Preparing for Collapse at the Mud Hut

Upon graduation from high school, I carried 165 pounds on my 6’1″ frame. I was the epitome of skin and bones, lean from constant athletic events and the associated preparatory training. My red-hot metabolism probably had a lot to do with it, too.

I spent a recent couple weeks at the mud hut, working with a sense of urgency rooted in my strong suspicion the industrial age has nearly run its course. Patience is a reportedly a virtue, but only for the living. Barack Obama and his cabal of economic hit men have used a handful of tricks to paper over the economic pile of crap they inherited (and promoted). But the stench is still real, even if the pile is covered with an increasingly tall stack of dollar bills. Most industrial humans continue to ignore the crimes against humanity required to prop up the empire, instead focusing on the “disaster” of unemployment. A few of us actually give a damn about other species and cultures, and even on improving the odds of our own species persisting another generation on this planet, so we welcome the economically dire news. But most Americans welcome the ecological collapse we’re bringing to Earth, and they couldn’t really care less about future generations of human beings, including their own children.

Back in Tucson after a back-breaking two weeks at the mud hut, I tracked down a scale. Sure enough, I’m working entirely too hard. I’ve added two inches to my height since high school, and a whopping three pounds. If I was skin and bones back in the day, I’m now 168 pounds of callused skin on degenerating bones. Herein, I report the results of my recent physical labor.

This post includes links to several pictures that illustrate preparations at the mud hut, along with my rapidly developing skills. It supplements a post from six months ago. And if you want to know how far we’ve come since we started this venture, check out this post from October 2007. We’ve added minimal infrastructure during the last six months, so it’s worth reading the earlier versions. Photographs of infrastructure I described then are linked here: greenhouse, bee box, garden beds, outdoor kitchen with its wood-fired cook stove and grinding mill, straw-bale chicken coop, and straw-bale house with its off-grid solar system (the latter has components guarded by one of the resident gopher snakes).

What’s new, then? In terms of infrastructure, we have a goat pen and goat run, a duck house, and a potato cellar partially filled with more than 100 pounds of recently harvested potatoes. We’re well on our way to growing and preserving all our own food. Already, we are producing more than 70% of the food we eat. Admittedly, the abundant summer harvest makes this step relatively easy. So we’re canning and drying foods, making excellent use of the greenhouse and wood-fired cook stove as we plan for a paucity of fresh vegetables during the winter ahead. With luck, we won’t have to rely on the approach suggested by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert.

We do not have our own goats yet, primarily because the neighbors have more goats than they can milk, so we have free access to a few gallons of milk each week. And you know the age-old question: Why buy the goat when you’re getting the milk for free? Ultimately we’ll invest in a couple goats on our own property. But we’re plenty busy already, with the ducks providing at least six eggs each day and the chickens providing a few more. The nine young hens will start laying in a month or two, at which point we’ll be overwhelmed with eggs. I’m not worried about the cholesterol, but I am concerned about feeding the chickens and ducks when the industrial economy fails. Got any ideas, especially for sources of protein? We’re considering a mealworm farm, in part because I probably won’t be tempted to steal that particular source of protein from the fowl.

And how about those skills I’m developing? I’ve dug trenches (requiring only a strong back and a weak mind, so it’s the perfect job for me) in which to install water lines, and even installed a frost-free hydrant near the chicken coop and duck house (I’m a plumber). This morning I laid tile atop a counter in the outdoor kitchen (I’m a mason). I’ve built several awnings for tools and shade, along with a few structures for animals (I’m a rough carpenter). And we’re growing considerable food, planted from seed, in our own garden beds and also in a neighbor’s field (I’m a sharecropper). My two favorite titles, then, are Professor Emeritus and Sharecropper. I never dreamed I’d have either title, back when I weighed a mere 165 pounds.

Comments 14

  • I’ve been wondering about winter chicken feed too. Right now the ground is covered with mesquite bean pods drying in the sun, and these are no doubt a rich source of protein as both the woodrats and Native Americans make/made use of them. I believe the Native Americans ground them into meal for later storage and food use but am not sure. When the pods sit in water around here long enough to soften and decay they produce an ammonia-rich broth.
    Why nine hens? Nine hens means a lot of eggs. We have three that are 2 1/2 years old, and still giving us about 9 eggs a week, plenty for two people. In peak laying season the three were producing 2 dozen a week. Another three hens I raised from eggs will start laying in a month or so.

  • Helen, your comment reminds me … we’ve been collecting mesquite pods for the last few years, drying them in the greenhouse and grinding them into flour. It’s sweet and heavy, so currently we use about 1/4 mesquite flour with 3/4 wheat flour. But when we can no long obtain wheat flour … and if it’s good enough for us, it should be a valuable source of protein for the fowl, although I hadn’t thought of it (thanks)…. I agree about the over-abundance of eggs. The chicken-and-egg project is a little out of hand, as is the duck-and-egg project. We’re already getting many eggs, and the nine young hens haven’t started laying yet. Details, details. Perhaps we’ll give away or barter the eggs … or the chickens :)

  • Excellent progress! If a retired professor can grow an abundance of food on a small patch of land then it is possible for millions more who have better skills (like real framers, masons and carpenters) to do something similar. Where there is a will there is a way.

  • *chuckle* Guy, I always knew PhD was a given; Prof Em, no surprise; sharecropper, plumber, mason, carpenter, etc. are happy bonuses, and earned with just as much dedication and effort. I am impressed with the results of your labors! You have my respect at 168 as you did at 165. Thanks for posting the pictures.

  • Guy, another good winter chicken-fodder is collards or kale. They grow big leathery leaves that don’t freeze and the chickens love them.

  • I haven’t been checking the blog as often as I should, but it seems you’ve made huge progress! Congrats on a job well done. I hope to see it soon!

  • Mike Whitney is only a year or two behind me in his latest posting:
    MW uses the term “planned demolition”; whereas I have spoken of controlled demolition of our economy and ultimately of our society and our civilization.
    Right now there are pockets of extreme hardship around the country in comparison with the party brought on by cheap and abundant energy and all that flowed from it. But real pain does not begin until people get really hungry and some begin to die. Obama is doing a masterful job of protraying himself as a purveyor of “hope” and “change” and he is still keeping panic at bay.
    The media, including the alternative media are still clueless about the real situation and even today I heard Obama speaking of restoring growth and ending the recession as if those things were possible. And car sales are up, but only because the Federal deficit is going up even faster… It seems that Obama has taken the Cheney philosophy of “deficits don’t matter” to astronomical heights. The fomer “tax and spend” Democrats are now the “spend and spend and spend and spend” deficit hounds and no one will ever pay the bill.
    But mud is free and mud huts are affordable and I hope the Good Professor is staying solvent with the building of his private empire…
    Stan Moore

  • Oops, the Whitney quote was not on the Contra Costa County Sanitary District website, but at as follows:

  • Wendy:
    Don’t keep us in the dark—what do the numbers 165 and 168 mean?
    Prof Em Guy/Farmer Guy: You can chime in here also.

  • Frank, were you one of those students who didn’t pay attention during class, like me? You remind me of that old joke:
    How does an overbearing grandmother resemble a grandfather clock? They both start with, “tsk, tsk, tsk.”
    To clarify, then, here’s a couple lines from the original post, to which Wendy refers: “Upon graduation from high school, I carried 165 pounds on my 6’1″ frame …. I’m now 168 pounds of callused skin on degenerating bones.”

  • Prof Em Guy:
    Mia culpa.
    Not that I didn’t notice that when you wrote it.It seems like information overload these days,and that item just slipped between the cracks.

  • Frank: Information retention is like piling peas on a plate. The older we get, the more peas are piled on the plate, and eventually the pile gets high enough that some of them have to roll off the top. Apparently PEmG’s weight was not high on your brain’s list of things to retain. ;-)

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  • I’m glad I saw this, big thanks!