Saturday, February 28, 2009

Local food: success is 100% possible

This is a guest post from Tim, a city planner from sunny Moncton, NB. Tim has spent some time looking into the viability of local, small scale agriculture, and has come up with some results that give us every reason to be optimistic regarding our ability to feed ourselves through our individual and neighborhood-scale efforts, even as the systems of large-scale, industrial agriculture and food delivery unravel due to a combination of high input costs, epic droughts brought on by accelerating climate change, and a shortage of credit caused by the financial collapse. The remaining challenge is start doing it quickly enough: this summer, that is.

"Russian households (inclusive of both urban and rural) collectively grow 92% of country's potatoes on their garden-plots, the size of which is typically 600 square meters [0.15 acres] for urban households, and typically no more than 2500 square meters [0.62 acres] for rural households," tells me Dr. Leonid Sharashkin, whose dissertation, "THE SOCIOECONOMIC AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF FOOD GARDENING IN THE VLADIMIR REGION OF RUSSIA" contains a wealth of specifics, based on original field research as well as Russian government data. For instance, he writes:

"In 2003, 34.8 million families (66% of all households in the country) owned gardening plots (subsidiary plot, allotment, garden, or dacha) and were involved in growing crops for subsistence (Rosstat 2005b). By 2005, 53% (by value) of the country’s total agricultural output was coming from household plots (which in 2006 occupied only 2.9% of agricultural land), while the remaining 47% (by value — Rosstat 2006) came from the agricultural enterprises (often the former kolkhozes and sovkhozes) and individual farmers, requiring 97.1% of agricultural lands (Rosstat 2007b)." [Sharahkin, p.12]

Elsewhere in his disseration, he details how much food was being produced in household plots, and its figures were on the order of 90% of all the potatoes in Russia, 80% of all the vegetables, 50% of the meat and milk etc. In other words, very high proportions of certain products, including at least one calorie staple (potato).

Dr. Sharashkin quotes the previous figures from Russian government publications, but his dissertation also contains the results from his primary field research (and therefore are isolated from the usual concerns one might have about the reliability of government statistics): on page 162, Figure 24 indicates that, of the gardening households in the study area:

  • 39% were cultivating under 0.05 hectares (i.e. 500 sq.m.);
  • another 36% were cultivating between 0.05 and 0.1 hectares; and
  • none of them were cultivating more than half a hectare.
In other words, 3/4 of gardening households were gardening the equivalent of two suburban house lots. (At least based on the typical house lots we have around here, which are 50-60 feet by 100 feet.)

Considering that Russia has just 110 days of growing season per year, while most of America has much longer growing season and significantly more sunshine, this is all quite encouraging from the standpoint of what Americans and Canadians could do with their tiny suburban house lots, assuming they all learn to garden quickly enough.


Anonymous said...

Very good article. I know from experience that you don't need all that much land. Also, small plots are manageable and old people can participate according to their strength. I am trying to put together such an initiative, borrowing land around town from people who don't use it. Here in Virginia, the soil is good, much of it is virgin in fact, and the climate is also very good. A small percentage of the state's land could feed everybody except for wheat and rice, and there are ways around that. The rivers, unfortunately, are quite polluted and the fish may not be edible, though I have eaten it. The Chesapeake Bay... an ecological disaster despite some efforts at cleaning it up. Still, a fleet of small boats can bring in a lot of fish from the ocean.

On the subject of sheep, people here are stupid. They don't get it that those hills and mountains (old ones, very flattened mostly, rarely inaccessible) are usable for flocks of sheep and goats. They don't get sheep, sheep's meat or milk or cheese. They have forgotten much.

If Virginia can do it, and easily, the entire South can do it just as easily. This is rich land which would be the envy of many a country.

I am going to bring in two Dutch friends who have a huge amount of experience in intensive agriculture.

Example: In 1/2 acre I got so many tomatoes that I was able to make and freeze enough sauce for three years, besides eating a big bowl of them every day during the season.

Stuff grows, folks!

Keep up the good work and the practical work. That is what's needed. Forget about manicures, though, that's the small stuff.

Anonymous said...

Serious, very relevant stuff. I'm gonna add this to my presentation in Town Meeting this coming Monday. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

A practical comment. You will need to compost. Start now. If you can, talk to your neighbors about keeping compostable stuff for you. You can mix in some grass cuttings and ground leaves, but not too much or you'll kill it. There are good manuals for this, and lots of websites with accurate practical information.

Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of New Hampshire said...

After the last power black out, the people living in rural areas will find that surviving will become increasing difficult without all of the goods from the “outside” (food, canning jars, fencing, roofing, hay, straw, seed, animal feed, plastic tarps, fertilizer, clothes, fabric, medicine, hardware, saws, wood stoves, etc.). The survivors will be the very few who live in areas with good rain and soil and who prepared intelligently for a life without oil.

Anonymous said...

One has to take to account that due to Climate change, many parts of the United States will succumb to drought and eventual desertification. In many areas such as the Southwest, suburban garden plots will be difficult to maintain without a steady source of water... I can see a situation where refugees from the uninhabitable regions began head to cooler climates further north.

Avi said...

Here's the BBC to the rescue!:

"In 'How to be a Gardener', Alan Titchmarsh distills his knowledge and passion for gardening and his many years of experience, to give you a comprehensive guide that explores every aspect of your garden and how it works."


Anonymous said...

Plant trees.
Nut trees, fruit trees, bee pollen trees, sap trees, nesting trees. It's permaculture that with tending will last generations.
And I'd also recommend outfits like Seed Savers Exchange, Fedco, Native Seeds/SEARCH, and local seed saving and exchanging groups.
Keep your old tools sharp.
Manure is the new Monsanto.

The old one, too.

Sebastian Ernst Ronin said...

IMO, it is most important to recognize that NAmerica is not Russia, especially re urban zoning bylaws. It is amazing how anal and stupid the tentacles of NAmerican bureaucracies can at times be.

For those in urban environments, especially those considering digging the front lawn as opposed to the back, prior to investing the financial, intellectual and physical capital to get underway, you may wish to check with your local municipality re bylaws. City planners, as a rule, have not been all that hip to planning/zoning for the coming meltdown.

Should there be some dumb bylaw that stands in your way, then you have the opportunity to go political at the very local, municipal level to get the bylaw tossed. Not only does the bylaw get tossed, but it is also an opportunity to advocate WHY you are taking on the bylaw.

Anonymous said...

"The City of Havana now produces enough food for each resident to receive a daily serving of 280 g of fruits and vegetables a day. The UN food programme recommends 305 g.

Joe Kovach, an entomologist from Ohio State University who visited Cuba on a 2006 research delegation sums up the situation: “ In 25 years of working with farmers, these are the happiest, most optimistic, and best-paid farmers I have ever met.”

Organic Cuba without Fossil Fuels

Anonymous said...

Cleveland, Ohio city council just approved keeping farm animals in the city limits. They also are going on a demolition spree of all the abandoned houses in the area.

My city has recently started a farmers market.
Hopefully intelligent planning such as these decisions will continue.

Anonymous said...

Readers / Community should consider buying cheap Bee Pollen or Bea Bread (USA made) which is a most valued #1 SUPERFOOD (It can last for at least 2 years and keep anyone HEALTHY and STRONG come fire, ice or the devil himself and his armies.) :)

Anonymous said...

?Cleveland, Ohio city council just approved keeping farm animals in the city limits. They also are going on a demolition spree of all the abandoned houses in the area."

Why on earth are they demolishing houses where people could live? That makes no sense unless the houses are literally falling down. Maybe I am totally wrong, but this reminds me of the nefarious "urban renewal", which was especially bad in Cleveland, Columbus and other places.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, I like these practical articles, keep writing them!

As far as bylaws and whatnot, look at how front yards in forclosed properties are being taken care of. If they are neglected and not have much attention paid to them, you shouldn't have too much trouble ignoring any offending 'rules'.

There is a large lot a few blocks away that was abandoned halfway through preconstruction of yet another useless south floridian condo unit.

There is some evidence of life around the edges of the lot, however before it can be devoted to a potato or cassava growing condition, its probably going to have to be dug up by hoes and soil brought in to enliven the likely sterile ground.

Any suggestions for particular plants that break up packed up ground?

Anonymous said...

"There is some evidence of life around the edges of the lot, however before it can be devoted to a potato or cassava growing condition, its probably going to have to be dug up by hoes and soil brought in to enliven the likely sterile ground."

Don't be so sure that it's sterile. And the potato is not that particular. If you dig it up after it rains, you'll end up muddy but you can unpack the soil. Maybe you'll have to do it several times, but it's doable.

Dmitry Orlov said...

"Any suggestions for particular plants that break up packed up ground?"

Eric Brende, in his book Better Off, talks about the Amish with whom he spent a year reclaiming some tractor-compacted farmland by some light disking and some special de-clotting grass (which, unfortunately, he does not identify). Maybe somebody can follow up on this, because this is an extremely common problem.

Anonymous said...

Great to see that other Atlantic Canadians are taking these issues seriously.

I had never heard of "peak oil" until last fall, but for years had been uneasy about the prosperity in North America since WW2. I had often vaguely speculated it rested on economic enslavement of Central Americans for cheap food and Asians for durable goods, but it wasn't until I (by chance almost) read Kunstler's "Long Emergency" last year that I realised cheap energy was the key.


Another commenter suggested planting nut trees. I strongly second that suggestion. I've been planting seedlings and grafted nut trees since the 90's.

Nut trees can help with getting balanced protein when meat gets scarce and/or too expensive.

Grafted trees will usually start to bear sooner, but are more expensive. Seedling trees are probably the best option for the long term in terms of survivability and genetic variation. Grafts can be finicky. If a graft eventually fails don't blame the nurseryman!

Protect trees from "rodents" (rabbits, squirrels, deer(I know..but I consider them rodents))
with white plastic-coil tree wraps around the lower 2 feet of the trunk and or brush piles/fencing to keep deer away: the smaller critters eat the bark at the base of the tree girdling and killing the tree. The deer eat the higher parts of the trees)

Get some "havahart" cage squirrel traps if you want any harvest for yourself. (Also, in some (near?) future time, squirrel stew may become appealing....) I bait the traps with wild apples.

Have as wide a variety of species as possible. Monocultures are dangerous. (See the history of the american chestnut, also white pine blister rust, dutch elm disease, etc)

Hazelnut seedlings bear when young. Good disease resistant varieties are now available. (see Grimo Nut Nursery in Ontario)

Have as much genetic variation as possible within a species.

Look for chinese chestnuts (blight resistant) which are rich in carbs
compared to other nut trees, which are higher in fat (fat will be good in the future though!) You can grow chestnuts from supermarket purchased chestnuts if not cooked. (store the seeds in SLIGHTLY moist peat moss in the fridge for a few months prior to planting in pots)

Black walnuts are tough to crack (and watch out for the dye in the outer husks! and the juglone in the roots) but are fast growing, and will eventually produce valuable wood.

Some pine trees produce seeds large enough to eat and can survive to colder zones, but take years to grow from seeds.

If warm enough (zone 7) plant monkey puzzle (araucaria araucana) for nut production in the future (and to preserve this endangered species from southern south america)

Consider that some trees require several different strains for cross pollination.

Recommended Canadian souces of nut trees:

Grimo Nut Nursery
Campberry Farm (R D Campbell)

Don't neglect trees for animal feed ("mast")in the future such as various "white" oaks. English oaks do well in most of eastern canada. White oaks are slow growing but valuable in many ways (in the future especially).

If you have the space, consider coppicing species for firewood/fenceposts. (Robinia pseudoacaia and related trees are good for poor soil, rot resistant posts, and firewood) Larch/tamarack is probably the most generally useful conifer for firewood/posts/rot resistant lumber.

Apples are very disease prone. Make sure they are resistant to fungous diseases. Asian pears seem to do well here. I'd recommend a mixture of grafted varieties but also grow from seeds.
(I have some seedling trees planted when in my twenties now bearing heavily)

If your soil is heavy/wet, make large ant-hill-like mounds and plant trees in the mounds to provide drainage and prevent root rot and loss of the tree.

Consider unusual fruit trees like pawpaws (asimina triloba), american persimmon, mulberry, even fig trees if grown as a bush and tipped over and buried for the winter in cold climates (I cover them with a layer of pine boughs, then eel grass, and then soil, in early december before the temps go below -5 centigrade.)

Cornhill Nursery in NB has rust resistant black currants and gooseberries) Try also their arctic kiwi's.

Most types of bamboo have edible new shoots. Phyllostachys aureosulcata is very hardy and grows like a weed in Nova Scotia once established (my experience)

PS. When dealing with nurserymen, DO NOT tell them you are expecting a collapse and preparing for TEOTWAWKI!!!

Consider perennials like asparagus (early spring harvest and likes cool salty soil by the ocean) and rhubarb (indestructable)


Also Build some form of root cellar while concrete blocks and rebar are still relatively cheap. If your ground is flat, build it above ground and pile soil around and above it for insulation. Don't forget the rebar! and fill the block cores with cement/rebar.

(Unless earthquakes are a major concern, consider building a fireproof concrete storage shed for imortant supplies)

If you have a steeply sloping property you should consider drilling a well higher than your house/barn so you can (possibly! but not necessarily) use gravity to deliver the water (siphon). Make sure you have extra black poly pipe. Garden hoses work well as a siphon if the sections can be joined tightly without leaks. A good dug well is sometimes better in an emergency (IMHO) than a drilled well (I have both) but must boil/treat water if any doubt as to surface contamination.

regarding orlov/collapse/energy depletion in general:

When I was in junior high in the late 70's I remember Jimmy Carter proposing that Canada and Mexico enter into an energy sharing alliance with the US. The Canadian news media at the time laughed it off (as did I despite my age, only about 13 or 14) but, astonishingly, within 10 years we voluntarily ceded our
right to control and ration our energy resources via the first free trade deal. I watched with dismay through the 80s as Canadians adopted the worst aspects of American culture (and none of the positive aspects) to become "american's-lite". I blamed "american cable TV" at the time, which we didn't have access to until I was almost 20.

Make no mistake about it, when the good ship USA goes down we Canadians will be sucked down with it.

Sebastian Ernst Ronin said...

Good Presbytaritan, re "Make no mistake about it, when the good ship USA goes down we Canadians will be sucked down with it."

Seeing as we're both Novacadians, FYI see, "Post-Peak Oil and NAmerican Regional Secession."

Anonymous said...

A much greater measure of food security is attainable if people grow nonhybrid or heirloom varieties and save their own seed. Community or neighborhood-wide planning is a plus, especially for crops that readily cross. See the free printable guide Seed-Saving for Community Food Security. It is available as a PDF here: It is also available as an editable Word document here so that people can adapt/revise it for a particular region.

Anonymous said...

To the poster questioning why they're demolishing houses in Cleveland: I think it's the condemned/abandoned/crack -houses.

Anonymous said...

For those commenting about zoning and neighborhood bylaws concerning front yard gardening, just landscape using a real Almond or Peach tree instead of the flowering kind, and use Rugosa Rose or Bush Cherries for shrubs and hedges, also use Hazels/Filberts as specimen plants, and maybe Hardy Kiwi, Hops, or other perennial vine instead of English Ivy to climb up an arbor or carport post. Just be creative and find an edible plant alternative for a traditional planting, and by the time the authorities figure out what you have growing TEOTWAWKI will be upon us, and neighbors will come to you for seedlings you create in the backyard from cuttings off your front yard plantings.

Anonymous said...

I think aesthetics should be a very secondary consideration when planting on the land you do have, especially if you only have a smallish lot that you're house is built on. If you own the house, plant as much as you can. If people think that kale plants are not beautiful or that the squash is too messy or that the tomatoes on their poles make an unwelcome verticality in their visual field, well, that's too bad. This is not about "landscaping" but about planting for food. In any case, people will soon get used to seeing what's there.

As to nut trees, that strikes me as a god thing to do in principle, but they take an awfully long time to grow and bear fruit. Better get a lemon tree or two that's grown enough to start bearing fruit. Or a mandarine tree, if the climate is favorable to it. For me, having access to garlic, lemons and herbs is essential, since I cook Mediterranean food.

Boris Epstein said...

I wonder how much of a fertilizer input this sort of small-scale gardening requires. My guess would be, fairly substantial. Hence productivity may be lower should fertilizer become unavailable - though the general idea seems sound to me.

slimyalligator said...

There are many crops that will help with soil compaction. Unfornately most do not produce edibles per se. Many of these crops are refered to as green manure crops. Sudan grass is great at busting up compacted soil and it produces large amounts of biomass which could be composted. Daikon radish planted late August is another great compaction buster. Google 'tillage radish' and/or Cedar Meadow Farm for more info.

Anonymous said...

We have just purchased 1/2 acre in Coos Bay, Oregon, and are putting a house on it that (hopefully) will stand the test of time for awhile. The climate is moderate, and we have plans for a greenhouse or two, as well as raised beds. This is our last shot, and it will be free and clear....I hope we are in time. June is the date.

Thanks for the book, Dimitry!

Kati said...

Thanks for the increased hope, Dmitri. We live on a lot that's 60x90 ft, with a house that's single-story and 1170 sq ft. If we got rid of the sheds for the vehicals, we'd have more room, but that won't happen any time soon.

As it is, the entire front yard could be put to food production (excepting our two trees, which I won't get rid of, for their shading purposes), and most of the back yard. Still, it can be quite a bit of area for gardening. And you give us hope that it IS possible. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone here tried Square Foot Gardening? I just heard about it and would like to try it.

Square Foot Gardening

subgenius said...

@ Boris Epstein

This is what composting and vermiculture are for. A couple of compost bins and a vermiculture setup will easily fit in a spare corner - pick one that doesn't have much growing potential due to lack of light.

Pipe the runoff from the kitchen sink out to a holding tank and capture the nutrients washed off (environmentally-friendly washing liquids are basically plant food too), then use that to water the plants.

If you really want to go for it, then I recommend you look into composting toilets and humanure. Properly handled (not difficult) this will provide serious support to the soil, and there is no risk of pathogens. I repeat - IF YOU DO IT PROPERLY.

subgenius said...

@ Michael

Coos Bay - get in touch with Ianto Evans at The Cob Cottage Company. He is a master of eco-building and of organic high-yield gardening, and is VERY local to you.


Dmitry Orlov said...

Concerning grass used to break up compacted soil, Eric Brende (author of Better Off) wrote:

"It's been a long time, and I don't remember the exact grass if it was mentioned. I do know the people there were fond of orchard grass and alfalfa. As for other sources, the Small Farmer's Journal would be a bible on matters of this kind. I bet if you wrote the editor, he would tell you whatever you need to know."

Anonymous said...

"Has anyone here tried Square Foot Gardening? I just heard about it and would like to try it."

First time I hear about it, but it does remind me of Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic methods. The "theory" is likely bunk, but the stuff apparently works. I know people who do it with great success. If it works...

I do use garlic patches by tomato patches and lettuce patches, etc. Supposedly the acids in one plant repels the bugs of the plants in the patch next door. People have observed this for centuries if not millennia. It seems to work.

Look up biodynamic methods, there are some very good reference books. And you don't have to believe in Steiner's theories of astral bodies and such. This is planting.

Anonymous said...

Sebastian Ronin, re Novacadia Alliance and North American regional secessionist movements vs North American Union.

Thank you for pointing out this issue.

It is troubling to read the recent quote from former Prime Minister Paul Martin that "it will be necessary for nation-states to surrender sovereignty in order to make the world work", posted at another section of your site.

I had noticed these tendencies in the mainstream news media a few years ago promoting adoption of a common North American currency (The US dollar a few years ago, and now an "amero"?). I would agree that a union of this scale would certainly be oppressive.

Given that this economic collapse is in its early stages, and happening so fast, it is hard to predict if we will have even a temporary "recovery" before post peak oil energy and food costs give what's left of industrial civilization another "kick in the teeth".

If there is no temporary recovery, and the collapse is sufficiently destructive, it may be impossible to form an alliance of even the moderate size of the proposed Novacadia.

As you point out, the current disadvantages of lack of heavy industry and high percentage of rural populations and small towns in the Maritime Provinces and Maine/New Hampshire/Vermont would be an advantage.

Given that Canadians do not yet seem to realize the scale and seriousness of what is underway, it will be awhile before these post peak oil reorganizations would be given any serious consideration.

The availability of water transport over most of this region will certainly be a huge advantage once again. As an aside, I should mention that into the 1940s there were still passenger steamships operating regularly within Nova Scotia, and a vital part of the transportation infrastructure, especially around Cape Breton Island and through the Brasdor Lakes). (A look at a good topographic map will make the reasons for this obvious!)

I too am optimistic for the future of this region if we can survive the chaos of the transition to a post-industrial world. (Actually, you could argue that we have been de-industrializing in this region since the time of confederation. New Brunswick has done a much better job of holding on to its industries than NS has.) A serious short term challenge (at least in NS) is the ongoing destruction of what is left of agriculture in this province.

We also have some practice with the "asset stripping" at the local level that D. Orlov mentions in his writings. In the 70s, in depopulated coastal communities, there were many abandoned houses.
The older kids would take the larger timbers from old houses for making rafts. My brothers and I would salvage other lumber for building tree houses. Staircases would disappear, and finally the remains would be used for kindling and firewood. I still have a salvaged galvanized metal bathtub I sometimes use for mixing cement.

Occasionally a young family would squat in a house owned by an absentee heir that never visited the place, but eventually the county went on a burning spree in the 80s destroying any empty house.

The visions that Kunstler and others paint of tracts of empty houses in far flung regions of suburbia are extremely realistic; I grew up in such an area, the only difference being that this was coastal rural depopulation rather than suburban.

This was before the coastal real estate boom of the last 15 years, where it was cheaper for Europeans, then Americans and finally Albertans recently, to fly here than to buy coastal vacation property at home.

The coastal vacation "McMansions" may have some marble countertops and a few trinkets worth salvaging, but all the chipboard juts and jibs and fake turrets will be useless for firewood, or even building treehouses.

Regarding the general lack of historical awareness of the reluctance of the maritime provinces to join confederation: I have long been of the opinion that the one underlying, rarely acknowledged driving force behind confederation in the 1860s was an attempt by the British government to stop the expansion of the US for mercantilist reasons (to stifle a competitor).

Regarding post-oil agriculture, Peter Goodwin, in a countercurrents posting, raises some complications about "organic agriculture" and mineral depletion I rarely see discussed.

Anonymous said...

TO FLORIDA: re: "Any suggestions for particular plants that break up packed up ground?"
I was thinking bamboo but if nothing seems to work, you can always grow 10(!) different types of mushrooms on it. Again, available everywhere in the USA via --->

UncommonBusiness said...

Hey, Dmitry, your talk is up on Fora.TV. You might what to put it up on your website

Anonymous said...

dont plant bamboo! for breaking up soil go with alfalfa or or clovers they grow quickly and you turn them under for a quick nitrogen infusion.

Anonymous said...

A quick and effective way to revitalize the soil would be to plant soybeans and black-eyed peas.
They can purchased at any bulk food store.
Break up the ground a bit and cast out the seed.
In a couple of months you will have a thick green carpet about two feet tall or so.
Till this directly into the soil. Viola!!
Well yes there is a lot of digging to do, but wow makes some nice soil!

Anonymous said...

Here in Denver, it's bone dry except for the huge snowstorms that sweep through in March and April, delaying planting until June. I've just discovered permaculture. Do a google search and look at U-tube for "Greening of the Desert" where they created an oasis on a salt flat.
Amazing! I have no more excuses.

Anonymous said...

I've had some meetings in the last several days with local people and some authorities about food, planting and the collapse. Most people don't have a clue and don't want to rock the boat in any way that deals with property rights. One guy told me that if there is hunger, the government will take care of us. Mmmm.

Sadly, the poorest people, which here are mostly black, have shown no interest in getting something together.

This is not going to be easy. People are more worried about weapons than they are about food.

I also get the impression that a substantial percentage of the US population is drugged.

Anonymous said...

I understand that milk thistle has been widely used to make "clodbuster." I believe the chopped up plant is soaked in water and applied to the soil. I've never tried this. Milk thistle leaves are edible, but I've never tried eating them either. They're rather pretty.

John Jeavons's "How to Grow More Vegetables" is my favorite guide to small-space gardening. You can get older editions from Half-Price Books very cheap. I think the older editions are better for beginners, anyway. The most recent edition is probably available at your public library, in which old-timers will discover that Jeavons has adopted an increasingly detailed approach over the years. His focus is on maximum production from minimum space. He is now starting literally everything in flats before planting out. The beginner will be daunted by the painstaking detail. Hell, I'm daunted by the painstaking detail!

For those who haven't checked, 600 square meters (.15 acres) = 6,534 square feet. This comes to a garden plot measuring about 50 X 150, which would actually give you a bit more--7,500 square feet. But this is approximately what you are looking at. This is a pretty big garden. You may want to skip the double-digging.

My present garden is only about 1,200 square feet, and the production from it was staggering last summer.

A lady in my area has started a garden sharing program to provide garden space for people who don't have any.

All you organizers out there might want to consider ways to encourage your community to get gardening. I like the idea of organizing block parties where people work together to create a small (100 square foot) garden plot in each participant's yard. Get someone to volunteer to bring in a truckload of manure, and have a potluck at the end of the day.

Community seed banks should be set up. Churches should be holding home-canning seminars.

Anonymous said...

Hey upthread, thanks for the Cuba link!

For the nut tree discussion: Remember that with some varieties you will need both "boy" trees and "girl" trees to get nuts.

For the ones with packed/poor soil issues: Google "no till gardening." Raised beds may be your best bet.

Also, folks with space issues should look into "vertical gardening." I have my trellises ready for spring!

Anonymous said...

"Also, folks with space issues should look into "vertical gardening." I have my trellises ready for spring!"

Also, where the soil is too tough or has been paved over, don't forget planting in bit pots. That way you can use patios, etc. I've seen city people grow tomatoes in big pots, held by bamboo poles, as well as herbs in balconies and terraces that get sun.

About compacted soil, these days, with so many unemployed people, it's probably easy to get a guy with a pneumatic drill to break up the soil. Once that upper crust is broken up, you can deal with it by conventional means. A good way is, after breaking it up, to cover it with hay. This retains humidity and water and creates life on top...

Jan Steinman said...

Boris Epstein said... "I wonder how much of a fertilizer input this sort of small-scale gardening requires... productivity may be lower should fertilizer become unavailable..."

Surprise, you are a fertilizer factory!

We have opened the nutrient loop with our squeamish practices for taking a valuable resource and treating it like waste. Human excrement needs to go back on the land!

If the thought of composting your poop makes you squeamish, you can start by collecting your own urine, which is a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Mix it 1:9 with water and use it for "fertigation."

Humankind is currently wasting at least 0.5% of all available phosphorous per year, and have been since the creation of septic systems. At that rate, half of it "goes away" every 140 years or so. There are indications that we have hit "peak phosphorous" already. But surprise, your poop us full of it!

You can learn more about this from Joe Jenkins's wonderful book, The Humanure Handbook, which Joe has graciously made available as a free download, although I encourage you to buy the paper book directly from him, to support his efforts to educate the public on this extremely important issue.

Anonymous wrote: "On the subject of sheep, people here are stupid. They don't get it that those hills and mountains... are usable for flocks of sheep and goats.

There are good ways and bad ways of doing this. Without top predators to keep them moving, livestock should be rotated through a paddock system.

Livestock kill forests! In areas where livestock are free-ranging -- or even areas overrun with "natural" herbivores, such as deer -- small trees never get established. In a hundred years or so, you end up with a landscape that resembles Wales or Scotland or Greece -- huge forests, wiped out because small trees never got a chance to grow up.

Another huge problem with livestock is impact on water quality. Free-ranging livestock destroy riparian areas and silt up watercourses, killing fish. Livestock must be kept out of streams!

So please don't go out and get a bunch of sheep and simply turn them loose. Like all domestic animals, they require careful management to minimize negative impacts on the environment.

Anonymous said...

"So please don't go out and get a bunch of sheep and simply turn them loose. Like all domestic animals, they require careful management to minimize negative impacts on the environment."

Of course,.you need a person and a dog... As to harming the forest in the Blue Ridge mountains and their foothills, there is no danger of that. If anything, the forest is too respected. There is nothing sacred about it.

If you are scared of _everything_ you can't get anything done without a crew of experts guiding you. That is sort of... what we have now?

A guy here in Virginia started making goat cheese and there are so many regulations and obstacles that he can't sell it. What could be more ridiculous than that?

Another guy in the Shenandoah Valley sells good quality chickens and he had to go through hell in order to continue open. Michael Pollan has documented this in his book _The Omnivore's Dilemma_.

My point is that if you want everything to be high science, you can't get anything done. Whereas the shepherds in Bulgaria are doing just fine by themselves. It's kind of lonely work, though, but there are people who have the right temperament for it.

Anonymous said...

For those who are interested, and since I mentioned Michael Pollan, here is a TED talk from last year that is relevant to what we are discussing:

Among other things, he describes the animal farm in the Shenandoah Valley that I referred to.

Super high productivity, as you can see.

Avi said...

Don't forget Earthboxes, especially if you live in an urban environment! You can make them yourselves but the brand name product is better as it lasts longer in the sun.
Nothing like NOT buying outrageously priced tomatoes at the store:)

Anonymous said...

At, there is a letter from a farmer who says that financing the planting is not a problem but collapsing prices for the crops might be a serious one. If this turns out to be true, the road to scarcity is almost guaranteed. This cycle has happened many times historically.

And if the government takes away the subsidies, the process (planting less in order to risk less and to try to prop up prices) will be even more inevitable.

I thought this might be of interest to readers here. Maybe we won't see the scarcity until two crops from now.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Here there was a rejected comment by an "experienced agronomist" who put out some completely ridiculous numbers on how much land it takes to feed a person and made vague suggestions. Take heart, fella, there are plenty of other blogs out there...

Anonymous said...

Avi, my college-age daughter complained this winter that she can no longer eat store-bought tomatoes--"And it's your fault!" she told me.

Until you've eaten home-grown produce, you have no idea what you're missing.

Besides the far better flavor of home-grown produce, a lot of the home grown stuff keeps better. Your home-grown storage onions will keep for a year, while the ones from the store will rot inside of a month.

A local gardener explained to me that this is because commercially grown onions are heavily fertilized with nitrogen to produce crops quickly. This makes them poor keepers.

Grey Lee said...

I traveled through Russia last summer and took a lot of pictures from the train of the ubiquitous backyard potato plots and other veggies growing around homes in Russian villages. I was reading "A handmade world" and thinking how these Russians will be just fine in the face of a collapse. It was inspirational.