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Mathew Trotter

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since May 27, 2019
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Permaculture innovator living, stewarding, and experimenting on a 93 acre homestead/co-op in the Pacific Northwest. Publishing the results of my experiments on YouTube.
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Recent posts by Mathew Trotter

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.




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.
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.
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.
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.

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.