When my partners and I embarked on this project, nearly three years ago, I could barely distinguish between a screwdriver and a zucchini. That tidbit tells you all you need to know about my building skills as well as my gardening skills. My partners on the property were similarly lacking in relevant skills.

Now I’ve hammered, drilled, sawed, plumbed, tiled, and constructed. And grown, in ways I could not have imagined. Kurt Vonnegut’s mythical writer, Kilgore Trout, comes to mind: “How the hell did I do that?”

Imagine what you can do with a little time and some bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. I’m certain, for example, the typical reader could do far better than we’ve done. This is picture-filled post merely illustrates some of the structures we’ve built on this property. For the most part, they speak for themselves. But, always verbose, I’ve added captions regardless.

We’ve at least two structures yet to go. A biochar kiln is currently under construction by a talented neighbor. A solar ice maker is being designed by a colleague. If they are completed before the lights go out, I’ll either include them with a future post or update this post (and include notification within a future post).

Compost tea, a nutrient-rich liquid, is created when water is percolated through compost suspended in the upper half of this 55-gallon barrel. The resulting black gold is accessed via the spigot at the bottom.
Solar still turns rainwater into distilled water, which is then used in our PV solar batteries. Still was constructed from scrap materials.
Arbor will support five kiwi plants. Each of the four female plants is expected to produce up to 100 pounds of fruits annually within about three years. A similar arbor will support our six table grapes.
Awning attached to tool shed keeps hand tools organized and protected from the weather.
Awning protects entry to mobile home, and therefore those who enter.
Cold frame allows production of leafy green vegetables during winter. I wisely left the 80-pound bags of concrete mix in the rain, and now they serve as counter-weights for the twin, 100-pound windows.
Straw-bale chicken coop keeps the chickens warm enough to lay eggs year-around, unlike the neighbors' chickens, who stop laying during winter.
Duck house has split, hinged roof for easy access. Ducks are a bit closer to their evolutionary roots than chickens, so they lay eggs year-around even without insulated accommodations.
Pump house for off-grid well contains a pressure tank and stands in front of the domestic-water cistern. Awning on the right is attached to concrete-block wall around the cistern, and protects bales of hay and straw in the vicinity of the goat shed.
Goat shed is insulated with R-11 insulation, including within the Dutch door (on left). Milking stand (center of photograph) inside the goat shed is matched by an identical stand attached to the opposite side of the same wall (outside the shed). The indoor milking stand is used only during extremely inclement weather.
Awning attached to a tool shed in the garden area is stocked with gardening tools.
Large awning attached to mobile home houses a vice, work bench, large tools, and hay for the goats.
Barn is comprised of a series of awnings attached to a cargo container. Open awnings on the left and right are used to store straw and hay, respectively. Center awning has been enclosed, topped with a skylight, and insulated heavily: It serves as a partially subterranean straw-bale greenhouse (i.e., citrus house). Structure in foreground is an enclosed, subterranean high-humidity root cellar.
Entry into citrus house shows a hole, awaiting a citrus seedling, and the bathboard surrounding the inside of the structure. The bathboard allows citrus to be sprayed daily without soaking the straw-bale walls that surround the bathboard. West, north, and east walls are insulated with straw bales, whereas the south wall is insulated with a combination of conventional fiberglass insulation and rigid foam. South wall and roof are insulated to R-30.
Outdoor kitchen and dining room: Both double sinks are protected from the winter cold with insulated boxes.


This essay is permalinked at Energy Bulletin (check out the editor’s comment at the bottom of the post).

Comments 57

  • Hi Guy,
    This is very interesting. Your climate is much more benign than ours here but the ideas, use, reuse and adapt philosophy you display is very encouraging. At the moment in our little town environment we have a solar batch hot water pre-heater that you can see if you link through my web site above.
    As well we do humanure in a two bin system and sawdust buckets using free sawdust from a local saw mill and purchased straw. Forest floor detrius will of course be more sustainable but still with its own environmental cost. In my next novel I am sketching a society that is in the process of evolving towards this ecological balance. However that final process will have to wait for a possible third story. I hope you all are encouraged and continue to be energized by your efforts. You obviously have discovered that there are no mistakes, just learning opportunities. all the best and thanks again.

  • Congratulations Guy,

    You can and should be very proud of yourself.You have proven that it is
    possible to live in harmony with nature–and not destroy it.You have shown that technology can be used to enhance human life,and not be self-defeating and self destructive.

    You can make beer,wine,and distilled spirits(if you choose to),the joie de vivre,which also have many health benefits.

    Your climate,geography,and elevation are ideal.All over the world,areas
    between 5,000 to 6,000 feet are called “land of eternal spring”.

    You are an inspiration to all–I am very proud to know you.

    The very best of everything to you,and please keep these kinds of postings coming.

    Double D

  • Don Hayward solar hot water heater (see above)is quite practicle.I used
    to camp at over 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies,and had an inexpensive,portable, solar,hot water,shower, set up that worked suprisingly well.It was light weight and easy to set up.

    There are so many applications for sun power.

    Double D

  • Guy,

    This is also the genesis of a book on natural living.When are you going to publish same ?

    Double D

  • The citrus house has really caught my attention. I have a friend who uses a geo-thermal system based in Propylene & ethylene glycol based low temperature heat transfer fluid a.k.a. pool winterizer! the amount of underground pipe laid and the 12volt solar powered pump system I think oculd be made to use solar heat as well. That, I think would allow for a citrus room almost anywhere. Thoughts? Already applied systems? I am looking to grow lemons/oranges here in the Texas panhandle where the temps can drop to -5 at night (-20ish celsius) and where it may stay in the teens for days on end. The shed heated by geo-thermal stays about 45 in really cold weather with no solar heat used. Although I think the lamp he uses provides a little help too.

  • The typical reader could do far worse, and has.

    What’s the set up with your pumphouse? Our present plan is a handpump to bring the water into the house and then into a 12 volt RV pressure tank powered from the PV’s. We cannot start for another couple of months so still sifting through ideas.

    If you’re looking to expand on your composting you might try getting a junked fridge tilt it a bit, and then bust a hole in the wall that seperates the fridge from the freezer. Same idea as yours with the tea draining into the freezer compartment but you get the benefit of insulation when the temperatures drop.

    “If they get completed before the lights go out” sound ominous.

    Thanks for sharing the pictures. Frustrating sitting here with a foot of snow, knowing how much you want to get done.

    Best Hopes,


  • Ed, our water supply goes something like this (too complicated, but we don’t have sufficient topography to use gravity to power the flow of water): (1) DC solar pump fills a 3,000-gallon cistern, which (2) feeds water, via gravity, to a DC-powered pressure pump, which (3) pumps water into a typical rural pressure tank, which (4) provides pressurized water throughout the property, including the mobile home, the straw-bale house, the outdoor kitchen, and all eight frost-free hydrants.

  • Just a little suggestion: try to make the entire structure using the materials you have around, nothing about industrial products: that way you’ll can fix/build other structures again when broken.

    Happy new year… in spite of the decreasing available oil.

  • Guy, our chickens slow laying in late fall. This is usually occurs concurrently with molt and shorter days. But now mid January they are already laying more heavily again, even though we are in the coldest part of our winter. It is our opinion that molt and day length of days have more to do with laying than temperature. Of course our flock is a mix of breeds including game breeds which are more like wild birds than 300 egg a year production white leghorns. Being closer to evolutionary roots should make laying more seasonal rather than less as I have never seen a wild bird laying eggs in winter (penguins excluded). I know even our 3 brood a year wrens don’t have nests in the winter.

    Do you and your neighbor have different breeds of chickens?

    We loose production again as we move into summer as more and more of our birds go broody. Since we only hatch about 6 broods a year and we have about 70 hens (over half of which regularly go broody and therefore stop laying) we spend a lot of time changing the minds of broody hens by putting them in one of the pens where we keep extra roosters. A week in usually changes their minds and they get back to the business of laying. While the game bird crosses are the most likely to go broody, we found that even crossing breeds that weren’t supposed to go broody would increase broodiness. I presume that this trait being essential to reproduction is hard to totally eliminate. However our first brood mother was a full Buff Orphington – neither of her sisters went broody. She was a fine mother. She dropped dead after weaning her last brood when she was 9 years old.

    While loosing production seems bad, we feel that the birds that lay all the time also tend to flash in the pan and die young. While that might be a more efficient way to produce egg calories, we prefer to have our loved hens around for a while. One lived 12 years.

    Also of note, banty (small) chickens are supposed to have a better feed to egg ratio -ie they produce smaller eggs but more egg per quantity of feed.

    Like your straw bale coop though – it does look toasty warm.

  • Guy, how did you make the initial transition from “barely distinguish between a screwdriver and a zucchini” to what we see pictured above? Specifically the very first steps of leaving one world view/life style for another? I have read Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community by: Diana Leafe Christian which was very informative. Would be interested in your reflection on the
    -early steps
    -the emotional hurdles of leaving a way of life behind
    -the unexpected challenges of the new way of living

  • Kathy, you make good points about chickens. It’s very cold here — low temperatures below 10 F for several weeks at a time — which, I think, explains the non-laying chickens of the neighbors as well as anything. Breeds are all over the map, and we have Red Stars and mutts.

    Sarah, the physical challenges were easily overcome … turns out most of my mistakes along the way were readily overcome with persistence. This ain’t rocket surgery, after all.

    The emotional transformation is the most difficult, and it persists. Following the moral imperative allows me to sleep, some nights. But leaving behind my best friend these last three decades, along with the students in college and jail, and also the job I loved and at which I excelled … that’s the tough part. It was much easier in the beginning than now, because I was busy with all those structures. It haunts me, now more than ever. It’s easy to understand why people cannot abandon the empire, long after it abandoned us. The indoctrination regarding imperial living is astonishingly effective, and it has its hold on me.

  • Hi Guy,

    Wow! I’m very impressed with what you have accomplished in such a short timeframe. I’m currently transitioning out of academia into what I hope will be a more sustainable life style. I’m a bit intimidated by all that I don’t know about solving real world problems, but you give me hope! It turns out I selected a location that’s quite close to you. I’m still “in harness,” but I would really like to visit with you some time when I’m in the Tucson area (the next chance will probably late April). I really wish you every success with this journey you have embarked upon. You are blazing a path that others can follow.



  • Thank you Guy for your honest response to Sarah’s questions.

    I am barely starting down the path away from the industrial lifestyle and I keep telling myself, “Quit looking back, you’ll turn into a pillar of salt.”

    I love seeing your progress, it is inspiring. Being dependant still on this industrial pigstye is what haunts me.

  • Guy on your last paragraph. First off, never underestimate the physical challenges.
    I read about how you are always back and forth between your new world and the old when you are giving speeches. There are two of us here, and Jen is always back and forth, originally with her job at AOL and now with another job that is techy related. She constantly talks about being twisted how she doesn’t fit in either world. My experience on the other hand was total immersion from day one. I would talk on the phone once a day for weeks on end. That was my outside contact. You become the farm and you live it every day. I could never go back.
    You can force your ladies to lay eggs by feeding them warm water, and leaving a light on, but you wear them out. Our RI reds are about 10 months now, and we are getting almost an egg a day from them. They will slow, and we will just have to deal with that.
    Sarah, most farmers we know say that you have to make it through 5 years. Once you get beyond that, you can pretty much take care of yourself, and make a living doing it.
    If you enjoyed Calvin Luther Martin there are some great writers on: I’ve read some of Kevin Tucker and Tamarand Song.

  • FYI. There is no need for a solar still to provide battery water. Rainwater is perfectly adequate for replenishing batteries, but only if it has not been in direct contact with metals or contaminated with hydrocarbons. Painted metal roofing via plastic piping is fine. I have been using rainwater for decades, for both drinking (and batteries) with no problem.

  • Guy

    What can I say? Inspiring! For someone starting from virtually zero, you have accomplished so much! Those who have property should be inspired to do something similar. Those of us who don’t…well….we can cheer you folks on! What you have built should sustain you for many years. Of course, in the end, well after Collapse, you will need parts or replacement materials over time which you likely will not be able to obtain, but I suspect that the approach you have taken will give you many years of support. Well done.

    BTW, can anyone tell me how well hay lasts? I notice you have involved hay for some of your structures. Does it deteriorate over time? Where do you source it? locally?


  • BTW, for those of you interested in climate change, the Telegraph here in the UK reports on a new study that indicates climate change may well be happening even faster than we thought. When the author of the study included a couple of the positive feedback mechanisms that have been triggered into his climate model (and as I understand it, most climate models these days ignore positive feedbacks), it showed accelerated climate change far more quickly than we currently predict. This, of course, means that we have far less time to take action than we thought.

    Here is the link to the article in the Telegraph:

    Hold on to your hats. It is going to be a wild ride over the next 20 years or so – perfect storms gathering all around us.

  • Well done with everything! What a positive approach!

    But this next is me blowing off some steam. Slowly I’m steaming up because of the seeming disparity between my world and the North American experience.

    I read EB, Casaubon’s Book, JMG, TT, more. More. Today I watched the Peak Moment TV interview with Jon Cooksey. All very good.

    I live in England, near the UEA (home of the Climategate emails) and occasionally pop in climatology lectures; you can mix in with the students – and as long as there is a chair spare no-one minds. So in 2005 I did about 2 weeks solid, to get a handle on climate change.

    The lectures were detailed and riveting – and the presenters were frightened. Individually, frightened by what they could see. Their work, repeated by all the speakers, pointed one way again and again and again. They didn’t say it out loud, but it dripped off them. “Honey, we’ve killed the kids”.

    They used maths, they had analyses, they compared different ways of projecting futures. These guys were looking for solutions, ways out. All forward projections looked grim. And that was 2005; things have gone downhill since.

    So I’d like a way out, to get off grid too.

    But I’m in England. The weather will kill you from exposure at least 1/2 the year, the skies are usually overcast, there is little land. This is a country where the most inland you can get is 76 miles. Population is now going through 65 million; what land there is is expensive. Even outside the South / London, we are looking at $600,000+ per acre.

    All those websites? This one too? For me, this cannot happen. There is literally millions of dollars of land in these pictures, if it were here in the UK. I don’t have that sort of money. The land just does not exist.

    So all those websites are very, very frustrating. What they offer, what they suggest is simply out of reach here (except for the very wealthy).

    Move? To North America – impossible (each country has regulations which exclude the likes of me. Too old, not enough specialist skills, not wealthy). Into EU? France, Spain, Portugal? That might happen, but I speak no Romance language. Or have friends in those parts.

    So the pictures and the hope they bring are real nice. But both out of reach, a world away.

    (I strongly suspect this land situation is what’s behind the Transition Town movement in England. We can’t go the survivalist route or go homesteading, ’cause the land needed isn’t here; there are no hills to run to.)


  • Guy, 10 degrees is colder than we get although we have in the last few years had spells of 20 degree nights. The warmer coop will certainly reduce food needs and prevent roosters with large straight combs from getting frozen combs. We lost one rooster that way. Our coop is an old falling down two room house with a number of broken out windows that we have put chicken wire over but not boarded up. So it provides a modicum of protection. We try select roosters each year with walnut, pea or rose combs, but sometimes a straight comb one will so stand out that we take the chance. Early in 1900 some monks in Canada bred the Chantecler chicken for the cold Canadian winters – it has a very small cushion walnut comb just because of that problem with the cold.

    Our strongest layers, many of whom lay most of the winter, have leghorn blood in them, white production leghorn and brown leghorn. They are a bit jumpier than other breeds and crossing them helps with the jumpiness and often we can get rid of the straight comb since it is recessive and requires being homozygous at two gene locations. But they are really fine birds.
    Our finest winter layer is 3/8 Marans, 1/8 Mugs Game, 3/16 Brazilian Game, 1/64 Blue Hamburg, 5/64 Leghorn, 1/64 Rhode Island Red, 1/64 Buff Orphington, 1/16 Game unknown variety. (Until the lights go out I keep a data base on all of them :) )

    Having built a few extra pens for various reasons, I do admire how quickly you have learned building skills. We are still building Snuffy Smith looking pens. So we finally gave up and got a carpenter to build a few for us – what a difference. Congratulations on your structures.

  • I don’t usually promote Fox News, but here is a good report on the global food situation in 2011. To have a US-based mainstream media outlet like Fox news broadcast this, you know it must be serious.

    Would be interested in the views of others.


    The situation you describe is mine as well. I guess that makes us spectators…. ;-) Though if you have a Transition Town near you, that is perhaps a possibility for you. The only issue with Transition Towns for me, however, has been that most of these efforts seem almost surreal, as VT would say. They seem quite often to be more fluff than substance. But then perhaps I have not seen enough of them lately.

  • Just posted something twice and it did not show. Seems ok now…(hopefully)

    For those of you so inclined there is a Fox News video on the food situation for 2011. I usually do not pay much attention to US-based mainstream media, but in this case I must say they did a good summary of the situation facing us in the near term. For such a MSM organisation like Fox news to do so must say something about the seriousness of our predicament. One more of those perfect storms approaching.

  • Kathy

    All those chickens! Must take up a bit of land. I take it you are in business? Or do you just like keeping a lot of chickens like some like keeping lots of dogs or cats?… ;-)

  • Victor perhaps in the UK holding onto hats will only be figuratively necessary

    In November, Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, spoke of wind’s “massive economic rewards” in a “renewables revolution”. In May, the wind industry trade body, RenewableUK, called the North Sea “the Saudi Arabia of wind”.
    Yet it can be revealed that as the rhetoric has climbed ever further up the Beaufort scale, the wind itself has moved in precisely the opposite direction. New figures published by The Sunday Telegraph show that 2010 was, by one authoritative measure, the least windy year since 1824.
    According to other figures from official sources, exclusively compiled for this newspaper, Britain’s wind farms turned less in 2010 than in any previous year since detailed records were kept.
    The failure of the country’s massive wind industry to generate almost any electricity whatever at the time when it was most needed – during last month’s extreme cold snap – has been widely reported. But that, we can reveal, was just the tip of the turbine-blade in a decades-long trend of declining wind. It is a trend causing an increasing crisis for the industry among those, principally investors, who are more aware of events than British politicians.
    “For those who staked their future on assumptions made based off of recent weather patterns, there may be some significant flaws in the business plan,” says Todd Crawford, a forecaster at Weather Services International, a consultancy operated by the US’s Weather Channel. Moody’s, the international credit rating agency, warned that “unusually low levels of wind volumes” were becoming “a key driver of credit risk to investors.”

  • Speaking of wind turbines, I am reminded of an analysis I saw on a Nicole Foss presentation (though I believe it originated on the Oil Drum some years back) on equivalent energy sources between ONE-year of oil use (about 1 cubic mile) and some of the other energy alternatives:

    One year (about 1 cubic mile) oil = 50 years production of:

    1. 4 Three Gorges Dams
    2. 32,850 1.65 Mw Wind Turbines
    3. 91,250,000 2.1 Kw Solar PV installations
    4. 104 500 Mw Coal-fired Electric Plants
    5. 52 1.1 Gw Nuclear Plants

    50 years production….let that soak in. That is what ONE year of oil brings to the table.

  • Guy, thanks for sharing your progress – very impressive! And inspirational. I’m starting on some projects like these this spring and your efforts are just the shot in the arm I needed!

    Steve from the UK:
    I have a few observations about your comments. First, what you’re describing with respect to the increasing population and less land available in the UK is a direct result of the benefits of oil. It has led to overshoot in a very big way. Even if every person could be convinced of the need to grow their own food – which is extremely unlikely – there simply isn’t enough arable land to do so, at least not in the most densely populated areas. The good news is that for those who realize what’s unfolding before our very eyes, preparations made now greatly increase the chances for survival once the rest of the world finally realizes what’s happening.

    It’s true that immigrating to the U.S. can be difficult, but wouldn’t Canada be easier for one of the Queen’s subjects? Canada may be one of the best places to be when things get really crazy (although, that’s just a guess). And they certainly have lots of wide-open land.

    You mention being too old. Obviously, I don’t know your age, but none-the-less I must protest. There is no such thing as too old as long as you are able to get around and take care of yourself. It’s been proven over and over again by people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. If you are willing, then you can do it! Perhaps that’s the American can-do spirit that has gotten us all into this mess. :-) But I still believe it!

  • Hi again,

    Dr. House: all immigration is tricky; points systems are used and it’s a matter of: what’s your profession, is that in demand, do you have a job lined up, do you have family here, how old are you, how much money will you bring in with you. And – will you be a burden in the years to come?

    I’ve done the points scoring for Canada and Australia; both are a bust.

    Yes, I think I can do whatever is needed – to succeed at a personal level. I’m not daunted that way….

    Yet what I see here is trapped people alas. The present trap is no work, especially for the young (19+). They turn into sofa surfers with games boxes. As a life.

    I’m a member of TT’s but, with a kind heart to them, these are people who are too comfortable. It’s a hobby, not a cause to fight for.

    What to do? Looks like I’ve gotta ride the ship as she goes down. Hope the impact won’t be too bad. Anyhow I’m stocking up for a 20 year supply of essential manufactured items – like hand tools, nail clippers, needles, gardening tools, shoe repair tools, printed how-to manuals and suchlike. Don’t know if that will work. After all “when your neighbour is hungry, your garden isn’t safe”.

    Interesting times!

  • Steve, here is a blog where the owner has done amazing things on a half acre.

  • Guy, thank you sharing with us
    Dr House and Steve in the UK, I momentarily latched on to the possibility that I too am too old to make this transition (52). Thank you Dr. for the reality check.
    Ed, I have bookmarked the link you mentioned, thanks

  • Guy, your response to my questions was open and real … really appreciate what you do here.

  • Sarah, I’ll be 51 next month. As Dr. House points out, you’re certainly not too old.

  • Steve in the Uk,

    I suppose you and I are in much the same situation. Not being a landowner, I am collecting tools of various sorts hoping that when things start coming apart, I will at least have the tools to survive a while. I let my house and fortunately we have a decent sized garden, so I am taking advantage of that, hoping that I won’t be thrown out when times get tough.

    I had the same experience with Transition Towns – too much fluff, not enough reality.

    But as you say, interesting times.

  • Guy: Nice to see images of the homestead; thank you! I hope it will encourage everyone to take a moment to consider what’s possible. Have you tried building a parabolic cooker?

    I deeply sympathize with Steve in the UK. Although I’ve taken a few steps here, my ability and desire to do more is severely limited by other constraints. It’s painful and agonizing. In the end, I know that I have to reconcile with my situation and do the best I can.

    Keep inspiring us, Guy!

  • Victor, we try to keep our chicken numbers under 100. It fluctuates as we hatch chicks and hatchet roosters. We hatch about 40 each year. We have crossed about 18 different varieties back and forth. Been at it since 1995 and I started the data base in 2000 – I have entered about 1000 birds on the data base.

    We free range the birds on 1 acre – enclosed with an electric netting fence to keep out the foxes and dogs. It costs far more in feed than we get back in food and eggs sold – well we give a lot away and sell some. We don’t feed manufactured food, we have moved to all grain, a mix of wheat, cracked corn, millet, milo and sunflower seeds. The squirrels and wild birds try to help the chickens clean up. We also give them greens every day – this time of year wheat grass and chickweed, then kale and sorrel later. They get extra tomatoes, pumpkin innards etc.

    Not something we can keep up after the crash. But it is our joy.

  • Good article Guy,
    I am very interreted in what you hhave fund out about making ice from solar power. Thanks

  • Amazing what you have done Guy, you should be very proud and I appreciate the tip on how to make counter weights =)

  • Guy, thanks for the pics, it’s great to see what the mud hut looks like in detail!

    Steve: i’m in the UK too and originally from Norfolk and i understand your concerns. I now live in a flat in London with no garden and basically no way of surviving here for more than my stored food will last – i also need to be here for my work and can’t afford to leave. Ironically, my plan, if it comes to that, is to escape back to North Norfolk where at least i know the land well – not much of a plan, eh? Regarding climate change, i work in TV and back in 2005 i interviewed a number of climate scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and i always remember when i spoke to the most senior scientist and asked him his personal opinion of how bad the situation was – he told me that in his view it’s all over, we had passed the point of no return and nothing we could do was going to save us – sobering to say the least – things, as you say, are much, much worse now. Good luck all.

  • Kathy

    Sounds like a labour of love. You really seem to take a serious scientific approach to it. I like that. Practically speaking, how many chickens do you think a couple would need to keep in order to provide eggs and an occasional roast?

  • Increasing climate instability is not the only thing we will need to face over the next decade. Indeed, dare I say that climate instability, whilst now inevitable and already occurring in many places, is not our most immediate concern as a civilisation?

    I believe that falling oil production rates and the resultant societal impacts (rising commodity costs/shortages, wars, civil disruption, loss of critical government services, loss of human rights, etc.) will hit long before the major effects of climate change are upon us. The socio-political chaos rising from the ever-increasing gap between supply and demand for crude oil will ultimately cause the complete collapse of human society as we have ever known it. In the next five years at current rates of production and consumption, demand will exceed supply by some 10 million barrels per day. To put this in context, we will need another Saudi Arabia to be discovered and brought up to full production within five years just to keep even. And another Saudi Arabia within another five years.

    Of course, it will never come to this. We cannot lose a Saudi Arabia production capability and hope to survive as a viable modern civilisation. The economy simply would not support such a scenario. With 7 billion people on the planet directly and indirectly dependent for their lives upon oil and a growth-driven economy, something has to give. And that something is modern human civilisation.

    People must understand that this is not a “business-cycle”. The economy will never recover. It will only get worse – exponentially at first, as the changes to our global social fabric take place in scattered ways acting to thin the fabric at first. But then holes begin to appear as the fabric thins further and threads begin to break and then to unravel. Those “holes” are such things as the loss or degeneration of critical government services, population, transport and distribution, food production, water distribution, manufacturing capability, available investment for failing infrastructure and electrical grids, chemical and plastics production, fertiliser and pesticides and herbicides. The list goes on. The “threads” that connect the fabric are the economy and the monetary system. As these threads wear thin, the whole of the fabric is threatened, and not only is growth threatened, so is sustainability of the basics.

    I hope I am wrong. Toward 2012 and into the next couple of years it is almost certain that we should begin seeing a visible decline in oil production due not only to geology, but also to prices and a poor economy above ground. In the end it really does not matter why production levels fall, but only that they fall for whatever reason. The result is the same – for all of us.

    As threads wear thin and more and more holes appear, at some point the fabric becomes so fragile that it might well take only a minor event to cause it to collapse into a million unconnected pieces. And that will happen quickly and irreversibly.

    For those of you with an interest in peak oil, you might take a look at the following linked article. It gives a pretty good summary of the situation we find ourselves in today.

    The loss of our prime source of energy makes WikiLeaks, left/right political polarisation, Middle East wars, and the like seem pretty minor in comparison.

  • Victor, how many chickens? Well barnyard chickens lay maybe 150 eggs a year, leghorns (pronounced leguns down here) lay better maybe 200 to 250. But if you are not using an incubator to hatch eggs you need hens that will set (go broody), so you would do well with a mix of breeds which the broodiness has been bred out of like the leghorns and a few of a breed that are strong setters. Your meat birds will mostly be roosters so you will get the extras from your yearly hatches – mostly you would eat the roosters. A setting hen can hatch 2 or 3 nests a season. You can substitute your meat or egg birds egg for the setters eggs – best done at night when she will be less aware of what you are doing.

    Leghorns don’t have as much meat on them, so you might want to pick a multi purpose breed so you can get more meat as well as eggs. Probably for 2 people a 10 to 12 bird flock would suffice – numbers would vary as you breed more then eat the flock back down. You could maintain 2 roosters in that size flock if you are free ranging. If you are using a pen and just have one pen probably better to stick to one rooster.

    A problem is inbreeding. If I was to have that small a flock and didn’t have neighbors to trade birds with I would want to start with as many different breeds as possible or at least buy the starting flock from several different hatcheries. We control and track our breedings to avoid inbreeding – putting the desired hen and roo in a pen while we are collecting setting eggs (although sometimes a hen hides a nest and picks her own roo or roos) Last year we by mistake bred a full sister and brother. Their bloodlines were diverse but still we had several eggs not hatch and one chick had a crossed beak. However the ones that did make it are looking to be fine birds.

    Even though we free range we keep pens for breeding and keeping extra roosters that we want to breed out of the flock so the roo to hen ratio is not too high. We also have pens providing a quiet place for moms to set and young chicks to get a good start before facing the rest of the flock. And a pen for sick birds to isolate and/or treat.

    Backyard Chickens by Rick and Gail Luttman is a great source
    And the best book on diseases of chickens is The Chicken Health Handbook

    Well probably more than you wanted to know but I love talking about chickens.

  • Victor, hay doesn’t last long, no more than a few years. It’s high in nitrogen, so it attracts all types of hungry critters. But straw is very durable. The original straw-bale houses in the U.S. were built in Nebraska. They had load-bearing walls (i.e., the stacked straw bales supported the roof), and many had uncovered walls (they were “temporary” homes). Some are still standing 150 years later. If the walls are kept dry, straw-bale structures will persist as long as any other form of construction.

  • Kathy,

    Good God! There is a lot to this, isn’t there!…. LOL Of course, if I free range them, I suppose they can pick some of the pests from the garden. OTOH, if they eat the garden….


    Many thanks for that. Yes, I meant straw bales, not hay….by the sounds of it, however, a humid climate like England probably wouldn’t be a great idea for a straw building?….

  • Guy, here’s pretty cool idea for folks relying on solar for alot of their heat. We know we are going have to do something at night and this is a really inexpensive solution:
    Victor lots of straw bale homes in Georgia. I don’t think humidity is the problem, you just need large over hangs. We thought about it for a while, but no one in our building code area had built one, and we didn’t want to be the first. No problem on farm buildings, but for general residence it would be an uphill battle all the way.

  • Victor, well there is an easier way to have some chickens for food and eggs. Buy hatched chicks (locally or mail order from a hatchery – chicks can go 3 days without food and water and thus can be shipped- just before hatching they absorb the yolk into their little tummies and they use that for food for the first few days). Raise any roos until big enough to eat and then eat. Raise the hens until they slow their egg laying, eat them and order a new batch of chicks. Not sustainable post crash, but I am not sure we can sustain even 10 chickens post crash as I am not raising enough food to feed us and this old body is wearing down.

    No you can’t let chickens in your garden – they like just about everything you would grow. There are weeder geese that are supposed to be OK in gardens. And guineas are fine in gardens if you can stand their racket.

    You can make moveable pens that you put your chickens in – let them graze an area and then move it.

    We make our chicken raising more complicated than necessary perhaps. But it sure beats trying to get a better score on the golf course as a retirement activity :) All 93 current birds have names and we recognize almost every one on sight. They have personalities as well and we get rather fond of most of them for one reason or another.

    Farmers in China used to incubate eggs without hens before electric incubators see from Farmers of Forty Centuries – starts about 1/2 way down pg 177

  • Dear Ed and Victor,

    An overhang sufficient to keep the entire straw wall surface dry is critical in my climate of central VA. I would avoid doing straw bale gable ends. Humidity is a concern in the mid-Atlantic and southern US states given that moisture is moving through the wall year round. Thus, straw bale is more appropriate in cold dry climates or hot dry climates.

    In humid climates, it’s important that you don’t put up anything over the straw considered to be a ‘vapor barrier’ based on it’s rate of permiability. That’s why straw bale construction handbooks often use tar paper, not Tyvek, or no building paper at all. On the inside I would use a clay finish but I would avoid paper backed gypsum board (which can support mold) and anything with a low rate of permiability such as vinyl wall coverings.

    The other big issue with straw in my region is availability due to weather. Having to buy straw from Nebraska because the fields here are too wet in the spring is not what you want to do! Cheers

  • Ducks might be a better option for me as they won’t eat my garden and will take care of the slugs. Also, duck eggs ain’t too bad. Of course, ducks fly too….

  • As a fellow chicken whisperer on the other side of the planet, I really enjoy all this chicken talk.

    I live in a small town where I’m known as an urban chook farmer. I have 4 bantams (Pekin/silky/Polish crosses) that I put fertile eggs under when they go broody. At the moment I have 6 mixed pullets, mainly roosters, plus 3 brown leghorn 4 week old chicks. My number 1 mum is presently hatching 5 north holland blues, popping out of their shells this evening…I get the treat of checking in and welcoming them to the sun tomorrow morning. That takes the tally to over 50 chicks in the last 2 years. I either sell them or supplement a friends growing heirloom flock, or the roosters end up in the freezer.

    Sure is good to be amongst this great company of like minded climboutologists here! Guy love the progress you’ve been making, thanks so much for sharing!

  • Ted, warms my heart to hear of chickens hatching. We have several months to wait yet for the start of our setting season. Hatching chicks and then watching the mommas care for them is a pleasure. I have heard that Silkies make wonderful mothers. But most bantams still have their mothering instincts as they are not usually used for meat, or eggs (I fail to see why small eggs are any less desirable than bigger eggs but we have people who refuse to eat our smaller eggs). A discard show bantam wyandotte was our premier mother of all time. She fussed over her standard size chicks, dug huge holes looking for worms and never weaned. When they towered over her they gradually weaned themselves.

    Time to pore over our list of chickens and see who “wins” in the evolution of our flock. So many possible crosses, so little time……

  • Question: What is the advantage of compost tea over just side dressing with compost?

  • Victor, you can clip the wings of ducks to make flying hard. This involves triming the flight feathers on one side only of the bird. Does not hurt – its like cutting toenails. Of course then they are less able to avoid predators. see shows what feathers to cut and where. Our chickens almost all could fly over our fence (except a few really old fat ones) but almost never do. But we have a big area for them to run in. Our fence is to keep the bad guys out.

  • Hey Steve, you should check out Earthships they have a UK site: or for anyone check out the Garbage Warrior doc or their site here: I’m pretty sure we will have garbage around for a few hundred years after the collapse…

  • Kathy: Foliar spray. Seems you have to aerate it if you want it to be effective against plant disease. We use truckloads of compost (animal origin) but have never made tea. We do make tea from camomile for fungal growth on basil, and raw milk tea for blight on tomatoes. This year we’re going to try horsetail (the plant) tea to fight fungus and mildew on our squash and zuchini. Heard poeple rave about this. We’re also going to try comfrey tea.
    Kevin: The ducks will also eat your greens. We bought ducks to eat the slugs and snails, and they went right for the 10 dollar/pound stuff. Going to try letting them range around the outside of the growing areas this year. Slugs and snails are supposed to find the ducks wet poop irresistable, which draws them away from the greens. Who the heck knows.

  • Hey Guy,

    Looks great, everything you’ve accomplished! I’ve felt the same amazement at how much I’ve learned by way of practical skills over the last 6 years. Especially the construction skills of the last year and a half. We can definitely learn quickly when we’re motivated!

    I wanted to give you a little reality check on the kiwis. At least here in the Pacific northwest, and I believe everywhere, you might *start* getting some production after 3 years, but it’ll take several years after that before they hit their peak at 100 pounds per female. Just wanted to make sure you and others have a realistic expectation of how much to expect, how soon. A lot of my learning in the garden these past years has been on that theme, along with the associated “how much of what crops can I eat, how often, without getting sick of them?” ie, I can’t eat more than a pound of greens a day, and a more realistic average seems to be 8-12 ounces per day over a full year. Which is too bad, since it seems calories produced per square foot is highest from greens as compared to fruits, roots, seeds, etc. But the garden needs to provide enough calorie-dense foods that my stomach won’t explode from trying to eat 20 pounds of low-calorie foods!

    Keep up the good work, and I look forward to reading more about your progress,

    Norris Thomlinson

  • Ed, thank you. Foliar spray, hadn’t thought of that. I don’t have any of the plant problems you mentioned. My biggest problems are squash bugs, squash vine borers, and ant/aphids on my field peas. I hand kill squash bugs and their eggs, hand kill aphids (yuk) but have lost more than one yellow squash plant to vine borers. Any ideas anyone. Our Seminole Pumpkin puts down roots all along the long vines so is more immune to the borers and handles drought better.

    I plant Eva Purple Ball Tomatoes and have had less disease with them than any other variety I have tried. (This variety does well in hot and humid regions. Crack Resistant. A heirloom variety from the Black Forest Region of Germany.) Taste quite good but not stupendous. (we are in central Alabama).

    I use wood ashes around tender seedlings to fend off slugs. (since I use leaf mulch I have lots of them) But I don’t grow lettuce anymore, just french sorrel. Perennial here. Strong lemon taste when you taste a piece but in a salad or on a sandwich it is fine – the strong lemon tastes seems to moderate when used that way – no idea why.

    Weeder Geese?

  • guy, i think u hit another home run with this blog entry, and obviously many others share this opinion. it’s a surreal shame there aren’t more guys like u around, guy! i’m green in politics and spirit, and now u are making me green with envy, what with having the world’s greatest blog and in such a short time frame, so admirably and inspirationally creating a new life for yourself. if humans were intelligent enough to select particular individuals with desirable traits (like intelligence and/or wisdom) for breeding purposes, like we do with other domesticated animals (humans are in many ways the most domesticated of all), guys like u would be chosen, and enjoy the privilege, i think!

    ‘We make our chicken raising more complicated than necessary perhaps. But it sure beats trying to get a better score on the golf course as a retirement activity :) All 93 current birds have names and we recognize almost every one on sight. They have personalities as well and we get rather fond of most of them for one reason or another.’ -kat

    i’m fascinated by the combination of nurturer/predator roles inherent in livestock animal farming. shielded by civilization (as most are) from experiencing this primal relationship upon which so many depend for food and other vital products, i wonder what it’s like. it seems at least partly horrible. is horror an inescapable component of surreality?

    i’ve been enjoying learning about chickens too, although i’ll probably never have any (except from restaurants and grocery stores). certainly more interesting (and potentially relevant/useful) information than much that’s ‘taught’ (indoctrinated?) in public schools.

    ‘Guy, here’s pretty cool idea for folks relying on solar for alot of their heat. We know we are going have to do something at night and this is a really inexpensive solution: -ed

    this simple window insulation idea is similar to what was taught at a free seminar/class i attended at a green party regional gathering 2 years ago. there will be another one this summer, probably same location just west of steuben county, less than an hour’s drive. one weekend of political and practical discussions re. more durable and natural living (and more just, equitable, and peaceful society).

    i joined the green party 11 years ago, when ralph nader ran for u.s. president as a green. impressed not only with ralph, but the audience of greens listening to him speak at the party convention. u.s. greens stand out from corporate mainstream political activists in appearance and attire. look more like aging hippies and/or organic farmers than button-down business chamber-of-commerce types one sees at other conventions. whether or not u’re into politics, i think the green party, at least in the u.s., has members who are generally into pursuing the same lifestyle: preparing for the inevitable collapse/contraction of civilization. joining and going to gatherings can help this process by meeting like minds and sharing knowledge. if interested in finding out more, simply google your community/county/state green party. (steubengreens for ed)

  • Kathy: Here’s some good info on vine borers:

    We use row covers everywhere and on all sorts of different produce. It’s cheap and makes a huge difference. It’s one of those products that we are going to have a really hard time replacing once we cannot get it. Rotation makes perfect sense. Diatomaceus earth will also work with slugs and snails, though it becomes less effective after a rain or watering. For the slimy things we use sluggo from Johnny’s, it’s organic and works very well.
    Aphids, soap spray is really good (some seem to work better than others) or invest in pint of lady beetles. If you have a particularly bad infestation on your peas release the beetles under row cover. They will be gone in a week. We’re lucky in that the property we bought had been certified organic for 15 years when we purchased it, so there are lots of beneficial insects. You have to learn to wait, but eventually the critters will balance things out for you.
    Totally agree on the sorrel, if you have problems in your heat with it bolting try a variety called profusion which, I think, is only available from Richter’s out of Canada. Hack it to the ground and harvest it again in a week or two. We make pesto from it. Much better than basil, you can use less cheese, and substitute sunflower seeds for pine nuts, and save alot of money.