They want to put one of these on the moon
May 26, 2013 12:02 PM   Subscribe

In the hostile, arid suburbs of Phoenix AZ, Dennis McClung and his family have created a lush and ingeniously efficient food-production system from an unused swimming pool. HuffPo is also there.
posted by ominous_paws (87 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is great! I wonder about the chickens though. I would feel weird about having chicken-poop water lurking right under my hanging tomato vines.
posted by postcommunism at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being from Phoenix I've heard about this a few times over the years. There's a little more to the story than the links above suggest.

If you thought to yourself, "this sounds a little like a doomsday prepper kind of thing," you're not that far off.

Anyway, kudos to the guy for trying something new, regardless of what motivations he and his family might have. He's also doing it in a fairly struggling area... living in that part of Mesa is no picnic, so double kudos.
posted by Old Man McKay at 12:29 PM on May 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Even the FBI has come to check it out as a part of their disaster response strategy...

The FBI doesn't handle disaster response to the level where they're worried about agriculture.

So, either you had one FBI guy also interested in backyard groceries ... or the FBI was checking this guy out because he was buying hydroponics equipment from across state lines and telling others to do the same. Hydroponic gear gets used for ... ahem ... other kinds of agriculture.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:30 PM on May 26, 2013 [15 favorites]


That's what the fish are for, though, right? Tilapia eat anything/everything/possibly poops?
posted by elizardbits at 12:31 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hydroponics is very cool. The drawback is complex fragility. If the pumps stop working for even a short period of time things die - fish don't get oxygen. So one has to be attentive and have backup, like running a computer data center. Phoenix works well because it's the desert with reliable sun, other places that depend on grid power need battery backup and/or generators with automatic failover ie. lots of wires and electronics, alarms sent to your phone. Still the end results are impressive given how much they can produce in a small footprint without much outside input other than the sun.
posted by stbalbach at 12:34 PM on May 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Aw, the prepper aspect is a little unfortunate. Still very neat though.

At $1,500 for setup I wonder how quickly it starts paying for itself. Their grocery bill is apparently still $100, which seems high, but maybe that's only a fraction of what they were paying before.
posted by postcommunism at 12:40 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Their grocery bill is apparently still $100, which seems high

High compared to what?! I'd love to only pay $100 a month. That's great!
posted by curious nu at 12:47 PM on May 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hm. So that $1,500 was for the structure alone, I guess. I wonder what the additional costs were for the fish/goats/chickens/etc. Also I assume the fruit trees were a reasonably significant expense in either time waiting for them to mature or in purchase cost for mature trees.

For a family of 4, particularly with a baby in the house, $100/mo for groceries (assuming this includes non-food items) doesn't seem too high to me.
posted by elizardbits at 12:48 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the pumps stop working for even a short period of time things die - fish don't get oxygen. So one has to be attentive and have backup, like running a computer data center.

A few minutes of no pump (which is already way less vigilance than a data center needs) is not going to kill even a fishBOWL let alone a swimming pool. Even a few hours would be fine. Depending on the size of the tank, even a day or so should be fine. That's well into "well, looks like the power is staying out, I guess we better fire up the generator" territory. Or breaking out the buckets
posted by DU at 12:50 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've got sort of a huge appeal for mechanical and manmade systems that are both complex, over engineered, and last forever. There is a 15 syllable word for this in German in sure.

My question is would it be possible to create a wind powered pump (through the use of a windmill) that would require no supervision?

I had a fantasy once of a giant tower rising out of a pit in the desert. On top of the tower were many shingles so that the entire thing looked like a giant pinecone. The shingles were black and would heat up during the day so that at night cool air would condense water and drip into the pit filling it with water. The shingles were arranged to be a giant windmill like apparatus that would turn and run the pumps. I could just imagine 100 of these spread across a vast wasteland, built to last a thousand years, slowly turning and dripping back a valley.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 12:53 PM on May 26, 2013 [21 favorites]


I was expecting this.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:56 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The prepper thing doesn't bother me at all. Sure, they see the world in a way that typical people don't. But it's exactly because of that that they have ideas that typical people don't. Sometimes you need a saint, or a madman, to go into the wilderness and bring back ideas that the rest of us can benefit from.
posted by wotsac at 12:57 PM on May 26, 2013 [16 favorites]


ishrinkmajeans: "The shingles were arranged to be a giant windmill like apparatus that would turn and run the pumps. I could just imagine 100 of these spread across a vast wasteland, built to last a thousand years, slowly turning and dripping back a valley."

Cook Island Pines were planted on the island of Lana'i for this very purpose - to capture (via condensation) the fog and cloud moisture traveling over the highlands of the island. The condensate drips down - in prodigious quantities - and replenishes the aquifer. To be sure, the aquifer was stressed from the pineapple plantations, but the plantations are gone now and the pine trees are still there gathering water. Upwards of 50% of the fresh water on the island is 'harvested' from the air by these magnificent trees.
posted by jquinby at 1:02 PM on May 26, 2013 [27 favorites]


> High compared to what?! I'd love to only pay $100 a month.

I too would love a $100/month grocery bill, I just figured that since they can get veggie and dairy stables for $0 they could stock up on legumes and flour in bulk and find themselves paying basically nothing most months. Hard to get meat that way, I guess.

Don't get me wrong, $100 is still great.
posted by postcommunism at 1:02 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


People have been trying to make small self sustainable farms long before the preppers came along.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 1:07 PM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


True, but it's a topic that benefits from having as many people as possible talking about it and thinking about it.
posted by wotsac at 1:19 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is great but as we discussed in the last thread about feeding yourself from stuff you can grow in your yard, it's a supplement to traditional agriculture not a replacement. They're growing a bunch of expensive per unit weight stuff but not calorie dense food. So they're almost certainly still getting most of their calories from inexpensive per calorie food bought at the store. Rice, legumes, etc. Don't get me wrong; that's awesome. But it's not being self-sufficient by any stretch.
posted by Justinian at 1:25 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is just amazing and ingenious. I love that Dennis McClung is teaching others how to set up their own backyard farms.

I'm a little sulky though. I just came in from working in my own gardens (this afternoon was all about pruning, weeding, planting two raspberry bushes and a begonia, watering a little, and spreading 300kg of sheep manure about), and had been feeling rather proud of what I'd created in my front and back garden. Six years ago when I bought my house there was nothing but weeds out front and nothing but a huge old maple tree out back — the soil was so poor not even weeds would grow back there. It's now pretty good for a Toronto garden, but it only produces a very modest amount of food, nothing like this guy's. But then I don't have a backyard the size of his, and Toronto's growing season is not to be compared to Arizona's.

That's what I'll tell myself, anyway.
posted by orange swan at 1:27 PM on May 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do any of the articles mention how much of and how often they eat the tilapia? I see where they estimate there are roughly 800 lbs of tilapia present at any given time but I don't see any mention of how much tilapia they can eat per week and still maintain the population.
posted by Justinian at 1:28 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, after civilization falls, I know where my gang of leather-clad bikers will head to.
posted by happyroach at 1:37 PM on May 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Judging by the recipes on their site, they eat a LOT of tilapia.
posted by bradbane at 1:37 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


But it's not being self-sufficient by any stretch.

My father, a former farmer with decades of experience, says self-sufficiency can't be done. He knows people who tried it for 15 years or so and who say it isn't possible. The goal is to not be entirely self-sufficient, but to be as sufficient as is reasonably possible.
posted by orange swan at 1:39 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nothing says "yummy" like farm-raised tilapia, fattened up on chicken poops.
posted by gjc at 1:42 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your garden looks lovely, orange swan, but I just thought I'd warn you that those raspberry bushes aren't going to stay small for long, even in a tiny, shady Toronto back yard. You may want to read this and plan for next summer now.
posted by maudlin at 1:55 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's disingenuous to say that the fact this guy is a doomsday prepper has no relationship with what he's doing in his backyard. Modern society is about mutual dependence; if every person had to grow her own food, no one would have any time to build the stuff that distinguishes 21st-century from pre-industrial America.

Reading Thoreau and having a backyard garden is one thing; purchasing gas masks and proselytizing for your vision of anarchy and societal collapse is quite another. I think it's difficult to say that this guy is vanilla when his actions are quite obviously motivated by a deep-seated belief that modern society is essentially bad and headed for imminent collapse. It's fair to hold that opinion, but if you get enough people to buy into it based on fuzzy theories of environmental collapse and home economics, it starts becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I think there are some cogent arguments for the proposition that our current society is unstable or unsustainable, but I'll take division of labor and the welfare state over this guy's anarchist utopia any day of the week.
posted by anewnadir at 2:08 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, raspberry bushes are pretty fragile -- it's blackberries that take over everything!
posted by jrochest at 2:09 PM on May 26, 2013


Self-sufficiency can't be done you say?

On the other hand, "the Lykovs lived permanently on the edge of famine" the mother "chose to see her children fed, and that year she died of starvation."
So I guess it depends on your definition of sufficient.
posted by Spiegel at 2:10 PM on May 26, 2013


A few minutes of no pump (which is already way less vigilance than a data center needs) is not going to kill even a fishBOWL let alone a swimming pool. Even a few hours would be fine. Depending on the size of the tank, even a day or so should be fine.

This is true in a normal, well kept aquarium but not assured in a pond carrying a heavy bioload of fish + algae + decomposing organic waste, all three of which consume oxygen at night. Many a backyard pond owner has woken to a massive fish die off when their pumps failed even briefly during the night.

It's interesting he's chosen water lettuce as his primary pond cover, I imagine he chose it because it excels at reducing surface evaporation but unfortunately not only does it reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water (what the fish need to breath), it's not edible by humans due to its very high content of calcium oxalate. He should consider switching to cat tail reeds and lotus instead.
posted by jamaro at 2:24 PM on May 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Self sufficiency is only possible on the scale of a small city with surrounding farmland. Sure, a single family can feed itself, but many of the things that make life good (like wine) can't be practically produced on an individual scale. (Aristotle, Politics 1.1)

This household is nowhere near self sufficient. Look how many parts they import. True self sufficiency would involve smelting your own iron, not to mention fabricating your own semiconductors.

I'm not sure why the fantasy of isolating oneself is so appealing. I like living in a society where people have enough leisure time and specialist skills for me to read about people building zany creative projects. To read it on the internet, no less, the least isolationist structure humans have ever built.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:34 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


jamaro: water lettuce is also pretty effective at preventing algae blooms. That's probably also a consideration.
posted by Justinian at 2:37 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Conspicuously absent from this story (and the other one about backyard goats in SF) are the opinions of the neighbors. I have lived on a block near backyard chickens in LA and if I had to live right next door, I would seriously go Betty Draper on them.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:38 PM on May 26, 2013


I think it's disingenuous to say that the fact this guy is a doomsday prepper has no relationship with what he's doing in his backyard.

Nobody said that, and are we talking about this guy and preppers or are we talking about small sustainable farming?

If it's a lolfringegroup! discussion you want to have then maybe you might want to think about the Whole Earth Catalog and the multitudes of hippies who have been trying to make something like this work for a hell of a lot longer than a decade.

I have lived on a block near backyard chickens in LA

Ugh. Don't get me started on the "chickens as pets" fad.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 2:48 PM on May 26, 2013


I clicked the article, saw the illustration, and all I could think of was Minecraft... Wonder if he got his inspiration from that damned game.
posted by Conspire at 2:51 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's a lolfringegroup! discussion you want to have then maybe you might want to think about the Whole Earth Catalog and the multitudes of hippies who have been trying to make something like this work for a hell of a lot longer than a decade.

We have the benefit of hindsight with the Whole earth catalog and the hippie movement, but I'd say that the movement (as a whole, of course; there were of course elements that sounded with this guy's fringe anarchism) was more about checking out of society, rather than preparing for a society that was about to collapse. I think the distinction is important. Stewart Brand didn't question the legitimacy of democratic society.
posted by anewnadir at 3:12 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ugh. Don't get me started on the "chickens as pets" fad.

Chicken make lousy house pet.

No these were being raised for food. It's definitely not legal in most residential zoned areas of LA. I was particularly incensed by the rooster.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:16 PM on May 26, 2013


but many of the things that make life good (like wine) can't be practically produced on an individual scale.

This will come as news to my husband, who has been making wine for personal consumption for years.
posted by Kitteh at 3:17 PM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


@orange swan: More greenery or not, they don't have such a lovely garden cat!
posted by travelwithcats at 3:26 PM on May 26, 2013


This will come as news to my husband, who has been making wine for personal consumption for years.

No, it won't be news to him. He'll know that if he had to spend 29 hours a day every day working to produce the bare minimum to survive in a rudimentary semi-starved condition (instead of massive division of labor and economies of scale that allow vast amounts of production in a tiny fraction of that time per-person), there is no way he would have time for his wine hobby,
posted by anonymisc at 3:30 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Reading Thoreau and having a backyard garden is one thing; purchasing gas masks and proselytizing for your vision of anarchy and societal collapse is quite another. I think it's difficult to say that this guy is vanilla when his actions are quite obviously motivated by a deep-seated belief that modern society is essentially bad and headed for imminent collapse. It's fair to hold that opinion, but if you get enough people to buy into it based on fuzzy theories of environmental collapse and home economics, it starts becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy."

The radiation suits and gas masks are overkill, but I think it's fair to say that, from the perspective of someone living in modern metro-Phoenix, society is bad and headed for imminent collapse. If nothing is done, that city will probably be unsustainable within fifty years. But his little farm depends upon the urban water supply as much as everyone else, so it's not ultimately more sustainable than the surrounding community. (He collects rainwater, but it can't be enough to maintain the whole system.)

The key point in the above paragraph is "If nothing is done." The majority of us assume that something will be done before it gets that bad, but it isn't completely left-field for McClung to take the pessimist's view and predict that has little corner of the world is headed for disaster. His swimming pool farm is an interesting experiment that wouldn't survive the end of the surrounding city, but it gives him experience that could come in handy later if he needs to build something like that for real.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:37 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


[without] massive division of labor and economies of scale that allow vast amounts of production in a tiny fraction of that time per-personthere is no way he would have time for his wine hobby

That would certainly be news to the Greeks.
posted by tripping daisy at 3:39 PM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


My point exactly, anewnadir.

Chicken make lousy house pet.

With the amount of responsibility and care they require, I would classify them as "exotic".
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 3:41 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


from the perspective of someone living in modern metro-Phoenix, society is bad and headed for imminent collapse

What if everyone who genuinely believed this spent their money and energy helping avoid that fate instead of building backyard hydroponic farms?
posted by Sara C. at 3:43 PM on May 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


That would be a much better outcome, no question. Civilization is the result when we all work together, and our environmental challenges are large but still tractable.

I don't agree with the pessimism inherent in survivalism, but I guess I'm just saying that McClung is less out of touch than his neighbors who keep driving their cars to the big box stores, and think that can last forever.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:50 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The goal is to not be entirely self-sufficient, but to be as sufficient as is reasonably possible.

The goal is the be loosely coupled and have redundancy, slack and hysteresis built into the system. But nobody understands those words and they don't fit into soundbites. Thus "self-sufficiency".
posted by DU at 4:04 PM on May 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


He'll know that if he had to spend 29 hours a day every day working to produce the bare minimum to survive in a rudimentary semi-starved condition...

Oh piffle. Paleolithic hunter gatherers (and their modern equivalents today) worked about 3-4 hours per day on average to gather and prepare food and that includes working most of the day during a few busy harvest seasons.

The people hauling ass to no purpose are the ones who are turning their labor into someone else's bank account.
posted by DU at 4:07 PM on May 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Less arguing over farming time more arguing over how best to make wine in mssr. Jeans' closet.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 4:24 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The making of wine, mead, and even spirits is son on very small, nearly!self sufficient farms all over the Balkans.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:40 PM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just piping in to say that this guy's family's diet sounds delicious. Fresh fish, fresh eggs, fresh tomatoes peppers eggplant and lettuce, fresh herbs, presumably over rice etc. Yum!
posted by subdee at 4:56 PM on May 26, 2013


Question:

Someone mentioned that they are eating fish that were grown from chicken poop? Is this safe? What about food grown from people poop? If its not safe how far away from poop does food need to be?

poop
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 4:59 PM on May 26, 2013


As far as how much fish they can eat, it says in the third link that they have more fish than they can eat and once a year let a pet turtle loose in the pond to eat the extra ones. Which, I think ideally they'd give those fish to neighbors or sell them to a restaurant, but I guess it's fun for the turtle(s).
posted by subdee at 5:01 PM on May 26, 2013


Someone mentioned that they are eating fish that were grown from chicken poop? Is this safe? What about food grown from people poop?

In Vietnam, there is such a thing as a fish pond toilet. It's like this set up, except with people pooping into the fish pond instead of chickens. The fish are also tilapia. I believe that what they often do is, when they are planning to eat a fish, they take it out of the toilet pond and put it in clean fresh water for a week or so. I don't know if this actually gets poo nastiness out of their systems, or if it just makes people feel better, but it ends up being fine to eat. (I'm pretty sure I ate toilet-fish and I didn't get sick or anything. The bigger problem is that, when people clean out their icky fish ponds, lots of untreated human waste ends up in canals and rivers.)

This whole system actually reminds me a lot of a sustainable farming concept in Vietnam. I learned about it under the term VACB - garden (vường), fish pond (ao cá), pigs (con heo), biodigester. The main difference is pigs instead of chickens, and having a biodigester to basically ferment the pig waste, because untreated pig waste is nasty and smearing it all over your farm will make you sick. Then the pig-poo fertilizer goes in the garden and leavings from the garden get tossed in the fish pond or something...? I can't quite remember. Anyway, it's a cool system, but it really only works when you have all of the components, and the start-up cost is significant. Similar to this concept: it's great once it's set up, but the initial hurdle is large.
posted by mandanza at 5:20 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


With the amount of responsibility and care they require, I would classify them as "exotic".

Generally, farm animals like chickens and goats are legally considered livestock.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:28 PM on May 26, 2013


As far as how much fish they can eat, it says in the third link that they have more fish than they can eat

They have more fish than they do eat, but that's not the same thing. Since they eat things besides fish. I was just curious how often they're eating fish. Every meal? Every day? Every week?
posted by Justinian at 5:33 PM on May 26, 2013


What about food grown from people poop?

Try Milorganite brand fertilizer, made from human sewage and industrial waste.

(warning: high in arsenic and heavy metals).
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:36 PM on May 26, 2013


Did you see their blog? It says:

"What We Get Daily From The GP

Tilapia Fish
About 1/2gallon of Goat Milk
About 5-6 Chicken Eggs
Fruit, Veggies, & Herbs"
posted by travelwithcats at 5:38 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


If its not safe how far away from poop does food need to be?

I think it depends what you mean by "safe". Mandanza gives a good example with Vietnam. Until recently it was also traditional in Goa, India, to have a "pig toilet" -- basically a privy where the human waste falls down into a pig pen. Those pigs are raised for food.

So, clearly it's something people in some parts of the world are willing to do. Whether that makes it "safe" or not is up for debate. I'm not sure about Vietnam, but India is a country that still has regular cholera and typhoid outbreaks.

I'll also say that, closer to home, my grandfather -- who grew up on a farm during the Depression -- used to have a somewhat crass joke about "third row" chickens. You see, you feed your first row of chickens feed. The second row eats the first row's poop. I guess you can imagine what the third row chickens eat. This joke is not about how healthy and robust the third row chickens are. And that's not even human poop we're talking about.
posted by Sara C. at 5:55 PM on May 26, 2013


My point exactly, anewnadir.

Chicken make lousy house pet.

With the amount of responsibility and care they require, I would classify them as "exotic".
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 4:41 PM on May 26


Feed and water in the morning - two minutes. Collect eggs when you're done. Once a week or so, scoop coop and dump scoopings in the composter - 5-10 minutes.

My cats require more care than my chickens.
posted by azpenguin at 5:59 PM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Generally, farm animals like chickens and goats are legally considered livestock.

Get back to me when you personally know someone who wuvs dem, and hugs dem, and calls dem cutesy names. I'm pretty sure at that point we'll be swapping stories about just how ridiculous of a money, not to mention an emotional, sink it is to think you could turn such a notoriously stupid animal into a "pet". The probability of sickness and genetic mutations that accompany them exceeds other animals afaik, and once someone names an animal all of the sudden they think that means a chick with a misaligned beak is worth dumping thousands of dollars into because it is mostly definitely not livestock. Trust me, like I said, don't get me started on how bad a choice chickens are as pets.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 6:17 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pets or livestock, azpenguin? There is a difference. Also, if you are actually letting them out of the coop to range and not watching them then you are either extremely lucky or simply don't care that one could be snatched by any number of predators and/or that they simply wander off.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 6:26 PM on May 26, 2013


I was particularly incensed by the rooster.

Ugh, there is no good reason to have a rooster in a suburban chicken-keeping scenario. Hens don't need a rooster around to lay eggs.

I've got three hens in my backyard in a semi-rural area, and yet I still wanted to smack the lady three houses down when she had a rooster. But bless her, when she found out how annoying her neighbors found him, she had ol' Ted for dinner.

Sadly, she was too attached to her annoying goose and did not do the same to him.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:38 PM on May 26, 2013


So then her goose wasn't cooked?
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 6:40 PM on May 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Trust me, like I said, don't get me started on how bad a choice chickens are as pets.

Apparently my reference is too obscure.

Yes, I know all about this. One day my father decided he wanted to return to his Amish roots on the family farm that failed during the Depression, so he purchased a farm and became a Gentleman Farmer. This phase lasted less than a year, whereupon he discovered that you cannot work as a bank executive during the day, and then stay up all night with a shotgun lying in wait for feral dog packs that are attacking your sheep. I am not even going to get into what happened after my mom decided she would care for the wounded sheep inside the house.

Ugh, there is no good reason to have a rooster in a suburban chicken-keeping scenario.

Of course not, but they have cockfighting in LA.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:51 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


jamaro: water lettuce is also pretty effective at preventing algae blooms. That's probably also a consideration.

I'd buy that if in his video he didn't mention using pond snails* to try to control his "algae problem." That he has an algae problem in a pond full of algae eating fish tends to indicate he's got water quality issues, namely too much fertilizer. Controlling the amount of chicken poop falling into the water would solve the algae, improve his water quality and allow him to introduce more types of edible flora/fauna (crawdads would be nice).

It's not that I'm all like YOURE DOING IT WRONG but losing 256 sq ft of valuable horizontal growing space in his limited area to an inedible plant that isn't right for the system seems counter to the stated goal of sustainability.

*pond snails are not an adequate solution to algae control.
posted by jamaro at 7:22 PM on May 26, 2013


ishrinkmajeans: "My question is would it be possible to create a wind powered pump (through the use of a windmill) that would require no supervision? "

Of course. Most of the windmills you saw on prairie farms were pumping water not making electricity.
posted by Mitheral at 7:39 PM on May 26, 2013


That would certainly be news to the Greeks.

Don't be silly. The Greeks built their civilization on division of labour and economies of scale, same as every other civilization.

You can't make all your own clothes, grow and harvest and prepare all your own food, and produce enough excess for the lean times, and maintain your own roof and build and maintain the tools, mine and smelt the ores, and water and firewood and a thousand other things. There aren't enough hours in the day. A semi-nomadic lifestyle in a land of such rich bounty that few or no clothes, tools, or shelter is required, is the best shot at self-sufficiency, and that requires a vast area per family without much competition, and historically, even then it's often not enough.

We survive in communities.
posted by anonymisc at 7:39 PM on May 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


Of course. Most of the windmills you saw on prairie farms were pumping water not making electricity.

Ok, now make it last 500 years (sans repairs) and use dew hydroponics to support a large pond and surrounding edible ecosystem (like my pinecone example). What's my minimum budget looking like?
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:38 PM on May 26, 2013


You can't make all your own clothes, grow and harvest and prepare all your own food, and produce enough excess for the lean times, and maintain your own roof and build and maintain the tools, mine and smelt the ores, and water and firewood and a thousand other things. There aren't enough hours in the day.

Well, you can.

It's just that the

clothes
food
excess
tools
water
etc.

will all be far below the standards that anyone reading this website right now would be willing to put up with.

You can make all your own clothes, but if society can't sustain people whose job it is to do that, most people's clothes will be only vaguely functional and definitely not comfortable or attractive.

You can raise all your own food, even store plenty for lean times, if you're not too picky about what that food is. It also helps to be willing to get rid of one of your kids if you've got too many mouths to feed, or maybe just let people starve.

You can make all your own tools, if you're willing to spend most of your non-food-related energy learning to hew them out of stone. And even then, they won't be nearly as good as tools made by a specialist. Also, there's a strong chance that you'll die of infection after a stone-knapping accident.

You can even have some of the finer things, like wine and beer, music, art, literature, and performance. But don't expect them to be actually good by modern standards. Even the best homemade wine is like, "this is very drinkable!" and not "this is just as good as Chateauneauf de Pape!"

This is not even getting into things we consider absolutely necessary to life, but are not doable by the average individual, like clean drinking water, antibiotics, and communications technology.

And keep in mind two things:

- Agriculturalists almost certainly NEVER lived in individualistic self-sustaining farmsteads. By the time you see agriculture, you see villages. Communities.

- Even if you want to take it back to romantic notions of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, I hope you were imagining yourself as a member of a large band of two-dozen, rather than, like, one guy and his wife and kids foraging for themselves in the wilderness. Anyone who wouldn't happily volunteer to sit on the board of the neighborhood association probably shouldn't get too excited about the prospect of life as a hunter-gatherer.
posted by Sara C. at 8:44 PM on May 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


Setting up this system on the moon means 336 hours of 225 degree F temperature in the sun followed by - 250 degree F temperature for 336 hours in darkness.
posted by millardsarpy at 8:53 PM on May 26, 2013


If anyone is interested in doing something like this I don't believe it is actually that expensive. That is if you skip having an actual pool and have the time to set up a greenhouse and the aquaponics. From what I recall it can be as cheap as a few hundred dollars, and there is not that much depth to the setup other than the pumping system.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 9:57 PM on May 26, 2013


postcommunism:
I too would love a $100/month grocery bill, I just figured that since they can get veggie and dairy stables for $0 they could stock up on legumes and flour in bulk and find themselves paying basically nothing most months. Hard to get meat that way, I guess.
You mean, aside from the goats, chickens, and tilapia, right?
posted by IAmBroom at 11:31 PM on May 26, 2013


I think in the post-apocalypse (and possibly also in the pre-apocalypse, should global population continue to rise while climate change messes with the weather stability needed for areas to be arable), meat will be a luxury rather than a staple. For many people in the world, this has always been the case.
So I don't see a low level of meat production from this system as a flaw, but rather an indicator of efficiency.
posted by anonymisc at 12:04 AM on May 27, 2013


mandanza: In Vietnam, there is such a thing as a fish pond toilet. It's like this set up, except with people pooping into the fish pond instead of chickens. The fish are also tilapia. I believe that what they often do is, when they are planning to eat a fish, they take it out of the toilet pond and put it in clean fresh water for a week or so. I don't know if this actually gets poo nastiness out of their systems, or if it just makes people feel better, but it ends up being fine to eat.
The issue is not some nebulous "poo nastiness", but the very real threat of building a two-host parasite pleasure palace (fish and humans, in this case).

You can feed plants safely with sterilized human manure quite easily, and harmlessly. Most problems can even be mitigated by good composting techniques. UNsterilized manure sets up a disease threat.

As for you city people squealing at the horror of having a rooster in your neighborhood... lord.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:10 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gatun Lake, the artificial reservoir which supplies the water to keep the Panama Canal filled, is replenished the same way. Because hte surrounding jungle is threatened by deforestation, the current project to build new, larger locks and shipping channels, to keep the Canal competitive, will use water-recycling locks.

Most of the windmills you saw on prairie farms were pumping water not making electricity.

Exactly. The very popular Eclipse-pattern windmill, especially after the patents lapsed, was primarily used for pumping although power generation was also possible. By the 1930s, the demand for lighting and, notably, radio meant that many windmills were generating electricity, but the Rural Electrification program of the New Deal not only brought power lines out to remote farms, I've been told that dismantling windmills was a requirement for getting hooked up* (so you would make the infrastructure pay for itself, I guess) -- and with that the market for windmills vanished in a puff of coal smoke.

* If anyone has a cite for this, feel free. It's not emerging for me.
posted by dhartung at 1:24 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the novel that this movie is based on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Woman_in_the_Dunes
posted by RuvaBlue at 1:46 AM on May 27, 2013


Pets or livestock, azpenguin? There is a difference. Also, if you are actually letting them out of the coop to range and not watching them then you are either extremely lucky or simply don't care that one could be snatched by any number of predators and/or that they simply wander off.

Not an issue if you have a closed in outdoor range and/or a dog that keep predators away.

I feed and water my chickens once every two days. Daily care consists of opening a door in the morning and shutting it at night.

I can understand what you mean by the difference between what people will do when it the animal is designated a 'pet' rather then just livestock. I'd say I look at mine somewhere between the too. I care about them a lot but only a couple have times. However like domestic animals like dogs and cats chickens come in different breeds and some are tons more fiddly and susceptible to disease, genetic problems and whatnot. Like dogs, getting 'pets' from breeders that focus more on show chickens can open you up to the same sort of genetic problems that certain dog breeds face.

I've had chickens for 4 years and went with a couple of old farm yard breeds. The only issue I've ever had with them was some frostbite on the roosters combs. Last fall several of them decided to forgo returning to the coop at night and roost high up in a tree. After a couple of weeks of trying to get them to return I just said to hell with it. The damn things went rogue so to speak and spent the entire Ontario winter outside. All I did was give them a bowl of food everyday. Thankfully they've now decided to return to the coop so finding the eggs is easier. After seeing how they survived this past winter sure made the first winter I had them where I was checking on them all the time to make sure the heat lamps were functioning seem really silly.

If you get a decent breed and protect them from predators they really don't need a whole lot more care then a cat. Their litter box is just bigger.
posted by Jalliah at 4:49 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]




Oh I should add. I live on an acre sized piece of property that used to be a farm. I do have neighbors across the road, some part time cottagers and one neighbor next to me (500 ft). My next door neighbor can hear my rooster and loves it. No idea if the ones across the street can or care. No one has said anything. Honestly though if they did care they couldn't do a thing about it and I wouldn't care. My property is zoned agricultural and all types of farm animals are allowed.

Residential property is another thing entirely. Most cities and suburbs that allow backyard chickens have 'no roosters' as part of the by-law because of the noise. If someone around you has a rooster check the law. It's most likely not legal to have it.
posted by Jalliah at 4:59 AM on May 27, 2013


If you get a decent breed and protect them from predators they really don't need a whole lot more care then a cat. Their litter box is just bigger.

To be clear I am aware of how much care chickens need, but the question is that when they do need care, are you willing to invest as much money and emotion into them as you would your cat or dog? Humans have tried to domesticate plenty of different animals and have been successful only in a few cases. Now that it is becoming such a fad to raise backyard chickens there is a subset of people who have no idea that you shouldn't be making as much of an investment as you would other pets. I am aware there are hardier breeds and smarter breeders, but from what I've seen they are not a sturdy animal at all and are far more susceptible to problems. And if a problem does arise and you need to make sure that animal pulls through then you can't simply take them down to the local vet who usually deals only with dogs and cats.

I guess it depends on where you live and perhaps the amount of available prey, but i am a little surprised that a raccoon or possum didn't make short work of your hens when they decided to roost in the trees. Every time I've heard that story, the flock usually starts to dwindle. Also, birds of prey don't mind being opportunistic when they get the chance.

For the record, I am all for backyard chickens. They are pretty great animals to have around, and in the end everyone makes their own choices, but it appears to me for some people it can easily become another case of first-worlders and their wacky problems.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:52 AM on May 27, 2013


I guess it depends on where you live and perhaps the amount of available prey, but i am a little surprised that a raccoon or possum didn't make short work of your hens when they decided to roost in the trees. Every time I've heard that story, the flock usually starts to dwindle. Also, birds of prey don't mind being opportunistic when they get the chance.


I have a dog (stock breed) that keeps predators away.
posted by Jalliah at 12:20 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Congrats. I live in a semi-rural area, all the predators around here get along just fine with a dog in every other yard.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 1:38 PM on May 27, 2013


Also, Jalliah, I'm sure you get along fine since you have said as much, but I'm not sure how that bears upon the fact that predators are a common problem for chickens. Not to mention friendly neighborhood dogs can be just as much a predator to chickens as any other.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 1:49 PM on May 27, 2013


As for you city people squealing at the horror of having a rooster in your neighborhood... lord.

Between the crowing and the squealing none of us are getting any sleep.

Seriously, you don't need a rooster for eggs, and they're a PITA to keep. Between the crowing, treading, annoying, and pecking the hens, attacking the cat, kids, and the neighbors, they're not worth putting up with. Who needs something that produces more chicken shit with no mitigating egg production?

It takes a lot of work to keep something like this looking good and producing well. It's a tough enough job if you know what you're doing--anything that pays better than $10 an hour is probably more profitable. This is probably a less sucky way to spend your time, but it takes effort with no guarantee of payback. (weather, bugs, neighbor's dog, etc.)

*going to replant the frozen tomatoes one more time tomorrow-second time this spring. WTF, it's nearly June! Corn knee-high by 4th July--hardly!
posted by BlueHorse at 4:20 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


BlueHorse: As for you city people squealing at the horror of having a rooster in your neighborhood... lord.

Between the crowing and the squealing none of us are getting any sleep.
Funny, none of the farm folk I grew up with were chronically sleep-deprived. And, after 30+ years away from farm communities, when I lived on one two years ago with a rooster next-door I had no problem sleeping.

Again, it sounds a bit of a "Princess & the Pea" problem to those of us who grew up on farms.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:06 AM on May 28, 2013


Roosters in the neighborhood? Start drinking early, no later than 5 p.m.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 3:28 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


none of the farm folk I grew up with were chronically sleep-deprived.

Rarely will coops be located as close to the house on a farm as they will in an urban area.
posted by Mitheral at 9:11 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


none of the farm folk I grew up with were chronically sleep-deprived

I've dealt with roosters in farm situations and in more urban/suburban landscapes.

Frankly I have no problem sleeping through it, but, yeah, it's nice when you're in a farmhouse and somewhere, off in the distance several acres away, you hear the call of a rooster. It's annoying when you hear that same call coming from your neighbor's yard.

That said the roosters in my neighborhood are equal-opportunity noise makers and do not restrict their calls to the morning by any means. FUN!

At this point it's very similar to the apartment I used to live in that was a couple blocks from an elevated train. For the first month or so you really hear it, then you stop. At this point I'm much more irritated with my neighbor who does all his weed-whacking and tree pruning right at the time of evening I like to pour a glass of wine and fire up Netflix.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: Frankly I have no problem sleeping through it, but, yeah, it's nice when you're in a farmhouse and somewhere, off in the distance several acres away, you hear the call of a rooster. It's annoying when you hear that same call coming from your neighbor's yard.
I've never known a farm with chickens that far away. 40-200' is more common; last time I lived in the country my bedroom window faced the neighbor's chicken house about 100' away. No problems.

Honestly, some of you seem hell-bent on proving that no one can stand the horrific shrieking of roosters - which is obviously dead wrong. A huge portion of the farmers in the world - from Iowa to the jungles of South America to Yunnan China - live in close proximity to roosters and sleep very well. The roosters bother you city folk for the same reason that police sirens would upset the sleep of an Iowa farmer (while a Brooklynite would never lose a REM) - it's simply an unusual noise.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:37 PM on May 28, 2013


Yeah I actually said I had no problem with the roosters, but could see how it could be annoying at close quarters as compared to on a farm.

My grandparents have a farm, and their chicken shed is well away from the house. (They also don't keep a rooster, because they are sane. 80+ years on farms will do that to a person.)

Meanwhile, in East LA, I have seen tiny coops in postage stamp sized yards, 5-10 feet from the nearest house. I've seen roosters scratching in front lawns barely big enough to park a car in. You walk down the street and hear chickens clucking. I don't know that I'd say it's annoying, but it's not like some bucolic farm.
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 PM on May 28, 2013


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