Sub Acre Ag

Sub Acre Agriculture is the attempt to ek out substantial amounts of food production from small allotments of land. It could certainly be argued that this is nothing but gardening, but Agriculture adds a degree of intent by focusing energy on rotations, cover cropping, livestock integration, nutrient cycling, or perrenial and “woody” crops. Sub Acre Ag seeks to take these learnings from the past several decades of Organic Farming, and incorporate that into small plots of land-as little as 3-400 sq ft.

Why bother? As we enter a century of Energy and Resource Decline coupled with rising global populations and consumption we will face the stark reality of there not being enough food produced in the current paradigm to meet the needs of the planet.

My goal (stated in detail in HOA Meets CSA) is to grow 2000lbs/yr. of food in the backyard of my suburban home.

Let’s put that in perspective. I live in a Home Owner’s Association of 50 homes. If all my neighbors copied and improved on my learning’s our neighborhood would produce 100,000 lbs of food-enough to fill 2 semi trailers. My small village has 500 homes-if we all practiced Sub Acre Ag it would be 1,000,000 lbs of food. That Super Wal-Mart looks alot less attractive if there is 1,000,000 lbs of food at each little village’s farmer’s market.

We can do this. Most techniques that I will be detailing on this site are tried and true, we are just applying them on a smaller scale. Others, like Permaculture Food Forests, are more cutting edge, but if we can make them work, they have unbelievable potential to sustainably support our communities for futuregenerations.

I apologize for the lack of pictures of our system. A poorly timed hard drvie crash (OK when is it a good time?) gutted our photo library-we are lazy about backing up. To the uninitiated, it looks like 7 traditional raised beds, with a whole lot of smalls trees and perrenials near by. Over all the effect is becoming rather beautiful-in both function and form.

Here are some of the techniques that I am using on our property:

Permaculture Guilds: A Primer
“Guilds” are dense perennials plantings designed intentional to mimic natural plant groupings in nature to maximize yield in a mutually supporting community that is very frugal with space and is net positive w/fertility. Fascinating!

Sheet Mulch
Sheet Mulching is often reffered to as composting in place, which is an accurate description of the process. Essentially one creates a 12″ thick layer of organic matter in such a way so as to eliminate any existing vegetaion while leaving the soil ecosystem in place. One of the very best low input and carbon nuetral ways to convert lawn to garden.

Tools of the Trade
Good tools make work easier and more enjoyable. These tools are forged by crasftman, hold an edge, and are built to last. I fully expect my children to use them in their own gardens in 30 years, which certainly cannot be said of the tools you find in the Big Box stores these days.

.1 Acre Market Garden: Plans and Theory

This is it! Includes files for the proposed layout of the gardens along with my goals and dreams for the beds. This is a scale-able design that can be shrunk down to fit in a backyard or expanded to fit 5 acres. Main focus is on optimising the soil fertility for true sustainability rather than maximizing yields in any one year and on minimizing inputs through integrated fertility growth and pest prevention/control. Lofty and full of hubris, but very exciting!

.1 Acre Garden Rotation

This page includes a link to a spreadsheet detailing the proposed rotation for the .1 Acre Market Garden Project. This is currently untested, and will be updated as it is field tested.

Sub Acre Ranching: Chicken/Rabbit Tractors

Animal Manures are the best way to increase fertility on denuded soil. Animal Tractors allow you to reduce labor inputs by pushing some of the work on the animals by letting them do what they want to do anyhow (eat, scratch, poop) while reaping the added “surpluses” of eggs, fiber, or meat.

Stay tuned for more pages on Sub Acre Ag!


11 Responses

  1. Sub-Acre agricultural is a fine thing! It’s necessary in 3rd-World nations and damn nice and useful in developed ones as well.

    I’m hoping that – as NYC moves to more green roofing – that sub-acre agriculture will become more prevalent even here 🙂

  2. I am pretty sure you could do something like this in your neighborhood, but going beyond that would be much harder.

    The problem is even within your neighborhood you are going to have different people who want to emphasize different crops. This means different systems of rotation, managing different diseases and so on. Once you start combining this with different micro-climates, soil types, local pest problems and so on, there will just be too many variables. The issue is not so much a list of rules to follow, or a system to be developed. but these are genuine skills that have to be learned. Skills that in many cases have been forgotten over the years, or are out of date because of the emergence of new pests and diseases.

    I think one of the best ways of building up these skills is to get people closer together, in community gardens or the Internet. The Internet has the potential to revolutionize the way in which this skill building takes place, but the immediate problem is the people who have these skills now are mostly older people who also have a harder time with modern technology.

    Anyway, good luck! I’ll be watching.

  3. Rob,
    I found your blog a week or so ago and have been reading it through Reader. Tonight I looked a little closer and found this post. I love it! My family and I are on 1/4 acre and are growing on just under 400 SqFt.
    I also read your “About us” page, and can really appreciate your way of looking for the solution and the positive side of things.
    I’m going to add you to my blogroll tonight.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. You should check out the website Kitchen Gardeners International. These are mostly small backyard farms or growers just like you. I think you would enjoy the insight and learning at the site. I am a member there and post there from time to time.
    Also I noticed you had links to Spin Farming isnt that just the greatest.
    You would also like PATH TO FREEDOM at These people are amazing at what they grow on their small sub acre lot. Of course it helps they are in Cali. and have great weather there. But look at what they have accomplished.
    Keep up the great work it just goes to show you dont need a thousand acre monoculture to grow great food.

  5. Hello, I am a Baraboo native and just recently completed a Permaculture Design Course with Scott Pittman. I’m currently living in Utah, finishing up a Botany degree, but will be home for about a month this summer. I am interested in networking with Permaculture people in the area and possibly organizing some workshops or presentations to spread the word while I’m home. I’d love to hear back from you about others in the area who practice permaculture, about activities that are already going on, and about past efforts to educate the public on permaculture. Thanks!

  6. A franchise-ready, sub-acre farming system called SPIN-Farming can help you become productive, and profitable, if you would like to earn income from sub-acre farming. More information in available at

  7. I just found your site becuase of the potato towers. This is awesome and gives me hope that there are more people just like me doing the same kinds of things. The further we head into the post-cheap -oil world, the more relevant these kind of lifestyles will become. I congratulate you on your websites success. Keep up the good work!

  8. Rob:

    Found your blog/site looking and researching Grillo tractors. I’m going to buy one Thursday night! I’m very intrigued but new to such extensive crop rotations as I’ve found on your website here. Can you recommend some books, websites, anything about how to set up (and the reasons why) a multi-year rotation?

    I’m hoping to double the ground I’m growing on this year, which will get me over 1/4 acre.

    Thanks for any help,

    • Hey David!

      Great to hear about the Grillo – they are AWESOME and you will love it. Eliot Coleman’s New Market Grower is the be-all end-all of this scale growing – his rotations are selflessly shared and spot on. Next up would be John Jeavons’s How to Grow More Vegetables. I would also strongly recommend Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden. It is not a veggie gardening book per se, but teaches ecological gardening and the theories there in will make your garden more fertile, pest resistant, and weather resilient.

      Good luck and stay in touch!

  9. As you said “Animal Manures are the best way to increase fertility on denuded soil.”

    In my Backyard Food Production Complex a 50’X50 foot intensive micro farm using aquaponics, a small hoop house, worm bin, nut trees, fruit trees and vegetables…my chickens rule.

    They are land clearing specialist…place them on a weedy spot and soon they will have the spot cleared to the soil and ready for sheet mulch.

    Chicken poop is pure gold…I use it for manure tea…a near perfect liquid fertilizer applied to the leaves of my aquaponics plants for an extra boost and applied to my trees and vegetables in my BFPC. I make about 5 gallons a week using a couple of pounds of chicken manure.
    Here is a link to a university study on chicken manure tea which some folks might find useful.

    Click to access Chicken%20Manure%20Tea%20as%20a%20Fertilizer.pdf

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