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Farming is the most universal source of food in Dwarf Fortress. On maps with plentiful shrubs, animals, or bodies of water, plant gathering, hunting, and fishing can also produce a decent amount of food; however, these practices often do not scale to the level needed to feed a full-sized fortress. Farming is a highly efficient, reliable, renewable and scalable source of food -- and, after cooking, of compact but valuable trade goods. Plants are also the only source of alcohol and dye other than trading. Some can be turned into clothing.
The biggest downside of farming is winter: farms disappear during winter and cannot be rebuilt until spring. You also need to set up an irrigation scheme, which can take a few trials before you learn how to get it right. If not constructed properly, irrigation systems can be useless, or even dangerous to your fortress.
Building the farm room(s)
You cannot plant seeds on the bare cavern floor – it needs to be muddy. You can get mud from the seasonal floodings of the cave river. An artificial flood by means of an irrigation system will have the same effect.
The first thing you have to know is how to irrigate a farm room. This is a one-time task of miners and possibly mechanics.
Defining the farm plot
Once you have a suitable location for farming you can have your farmer(s) prepare a farm plot. That's the actual bit of soil to be tilled.
Enter the build menu and place farm plots. Use u/m and h/k to adjust the size of the plot. When the plot is sized and positioned correctly, pressing Enter will place it. Your grower(s) will now rush in and prepare the field, clearing out rubble and other impediments when necessary.
How much farm space do you need? Surprisingly little. A 5x5 plot will provide enough food to bring you through your first winter. If there's still rubble in the room, leave a little extra space, otherwise the farmers tend to stack the boulders under your farm room doors and cause them to get stuck ajar, which can lead to flooding if you're not careful. You can also avoid putting doors right next to the farm.
Note that one square of farm per 32 dwarves is the theoretical minimum for a fortress that gets food only from farms. However, since that doesn't allow for alcohol, you would need one per 8 dwarves to let them drink more than water. However, going below one square per two dwarves would probably be a bad idea, and not that low until you are good at farming and have highly skilled Growers.
Digging out larger farm rooms than you need can be useful in other ways as well: muddied areas can spontaneously produce tower-caps (a source of wood), cave spider silk webs, and shrubs of the same type as your crops -- sometimes including quarry bushes, a crop that is not available during embark. However, these shrubs and trees will primarily grow only to the west of the cave river, and will not grow for very far at all to the right.
Once a farmer builds the plots, it's time to plant. Go into the plot's q menu and select the type of seed to plant. Your farmers will then take care of the rest. Note that your farmers will not work the plot the whole year without being told to do so: you must designate a crop for each season. You can designate each season ahead of time by using a, b, and c from the plot selection screen. You do not have to plant the same thing each season and can change planting orders at anytime, even mid-season. The already planted seeds will mature normally and the rest of the plot will be planted with the newly designated crop. Some plants can only be planted during certain seasons.
On a farm that is built but not planted, each tile will appear as "≈". Once a square has been planted, its appearance will change to "═". Once the square has been harvested, it will return to "≈".
In the first year, you may want to focus your production on plump helmets, as they can be brewed and eaten both raw or cooked. Plump helmets are also one of the 2 fast growing plants (Pig tails being the other but they can only be brewed, not eaten). Quarry bushes, cave wheat and sweet pods require processing before they can be eaten and take longer to grow. Pig tails and dimple cups can produce cloth and dye respectively, so grow these later. Dimple cups are the only underground crop that can neither be brewed nor otherwise processed into food (except for its seed, which can be cooked). Consider processing and cooking (and adjusted farming) as soon as possible since it adds quality levels to your food and, in the case of quarry bushes and sweet pods, quintuples the amount of food. Also, if you want to cater for the preferences of your dwarves, you will likely grow all types of crops sooner or later.
As mentioned, plump helmets and pig tails grow faster, maturing in about 25 days, all other crops take about 42 days. Since a month has 28 days, you need to get your seeds in really quick to have 2 harvests per season of a slow growing crop, while 3 harvests of plump helmets per season are easier to manage. But don't worry too much if you fail - the seeds and "grow time" will even be carried over to the next season if the crop can grow in that season. Skill, fertilizing or any other factor does not influence grow time, but will increase stack size instead.
Should you wish to plant nothing for a season, you can select z "fallow" from the farm plot menu; this is useful when your food stockpiles are overflowing. If you possess potash, you can fertilize the field to increase yield (see below).
Any crop may bear more or less fruit. A higher yield will have many benefits along the whole assembly line of further food processing: workers will always work on one "stack" at a time – if (for example) a brewer has "sweet pod " to work with, he will produce "dwarven rum " and squeeze it all into a single barrel.
The yield from a single seed depends on the farmers' skill and on whether the plot was fertilized.
- Skill: no particular skill is checked when harvesting. Only the grower skill of the farmer who planted the seed is taken into account. Dabbling planters will frequently produce stacks of only one, while Legendary growers will often produce stacks of 5 and rarely even stacks of 6 from a single seed on an unfertilized field. The actual yield follows the same basic formula as item quality, though each "quality" level only grants a 50% chance of boosting the stack size by 1.
- Fertilization: fertilization increases yield significantly, potentially boosting stack size by up to 4 (50% chance of +1 per 25% of fertilization applied). The amount of potash needed to fully fertilize a field depends on its size. Using q to view the farm plot, look for the field that looks like "Ft n/N" n is the amount of fertilizer applied so far, while N is the maximum amount that may be applied. To fertilize the field choose the fertilize command. The seas Fert option tells your dwarves to automatically fertilize a field after each season change. The amount of potash required for a plot of a given size is:
- (Size/4, rounded down) + 1*
- (* which means that plots of size 1-3 use 1, size 4-7 use 2, size 8-11 use 3, etc.)
- Given this formula, the ratio of tiles fertilized per unit of potash approaches 4, but never reaches it. The larger the plot, the better the ratio; and if the plot's size is one less than a multiple of 4 (11, 15, etc.) you get very high potash efficiency.
- (Size/4, rounded down) + 1*
A few weeks after planting a seed, a crop will sprout on that spot. Crops must be harvested within another few weeks or they will wither. By default, all dwarves will harvest, including children and even nobles. This may or may not be desirable: on the one hand, it makes sure that no crops will wither; on the other, it may lead to far away dwarves interrupting their work and running a long way in order to harvest a single plant and less skill gains for your planters.
Harvesting plants earns dwarves experience in the Grower skill, so do not be surprised if all your dwarves soon become "dabbling" (or better) growers. Because of that, peasants with no other occupation become farmers almost automatically. Do not be afraid that they might trample your fields: the skill is of no importance during harvest, and no matter how much skill they earn they will still only plant crops if you allow them to in their individual "labor" menu.
If you chose to turn off "All dwarves harvest" in your orders menu, only dwarves with the "Farming (Fields)" labor enabled will harvest. However, they will often choose to plant new seeds instead of reaping the existing crop, so you risk that some amount may wither. After harvesting a plant (plucking it out of the ground), dwarves will carry it to the nearest stockpile, even if they do not have the "Food Hauling" labor enabled, unless you have "Dwarves ignore food" set in your orders menu, in which case they will leave the plant blinking on the field. If not moved to a stockpile within a few weeks, it will wither.
When a new season begins, any plant which cannot be grown during the new season will disappear from the farm plot if it has not yet been harvested.
There are several schools of thought on where you should construct your farms. If you choose to do Nile-style farming, your farms will necessarily be on the river banks. Some players choose to build all their farms past the cave river, to create a more compact fortress layout (reducing the amount of hauling dwarves have to do) as well as being potentially more defensible (against sieges in particular). Some even will build all farms past the chasm, or, as a personal challenge, past the magma flow.
Farms can be built on mud left behind by the initial flood (if there is one) to get farming underway quickly; constructing floodgates, channels and mechanisms can be very time-consuming and reduce your first year's harvest. It is also possible to irrigate your farms by channeling water from the outside river into the cave. This also allows farming to get underway very quickly.
Some players segregate their farm plots into separate rooms, although this is not necessary. One giant room (with supports or natural pillars) can house several farm plots, all serviced by a single set of floodgates.
It is a good idea to have your main food storage area adjacent to your farm(s). This will reduce the distance dwarves have to travel when harvesting plants, and will keep your seeds near the farm as well. It is also a good idea to put your main dining room nearby, where the harvest is eaten and new seeds are produced. It is even possible to put your main food stockpile inside your main dining room.
If you manage to get large-scale farming up and running, you will need to employ many food haulers in order for the food produced on your farms to be edible, even if it has already been harvested. This is because in the current version of the game, items tagged for pending tasks (including Move to Stockpile and Store in Barrel) are unavailable for any other use, such as eating. An entire fortress of dwarves can starve while they wait for somebody to move the food.
One way to deal with this problem (at least during the heavy farming/harvesting seasons) is to disable hauling of both stone and wood in the top-level orders menu. This way, most of those jobs will clear out of the job queue, and you will be left mostly with "Store in Barrel" type jobs. You can also increase the number of dedicated food haulers.
Alternatively, temporarily disabling food hauling altogether will cancel all of the food storage jobs and leave all of the unstored food available for eating, brewing, or any other jobs. Similarly, allowing your food stockpiles to be completely filled will also prevent this from happening, though the plants will wither after a while.
It can be difficult to manage barrels to store food and drink, and bags to store seeds and processed foods. Combat this by cooking food to consolidate it into larger stacks that won't rot outside of a barrel (it just needs to be indoors on a food stockpile). In the p menu, you can also reserve some empty barrels that will not be used for food storage; instead, they will only be used for brewing and syrup processing tasks. Leaves, sugar, and flour are not edible; to use them up and free their bags, you must cook. You can also cook excess seeds (albeit only up to 4 at a time), to reclaim the bags they occupy. Make sure not to cook your last crop seed!
In this version, when storing seeds in bags, dwarves do not prefer partially-filled bags over empty ones. This means that if your dining rooms, stills, and farmer's workshops are closer to your bag stockpiles than your seed stockpiles, all of your bags will quickly be filled with 1 seed apiece, overfilling your seed stockpiles and disrupting the production of glass and quarry bush leaves. Careful arrangement of stockpiles is required in order to avoid this problem.
If you have weather enabled, be sure to move your seeds to an indoor stockpile before you begin planting, since rain will destroy seeds when farmers remove them from bags. When this happens, the farmer will walk to the farm plot to plant the lost seed, and only then will he generate a "Job item lost or destroyed" message.
Crops will sometimes be displayed as red in the field listing. This means that planting the crop would be fruitless, as it will not survive long enough to be harvested (due to it not being plantable during the next season). Note that this will only happen if your dwarves actually know that the crop will die, which will be learned either by observation (i.e. having the seeds die during a season transition) or by being planted by a sufficiently skilled Farmer.