Film series: food production

Tue, Aug 30, 2011


Two clips follow. The first features yours truly giving a bloated overview of some of the food-production strategies we are employing at the mud hut. We have not included mushroom plug spawn, wildcrafting, or hunting local animals (including nonnative bullfrogs and crayfish). The second clip features one of my partners on the property describing the top-bar bee hive and its bees.

Acknowledgments: As usual, Karen Sliwa performed real work on the property while Mike Sliwa shot and edited these videos. You can follow the work of Mike and Karen here.


This post is combined with the preceding one and permalinked at Energy Bulletin.

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31 Responses to “Film series: food production”

  1. Wendy Says:

    Very nice demonstration, Guy, even though the roosters did their best to drown you out. :) Re the chicken coop, how long will those straw bales last before decomposing into a pile of mush and you’ll need to rebuild? Also, are they held together by anything other than their own weight? Why aren’t the ducks also in a straw bale house to keep them warm through the winter?

  2. Guy McPherson Says:

    Thanks much, Wendy, for the compliment and the questions.

    Straw bales are tied together with rebar (each row, or course, is connected to the one above and the one below), and each wall sits atop a dirt berm (i.e., “foundation” to protect from water flowing overland). A neighbor’s office was constructed in similar manner more than two decades ago, and it looks fine (he never got around to putting on the plaster, inside or out). I strongly suspect the bales will outlast humans in this valley.

    Ducks are relatively wild animals. They perform well without any insulation in areas hotter and colder than here.

  3. Carol Oldershaw Says:

    From conception to ongoing execution … a vision realized. And, there’s so much green, too. It’s marvelous, Guy. Good for you.

    (Me? I’m still in high, dry desert, boo hoo).

  4. Nicole Says:

    I’m impressed by the number of different systems you have going, Guy. We’ll have to become smarter about getting our citrus growing. We have frosts, but not very severe. However, they are sufficiently bad to kill young citrus. What do you do about the kiwi fruit? Aren’t they also frost sensitive? Do you use much mulch? We find it cuts down on evaporation significantly.

    As far as water is concerned, I don’t know of any rural property in Australia that has their own pressurised water for around the farm. Instead we use gravity feed and that works fine. I’m not talking of large scale irrigation farms. They have completely different systems.

    Thank you for the videos. I learn something every time I see how someone else has set their farm up.

  5. Guy McPherson Says:

    Nicole, we use a lot of mulch, primarily in the form of wood chips. The kiwis are growing under the canopy of large native trees, and we’re hoping that will protect against frost. I’d love to have a gravity-feed system for water delivery, but the land here is flat … no topography means no exploitation of gravity.

  6. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    I’m particularly impressed by the bee video. I would love to have bees that aren’t very aggressive. Where did you get that particular species? Mail order?

  7. Guy McPherson Says:

    The bees did arrive through the mail, as you suggest … my partner on the property handled it, but I can uncover and send you the details if you’d like

  8. Ed Says:

    Thanks Guy: Timely piece from Salatin.

    Won’t have time to hear it all until later.

  9. jaime lopez Says:

    It takes years to raise a human being. It takes less than a second to kill it.

    Same thing. It takes months to raise food. It takes less than one hour to take it away.

    Sorry. The marauders, especially licensed marauders like the military and the police, much like the Chinese warlords of early 20th century with Western blessing, will have the edge over any number of growers.

    The marauders will have an edge on firepower, especially when they can draw from an arsenal owned by whatever regime there might be.

    Mongolia never had to farm. Whenever the food stocks fell low, they just went out and raided farms. That way of life sustained them for more than 5,000 years until Soviets brought their tanks on 1920. It was certainly a ‘sustainable’ way of life.

  10. Guy McPherson Says:

    jaime lopez, what’s your personal solution, beyond fatalism?

  11. jaime lopez Says:

    Basically, my personal solution is , somehow being part of the local order. I am not fit enough to join the ‘warriors’, so I would at least be some kind of administrator, something akin to the positions priests had during the middle ages.

  12. Christopher Says:

    Jaime Lopez,

    You could have picked a better example than Mongolia. Mongolia is traditionally a horse culture, similar to the Plains tribes of North America. The region is too arid and cold to support “traditional” agriculture. Part of both Mongolian and Plains horse cultures is raiding other tribes, due to their increased mobility, which in turn is fostered by the terrain, which supports large herd animals like horses (and are also more conducive to tank warface as well) and is also easier to navigate than dense forests or mountains.

    Our Southwest was once a very productive agricultural region. Archeological evidence from the cliff-dwellings and other sites supports this. Much of the eastern and southern portions of the continent also encouraged a sedentary, agricultural lifestyle among Native Americans. Large earthworks in the South and Midwest indicate large, populations engaged in agriculture and trade.

    There have always been maruauders, or outlaws, or wolfheads, whatver you want to call them. Some regions are more conducive to them, and to nomadic life in general, than others. Regional populations will revert to their historical norms, likely including cycles of boom and bust, as industrial civilization rusts away.

  13. Ed Says:

    Judge Holden from Blood Meridian:

    “Wolves cull themselves, man!” Jaime, you might want to rethink your strategy.

  14. Richard Davies Says:

    Good on you, making these videos. What is needed for the immediate future is exactly what you offer, basic hands on knowledge. Here in Kansas, we experiment with various native technologies, or folkways, that are already attuned to the plains, including wickiups and the like. Many of the area tribes are using the money they’ve made through casinos to foster tribal knowledge about the old ways and to spread the word that those old ways will soon become the new ways.

    But, what troubles me are the people who claim that we will be overrun by thugs and bullies, by governments and such. The problem in such reasoning is that they see things going from business as usual to Mad Max in an instant. That will not and cannot happen without a major black swan event. Tribes like the Mongolians developed in situ, not after some sort of period of “civilization” destruction. How our society evolves will depend on factors too numerous to track and which will evolve differently for each tribal area as dictated by landscape. Those which have developed a system of food production and interdependence will be better able to deal with “marauders” than those who have ignored pleas to prepare.

    Governments are only as effective as their ability to control the terrain. The U.S. government only exerts control because it is given permission by the citizenry. It cannot control Iraq or Afghanistan, a relatively modern state and a near stone age. All the technology in the world is unable to defeat these simple people without completely destroying the ground it wishes to control.

    The same will be true of the United States. The federal government will wither quickly. State government will wither less quickly, but wither it will. Local government will survive in some form because we are the locals. We will determine what our fate will be, either through action or inaction.

    As Dmitri Orlov indicates, we should do as the Russian people did under Soviet rule, we should ignore the government and go about the business of survival.

    I recently read Barbara Tuchman’s history, “The Calamitous 14th Century,” and I was struck at the mayhem exacted by the rich against the poor during a time of plague and war and starvation, and what I found interesting was the fact that these depredations did not exist everywhere and all the time, but were eventually stopped by the peasants taking control of their lives and essentially saying no. Yes bad things happened. No, it was not permanent.

    The possibilities are endless regarding the future. Do not get locked in by a certain predilection. That, more than anything, will get you into trouble.

    Good luck.

    Richard Davies

  15. Nicole Says:


    Australia must be one of the flattest countries on the Earth. The answer before people had electric and fuel driven pumps was to build a header tank on a stand. You still see them on large numbers of properties. Just use your hand pump to pump up to the header tank and you’ll have gravity feed water.

    We have both an electric pump for our house water and a header tank for the water heated by the fuel stove, and the tank on the hill about 15 metres higher than the house. We’ve disconnected the electric pump because it is only in use when we heat our water with gas. Visitors complain that there isn’t a lot of pressure in the shower. I like it because it uses less water. Mind you, turning the power off when a teenage son refuses to get out of the shower is also an effective way of saving water! For around the farm, we have to use special hose fittings for low pressure. There are some pretty good ones around.

  16. Tamnaa Says:

    My wife and I live in Northeastern Thailand. I find this is a good place for keeping things simple and low-tech. We have an abundance of solar income, plenty of water, excellent fertile soil and viable DNA (traditional non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds etc.) always available.

    We have a rice field, lots of fruit trees and a pond full of fish.
    I have to say, though, your garden is looking a good deal better than ours at the moment! I have to get out there, clear the overgrowth and plant again. It is still a learning process for me.

    I just want to mention that the greatest resource here is the huge repository of traditional knowledge the rural people still keep. They know how to live quite comfortably without the so-called benefits of industrial civilization.

    As an example, we grow cotton just as a fascinating hobby and we are learning to process it in the old way using traditional implements. So far we have a batch de-seeded and carded but the spinning wheel we found was incomplete and we hadn’t figured out how to get it working. So just yesterday we visited a small quiet village and found people there who were happy to show us what we needed to know. They still produce beautiful hand-woven cotton fabrics but probably their kids will not learn the skills.

    My impression watching the videos is that you folks are getting a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction out of living independently. That’s really good to see.
    I often get the feeling that people who change their way of life, disengaging from the industrial economy, do so based on fear. If you don’t love what you are doing and get good health and a lot of happiness from it…. seems to me “survival” is hardly worth while.

    Cheers, Tamnaa

  17. Kathy Says:

    I ditto what Tamnaa in that from the vids it does look like Guy and company are enjoying what they do and that loving what you do is very important. Even if as Jaime thinks the Mongols (or Powers that Be) take it away they can’t take away the days of enjoyment you have already had.

    I am entranced by the gentle bees (having been attacked this year by far from gentle yellow jackets). Our garlic chives, when they bloom, always attract pollinators I seldom see the rest of the year (although they must be around). The chives are buzzing right now with wasps, bees, butterflies and a variety of tiny flies. My favorite is the blue winged digger wasp pictured here. I seldom see a European honeybee anymore but everything gets pollinated – the worry about the honeybee syndrome is for the commercial planter who uses mono-culture and needs hives imported for pollination because his once a year crop can’t support a lively variety of natural pollinators

  18. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Guy, I’m sure I can find them using google, so no need to go to any trouble locating the source. However, I couldn’t quite understand the name of the breed completely. I did make out Russian but couldn’t get the rest of it. If you’ll post the name, I’ll be able to find them, I’m sure.

  19. Guy McPherson Says:

    The REAL Dr. House, those are Russian carniolan bees. Carol rushed the name because she isn’t sure of the pronunciation. But, thanks to a certain online search engine, I’m certain about the spelling.

  20. Shelley Youngman Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your videos Guy! This is very impressive and inspiring. You have accomplished much! We are looking forward to your visit here!

  21. Kathy Says:

    Off topic. A friend sent me a recent issue of Science which has a plethora of articles about population. I am about 1/2 way through and have yet to see any mention of oil as being a factor in the huge increase in world population, of peak oil as being a limiting factor, or even of climate change as being a limiting factor. May in the second half? I doubt it. But how can you compartmentalize something like population from energy. Do they think we can learn to photosynthesize our own food?

    Tie in to topic, nothing like growing your own food to get your perspectives in line with reality.

  22. Kathy Says:

    New photographs taken of a vast glacier in northern Greenland have revealed the astonishing rate of its breakup, with one scientist saying he was rendered “speechless.”

  23. navid Says:

    Kathy, re. the recent issue of “Science” – we really should not be surprised.

    As Jared Diamond said in his 2003 TED video (linked here previously), the PTB are in their protective bubble and so do not sense the growing danger. Our scientists – including and especially those of Diamond and Steven Chu’s caliber- are sustained by bottled water and layers of lesser beings toiling below them on the industrial food chain – so they feel safe(r). The same applies to the delusional suits and hairdoos called “economists.”

    Diamond in his TED talk seemed more worried about his hairdoo than his own personal future.

    As the Tower of Ivory Baubles falls like the Tower of Babel, will its inhabitants starve while arguing over which fork or spoon should be used to eat their lab mice ????

  24. Michael Irving Says:


    I was late getting to the videos (family gathering, North Cascades, backpacks, many miles) but I would second what most have said. Your videos are filled with new ideas for me, many of which I will put into play. Also, there are confirmations that some of my solutions are similar-to/exactly-like what you have worked out. For example, my solution to “the bane of our existence” is virtually identical to yours. Conversely, my solution for keeping my chickens warm is not nearly as good as yours so I will be making some modifications to take advantage of your better solutions. I think I will be watching each of the videos several times and gleaning new ideas with each viewing.

    Michael Irving

  25. Alex Smith Says:

    Guy – very helpful and inspiring videos.

    On our homestead in Northern Canada, where trees were plentiful, I built a log chicken coop to keep the ladies warm. We got less eggs in winter, but we got enough.

    We did lose one Rooster, due to their rules. All the hens huddled together on a roosting pole I gave them, but the Rooster took a different spot, and froze to death by himself. We still got eggs without him.

    Our outdoor run for the chickens had to have wire fences of course, but also a wire top cover, to keep the hawks from snatching our birds. One racoon found a hole I missed in the eves, squeezed in, killed 8 before I ran him out with a shovel (in the middle of one cold night).

    We raised different breeds for eggs, and then raised “meat birds” that go up to 16 pounds in one season, to be killed in the Fall.

    thanks again
    Alex, Radio Ecoshock

  26. Tamnaa Says:

    Kathy, you are right of course, fossil fuels and resulting industrial processes are the main reason for the huge spike in population over the last couple of centuries.
    Here is one very direct contribution: our bodies need nitrogen to form protein. The amount of biologically available nitrogen on earth was always limited to how much could be “fixed” in the soil by microbes.
    Then a chemist called Fritz Haber (while trying to make explosives) discovered how to synthesize ammonia, thus inventing synthetic fertilizer.
    Although the process takes N from the air the H comes from natural gas and the process uses a lot of energy for compression.
    Now much of the N in our bodies (perhaps 50%) originates in a fertilizer plant rather than in organic living soil.
    One estimate: 2 of 5 humans would not be alive today without artificial fertilizer.
    Interesting that Haber also developed poison gas for use in WWI. Science marches on!

  27. Kathy Says:

    Tamnaa, yep Nitrogen is a limiting factor. That is why the US passed the guano islands act

    Haber’s process also had this negative effect “The industrial production of nitrogen prolonged World War I by providing Germany with the gunpowder and explosives necessary for the war effort even though it no longer had access to guano.[10]” per wiki (not posting this link – for those who are new to the site, if you put two or more links in your post it kicks your comment out for Moderator Review and delays the posting of your comment)

    Now we may be at peak phosphorus as well which will be another limiting factor.

    Limits are always set by the least available necessary resource – I think that is postulated in a rule – but this old brain can’t recall whose rule it is. At any rate the limiting factor for food production can be nitrogen, phosphorus, water, sunlight, temperature – or as is becoming more likely all of them and others may come up short right about the same time… But the shortage of any one makes the abundance of any other immaterial.

  28. Tamnaa Says:

    Kathy, What do you think about the viability of the money system… is that a limiting factor as well? It seems to be a very fragile link these days. I’m no expert on money (never had much) so I’ll probably never get this figured out. Maybe as long as resources are actually available, people will find ways to trade barrels of water for bushels of potatoes or somesuch, but I can’t imagine it working well for large and concentrated populations.

    Is money a separate issue from that of natural resources?

  29. Nicole Says:


    I don’t think it is. In 2008 when we had the last global financial crisis (next one maybe only weeks or even days away!), international shipping almost came to a halt because people couldn’t get letters of credit. The banks were not willing to lend money to each other and within minutes, there was no money to be had on the international market. Due to our highly complex world where no one person, company or country is responsible for the manufacture of the majority of items from beginning to end, you only need to be missing one link in the chain for the chain to no longer hold. “For want of a nail, the battle was lost.” (old English nursery rhyme).

    There is a very informative report by an Irish group Feasta, published in 2010:
    Here is an extract:
    “Our civilisation is structurally unstable to an energy withdrawal. There is a high probability that our integrated and globalised civilisation is on the cusp of a fast and near-term collapse. … Oil production must peak; there is a growing probability that it has or will soon peak; energy flows and a functioning economy are by necessity highly correlated; our basic local needs have become dependent upon a hyper-complex, integrated, tightly-coupled global fabric of exchange; our primary infrastructure is dependent upon the operation of this fabric and global economies of scale; credit is the integral part of the fabric of our monetary, economic and trade systems; a credit market must collapse in a contracting economy.”

  30. Tamnaa Says:

    Hi Nicole, yes, I feel that everything is tied together and that this “hyper-complex, integrated, tightly-coupled global fabric of exchange” is like a stick being bent. We can hear a few fibers letting go already and we know it is bound to snap at some point under the increasing strain.

    Our situation here in Thailand is that we can live fairly comfortably without fossil fuels or electricity and we already produce enough food organically to survive. Basically, we can live without money but it’s impossible to foresee what demands and stresses the future may bring.

    As to the concerns of J. Lopez, I think the probability of violent and “licensed” marauders is quite real but it will be much less in parts of the world where traditional skills for making a livelihood directly from the land are still alive and strong. There is food all around us here and shelter is easy to obtain.
    These potential thugs may ransack the homes of the wealthier people but they won’t be able to get much from us or our neighbors. I expect things will eventually settle down to a quiet village life much like it was a hundred or so years ago.

    Anyway, that’s my theory. You place your bets and you take your chances, I guess.


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