt it matters much as far as disease or pests go plus I never throw anything away. If I pile up a bunch of old tomato vines I just plant beans in the next year instead of tomatoes. Actually I don't think I do practice crop rotations, at least not in the way most people would define it.

I also rotate crops within a single season but again not so much with an eye for that in itself but as a way to maximize overall production in my limited space.  I select for short season maturity within all crops and have for example had some great success planting short vine pole beans in a corn patch just as the corn is starting to dry down. I just strip off most of the corn leaves and plant the beans between the rows. Later when the corn is fully dry, harvest it and strip off the rest of the leaves and later harvest the dry beans from the spent corn stalks. This of source requires your season is long enough to crowd in two short season crops. With the new short season bushy cowpeas I grew last year I am pretty confident I can do this in reverse. When the cowpeas are starting to dry down I bet I can plant corn between the rows. By time the corn is big enough to shade the cowpeas they will be ready to harvest.

All of my gardens are now fully no-till and I find it both less labor intensive and more productive.
 
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I still think tomatoes fit, but I'm probably biased given that I eat only two or three onions a year; however, if you averaged out my tomato consumption over the whole year, it would be at least half a kilo a day 😄

If you pick green tomatoes at the end of the season and keep them cool, they can last for a few months, so I think they can squeak in as suitable for low tech storage.

I also have to mention that I grow tomatoes in truly abysmal soil - silty sand - dont water them, and get only slightly lower yields than I did in my last garden with good soil and regular watering.  But it's your calculator and your call!
 
Mathew Trotter
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Hey Noelle. Some great stuff here. I've covered a lot of these things elsewhere in the thread or in the FAQ, but I'll try to provide the Cliff Notes version here.

Noelle Landauer II wrote:Hello,
I just stumbled upon this discussion and your excellent project. I’ve been thinking about the calorie issue for years now, so it's great to see someone put together calorie-based modeling tool. One resource that I highly recommend is John Jeavon’s “How to Grow More Vegetables.” The title makes it sound like an ordinary gardening book, but is actually the published results of an outfit in California called Ecology Action, which has been working on this exact same project for decades: trying to design subsistence calorie diets that can be grown by hand on the smallest amount of land possible. They have compiled several model diets (I’ve got One Circle: Mexico and One Circle: Kenya floating around my bookshelves somewhere), but most usefully they provide quantified yield data for a wide variety of foodstuffs, both per weight and per area. The per-weight data is taken from the USDA Standard Reference, but combined with per-area data allows you to calculate both the amount of food to grow and how much space it will take up. The area data is expressed in high-intensity 100 square foot beds, which I think makes it easier for the would-be mini farmer to calculate how much to grow, as opposed to factors like per-plant or per-acre yield.



There's so much to unpack here and I could never do it justice without writing a book. I'll first state that I haven't personally read Jeavons and only know of his work third hand because of the massive popularity of his high intensity growing techniques. I think Steve Solomon's Gardening When It Counts has one of the better critiques of the high intensity method. The irony of it being developed in California is kind of painful.

My major concern is over the conscientious use of water. Literally one-third of Americans are expected to be priced out of clean drinking water within the next decade for a variety of reasons, including the depletion of water from underground aquifers (largely from large scale and relatively high intensity agriculture) and aging infrastructure, to name a few. The high intensity cannot happen without supplemental irrigation. I cannot personally recommend a growing method that encourages the wasting of such a precious resource.

But discussing growing methods is really outside the scope of this thread (though a great topic of conversation for another thread.) I haven't been hammering home the point that we need to adapt to growing food without water, but it's always in the back of my mind. And since achieving that is largely down to plant density, providing yields in pounds per square feet just doesn't make sense without encouraging people to grow in a way that requires wasting water. How far apart you plant things if you're growing without irrigation is down to climate and rainfall. You might, for instance, grow squash on a 5 or 10 foot spacing. You'll get the same yield per plant (about 20 pounds at the low end), but that's 0.8 pounds per square foot if you're growing on a 5 foot spacing and only 0.2 pounds per square foot if you're growing on 10 foot spacing.

The other reason to grow in a way that eliminates irrigation, especially for caloric staples, is most eloquently discussed in Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener and is a matter of resilience. If you build a system that depends on added irrigation, what happens if you get sick or injured? What happens if you can't pay the water bill? What happens if the well pump goes out? Your yield instantly becomes 0. Carol makes a great point about building systems that can survive your absence, or building them in such a way that someone else can easily do the work for you with simple instructions if you're not able to.

I worked in produce and a large percentage of our products came from California thanks to the near year round growing conditions. But California is a desert which is being artificially irrigated. Loads of crops failed every year (or were late or undersized) because they're growing in a way that requires irrigation, and irrigation fails. If I'm growing food to sustain myself, I would never grow in such an unpredictable way that largely ignores the aims of permaculture. I mean, I've only touched on the importing of water, but the same discussion could be had about the importation of fertility, seed, etc.

I'm open to entertaining the idea that high intensity annual cropping might be appropriate for people with limited space for any number of reasons, but you can't do 100% of your annual subsistence farming in small spaces with limited resources (i.e. imports) regardless of plant density. Annual crops, according to my personal philosophy, are a stepping stone toward developing perennial polycultures. Annual crops are what feed you while you're out planting the food forest and waiting for it to start yielding. Small spaces would be better off skipping the annuals and going straight to food forest since you'll never be able to make that transition if all of your space is being taken up with annuals. It would be better to find or borrow land elsewhere for growing the annual staples, or else acquire them from another grower, even if that's from the commercial food system. After all, staples are cheap, and if you're living in a densely populated enough area that you only have a small space to grow in, there are probably enough people and resources that you can barter for bags of rice and beans. That's not the problem I'm trying to solve here. I'm trying to solve the problem where you have plenty of land, but you're so remote that there's no local economy to speak of and no means of acquiring those cheap staples.

Not to mention what happens to cities when there's a disaster that cuts them off from the daily imports of food and resources from the less densely populated areas around them. It's like 3 days before cities run out of food and people start starving to death (3 days to run out of food... obviously it takes longer than that for someone to die because they haven't eaten)? It's one of the reasons I think people should think about where their calories are coming from if they're cut off from the global food supply.

They also provide three yield levels for each plant (low, medium and high). I’ve been measuring my own yields (weight/area) to compare, to see if their numbers are in the ballpark to my own garden. Generally the “low” yield has been accurate for a new-to-me crops, or results under crappy weather, or pushing a plant out of its ideal climate. The “medium” yields were accurate for crops I have experience with, know which varieties to grow and know will do well here. “High” yields were only obtained under exceptional circumstances. (For example, dry peas, the thing you all were discussing upthread, usually comes in at 8-12 lbs per 100 square feet, but my best ever variety was a whopping 21 lbs/100 sf. Jeavons lists the medium yield for dry peas at 10lbs/100sf, and high yield at 24lbs/100sf.) For your purposes, the low yields are probably sufficient, since it seems you want to establish a comfortable floor to plan from.



It's good to know that Jeavon's numbers have worked out for you, but I'm guessing that you're growing with his high intensity methods and with supplemental irrigation. What happens if you lose water? What happens when your angry neighbor suddenly can't afford water and sees you dumping it on the ground because you can afford to use many thousands of dollars worth of water every year (the average water bill is expected to rise to nearly $3,000 per year if water prices continue to rise at the current rate, and that number isn't accounting for people who are growing gardens with lots of supplemental irrigation... but I bet an enterprising person could figure out how many extra thousands of dollars that would take... but suffice it to say that my current food budget is less than $50 a month, so water prices alone would far exceed that under a high intensity growing regime)? I am trying to set a comfortable floor to plan from, as you astutely noted, and with the intention that people will adjust it based on their actual results, and Jeavon's numbers may actually help with that once they're converted from yields-per-area to yields-per-plant for all of the reasons previously stated.


Some other high density calorie crops to consider adding, that I don’t already see on the calculator: barley, buckwheat, chestnuts, chickpeas, flax, hazelnuts, hempseed, lentils, oats, quinoa, rapeseed, rye, safflower seed, walnuts, wheat. All of these grow well in the PNW and come in at over 1500 calories/lb, so there’s no good reason to exclude them...



I've provided several good reasons to exclude them. For starters, if I plant walnuts or hazelnuts this year, what will my yield be? 0. I'm not saying that they shouldn't be planted (in fact, I'll be planting a lot of both of those crops this year), but they don't do anything for me this year. The previous discussion and the FAQ already address how to handle perennials. That is, you should grow them (and greens, and low- to medium-calorie density vegetables, and possibly livestock, etc.), and if you already know that 50% of your diet is coming from perennials, then just use this calculator to figure out the other 50%.

Another good reason to exclude them is because I'm not growing them. This is a tool for me which I've just happened to make available to others. I did grow lentils this year and they did poorly without irrigation, so I won't be repeating that experiment again this year (perhaps in future years when I can start developing a landrace for my growing conditions.) Wheat grown in our soils is low protein and thus a pretty poor choice of crop to grow; you can't make bread with it and the nutritional implications of that aren't good. Plus the harvest and processing simply takes more time and calories than the crops that I'm actually growing (and yes, I have a scythe... it's still not worth it to me to grow those crops.) BUT, and it's a big but, I am including crops that I'm not growing when, and only when, people specifically tell me that they're going to grow it and make some effort to provide me with yield and calorie information which I can then verify. I've added 5 new crops this week, two of which were requested, and the other three because I was able to acquire the materials to try growing them out this year. This tool is free. If people want to pay me to research crops that I have no interest in or ability to grow, that's one thing. But other than the bit of cleaning up and documentation I had to do in order to make this tool usable by others, this is all work that I was going to do for my own use anyway and didn't expect to be paid for; I'm not interested in working for free on something that has no value to me. And even if something does interest me, the requests of people who've made contributions of money, propagation materials, and research are of a higher priority to me, since those are the people who are using the tool and need those additions.

I actually have to grow all of my food this year because I live in a remote area without transportation or income. I've made the work I've done available out of a passion for helping people and because it was work I needed to do for myself anyway. I didn't set out to solve anyone else's problems, I set out to solve my own. If my solutions happen to help others, then great. That makes me happy. If my solutions don't solve all of another person's problems, then that's where they need to do their own research and come up with their own solutions.

Anyway, combining together all the data allows you to put together many different of models for potential diets. It’s a fun and informative exercise to think about different combinations, and how much to grow of each staple. One of my models had apples, favas, common beans, corn, garlic, hazelnut, kale, leeks, parsnips, peas, potatoes, quinoa, rutabaga, squash, and sunflower seeds as the caloric staples. Some of these were picked solely for the calorie density, others for the calorie density AND yield. For instance, you can cram more leeks into a small space than bulb onions, so the calories/sf for leeks is higher. Other models worked in enough wheat to grow a loaf of bread per week, or estimating how much space for grains and greens needs to be allocated to keep a few chickens for eggs. Other people will undoubtedly pick different sets. But its nice to have a model on hand, and then be able to go out there and plant and measure results from real gardens, to see how close to reality the model can get.



All of this is very true. Once you know what the spacing is for each crop given the particulars of your growing method, you can use my calculator to determine how many calories you're growing in a given number of square feet and which crops are "more worth it." As I mentioned when Greg Martin asked about adding a feature to show how much area these crops are taking up, that question is too complicated for some simple calculation based on a bunch of assumptions on my part. As Steve Solomon states in Gardening When It Counts, you don't lose much production per square foot when you plant things further apart, since those plants have more area to put out roots and thus take up water and nutrients; you have fewer plants, but higher yield per plant, such that you have essentially the same yield without the added water or labor. I do have a tool for calculating how many plants to grow in a given space, but it's based on the plant spacings I use for growing without irrigation where we have 3-4 months of drought a year. Those spacings won't be appropriate for people that irrigate or have fairly regular rainfall. I have plans to modify that tool so that it's more flexible not only for my own use but for the use of others as well. But it's not in a finished state as is, and it's going to require a pretty significant overhaul to give it that needed flexibility.
 
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Reading the last couple of posts reminded me of a section in the book "know and grow vegetables" it is to do with yield and spacing, the addressing where the tipping point is and why we sometimes sacrifice yield for convenience, one of the examples given is onions, to get the maximum yield for a given area of ground the onions are planted very densely and the size of the individual onion is tiny, so yield per acre is sacrificed to get larger onions that are easier to deal with. (and sell) Sometimes yield can be sacrificed to get a better storing product as well. Larger carrots for example store better but you get a higher yield per acre growing smaller carrots closer together.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark, it's like you're inside my head. I'd tell you to get out, but you always put my thoughts so eloquently. Haha.

Jan White wrote:I still think tomatoes fit, but I'm probably biased given that I eat only two or three onions a year; however, if you averaged out my tomato consumption over the whole year, it would be at least half a kilo a day 😄

If you pick green tomatoes at the end of the season and keep them cool, they can last for a few months, so I think they can squeak in as suitable for low tech storage.

I also have to mention that I grow tomatoes in truly abysmal soil - silty sand - dont water them, and get only slightly lower yields than I did in my last garden with good soil and regular watering.  But it's your calculator and your call!



I'm going to leave them out for now unless a bunch of other people chime in that they're eating the quantity of tomatoes that you are. I mean, I'm not saying that I couldn't eat that many tomatoes, but in reality I don't.

I'll do some experimentation with storing green tomatoes this year and see how many months I can get out of them. Now that you mention storing green tomatoes, I'm recalling an experiment from the Back To Reality youtube channel where they attempted to store tomatoes in wood ashes, but I'm fairly certain they started with ripe tomatoes. I wonder if that was the problem and that they might have had more success with green tomatoes. Though, I can't recall if they mentioned what the wood ashes were supposed to accomplish; I can't think of any reason why the alkalinity of the ashes or anything else would make them a more ideal storage medium than anything else soft and breathable that would protect the tomatoes from damage.

Jo Robinson's Eating on the Wild Side also has some pretty damning things to say about tomatoes that aren't ripened on the vine in direct sun... even tomatoes grown in hot houses have like half the antioxidants of field grown... so I'm not sure that it's a great idea to eat a lot of fresh tomatoes out of season from the nutritional standpoint. Certainly from a gustatory standpoint, but not a nutritional one.

So much of how a tomato performs is down to genetics that it's hard to generalize. I was reading Joseph's thread on creating outcrossing tomatoes, and I think I'd be more inclined to think of them as staples if such tomatoes were the standard. They would have a stronger ability to cross and and adapt to differing soil types and climates. To be fair, the one tomato plant I had that survived our late frost this year was putting on a ton of fruit before the deer ate it to the ground, and that was with very minimal pampering. But that's down to the variety I'm growing (the other variety I grew produced nothing.) It's hard to generalize with so much variability.

I'll do some trials with fresh storage this year and then reevaluate. But I probably only get close to your rate of tomato consumption when I'm eating them as sauce on pasta. Even if I were having them on sandwiches or salads every day I wouldn't get anywhere near the 2% of calorie intake mark that would make them equivalent with onions (in part because tomatoes have a little under half the calories by weight.) Definitely I could eat that much just as whole tomatoes eaten fresh and in season, but it would be significantly less than that the rest of the year.

I haven't gotten any beta testers for the new feature where you can input the number of plants you're actually planning to grow and have it calculate the percentage. If that functionality makes it out into the wild, I could see adding crops beyond staples to the calculator, though no promises. It automatically rounds percentages to the hundredth of a percent, so if you put down that you were growing 10 lettuces it would still come out to 0 percent from a caloric standpoint since you'd need to produce at least 7,300 calories of a given crop in order for it to make up 1% of your annual caloric intake.
 
Mathew Trotter
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For reference, I just did the math and it would take 90 pounds of tomatoes to make up 1% of the diet. It would take 200 pounds of tomatoes to be the equivalent of eating one onion a day spread across however many meals you have. I know people who probably do eat that much, but 200 pounds is a lot without any kind of processing/preservation.
 
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Very interesting thread. As someone who also lives in Oregon zone 8b, it looks like we have very different climates. Our summers, which last 5-6 months are wicked hot, our winters mild compared to much of the country.

I always find these threads very interesting, but they have little regard to the way most people eat. Most people want cooking fats, which are easier from a homesteader perspective to derive from animal products. How would one combine your calorie choices to make an actual meal?

I, for one, have always struggled with enough protein and it has effected my health. This idea that all Americans eat too much protein is a myth, we are not a monolithic nation. I track my food, and know my dietary issues.

To my mind, one should also keep in mind the land you are working with. I purposely bought marginal land inundated with wildlife, which is better suited to animal husbandry than to plant crops. The wildlife eats everything, if allowed.

But, I do really enjoy reading about others endeavors and their priorities.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Reading the last couple of posts reminded me of a section in the book "know and grow vegetables" it is to do with yield and spacing, the addressing where the tipping point is and why we sometimes sacrifice yield for convenience, one of the examples given is onions, to get the maximum yield for a given area of ground the onions are planted very densely and the size of the individual onion is tiny, so yield per acre is sacrificed to get larger onions that are easier to deal with. (and sell) Sometimes yield can be sacrificed to get a better storing product as well. Larger carrots for example store better but you get a higher yield per acre growing smaller carrots closer together.



Another reason to have the wider spacing, and thus a larger yield per plant, is if you have limited seed. If you save seed just once, you likely will never be limited on seed again. But if it's the first time you've grown something, you might want or need to be more stingy with the seed and need to maximum the yield you're getting.
 
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Ummm, that pesky little issue of water. I'm sure pretty much anything will produce better with, than without, but I rarely water anything. Never really was that much of an issue here until last couple of decades. Won't go into my observations about it nor speculate on causal relationships or even offer projections. I'll just say it is an issue now, as is periods of very hot weather lacking rain and with much lower humidity than used to, would have accompanied it. I envy folks in dryer areas a little in that they are used to such conditions, know how to deal with and maybe are set up to compensate for it. But, I'm not.

So I've taken the attitude of, look plant, I know your thirsty, deal with it!  I'm not totally heartless about it, I'll mulch your roots, plant you where you get some afternoon shade if possible even set up barrels and catch and save rain in case of emergencies but my ability to catch and save water is limited, it runs out quick. When it comes to water if I think it's necessary and if I have it I will dig deep trenches, fill them up with water and when it soaks in I backfill with the dirt that came out, make my rows and plant. Since I don't do the whole garden at once it isn't as much work as it sounds like.

The some crops don't seem to need as much, the cowpeas I've harped about are an example. Sweet potatoes also plug along pretty good but I'm sure would yield better with more water. My corn is nicely adapted to long dry spells and (some) of my beans.

We tend these days to have multi-week periods without any rain at all and then 4 or 5 inches in a single storm. I mean 4 or 5 inches in an hour or two, no kidding, it's dramatic. What's extra freaky is its usually not accompanied by lightening and thunder or even wind.

In my new no-till method of gardening I have been keeping the paths completely clear, no mulch or anything. When they do get a little weedy I shave them down with a very sharp hoe, scrape that up and pitch it between rows in the beds. I adopted that practice largely to hinder the movement of moles. A mole can go unnoticed in one of my beds but it can't cross the surrounding perimeter or one of those paths without me knowing it.  An unintended effect is that the paths have gradually become depressions. When a fast downpour comes on super dry ground it tends to run off rather than soak in. I've noticed more and more the paths are becoming long puddles when that happens. A little later the water is all gone but it had no place to go except down. Deep in the ground where it then has no place to go except to soak under the beds. I guess it is acting a little like those swales I've read about, although the surface of the beds is dry as a bone again in a couple of days the plants look happy for a good long time.  

 
Mathew Trotter
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Very interesting thread. As someone who also lives in Oregon zone 8b, it looks like we have very different climates. Our summers, which last 5-6 months are wicked hot, our winters mild compared to much of the country.

I always find these threads very interesting, but they have little regard to the way most people eat. Most people want cooking fats, which are easier from a homesteader perspective to derive from animal products. How would one combine your calorie choices to make an actual meal?

I, for one, have always struggled with enough protein and it has effected my health. This idea that all Americans eat too much protein is a myth, we are not a monolithic nation. I track my food, and know my dietary issues.

To my mind, one should also keep in mind the land you are working with. I purposely bought marginal land inundated with wildlife, which is better suited to animal husbandry than to plant crops. The wildlife eats everything, if allowed.

But, I do really enjoy reading about others endeavors and their priorities.



Southern Oregon is definitely a very different beast, as is everything on the eastern side of the cascades. This is a unique microclimate that's unlike the rest of the state; I have friends who have, and others that currently do, live in the southern half of the state, and most of my family is in Eastern Oregon. They're nothing like here.

I've been poor my whole life, and this represents a broader diversity of food than I've gotten in my typical diet. Growing up, rice, beans, and pasta were the staples... in this case I'm eschewing wheat, but the amaranth can be ground into flour and combined with the starch from achira to make pasta. Or the achira alone can be made into cellophane noodles like those used in Asian cuisines (achira is the most common starch used to make cellophane noodles in Vietnam.) Most of the meat I had growing up was wild game and thus very lean... you weren't rendering cooking fats from it.

Yes, most people do want cooking fats. Tarwi and sunflowers can both be pressed for cooking oil (pumpkin seeds can also be pressed for oil, but it doesn't strike me as a particularly great one for high heat applications); the Hidatsa natives ground sunflowers and heated them to extract the oil for cooking, though IIRC, the most common dish included the ground sunflowers as one of the main ingredients. I personally think that we get into trouble by processing oils out rather than eating them as whole foods, though I do understand the allure and would like to have some cooking fats on hand. Once my perennials are established, I expect most of my cooking fats to come from nuts and olives, though I've flirted with the idea of bartering for cream to make butter. A childhood friend's family owns the dairy up the road, and butter is the only dairy product that doesn't cause me digestive issues, so I have no desire to keep an animal that I have to feed and milk every day only to my own detriment.

The meals would look like the meals that the native people ate. Or like the meals eaten by anyone who's ever done subsistence farming. Or even fancier meals like you might find in a restaurant. I'd make salad rolls like the type you get at Thai restaurants by making wraps from the achira... we frequently make meals out of those alone. Of course you make all kinds of things out of corn: cornbread, tortillas, tamales, hoecakes, gravy, grits, polenta, papusas, etc. I've gotten pretty skilled at making tortillas and papusas for someone who didn't grow up with those foods. The entire cuisines of most people in Latin America are based around corn and beans. Personally, a lot of the legumes and grains would be turned into tempeh and used as a meat substitute in stir fries. You can make all kinds of soups, stews, and chilis. You can make gnocchi, latkes, and any number of other things from the tuber crops, and or enjoy them any of the other ways one enjoys potatoes: roasted, hash browns, mashed, etc. Honestly, some combination of roasted roots and tubers could probably be the basis of most meals without ever getting old. Amaranth (and IIRC, sorghum) can be popped like popcorn as a treat... or a make an Indian street food that I can't recall the name of, but whose base is popped grains. You can make breads, and cakes, and pancakes, and pies, and cookies. I already mentioned pasta. The grains can be steamed and served as a base as one might use rice, or boiled into a porridge (like grits or farina, AKA Cream of Wheat.) If you're already making breads, you could add toppings like a focaccia or pizza.

What are you actually eating on a daily basis? People keep saying that they couldn't eat these crops... but these crops represent most of the staple foods eaten in the world, with the exception of wheat and rice... but there are plenty of alternatives to those two crops in the list that are easier to grow, harvest, and process on a home scale. If you're affluent enough to have meat, then have meat. I can't afford it, but I'll happily have whatever wild game I'm lucky enough to get. If your body can process dairy and you're affluent enough to raise dairy animals, then have dairy. Are people only eating meat and cheese, and that's why they can't make sense of eating plants? Or people just can't be bothered to make food from scratch or do their own processing? Because it's not deep fried or made out of wheat, it's not edible? I genuinely want to know what a week's worth of actual meals looks like for people who think there's something wrong with most of the staples crops in the world. And if you're not already getting the bulk of your calories from these crops or something analogous from commercial agriculture (wheat, rice, oats, soy, etc.), I'd love to hear your assessment of your own health. Are you overweight, have low energy, high cholesterol, chronic inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, depression, heart disease, diabetes, cancer? Paul's podcast on The Click at one point discussed the "toxic gick" that's present especially in food because of the "normal way" of doing things, which is a combination of how food is grown, and also, I would posit, because of how narrowly our diets have been whittled down by the need to fit it into a commercial growing system. If you have sub-optimum health, could that be because you are, in a sense, addicted to (or at least overly attached) to a certain way of eating that's been created by the global food system? The way people eat is more dogma than anything. They eat a certain way because they've always eaten that way, or because they like it, or because it's easy. But does your body agree with that diet? I feel the way Paul does. Most of us are unhealthy because we have no choice but to eat shit food unless we grow it ourselves and are far enough from the idiot next door who's dousing everything in glyphosate.

The only time I've been at a healthy weight in my adult life was when I was working on a permaculture farm in college and got to eat my share of the produce produced there. These are the foods I was eating when I was at my healthiest. I wasn't eating animal products, and didn't for the 4 years I was in college, nor for the 3 years after until I bought a goat to slaughter. I've gained 100 pounds since I started consuming animal products again and partaking in the commercial food system. Meanwhile, when I was in school, I was president of 3 clubs, I sat on the sustainability board for the university, tutored in writing, took the maximum number of credits allowed each term without an override, and was voted most influential student, all while doing farm work on the side. I don't have half the energy now that I had then, and it's only after I stopped eating organically grown produce from the farm and started eating animal products and toxic gick that my health and energy levels took a nosedive and my weight started climbing again.

Here are videos of people who eat these very traditional diets. How many of us have such good skin, hair, and teeth? How many of us are so slim and energetic? How many of us are laughing and smiling while we work? How many of us in our 50s and 60s are walking around with 80-100 pound sacks of potatoes like it's nothing (in Nepal they did a study of porters and found an average carry weight of 90% of body weight for men and 70% for women, with the record being 175% of body weight... and these are people walking for miles and miles, fueled by simple diets, and with no reported injuries)? The diet I'm suggesting offers that kind of health. Does yours? I know the way that I've been eating for the past decade doesn't, and in my experience, most diets relying on anything that passes through or resembles the products of the commercial food system don't either.




 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark Reed wrote:
In my new no-till method of gardening I have been keeping the paths completely clear, no mulch or anything. When they do get a little weedy I shave them down with a very sharp hoe, scrape that up and pitch it between rows in the beds. I adopted that practice largely to hinder the movement of moles. A mole can go unnoticed in one of my beds but it can't cross the surrounding perimeter or one of those paths without me knowing it.  An unintended effect is that the paths have gradually become depressions. When a fast downpour comes on super dry ground it tends to run off rather than soak in. I've noticed more and more the paths are becoming long puddles when that happens. A little later the water is all gone but it had no place to go except down. Deep in the ground where it then has no place to go except to soak under the beds. I guess it is acting a little like those swales I've read about, although the surface of the beds is dry as a bone again in a couple of days the plants look happy for a good long time.  



That more or less describes the approach that I'm taking, except that I'm digging out the paths and burying wood into them like in hugelkultur. The bit of soil that's displaced by the wood is added to the adjacent beds so that the path is slightly depressed relative to the beds. In heavy rain events, the excess moisture would run into the paths and soak in. Then the spongy woody material will hold onto it for the dry period and release it back into the surrounding soil... also kind of like an olla in a way. At least, that's the theory. Also, by digging my trenches down below the hard pan and filling it will organic matter, I'm hoping the microbial action will help break it up from all sides. If not, at the very least the plants roots can get deeper by traveling out into the paths.
 
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Hey Mathew, thanks for the detailed reply. I agree 100% that actual observation, in different locations with different farming techniques, would be ideal for this kind of modeling. In my dreams we’d have a small army of folks — permaculturists, homesteaders, preppers, whoever wants to join — reporting real-world yields of staple crops. We can’t do small scale analysis of nutritional content (unfortunately), but everyone can break out a scale and weigh what they harvest, and break out a tape measure and estimate how much land it took to produce that harvest. I know there are people on this forum planting all kinds of interesting perennials. Looking through the archives as a newbie, I wonder how many of those plants really perform.

The Jeavons data is just a starting point, like all yield data, including mono-agriculture’s commodity yield per acre. The low numbers really are quite low, but I do think it requires some gardening experience — or perhaps call it judgement — to decide which crops to start with in a given climate. For example here in the PNW, no amount of soil fiddling will get sweet potatoes to yield as much as regular potatoes, or induce limas to perform like favas. People do need this background knowledge of their own area area going into it. Step one of any given model should be to strike out any plants that perform poorly your climate, unless you are willing to put some real breeding effort into it, a la Joseph Lofthouse.

I too am concerned about irrigation, it immediately emerges as an issue for anyone attempting to seriously grow their calories on the west coast. I’m fortunate to live in a rural area with my own land, but even then, I can only irrigate a small patch of that land, legally and physically. Even if my family was desperate for food, you can only push a well so far. I have an irrigation-free food forest started, but it’s still young. So from a calorie production perspective, there are two options: test out the dryland method, or restrict yourself to spring-sown crops that are already known to finish in the dry season without irrigation.

It’s been on my radar to actually test out Steve Solomon’s water-wise methods for a few years now, hopefully this year I can actually break a chunk of pasture and get some real-world yields. It has to compete with a true potato seed project, but maybe this is the impetus to get it going. I’m a little skeptical of Steve’s contention that increased per-plant yield will largely make up for decreased plant density, at least for anything planted in May or later. But hey, that’s what experiments are for! Break out the scale and tape measure, lol. I’ll have to read Steve’s books again for his exact methods and results. Even if the per area yield does end up lower, it may be worth it if inputs are lower. It’s an issue of competing resource usage, water vs. land area.

Another way to prioritize crops is to allocate high, medium and low density plants in the diet — for example, maybe shoot for 1000 calories per day of high density seeds, 600 calories of medium density root crops and fruit, 400 calories everything else. (Again, this isn’t a dictate on what exactly to eat on a daily basis, but just a model to get an idea of the minimum you need of each item to get an adequate diet over the whole year). This is the peasant diet of many cultures: a backbone of grains and legumes (the proverbial rice and beans), plus high yielding veggies and root crops, then flavor and diversity last on the priority list. In this model, squash and onions would roughly go in the medium density category and tomatoes in the low density. I love tomatoes, grow a ton of them and the world can pry them from my cold dead low-yielding hands, but it’s helpful to recognize that they are just not very calorie dense. Their main purpose is micronutrients and to flavor the corn or beans or whatever. So it doesn’t make sense to devote a whole acre to tomatoes, but it may make sense to allocate 200 square feet and some precious water. Folks who don’t want to deal with grains may have to reverse the proportions, eat a bunch more medium density foods and fewer seeds.

Since it sounds like you (Mathew) created this calculator with your own project in mind, do you care if I borrow the concept and expand on it? I’m thinking of a public spreadsheet that will include macronutrients for a wide variety of potential calorie crops, and yield data from variety of sources. It sounds like there is demand for a more comprehensive document beyond annual crops for the Pacific Northwest. At least I would find it fun to work on such a project.

Good luck with your food production this season, and report back how it goes. And maybe give quinoa a shot. It’s a heck of a lot of labor to produce one’s own food.
 
Mark Reed
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I don't quite get the food forest and perennial vegetable thing at least as it relates to my garden and situation. I'm not aware of all that many perennial vegetables that will grow here, or that many at all really. Asparagus, I reckon maybe rhubarb, sunroots, can't really think of many others right off. Of course there are the various weeds like dandelions, burdock, nettle and so no but would be hard to accumulate many calories from them. Then the various fruits like blackberries, raspberries  also grapes. Wild grapes are the most productive and I have attempted to get them to cross with domestic types, don't know yet how successful that will be. I suppose food forest refers to anything growing, not just specifically the trees.

Unfortunately in my experience no domesticated fruit tree reliably produces much of anything around here without significant artificial coddling.  Every time I drive by the only local apple orchard I know of, some one is out there with an atv pulling a little cart with a sprayer of some type, they do market pretty apples though. There is that occasional old oddball tree here and there that seems to reliably produce lots of quite good, although ugly fruit.  I have several seed grown youngsters from some of them, apple, pear and peach but they are not producing much yet and I don't really expect them to for some time. The only fruit trees that more often that not produce an abundance is wild black cherry but the tiny fruits are not easy to get, man I love them though. And ya got your persimmons and your papaws, both nice treats but not much more than that. I haven't seen a wild American plum tree in years, I don't know what happened to them.

Walnut and hickory are the most common wild nut trees and I'm lucky to have lots of them on my land and in the general area. Hickory does not produce anywhere near the way they used to but walnuts still put on pretty good in most years.

I don't think pecan is really native here but it by far the most productive. Like I mentioned before I have occasionally completely filled my truck bed with pecans but that takes a couple days of driving around at least 100 miles round trip to all my favorite trees. They are mostly in the little towns along the river, in church yards, grave yards and private yards. I theorize that in this neighborhood they were popular to plant, maybe as a novelty at the time. Nuts range in size and shape but all are smaller and taste better than the ones they sell from down south. Some of them are really huge trees but they went wild so there are also lots of younger ones. Some of my favorites form childhood are gone now, murdered by morons because of the mess all the nuts made, afraid they might dent or make stains on their automobiles. One guy, I call him Saruman, murdered three giant ones. They were far from his house not hurting anything, well that's not really relevant here, so I'll shut up.

For years I have been collecting and planting the pecans on my property and all around me along the roads and all over the state owned hunting land next door. Some of mine are about twenty years old and starting to produce some, so hopefully in another few years I won't have to drive to get them anymore. I'll still do it though so as to continue spreading them around in my immediate vicinity. I'll also keep cloning my domestic grapes and planting them out among the wild ones. Maybe some day one will show up with the vigor and production of the wild but with bigger fruit and maybe some day someone will find it and enjoy it and if they don't some thing will, I'd be OK with that too.    

Sorry if I wondered too far off the actual topic of the thread.





 
Stacy Witscher
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Mathew Trotter - It isn't that I don't eat vegetables or staple foods, but rather that most of the things people eat that contain these items also contain animal products and/or oils. Potato gnocchi contains eggs and flour, we serve ours with a parmesan white sauce. Potato pancakes contain eggs, and flour and are fried in copious amounts of oil. Pupusas and tamales contain lard, often meat or cheese or both. Animal products and fats are highly caloric and can dramatically reduce the amount of food that needs to be produced to sustain oneself. As far as my diet and what agrees with me, I have no problem digesting dairy or wheat. I am very fortunate in that way. Dried beans, high fiber foods, and spicy foods can cause gastric distress in me. So I limit them. I don't worry about weight, there have been traditionally shaped people from the beginning of time. You are what you are. This last year I have been grieving, my moods, energy etc. are not related to my diet, but rather my grief. I have not been as active on here because of it. Some days the clouds clear, some days they don't.

But more importantly to my mind, is planning around your land. I have acres and acres of oak trees, while the acorns can be processed directly, feeding them to pigs is easier. While we haven't been here long, and haven't gotten pigs yet, it is the plan. The hunters that cross my land give me venison and elk meat, it costs me nothing. I also have acres of shrubs that goats will eat, so we are getting dairy goats in the spring.








 
Mathew Trotter
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Mathew Trotter - It isn't that I don't eat vegetables or staple foods, but rather that most of the things people eat that contain these items also contain animal products and/or oils. Potato gnocchi contains eggs and flour, we serve ours with a parmesan white sauce. Potato pancakes contain eggs, and flour and are fried in copious amounts of oil. Pupusas and tamales contain lard, often meat or cheese or both. Animal products and fats are highly caloric and can dramatically reduce the amount of food that needs to be produced to sustain oneself. As far as my diet and what agrees with me, I have no problem digesting dairy or wheat. I am very fortunate in that way. Dried beans, high fiber foods, and spicy foods can cause gastric distress in me. So I limit them. I don't worry about weight, there have been traditionally shaped people from the beginning of time. You are what you are. This last year I have been grieving, my moods, energy etc. are not related to my diet, but rather my grief. I have not been as active on here because of it. Some days the clouds clear, some days they don't.

But more importantly to my mind, is planning around your land. I have acres and acres of oak trees, while the acorns can be processed directly, feeding them to pigs is easier. While we haven't been here long, and haven't gotten pigs yet, it is the plan. The hunters that cross my land give me venison and elk meat, it costs me nothing. I also have acres of shrubs that goats will eat, so we are getting dairy goats in the spring.



I have chickens because they pay for themselves and I got them before I lost my income. It bears repeating that this project isn't saying that you can't or shouldn't grow animals. That's in the FAQ and peppered throughout the thread. The point is to figure out what to grow as the backbone of your diet. Goats are a medium- to long-term project for me, if I can ever scrape up the funds. Rabbits are a shorter term goal, once I'm sure I can feed them from what's growing on the property. But as it stands, I can't afford either of those and don't want another 5-6 month stretch where I can only get 1200 calories a day. That really wrecks my mood and energy levels. Hence, figuring out how to make up the bulk of calories from plants. I think the "no income" part is what people are struggling with. Unless you already have animals when you lose your income, and have a plan for feeding them without supplementing commercial feed, then it's just not feasible. If you have suitable land and breeds that can live off of forage (which modern breeds of most species really suck at), then there's definitely a better chance. But I've said all that before.

As far how things are made... I just recently learned how to make papusas from modern recipes and they don't call for any fat. Neither did traditional tamales; before the Spanish killed all the natives and replaced them with pigs there was no lard and no other fatty animals. Tamales were just nixtamalized corn and water with your filling of choice, and they were filled with everything... Fish, crab, fruit, lizards, frogs, beans, mushrooms, vegetables, etc. Pasta as well doesn't require eggs or fat... I make my own ravioli with coarsely ground flour and water. And flour doesn't have to be wheat flour; any ground grain (and sometimes legumes) can be used anywhere that gluten isn't required (which is mostly just large, artisanal, yeasted breads.) Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener has several recipes for cooking with corn without the inclusion of wheat, including a traditional corn bread recipe and even a sandwich loaf.

Yes, not having access to commercial products and animal products means you can't use a lot of modern recipes as they are written. It means you have to either revert back to the way that product was made before food was industrialized, or you make modern substitutions based on the vast quantities of food science that's right at our fingertips. Or sometimes it means just growing good food that can be enjoyed when prepared simply. I've never had a bean as delicious as my home grown beans. I've never had asparagus that didn't need to be drowned in butter and salt except mine. I visited Paul Gautschi's place a couple years back, and I get it. After 30 years of no-till and adding organic matter to his gardens, his produce is so flavorful that it didn't need any cooking or flavoring. I think that's the other problem people are having; if the only experience you have with these foods is the nutritionally-poor garbage that's at the grocery store, then you can't imagine eating them without lots of cooking, fat, and seasoning. I've eaten so many store bought garbanzos in the past year that I might throw up if I see another one, but I've never felt that it was a chore to eat any of the things that I've grown. If anything, I'm always sad that there isn't more. Squash is likely to be the exception to that rule, since I'll be breeding them this year and will likely end up with a few thousand pounds...

I'm not saying that I wouldn't love to have butter, or lard, or tallow, etc. It isn't about what I want. It's about what I can produce in the next year to keep myself alive, presumably without income. That's the key: without income. How does one feed themselves without money? It's easy to have all of these things when you have money because you can buy animals, and feed, and fencing, and probably some way to electrify that fencing, and maybe some livestock guardian dogs, and possibly medication or veterinary care at some point, and so on and so on. I need every penny I've put in to produce more food than that penny would have gotten me from the commercial food system. Very rarely do I see people that say they spent less money raising animals that they would have spent in the grocery store, and that's the issue. But from a few dollars in seeds I can produce hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of vegetables when I'm producing my fertility on site and growing them without irrigation. I can't get that return of investment on animal products. And considering the commercial system is propped up by subsidies, it's clear that few people can anymore.

If I'm jonesing for some cooking fats, then the good news is that the commercial system hasn't collapsed. I can have a friend or neighbor or the landowner pick up some butter or lard in exchange for some of the surplus from my garden. It'll be more vegetables than they can get for an equivalent price, and it will be a more economical way to get fats than raising an animal. I would prefer to get my animal fats from someone producing on the home scale, but for the time being, it isn't strictly necessary. And if the food system collapses, day dreaming about how we'd prefer to eat isn't going to matter anyway; you're going to eat what you can produce, and no amount of money will make any difference.
 
Stacy Witscher
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Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately my experience with the land I'm on is that planting seeds primarily feeds the wildlife, I had much better luck with that in town. The ground squirrels didn't destroy the corn, and I got some tomatoes before the ash from the wildfires destroyed the plants. But any cucurbits or brassicas are eaten to the ground. If I had no money coming in, my best bet would be foraging as I said we have a lot of acorns. But given my past, I tend to sock things away. We could probably survive a year on the food I have stored. Good luck to you and your endeavors.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark Reed wrote:I don't quite get the food forest and perennial vegetable thing at least as it relates to my garden and situation. I'm not aware of all that many perennial vegetables that will grow here, or that many at all really. Asparagus, I reckon maybe rhubarb, sunroots, can't really think of many others right off. Of course there are the various weeds like dandelions, burdock, nettle and so no but would be hard to accumulate many calories from them. Then the various fruits like blackberries, raspberries  also grapes. Wild grapes are the most productive and I have attempted to get them to cross with domestic types, don't know yet how successful that will be. I suppose food forest refers to anything growing, not just specifically the trees.

Unfortunately in my experience no domesticated fruit tree reliably produces much of anything around here without significant artificial coddling.  Every time I drive by the only local apple orchard I know of, some one is out there with an atv pulling a little cart with a sprayer of some type, they do market pretty apples though. There is that occasional old oddball tree here and there that seems to reliably produce lots of quite good, although ugly fruit.  I have several seed grown youngsters from some of them, apple, pear and peach but they are not producing much yet and I don't really expect them to for some time. The only fruit trees that more often that not produce an abundance is wild black cherry but the tiny fruits are not easy to get, man I love them though. And ya got your persimmons and your papaws, both nice treats but not much more than that. I haven't seen a wild American plum tree in years, I don't know what happened to them.

Walnut and hickory are the most common wild nut trees and I'm lucky to have lots of them on my land and in the general area. Hickory does not produce anywhere near the way they used to but walnuts still put on pretty good in most years.

I don't think pecan is really native here but it by far the most productive. Like I mentioned before I have occasionally completely filled my truck bed with pecans but that takes a couple days of driving around at least 100 miles round trip to all my favorite trees. They are mostly in the little towns along the river, in church yards, grave yards and private yards. I theorize that in this neighborhood they were popular to plant, maybe as a novelty at the time. Nuts range in size and shape but all are smaller and taste better than the ones they sell from down south. Some of them are really huge trees but they went wild so there are also lots of younger ones. Some of my favorites form childhood are gone now, murdered by morons because of the mess all the nuts made, afraid they might dent or make stains on their automobiles. One guy, I call him Saruman, murdered three giant ones. They were far from his house not hurting anything, well that's not really relevant here, so I'll shut up.

For years I have been collecting and planting the pecans on my property and all around me along the roads and all over the state owned hunting land next door. Some of mine are about twenty years old and starting to produce some, so hopefully in another few years I won't have to drive to get them anymore. I'll still do it though so as to continue spreading them around in my immediate vicinity. I'll also keep cloning my domestic grapes and planting them out among the wild ones. Maybe some day one will show up with the vigor and production of the wild but with bigger fruit and maybe some day someone will find it and enjoy it and if they don't some thing will, I'd be OK with that too.    

Sorry if I wondered too far off the actual topic of the thread.



That's a shame about the the trees. I had the landowner bulldoze a bunch of my fruit trees to put in a shed this year, and many would have started producing this coming season. Also bulldozed an apple tree that I was growing out rootstock on. Le sigh.

Admittedly, there's a larger quantity of roots and tubers that I can grow as quasi-perennials in my region, but there are still some that should perform in most places. Chestnuts and hazels have been staples for many people in times past, as have acorns with a bit of processing. They did a study on a village in... I want to say Germany? The staple crop there had been hazels, and they determined that their hazel orchard would have provided 50% of the diet for 300-400 people with only 2-3 weeks of work a year.

As far as perennial vegetables in general, have you read Eric Toesneier's book? Or seen any of the tours of his property? It does mean shifting the diet towards some pretty radically different foods, but there's definitely a lot of options out there, and even more stuff that's gained traction since his book was published. There are even some fruits that can be picked green and used as vegetables, though only tropical species are coming to mind at the moment.
 
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Matthew, I've always been interested in how people used to do everyday things before electricity. My interest is from a nutritional and self-preservation standpoint - if there was another Carrington-level event (look it up, it's really interesting) that knocked out our grid, what would I do?

I've collected several cookbooks from the late 1800s to early 1900s and the description of the way people ate then may be of interest to you. Below are the main points from the book, keeping in mind I'm not a historian and have not thoroughly examined this topic. I'm a casual investigator in this instance.

I'm looking at Miss Parloa's New Cook Book and Marketing Guide from 1880 right now and here is a general idea of what's in it. Several other cook books have similar information. My impression is that this book was intended for the fairly well off people that were cost conscious, but had enough money to buy staples such as grains, meat, sugar, etc. I think it still has value in seeing what people found to be necessary for eating year-round.

Vegetables:
- Storage cellars were a given. The railroads had started moving produce around the country but it was expensive, so most people ate what they could store over the cold months. Refrigerators were very new, expensive, and not very good.
- From pg. 48 "those to be bought (for the winter) are onions, squashes, turnips, beets, carrots, parsnips, cabbages, potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, all of which, except for the first two, should be bedded in sand and in a cool place, yet where they will not freeze. Squashes and onions should be kept in a very dry room." Sweet potatoes were purchased from the South and stored over the winter. They weren't in her list, but there are a lot of receipts/recipes for them.
- The other vegetables eaten fresh were: spinach, asparagus, dandelion, cauliflower, tomatoes (also canned for winter), green beans, celery, some lettuce, mushrooms, green corn (their term for sweet corn), cucumber, radish, chicory/endive, and herbs. Salads were eaten, but the preference was for the pale inner leaves and not the tough, green outer leaves. These were eaten in season even though some greenhouses produced lettuce off season if you could afford to buy it. There were many non-lettuce types of salad recipes given that included other vegetables, meats, eggs, seafood, etc.
- Dry beans were used extensively

Meat: Mostly for people with money. Pork was the main preserved meat. Beef, lamb, mutton and poultry were eaten fresh. Beef and mutton/lamb could be held for a couple of weeks in a cold room. Beef was corned/brined for storage. Fish could be either salted or fresh. Venison was common and eaten fresh all year. Rabbits were eaten fresh.

Fat: Butter and animal fats (lard especially) were the primary ones used for cooking. Salt pork belly was used to "lard" other meats before cooking.

Grains: wheat, dry corn (used a lot), rye, oats, rice

Fruits: Jellies and jams were used extensively to preserve the harvest. Sugar was purchased for this.

Fruits and vegetables were either fermented or treated with spices, salt and vinegar for extended storage and additional flavor.
 
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Square foot gardening is an example of how many plants fit in a square foot.  This is a productive tool too to look at.

1 plant per square: Tomatoes, Coles, cilantro, cucumber, kale, okra
2 plants per square: Sweet potato
4 plants per square: head lettuce, garlic, potato, romaine, asparagus pea, corn, Swiss chard, Basil, marigold, parsley
8 plants per square: pole beans, peas
9 plants per square: beets, bush beans, onions, leek, parsnip, spinach, snap peas, turnip
16 plants per square: carrots, radishes, leaf lettuce, green onions

From author Mel Barthomew

We have field mice that love bean and corn? seed.  Question is to buy 50# sacks of cow manure (~$5.50/per) or buy boards to put over seeds planted.
 
Mark Reed
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Mathew Trotter wrote:
Admittedly, there's a larger quantity of roots and tubers that I can grow as quasi-perennials in my region, but there are still some that should perform in most places. Chestnuts and hazels have been staples for many people in times past, as have acorns with a bit of processing. They did a study on a village in... I want to say Germany? The staple crop there had been hazels, and they determined that their hazel orchard would have provided 50% of the diet for 300-400 people with only 2-3 weeks of work a year.


I forgot about chestnuts, I know they will grow here and from what I understand start producing in just a few years, gonna look into that. Hazel nuts like plums were never all that common in my memory but also like plums, I haven't come across them in ages. Also didn't consider acorns, I have jillions of them, maybe time to study up on how to make them edible.

Mathew Trotter wrote:
As far as perennial vegetables in general, have you read Eric Toesneier's book? Or seen any of the tours of his property? It does mean shifting the diet towards some pretty radically different foods, but there's definitely a lot of options out there, and even more stuff that's gained traction since his book was published. There are even some fruits that can be picked green and used as vegetables, though only tropical species are coming to mind at the moment.


I wouldn't say radically different but several crops I'm focusing on now, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, peanuts, amaranth, soybeans are certainly not what I would call traditional in my neck of the woods. They have been and do grow here, obviously, but never as a staple by anyone I've ever know.  So different enough for me, especially in view of how well the ones I've tried so far have done. Not much interest in "how to" , "what to" or "you should" gardening  books, find them generally of little help. The list of people I've actually learned much of anything useful from is rather short, Not necessarily limited to but including, Carol Deppe, Dave Christenson, Joseph Lofthouse, Alan Kaupler, Mathew Trotter.

 
Mathew Trotter
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Hey all. Things have been crazy here and I haven't been able to pop in and catch up on everything. I was updating my planting calendar and realized I had a bunch of perennials and alliums and such that needed to get started this month, which I totally was not prepared for (between my seasonal depression, maintaining a "regular job", and still trying to figure out the microclimate in our canyon, I'm rarely ever thinking about the garden before March, so this'll be the first year I actually get my cold season crops in the ground on time.) Had to build a chicken tractor so I can get my birds out cleaning up the garden beds and so I can sift out my deep litter compost. Also have a week and a half of mostly dry weather in the forecast, so I gotta get my first 50ft. Hugelpath™ done, A) so I can actually see how well it performs this season, and B) so I can get all of the mud I excavated out of the bed that I literally need to plant in 2 weeks.



I'll be doing a full write-up on that and what my goals are with it as soon as things aren't so crazy.

I also made 14 pounds of tempeh, most of which is for the friend that trades me chicken feed for eggs... Mostly because I haven't had consistent egg production, and also because she's kicking off the new year with a month of plant-based eating, so tempeh was a good replacement for the eggs. And I was able to get the materials for my tumpline and have finalized the design, so I've been working on that when it's too wet to do anything outside; gotta get that done so I can haul resources up and down the mountain. Plus, I'm the token "unemployed" person in our community, so I've been on childcare duty a lot lately.

Oh, and we had an electrical outlet melt and almost burn our place down, so we had to do some emergency electrical work. No big deal. 🙄

Also gotta get the greenhouse finished and the nursery sorted out. I'm propagating a lot of the perennials I've collected, and while many of them will ultimately get planted out here, that'll also be one of the main things I'll be bartering/selling locally to cover the few things I won't be able to produce on site yet (mostly dog food for my livestock guardian, since I won't have enough meat production to feed her 100% on site... though she did kill and eat a coyote several weeks back, so she might fend for herself if she doesn't like what I'm feeding her...) The little bit of money I've made from the calculator has already helped cover some of her food, so I'm thankful for that. Other than that, I'm not expecting to have income to purchase things with, so I have to count on friends to cover dog food if I find myself short in any given month. Ultimately the plan is to be self-sufficient in animal feed and clothing (the last two necessities I'm not set up to produce yet), but I'm not there yet. One thing at a time. This year is the big year to test if I can make it through an entire year without a real job; if I fail, I have to go back to a regular job and progress on the property will slow to a crawl (I'd probably have an hour commute each day, depending on where I found work, and a significant chunk of my income would go into maintaining the car I'd need just so I can get to work...)

I have added a few new features to The Calculator, but I haven't rolled them out since I won't have time to fix it if something breaks. 110% of my attention is on getting everything set up so I can produce at least all of my food this year so that I can continue to put all of my time and energy into the property instead having to split my time between the property and earning income to feed myself and maintain a car, etc. Hopefully I'll also produce a significant portion of the diets of one or more friends so that their grocery budgets can instead go towards more plants, livestock, infrastructure, etc. At the rate things are happening, I'm not expecting to have much of a break before mid-February at the earliest... but maybe I'll surprise myself. At any rate, I don't have the time and energy to split between keeping up with things here and getting things done in real life. And I know myself well enough to know that if I stress myself out trying to do it all, I'm likely to get short with someone over something stupid... and I really don't want Permies to just be another Facebook. I enjoy the discourse too much.

There are some posts here and some PMs that I haven't had a chance to read or respond to. I totally want to, but not until I can actually sit down and formulate a thoughtful response.  I just wanted to pop in while lunch was cooking to share a progress picture and let everyone know that I'm still alive. I'll either pop back in around mid-February to push out some updates to the calculator and respond to stuff, otherwise I'll let everyone know that I'm still running around like a chicken with my head cut off. May the next month go quickly and smoothly (though that'd be a first.)
 
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I watched a documentary where people were trying to survive on a dollar a day in a 3rd world country and were losing weight. The locals taught them to fry everything in lard for calories.

Fat could be rendered from one pig and stored for a long time to supplement calories for crops grown. Lard fried potatoes....yum.


My father raises bees, we got 600 lbs of honey last year. Not sure how many calories are in that, but I've put away a few 5 gallon buckets just to have the calories
 
Mathew Trotter
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Robin Katz wrote:Matthew, I've always been interested in how people used to do everyday things before electricity. My interest is from a nutritional and self-preservation standpoint - if there was another Carrington-level event (look it up, it's really interesting) that knocked out our grid, what would I do?

I've collected several cookbooks from the late 1800s to early 1900s and the description of the way people ate then may be of interest to you. Below are the main points from the book, keeping in mind I'm not a historian and have not thoroughly examined this topic. I'm a casual investigator in this instance.



Carrington-level events, and other natural and man-made disasters, are exactly the kinds of things that keep me up at night and which I'm trying to innovate and design around. Carol Deppe says something along the lines of "practice for the worst case scenario." Those aren't her exact words, but she's discussing designing systems that are resilient against disruption. She discusses sickness and natural disaster, etc. Her early designs made sense to her, but if she got sick, or injured, or there was a storm, or she had to leave things in the hands of someone else while she was out of town... everything fell apart. My interest is in designing systems that don't miss a beat when there's a Carrington-level event or a global pandemic or a friend is house-sitting or I just get worn out. They aren't affected by the outside world or disruptions to the supply chain because they aren't dependent on those things. In addition to ensuring that all calories are accounted for, that also means developing landraces that can adapt to changing climatic conditions, designing systems that don't require irrigation, sharing germplasm with the local community as a living genebank and to make sure your neighbors are fed during a crisis.

Food preparation methods are a huge part of it. I love Townsends and Tasting History. I've been thinking a lot about acquiring old cookbooks lately. I finally read Buffalo Bird Woman's account and learned some stuff about food preparation, especially regarding sunflowers. Historical recipes are massively helpful in figuring out how to make food happen outside of the commercial food system. I've got a back catalog of recipes that I'm excited to try because of Townsends that are nothing like the way we cook and eat today (I watched the lamb in a blanket video the other day and it has me reeling with ideas.) Cross-cultural recipe exchange is also massively helpful. Many of the crops discussed here are widely used in India especially. Or Southeast Asia. Or Africa. Or Latin America. Sometimes we need to turn to those cuisines for answers.

But there's a lot that we can take from modern food science, too. Once you understand what starch is and how to process it from a variety of sources, then you can figure out how to use them fairly interchangeably in the production of breads, sauces, pastas, dumplings, etc. Once you understand how to process fat from one source, that technique can be applied to many more (grind seeds, add hot water, skim off the oil that floats to the surface, etc.) Syrups and sugars can be had by reducing fruit juice, or tree sap, or C4 grasses (hence the experiments I'm going to do with corn.) It might be difficult to imagine alternatives to some things we've grown accustomed to, but it's possible: just look at the proliferation of low carb or vegan alternatives to traditional foods. I will literally be able to make non-dairy ice cream with just the crops presented in the calculator. Replacing wheat is a tricky one because gluten has such unique properties. We can still use the grains whole or as porridge, and then we can avoid the gluten problem. We can make flatbreads/pancakes which aren't dependent on gluten for structure... practically any grain you can imagine is used for flatbread in India (and I've recently been inspired by fazes... kind of a barebones fritter). We can add starch, eggs, flax, or any number of other things to bind gluten-free breads and pastas. Or we can use the traditional cornbread technique illustrated by Carol Deppe: boil a portion of our flour into a kind of porridge and use that as a binder in our breads. We can use wild yeast or tequesquite for leavening. Et cetera.

It's hard for many of us to imagine a world without baking soda, or oil, or processed sugar, or salt, or meat, or whatever it is. There are modern and historical examples of people living without all of those things. When push comes to shove and you can no longer get those things from the commercial system you have two choices: figure out how to produce them, or figure out how to live without them. I like sugary treats, and pastries, and fried food, etc. I think I would be healthier with less access to those things, but I'm also exploring growing artichokes for oil production, and processing corn stalks for sugar. Plus redundant systems for producing analogous products (sunflowers, sunchokes, tarwi, artichokes, cardoons, peanuts, soy, and ultimately nuts, olives, and possibly avocados for oil; fruit, sap, and C4 grasses for sugar.) Achira and potatoes can be used for isolated starch, and many more crops for flour. I can make all the junk food I want, the only difference is that I have to work for it if I want to process these foods rather than eating them whole. Most people are too lazy to make ice cream even if the sugar and dairy are already processed for them. Would we have I've cream very often if we had to process our own sweetener and flavorings? If we had to milk animals or make non-dairy milk? I'd probably settle for a glass of milk and decide that the extra work of making ice cream should be reserved for a special occasion. But that's not how we use processed sugar and oil in our daily lives.

Historical and cross-cultural recipes are an integral part of figuring this out, regardless of whether we decide to simplify our diets or figure out how to process these specialty products. So is food science and examples of people living off of what they produce (like Rob Greenfield.) We can't expect things to change if we keep doing the same things that we've been doing, and that includes what we're eating or how we're producing it. Even if some of us are not planning to grow all of our food, "could I produce this?" is a good question to ask when determining whether or not something is sustainable. Bananas probably aren't sustainable if you don't live in the tropics or subtropics. If we eat animals, then we need to ask if we could sustainably produce what they eat. That largely limits you to locally raised animals that subsist on forage. In general, domesticated livestock aren't good examples of animals raised locally on local forage; but wild game is. And it's less work for me to create a system that wildlife thrives in and then harvest animals as needed. Good, better, best. Good is raising animals on food that you produce. Better is raising animals on forage. Best is letting the animals raise themselves in a resilient ecosystem. And there are lots of creative methods used throughout history for live trapping herd animals, harvesting what you need, and releasing the rest. All of this to say that there are solutions as long as people are willing to look for them, either in our past or by getting creative.

 
Mathew Trotter
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Michael Moreken wrote:Square foot gardening is an example of how many plants fit in a square foot.  This is a productive tool too to look at.



Square foot gardening doesn't work without irrigation, at least not in my climate, and not in any climate that I have personally experienced. Great for beginning gardeners, maybe... but I'd argue that it's better to teach people to grow without irrigation and then supplement with irrigation if and when it's available and practical, rather than teaching people to grow with water and then taking it away from them. There's a hierarchy. Pulling water out of the ground faster than we're putting it back is just bad design. It might take many generations for it to catch up with us, but eventually it does (e.g. the dust bowl.) Collecting rainwater is a massive improvement, but you'll end up increasing evaporation and interrupting seasonal flow patterns (whether that has a significant negative impact depends entirely on the specifics), and possibly increasing pollution with the manufacturer and installation of cisterns or earthworks. Or you can space plants appropriately for the amount of soil moisture you have, which will be closer in wet climates and further apart in arid climates (5-10 feet between plants was common in the American southwest.) One solution is to just throw down a bunch of everything and see what survives without irrigation. You'll have lots of stuff that survives, but significantly less that actually produces. Many of my spring sown crops survived, but they didn't produce anything for 6-8 months until the fall rains returned. Spring sown brassicas survived, but didn't produce until fall. Spring sown beets and carrots did nothing until fall (though my fall and winter sown stuff did great and held in the ground for months.) Soil organic matter and plant genetics are the other things you can control to imprint drought performance, but only over successive years. Plant spacing is the only thing you can control in year one when the soil is (hopefully) at it's most degraded. Square foot gardening especially doesn't make sense when we're talking about staple crops and the volume of food we'd have to keep irrigated and fertilized to feed ourselves... that's a large part of the problem with the commercial food system as it stands. Plant spacing is a complex issue that can't be resolved with a simple chart. Learning how to space things based on a changing environment is a skill that most people don't have because they're just doing things the way someone else told them too. But it's a skill that we should be developing in order to cope with how badly we've degraded things. There's no one size fits all plant spacing.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Eric Hammond wrote:I watched a documentary where people were trying to survive on a dollar a day in a 3rd world country and were losing weight. The locals taught them to fry everything in lard for calories.

Fat could be rendered from one pig and stored for a long time to supplement calories for crops grown. Lard fried potatoes....yum.


My father raises bees, we got 600 lbs of honey last year. Not sure how many calories are in that, but I've put away a few 5 gallon buckets just to have the calories



Both great options. I have a hive and bartered for some lemongrass essential oil to bait it with. If I successfully attract a feral bee population, I'm going to happily eat pounds and pounds of honey. If I don't attract a feral population, then I don't have the money to buy bees. Perhaps I could trade for a swarm at some point, but that's up in the air.

Even if I could barter for a pig locally, and even if it could forage for all of its food, the land I'm working on is too fragile to support that kind of disturbance right now, and I have no way to even keep it on the property and out of a cougar or coyote, even if it made sense.

Same thing I keep asking: how are you doing it without money and infrastructure?
 
Mathew Trotter
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I'm still wickedly behind, but a freak snow storm has ground most of my projects to a halt, so I figured I'd stop in for some updates.

This quote from Paul's Permaculture Voices keynote got me in the feels; Paul always seems to have a rant that describes my experiences perfectly:

Paul Wheaton wrote:Well fuck off then! Don't look at it! It's not for you because you're stupid. It's for good  and decent people, not fuckheads like you!



I'm homeless. I have depression, which peaks this time of year. I can no longer legally drive, which means I can no longer legally work. That's because, in 11 months, my state has failed to pay the $15-20k dollars in unemployment and other Covid-related aid to which I'm entitled. But whatever. We all make bad investments, like paying taxes. Growing 100% of my food is not a thought experiment or a game that I'm playing, it's survival. It's what's stands between me going out and putting a bullet in my dog's head, followed by my own.

I like to experiment and innovate. I like to share the results of those experiments so people can replicate my successes and avoid my failures. And I'm very thankful for the people that have made valuable contributions. Really. Genuinely. I hope you know who you are. But Jesus. Some people. Stop telling me to raise livestock unless you're going to use your time and money to make fences, animals, and feed happen. For real. It's hella disrespectful and elitist. So is expecting a homeless person to work for you for free. You are just as capable of doing the same research that I do and building your own calculator. If you don't like mine, well, it's free, and no one is making you use it. If you're affluent and can afford livestock, then great. THIS ISN'T FOR YOU. If you can't imagine anything bad every happening to you, then THIS ISN'T FOR YOU. If you can't be bothered to read the thread before you ask the same thing that's been asked 20 times already, then THIS ISN'T FOR YOU.

Paul's keynote was perfect. The words he used are not "polite" to repeat, but it resonates. It's exhausting to try to do anything new in permaculture when it's overrun by trolls, corporations, affluent white people, and the unteachable. I like to provide thoughtful responses, but it takes a lot of time and energy that I don't have right now. From this point forward, I will not be responding to anyone that demonstrates that they haven't read the thread, or anyone that feels that they are entitled to the time and energy that I give freely. Instead, I'll be putting my energy into responding to the people that are making thoughtful contributions to the conversation and are actually trying to solve the problem that I've outlined instead of solving completely unrelated problems.

Now then. Here are some actual updates.



People keep harassing me about what meals would look like and insisting that no one in the world eats staple crops. Well, here's an actual meal created from these or analogous crops. A combination of roots and tubers roasted with fresh herbs. Tempeh, which can be made from any grains or legumes, marinated and glazed to one's liking (perhaps sorghum syrup and vinegar made from whatever one has laying around.) A simple slaw or salad, which could be made from any vegetables that you grow or forage. And finally bread, which can be made from literally any of the grains listed.



Here's my first attempt at hominy with my homegrown corn. It was delicious, but not 100% yet. It needs more cooking and soaking time, and perhaps a touch more lime.



Here's the tumpline I'm working on weaving. It will be integral for hauling things, like harvests, up and down our hilly terrain.



Here's a shot of the Hugelpath™, which has been one of my big prep projects. It's further along than this but this is the newest picture I have that helps illustrate the layers a bit better. This is a 2ft by 2ft by 50ft trench in the path between my beds which is filled with alternating layers of wood, biochar, fired clay, and green material and finally capped with wood chips. The idea is that the path between my beds will function as a combination of hugelkultur, olla, worm tower, and terra preta trash midden. It will drain and store excess water during our rainy season for use during our drought. The fired clay acts as a wick to draw water toward the surface. The biochar is a repository of microbial life and keeps nutrients from leaching out in the rain. The concentration of organic matter retains water and releases nutrients. Because it's dug out below the level of the compacted layer, soil life and roots will be able to move freely around the compaction and help break it up from from every side. If this trial works out how I've envisioned, it'll allow me to increase planting density without needing to add supplemental water. That means more food in the same amount of space.


 
Robin Katz
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Matthew,

I appreciate the amount of work it takes to develop a spreadsheet that works the way yours does. I developed  many of my own when I was working and it takes a huge amount of time to do it right. They're incredibly useful tools. I have one going right now for plants started/living/died on our property over the past 3 years to see what works in this microclimate. Fortunately I have always enjoyed doing spreadsheet development but that doesn't negate the time factor.

I guess I'm surprised that people don't think you can live on "staples." The term itself indicates that those foods are basic foods. That was one of the things I noticed looking at the really old cookbooks - not much variety. We've been spoiled in the last 50 years or so with a huge variety of foods. I personally appreciate the variety but I grew up eating a very basic farm diet and know that you can live very well on staple foods. Your plate of food above looks very nice to me.

I'm intrigued by the hugelpath concept. I can see the water storage aspect but keep thinking that the path would end up with more growth than the area around it due to a higher moisture content. Is your idea that the path would be similar to the old irrigation troughs between rows of crops? I look forward to your results from this year. Our area has the same summer drought and there is no way that I can/will water all the garden beds that I plan to put in place. We've been going the hugel mound route since our soil is rocky as hell and I won't be digging those buggers up.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Hi all. Sorry about having a very public breakdown and disappearing. My limited means and limited diet combined with my seasonal depression and has snowballed into increasing nutrient deficiency. I knew I was low in something months ago when I tasted a frozen bell pepper and couldn't get enough of it... as a rule I dislike bell peppers. Earlier in the pandemic I developed a sodium deficiency and now I was showing signs of vitamin C and iodine deficiency—fatigue, shortness of breath, slow healing, joint pain, violent mood swings, mild swelling of the neck, memory problems, etc. I was having intense cravings for vitamin C rich foods like citrus and iodine rich foods like fish and potatoes. I've been making a concerted effort to go out and pick fresh greens every day to ensure that I'm getting my required daily intake of vitamin C (even when my depression makes it hard to want to go outside in the rain and muck), and I had a friend bring me iodized salt to hold me over until I can produce a whole food source of iodine. My mood is starting to level out and my energy levels are increasing.

None of this changes the fact that I have a challenging year ahead of me with very limited resources, but I'm at least feeling a little more confident about the prospects. I have a plan in place for what to grow, but the weather has not been cooperating with my planting schedule, and I lost water for a week and had to ration about 3 gallons between myself, my dog, and my chickens, losing 70% of my plant starts in the process. I can't control pests, disease, or weather, so I had contingency plans in place to cover crop loss. I expected to have unemployment to help cover my food needs in the interim as well as car insurance, cell phone, etc., but in almost 12 months my state has only processed 2 weeks with of unemployment... and not even consecutive weeks. I'm in the middle of nowhere and can no longer legally leave. I also spent my last few dollars on fishing tackle just to have they neighbor downstream from us take out a beaver dam and dramatically drop the water level in the creek, so I'm no longer confident that I'll have a source of fish. I've been trapping crickets to raise for food but have only come up with males so far. I've started to consider collecting slugs for food, but the risk of parasites and overall ick factor has made me hesitate. Because the landowner had the property clear cut, most of the high quality forage hasn't recovered. There are a couple small populations of cattail, but I can only do non-destructive harvests until their populations have sufficiently reestablished, otherwise I risk wiping them out. I should be able to get a fairly good supply of berries this year, but that's still months away. I'm hoping the wild hazels are recovered enough to produce this year, but that's also months away, and they've aborted their nuts in several of the proceeding years due to unprecedented heat waves. I've requested germplasm for several species that were grown and eaten widely in this area before the arrival of Europeans and I'm hoping to get them established here, but many of those are grown for several years before harvest, so they may not provide any food value this year.

I'm working on a few different ways to bring in income, but I don't know if any of them will prove fruitful because of my location and lack of transportation. I'm hoping to make at least $20 a month to cover food for my dog, with hopefully enough leftover to continue to invest in developing the property for long-term sustainability. At this point it's anyone's guess whether this projects will pan out, and I have to balance my time and energy between things that only might make me some money with things that have a high chance of producing food.

I really just stopped by because I'm doing well enough to apologize for my outburst (not that I had a lot of control over my mood swings), but I'm going to continue to take time off to focus on my mental and physical health and try to develop a little more stability out here. Thanks to everyone that reached out and offered to listen or help in any way. It's been a challenging time and it's nice to know that even when I'm at my worst, there are people here that will go out if their way for a stranger. That's truly a rarity on the internet, and I cherish it immensely. I look forward to posting again and doing more work on the calculator as my health allows. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
 
Mathew Trotter
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I couldn't get any takers on testing some new features, but I've been playing around with them for a while and everything seems to work as intended so I've decided to roll them out to the live version of the calculator. Now it will allow you to enter the number of plants you want to grow and automatically calculate the percentage for you.



If you know that you're growing 10 squash, for instance. then you can enter 10 in column M (How Many Plants?) and hit the update button. If it's your first time using this feature it will ask for permission to runt the script that performs the calculation. You may have to hit the update button a second time after granting permission. After the first use, it should work automatically when you hit the update button.

Entering 0 will enter 0 for the percentage. Keeping the line blank will preserve the existing percentage. Entering any other value will calculate what percentage of your diet that number of plants constitutes and then update the percentage in Column B. In this way you can start with a base of plants that you have limited numbers of and then work out how much to grow of the remaining crops.

I've also added a notes tab where you can track the number of plants that you grow and the total yield per crop. It will then calculate the yield per plant and allow you to track changes from year to year. It will also make it easier to tell if and when you should change the default yields that the calculator uses to match your growing conditions.



I've tested it some and nothing appears to have broken during the update, but if you find any bugs let me know. You can grab the newest version from the same link as usual (you can follow the link in my signature to the Digital Market post if you need the link again.)
 
Mathew Trotter
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Robin Katz wrote:Matthew,

I'm intrigued by the hugelpath concept. I can see the water storage aspect but keep thinking that the path would end up with more growth than the area around it due to a higher moisture content. Is your idea that the path would be similar to the old irrigation troughs between rows of crops? I look forward to your results from this year. Our area has the same summer drought and there is no way that I can/will water all the garden beds that I plan to put in place. We've been going the hugel mound route since our soil is rocky as hell and I won't be digging those buggers up.



Hey Robin! I was planning to do a whole post on the Hugelpath once I finished setting it up and had some time to test it out. It's definitely theoretical at this point, but I'm hoping that theory will pan out as I do some testing. Basically, I'm trying to combine and maximize the benefits of a number of different designs will minimizing the negatives for my climate. Namely, it's inspired by hugelkultur, terra preta, ollas, worm towers, deep mulching, and a lot of Elaine Ingham's work (plus probably more techniques that I'm spacing on at the moment.) I think the only thing that's missing here would be to set them up on contour, but that might be excessive. I'll try to break down how the Hugelpath relates to each of these other technologies.

The relation to hugelkultur is probably obvious, even if "Hugelpath" is a bit of a misnomer since it is indeed not a mound. But since "hugel" has pretty much become synonymous with wood, it made sense. The problem with hugelkultur in my climate is that they don't maximize water harvesting; being a mound, in heavy rain events they will shed water in excess of what they can absorb and that water will run off of the property (or hopefully into other water catchment strategies.) By inverting the shape, water will shed INTO the hugel rather off of it. But with 8 or 9 months of nearly non-stop rain, even though I want to capture and hold onto that rain for use during the drought, I don't want it directly in the root zone of my plants where it can cause root rot. Instead, like an olla, this mass of spongey material will wick water into the adjacent beds as the plants use up water and dry out the soil relative to the hugelpath.

It's a little more complex of a mix than your typical hugelkultur, as it aims to mimic the composition of Amazonian terra preta a little more closely. In addition to wood and green material (which would ideally include yard waste, kitchen scraps, etc.) it also contains biochar and fired clay (this is nothing special, just clay that was fired as a result of them burning slash piles on the property, but I would go out of my way to fire clay pellets or tiles if I didn't already have an abundance of fired clay.) In addition to the water holding capacity of biochar, it also provides nutrient holding capacity (so that the nutrients from the rotting organic mater don't leach out) and lots of surface area for microbial life to cling to and proliferate. Fired clay is the part of terra preta that most people miss, thinking that biochar is the only important element. I'd argue that fired clay is at least as important as the charcoal. Unglazed pottery functions as a wick which is why ollas are effective for irrigation, but what's especially cool about pottery is it's ability to wick water up against the pull of gravity. I found a video that demonstrates this perfectly:



That means that the pottery can help pull the water that we've stored upward towards the plant roots as the soil begins to dry.

In a way, the hugelpath will theoretically function like a worm tower. Put all of the organic matter in one spot and then utilize the worms and other soil life to transport it into the adjacent beds. And because the path is dug out below the compaction zone it will allow the free transfer to soil life and organic matter between the zone above and below the compaction. And if Elaine Ingham's work (and the anectdotal work of many before her) holds true, the increased soil life should be able to start breaking down the remaining compaction from all sides. And Dr. Ingham's work has indicated that simply balancing the soil life can massively drought proof a patch of soil (to the point that they almost got fined for watering a lawn during water restrictions... even though they never actually watered it.)

The whole path is then capped with a "deep" mulch of wood chips to keep the weeds at bay. Initally it isn't that deep, maybe only 3 or so inches (though I could certainly dig my trench deeper if I felt that more mulch was warranted.) But the idea is that as the logs rot down the path will sink and more wood chips would be added to keep the apparent level of the path even with the beds (even though the actual soil level is much lower.) In my experience, woods chips soften the soil pretty rapidly, so even if weeds manage to germinate they're relatively painless to remove. I used wood chips around the first batch of fruit trees that I planted, and about a year later I was able to pull out a roughly 2-foot dandelion root with my bare hands and no straining and without breaking the tap root. But ultimately the idea is that anything that germinates won't have the energy to make it through the mulch, and anything that blows in won't be able to get down to soil in order to germinate.

In a way it also functions like a dry land chinampa. The bed is surrounded by water on all sides, but because it's stored in wood you're able to access the bed without boats. I'm not expecting to gain the kind of thermal benefit that chinampas receive by being surrounded by water, but I did see a great example the other day of how even swales can keep soil from freezing or allow it to thaw faster as temperatures increase, which means I might actually gain a thermal benefit as well. And that's just from the water. The biological activity on all sides of my beds may actually create some thermal benefit, just like you get with traditional hot beds.





The idea is that if I were able to take a 3-foot soil core from my bed now, and in 4 to 5 years (or possibly much sooner than that), I would find that the organic mater from the path had infiltrated the bed. I don't know if it'll actually work out that way, but that's the hypothesis I'm working from.

I started working on this path a year ago, and the problem has been that it's had a good 6-12 inches of water in it any time I've actually had time to work on it. Now that I've switched up my strategy and started filling the path from one end, I no longer have water pool in the bottom of my trench. The 10-15 feet of wood, biochar, fired clay, etc. that I've been able to add has been sponging up the excess water and keeping the bottom of the trench relative dry compared to what it was like when it was empty.
 
Robin Katz
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Matthew, thank you for the clear explanation of your Hugelpath concept. I didn't know that the fired clay was so important in terra preta but it makes sense now.

This all sounds like a nice book in the making. A new(ish) or updated concept that you're testing and documenting yourself. You're a very good writer and what you're doing could be of great value to a lot of people who have to deal with seasonal drought.
 
Mark Reed
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Hot beds work very well although mine look little like that one. I just as in minutes ago, finished planting tomatoes in one. It is nothing more than a frame of locust logs laid on the ground. I hoed the top soil down to maybe 3 inches deep. Added some saved grass clippings from last fall and some fairly fresh chicken manure and mixed it all up good with the loosened soil. The logs are about 6 inches and the finished mix comes up the top so the loosened root zone is about 9 inches but will settle probably to half that.

Some junk pvc pipe and a cheap piece of plastic finishes it off. With the heat from the manure working with the grass along with the sun will probably make it necessary to vent it before too long. I've grown tomatoes like this for decades, it works very well at least for me. Time to transplant I just dampen the ground and pull the plants. I think they, well actually I know, they do as well or better than plants started in those little cells or pots.

It is early here to start tomatoes but I think they will be fine and are for sale anyway, I'll start my own a little later as I don't care about having the neighborhood's first  tomato anyway.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Robin Katz wrote:Matthew, thank you for the clear explanation of your Hugelpath concept. I didn't know that the fired clay was so important in terra preta but it makes sense now.

This all sounds like a nice book in the making. A new(ish) or updated concept that you're testing and documenting yourself. You're a very good writer and what you're doing could be of great value to a lot of people who have to deal with seasonal drought.



Thanks Robin! I'm actually working on a book that details some of my experiements with gardening without supplemental irrigation with extended drought. There are still experiments like the hugelpath to complete, as well as a project where I'm going to experiment with living terraces. Also want to get some hands on experience with some of the tradtional techniques that I haven't used yet. I can parrot the research I've done, but it's hard for me to recommend any particular techniques until I see how they perform in the real world. I've probably got a few years yet before I'll have the knowledge to write a book that does the subject any kind of justice. But I certainly plan to do video updates and post here to document the different projects I'm working on. I'm also working on a low-labor method of building a chinampa in our pond, but I'm not sure if the method I want to try is actually feasible in real life, even though it seems like it should work on paper. Time will tell.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark Reed wrote:Hot beds work very well although mine look little like that one. I just as in minutes ago, finished planting tomatoes in one. It is nothing more than a frame of locust logs laid on the ground. I hoed the top soil down to maybe 3 inches deep. Added some saved grass clippings from last fall and some fairly fresh chicken manure and mixed it all up good with the loosened soil. The logs are about 6 inches and the finished mix comes up the top so the loosened root zone is about 9 inches but will settle probably to half that.

Some junk pvc pipe and a cheap piece of plastic finishes it off. With the heat from the manure working with the grass along with the sun will probably make it necessary to vent it before too long. I've grown tomatoes like this for decades, it works very well at least for me. Time to transplant I just dampen the ground and pull the plants. I think they, well actually I know, they do as well or better than plants started in those little cells or pots.

It is early here to start tomatoes but I think they will be fine and are for sale anyway, I'll start my own a little later as I don't care about having the neighborhood's first  tomato anyway.



I definitely want to put a hot bed in the greenhouse next year for stating solanums, if I can make that work. So much of my fertility management revolves around chop and drop and my deep litter system, so it's hard to build up a stockpile of nitrogen-rich materials. I'm afraid to import anything since even more pesticides and herbicides have been showing up in the locally produced compost. We'll see if I manage to make it happen for next year. Glad to know that it's effective, though. I'd hate to put in that much effort to little effect.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Time and internet stability permitting, I want to try to do my first live stream Wednesday, March 10th at 3pm PST (5pm CST/6pm EST) for anyone who can make it. A friend will be dropping off some Cultivariable Original oca varieties that were purchased for the farm and I'll be discussing the agronomic and culinary traits that I chose these specific varieties for, as well as propagation techniques I'm going to be experimenting with in order to rapidly increase my supply of plants. After unboxing the oca I'll be doing a short class on using The Calculator and will be able to answer any questions that people have about it. Our internet is pretty terrible so I'm not 100% sure that it will tolerate streaming, but that's my game plan thus far. I have to be careful about how much bandwidth I'm using as we literally had out service shut off for using too much data before when everyone was working from home. Hope to see some of you there with any questions you have about The Calculator. A little anxious to be live for the first time, but hopefully it's not too bad and people actually get something out of it.

 
Mathew Trotter
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Well, the first stream was a qualified success. Thanks to Hans for stopping by and asking some great questions (and putting me on the spot with adding a new crop on the fly... can't believe that went as smoothly as it did.)

You can watch the video above if you want to see the unboxing as well as instructions on using The Calculator. If you just want to skip to the little class I taught on using The Calculator, you should be able to skip to the appropriate timestamp here:

 
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These are the figures I found for Yacon. 10 pounds per plant in our growing conditions according to supplier, Calorie calculators listed 54 calories for 100 grams and 90 calories for 1 ounce fresh root.  It can be dried, juiced and reduced to syrup. I plan to eat it fresh over the winter liftin one plant each month so I went with the last figure for calculation. So that gives me 954 calories per pound times 40 pounds = 3616 per year for 4 plants.  The 2 1 pound tubers that I ate over the last 2 weeks averaged about 2 ounces per serving eaten like a sliced apple.  use period would be about 4 months so divided by 3 for the year. I hope that helps.

planting considerations:   Can be started by planting corm in one gallon container and transplanted after last frost to full sun to 3 to 4 square foot area of deeply turned well drained soil. Needs a lot of water during heat of summer so possibly a plant for a grey water situation,
 
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