The most advanced and
opulent of lifestyles come crashing down if they don’t have
access to food. Knowledge of local wild edibles and untended
domestic edibles can help out briefly, but in a race against
starvation things need to be planted as soon as possible.
Optimizing sources of wild
edibles is the easiest and most primitive form of agriculture. As you
gather, take an extra few minutes to uproot competing non-edibles
that may be crowding or shading the more desirable plants – a
little water wouldn’t hurt either if you can afford it. In
sloping areas pull together pebbles and earth into micro terraces.
This will slow the runoff of water and top soil, enhancing the
productivity and amount of ground water. One advantage of such
practices is that you would be creating gardens too subtle to be
noticed by most of modern humanity. On a slightly more
intrusive scale, plots for domestic varieties could be prepared in
sensitivities have not been cauterized by the sensuality of our
society, and who have experienced gardening, know that it can be very
fulfilling. For all the fascinating complexities of an engineering
career there is something primal and beautiful in being half-naked
and barefoot while working with rich soil. The complexities of
society disappear and the earth comes to life. Since there are no
mortgages, car payments, insurance obligations or taxes to pay at
this level, we are free to give this essential activity the attention
In designing a social
rebuild at this level we can carefully guard this treasure for all
who need it. Building a locally sustainable society will require
carefully protected garden areas physically adjacent to each village;
this cannot be compromised by any level of developmental pressure. To
compromise this, is to return to slavery.
A number of years ago Mel
Bartholomew wrote an excellent book titled “Square Foot
Gardening”. The procedures he describes produce four to five
times as much produce per unit of area when compared to conventional
gardening. This is not fiction; I tried it, and was astonished
at the results.
The increased attention
needed is balanced by the fact that there is less area for weeds to
grow, less land to till, and less water needed. With these things
considered, I am convinced that there is less total time required for
the amount of food produced when compared with conventional methods.
yields are achievable by applying a combination of techniques that
many experienced gardeners use:
Plant things in two-dimensions instead of in rows. If the
instructions call for rows 1' apart and spacing of 3" (common
for carrots for instance), plant them in rows 3" apart, and that
in itself will give you four times as many. Some efficiency of
sunlight will be lost, but very little.
There are varieties of small melons and squash that can be grown
vertically on frames, instead of spreading out horizontally over the
ground. Cantaloupe, butter-nut squash, and acorn squash can be grown
like this. Tomatoes can also be made to take up less space if they
are properly trimmed and made to grow on flat vertical frames.
Transplantable plants are started and nurtured to about a third their
mature size and then transplanted into the garden space.
Consider the space required for the seedling project:
6" wide plant at maturity will allow four plants per square
foot. At one third the size, you could prepare thirty-six seedlings
in the same space.
takes about half the plant's life to achieve one third its mature
size. Simply replanting with 1/3-sized seedlings could double the
productivity for a given period of time. This would also:
Allow the rotation of different plant varieties as seasons and soil
Allow you to replant as individual plants are harvested, so you could
have a continuous supply.
Even without a separate seedling plot, some plants (lettuce for
instance) can be enjoyed long before they are mature. Over-plant an
area of such varieties, and begin enjoying the thinnings long before
the main harvest.
In the gardening cycle
there are periods of intense activity interspersed with waiting, and
light maintenance. As the society develops it would be practical to
have a few full-time agronomists backed by a community that could
pitch in and help during times of planting and harvest. Such natural
rhythms have served humanity well for millennia, and were often the
occasion of key social and cultural activities.
In the early stages of
phase one, almost everyone would be involved in the initial
development of garden plots. The mobility available to those with
little or nothing could also be used to good advantage. A circuit
consisting of multiple camp sites would enhance foraging and garden
I would offer some
important advice for those planning alternative communities: Don’t
assume that you can suddenly pull off an entire diet change and have
a town full of happy campers.
You should at least buy and
prepare meals based upon what you plan to live on long before you are
deprived of a choice. This exercise will also bring to light
deficiencies in your plan, and give you time to consider additional
crops. It would also be important to experience growing samples of
those items ahead of time.
Consider spices, herbs,
and medicinal plants in your planning. I once read that some of the
historic pioneers would prefer to leave a blanket behind than their
stash of spices.
At this stage there is
permanent land available to provide food for the community. Much has
staple diet for the village has been established
amount of land to support the initial population of the village has
been prepared and planted
for water have been made
The carrying capacity of
the agricultural land would be at least two or three times that
required to maintain the village – for a number of reasons:
against times of adverse climate
Miscalculations in plantings, and experimentation
to increase production to temporarily assist others in need
for optional cash crops for external commerce
Temporarily support the development of additional sustainable
Energy for cooking and
refrigerating food is discussed in the sections on “Energy”,
and “Playing With Fire.”
It is important that the
primary staples of the local diet remain under the control of the
village. Herb gardens for flavoring and medicinal purposes would also
be developed. Beyond these, there would be no reason to limit the
importation of any flavorings or exotic foods desired.
Health, variety, and
flavor would be provided by crops grown within a mile or two of your
own doorstep. As a producing member of your local community (whether
as a gardener or a software engineer) you would have a share of
ownership in this enterprise and be guaranteed a share in the produce
no matter what the rest of the world chose to do with their own
As part of the
agricultural mix, trees are essential. These will augment the energy
supply, provide structural materials, and be processed to provide
compounds normally derived from petroleum.