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THE HOW-TO GEEK GUIDE TO MINECRAFT / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 10: I’m a Farmer, You’re a Farmer, We are Farmers All

Minecraft

The agricultural revolution was a game changer in real life, and it’s a game changer in Minecraft. Today we’re looking at how you can maximize your mining efforts by establishing farms. You’ll get your pigs for nothing and your dinners for free!

Early in your survival experience you’ll spend a lot of time scraping by just to survive. You’ll need to find a balance between hunting for food and mining for resources so you can keep cooking that food and replacing your tools. As we’ve continually emphasized, there’s nothing wrong with playing Minecraft anyway you want to play it, so if you like the rhythm of hunting all day and mining all night, go for it!

Most players however, find themselves setting up at least a simple farm to make life in Minecraft land a little more stable and the quest for food and resources a little less taxing.

In Minecraft there are renewable resources and non-renewable resources. In-game materials like coal, iron, diamonds, redstone, and other ores are finite. As we discussed in introduction the Minecraft world is absolutely enormous and you could spend decades trying to explore it, which means there is a whole lot of coal and diamonds out there, but those items are spread far and wide as well as at rather low densities in each given chunk.

Coal is the most abundant ore in the game, for example, but it still only compromises roughly 1% of all the stone layers in the game. Diamonds are so rare as to be a fraction of a percent of the total stone layers. They might be abundant when you think about the map being billions of blocks but they’re not readily available because they’re spread so far apart.

Renewable resources, on the other hand, can be easily regenerated in one location without forcing the player to wander far and wide in search of them. Instead of ever expanding mines, you can have a simple plot of land a stable or even increasing yield.

You can play a Survival game without farming, but once you begin accumulating resources it rapidly becomes more efficient to farm materials than to spend all day roaming around looking for them. In Minecraft you can farm, in order of complexity: trees, fruits and vegetables, animals, and mobs.

Tree Farming

In the beginning of the game, it might seem silly to want for trees. They’re found in every biome except the Desert Biome and they range from semi-abundant to incredibly abundant. If you’re a busy builder however, you’ll quickly find that you’re tearing through the forest surrounding your home base with a speed that would unsettle even the Lorax.

While there isn’t necessarily an environmental cost in Minecraft to converting old growth forest into grassland with the energetic swinging of your axe, it does make it a hassle for you to collect more resources as you’ll have to hike further and further as the edge of the forest recedes. Not only that, if you like having a base nestled in the woods it won’t be nestled in the woods for long if you clear cut a massive field around it.

In order to avoid hiking for half an in-game day to get more wood, it’s very handy to put on your Johnny Appleseed hat and do a little tree farming.

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The absolute simplest way to farm trees is to look for saplings. All Minecraft trees drop saplings, which are just little miniature trees you can gather like any other in-game resource. Sometimes leaves will wither and the saplings will fall automatically. Other times you’ll find them after you or some in-game mechanism, have just damaged the tree leave blocks.

Just scoop them up and then place them on suitable dirt/grass with light exposure and they’ll grow. If you look for saplings while you’re gathering wood you can easily plant them while you’re out chopping wood or on your way home. If you do nothing else related to tree farming, at least do this to ensure that you have fresh wood near your base.

If you want to take your tree farming to the next level, you can plant your saplings in a grid for high-density farming. Let’s take a visit to the old lumberjack hut and see how that plays out. Here’s a 12×12 grid of trees planted in a checkerboard pattern (you don’t need a stone border, we included it just to provide a clear visual border around our planting area).

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Saplings take about a day to grow but some may surprise you. Between the time we planted the saplings and moved back to take a screenshot that little eager guy in the corner had already burst into a full-grown tree.

After a day or so, here’s what the plot looks like:

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This 12×12 plot of oak trees yielded approximately 260 logs (or a little over 4 full stacks of 64 logs). While you’re chopping them down you’ll also end up with a bunch of saplings that help you start the process all over again. Keep a chest nearby stocked with axes and space to store your extra saplings.

By the way, if you’re an impatient tree farmer, you can accelerate the process by putting torches on the ground in between the saplings. This will give them light exposure at night and encourage them to grow faster.

If you’re an extra impatient farmer, you can also sprinkle bone meal on them. A few shakes of bone meal powder on a sapling will turn it into an adult tree. You can create bone meal by crushing up skeletons bones via the crafting box – one bone yields three units of bone meal.

Fun tree farming trick: if you’d like to create a very organic wall you can plant most saplings (save for Spruce saplings) in a straight line. The resulting growth will create a living stockade of trees.

Produce Farming

When we started talking about farming, this is most likely what you thought of: growing traditional farm crops. In Minecraft you can farm the following traditional food staples: wheat, carrots, potatoes, mellows, and pumpkins. More advanced farming includes mushroom, sugarcane, and cocoa bean crops.

Some types of crop farming are less critical than others. Farming cocoa beans, for example, gives you the ability to dye wool brown and to bake cookies, while this is fun, it’s not critical to advancement in the game. Farming sugarcane however, is required to produce books, which is a key component in creating bookshelves, which are critical for successful enchanting later in the game.

Wheat, Carrots, and Potatoes

Wheat, carrots, and potatoes are “farmland” crops. They’re designated as such because they’re the only plants you’ll find in the small 7×2 rectangle plots found in villages near farm houses. Here’s what a simple village farm looks like:

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Farm crops need very little to grow. Starting with a seed stock (seeds, carrots, or potatoes), they need to be planted in a dirt block within four squares of water that has been tilled with a hoe and in bright light (sunlight or inside a building or cave lit by many, many torches). You can technically till soil that is not within the four block radius of some water, but this “dry farming” is very ineffective. Not only do the crops grow at a painfully slow pace but every time you harvest them you’ll have to re-till the soil; damp farmland does not require tedious re-tilling unless it is left unplanted for so long grass grows.

While using the village farms is an easy way to get started with farming in the beginning of the game, they’re a bit on the small side. You can easily build a very large farm in a short period of time with just some dirt, seed stock, and water

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Notice how we staggered the rows, for demonstration purposes, from the simple two column design found in the village, to the maximum width of four blocks away from the water source. It’s also worth noting that the water effect extends in all four directions as well as diagonally so technically, the long irrigation channels in our demonstration garden are decorative as we could modify them for maximum efficiency like this:

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Planning for efficiency aside, the real challenge with farms of all sizes, be they farmland crops or other game plants, is acquiring your starting stock.

You can gather wheat seeds by hacking away at grass until some seeds drop. Carrots and potatoes are much trickier to acquire and require you to either find a village with some already growing or get them as rare drops.

Zombies will occasionally drop a potato or carrot which can be used to start a farm in the absence of stock you can steal from a village. Outside of those sources, potatoes and carrots are not found in the wild.

Melon and Pumpkins

While both melons and pumpkins can be found naturally, if you need any quantity of them it is much more efficient to grow them yourself as they spawn infrequently in their respective biomes (jungles for melons and any biome with grass for pumpkins). If you have no luck finding them naturally spawned, search out Abandoned Mineshafts as you can find seeds stashed away in minecart chests.

Melons are more of a novelty in the game as they have fairly low utility. They don’t replenish much hunger, and they are only useful for crafting healing potions later in the game and trading with villagers (if you happen to find a melon obsessed villager, that is).

Pumpkins have a higher utility as they unlock a pretty neat feature in the game. In addition to making pumpkin pies and Jack O’ Lanterns with your pumpkins you can also use them as the head for an Iron Golem – a tall magically animated creature that will protect the village you create it in – and as the head for Snow Golems, which can also offer protection and a supply of snow.

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You seed a pumpkin/melon farm by breaking them to collect the fruit. Melons will break into slices, and pumpkins will simply be harvested whole. Then you extract the seeds by placing them on the crafting table.

Unlike most other crops, melons and pumpkins need a lot of room to grow. Not only do they need tilled soil and water, but they need an adjacent space for the fruit to grow into (just like the real thing). If you plant them tightly together like wheat they won’t have room to grow.

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Here’s a simple farm with pumpkins on one side and melons on the other. Note how we left each plant a space to grow its fruit into.

Although melons and pumpkins aren’t particularly useful early in the game, as they provide little nutrition and they’re a bit of a pain to grow, as they need lots of space and grow slowly, we always recommend hoarding the seeds when you come across the plants. Later on when you can’t remember where exactly you found that melon patch, you’ll thank us!

Sugarcane and Cocoa

Both sugarcane and cocoa are the more exotic plants found in Minecraft. Both plants are used for more advanced material construction in the game.

Sugarcane is found in all biomes except the cold biomes wherein water is frozen. It is always found bordering a body of water on dirt or sand as it requires directly adjacent water to grow. It’s rather rare and spawns sporadically and in small stands so you definitely want to harvest a stand or two when you come across it.

Although sugarcane is rare, once you get to farming it, you’ll be filling chests with the stuff. Even though it’s slow growing, when you harvest a mature plant you receive three sugarcane units. On top of that, you don’t need to hoe the ground you plant sugarcane on and, because it grows in multiple segments, you can break just the top pieces off and leave the bottom block perpetually growing.

Hands down, it’s the easiest crop to maintain in the game and, if you plant a bunch outside the main entrance of your shelter, you can make walking through the sugarcane and harvest a big pile part of your out-the-door routine. Here’s an example of such a design from one of our survival worlds:

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We planted the sugarcane all along the shore outside our shelter. Harvesting it is as easy as swinging a sword at it on the way home from a hunting/gathering expedition.

One novel thing about sugarcane that most players are unaware of is that it doesn’t require light. You could plant a sugarcane farm in a dimly lit cavern if you felt like hauling the dirt and water down there.

Not only is sugarcane easy to grow but it’s a critical part to advancing in the game: you need sugarcane, as we just recently learned, to make paper, books, bookshelves, and enchanting tables. That might seem a long way off in the beginning (and, in fairness, when you’re just building your first survival hut in the game, it is) but you definitely want to stockpile it for later.

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Compared to the importance of sugarcane, cocoa beans are significantly less critical. Cocoa takes the form of a pod and grows on the bark of jungle trees in the jungle biome. When you smash the pods you get cocoa beans, which can be used to plant more pods using the trees as a growing medium, or you can use the pods on your crafting table to dye items brown or bake cookies.

Although they are only found in the jungle biome, you can put them on jungle wood logs in any climate (as seen in the screenshot above).

Animal Farming

Hunting for animals is fun and all, but not only is it time consuming, you’ll quickly find that natural herds are slow to respawn. Even if you find dozens of pigs around your spawn point/first shelter, you’ll be short on pork chops if you kill them all in the first day or two.

Animal farming allows you to control and multiply animal herds so that you have a consistent source of the resources those animals drop. Need lots of leather? Farm cows. Need lots of wool? Farm sheep. Once you have a farm up and running you’ll wonder why you ever burned away the daylight looking for food.

Every Pig Needs a Pen

The most challenging part about farming animals is getting the original animals where want them, e.g. getting those cows off the mountain slope behind your shelter and into the pen you built.

Mobs in Minecraft can jump just like the player can, so the first thing we need to consider is how to keep them contained. If you want to keep your farm animals from wandering off you’ll need to either build a wall at least two blocks high or use a fence. Although fences look like they are only one block high, the game considers them 1.5 blocks high and as such, neither the player nor mobs can jump over them.

You can craft fence sections and fence gates with the following recipes:

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Remember to slap some torches on the pen’s fence posts to keep hostile mobs from spawning inside your pen in the middle of the night. The last thing your new pets need is to die a horrible zombie-attack death while you’re holed up inside your shelter.

If you’re feeling super protective of your animals you can always build a sturdier enclosure for them. In our first survival world we lead a bunch of pigs into a cave and, after walling it up and putting torches everywhere, had ourselves a veritable fortress of a farm filled with dozens and dozens of pigs!

You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

In addition to the enclosure to store the animals in, you’ll need the animals themselves. There are two ways you can bring animals back to a pen.

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The easiest way, as it requires no additional tools, is to simply hold food the animal likes in your hand and it will follow you like a hungry animal at a petting zoo (as seen in the screenshot above), wherever you go as long as you don’t run too fast away from it. The foods each animal likes are outlined in the breeding chart found in the next section.

In addition to leading animals around by their stomachs, it’s also handy to be able to lead a single animal if need be, like taking a single horse out of the pen. In this case you need to use a lead. A lead allows you to right-click on any passive mob such as a sheep or cow, and lead them wherever you like, similar to walking a dog on a leash. The recipe for a lead requires string (from spiders or harvested from cobwebs) and slime balls (from slimes).

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With a corral built, a gate installed, and your trusty lead, it’s time to go looking for some animals to wrangle. Right-click on them with the lead and guide them back to your pen. If you need to stop leading them for some reason, you can keep them in one place by plopping down a single fence post and right-clicking on the post to tie the lead to it.

Aim to collect at least two of each animal so that you can breed them but ideally, as many as you can reasonably round up and bring home.

Love Is in the Air

Once you have them at home and in the pen, it’s time to engage in a little animal husbandry. Each animal you can breed has a specific food which will trigger the breeding mechanism in the game.

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In order to initiate the breeding, you need to feed at least two adult animals of the same species the triggering food.

Sheep, Cows, Mooshrooms Wheat
Pigs Carrots
Chickens Seeds (Any will breed them, but they’ll only follow wheat seeds)
Tamed Wolves (Dogs) Any Meat
Tamed Ocelots (Cats) Raw Fish
Horses, Donkeys Golden Apples or Golden Carrots

Golden apples and carrots are made on the crafting table by placing an apple or carrot in the center and surrounding it with gold ingots (hey, nobody said running a horse farm was going to be cheap). Rarely, golden apples can be found in the chests of Dungeons and Strongholds.

When you feed the two animals the proper food, cartoon hearts will float around them and a few moments later a baby version of the animal, such as the lamb seen in front of its parents in the screenshot above, will appear.

Animals can be bred every five minutes and baby animals will take 20 minutes to reach their adult size.

Advanced Farming

The easiest method of farming in Minecraft is the kind that most resembles real-life farming: planting plants and harvesting them as well as tending chickens and cows. More advanced farming in Minecraft focuses on “farming” other game resources like blocks and mobs for their drops and experience.

This type of farming is pretty sophisticated and definitely not something you get into first thing in a survival game, but it can be very useful as a source of materials later in the game when you’ve grown tired of hunting down every individual piece of loot you need.

Hostile Mob Farming

There are two types of mob farming, which can be loosely classified as natural farming and exploit farming. The latter type isn’t cheating, but it does exploit the game mechanics to bring about a desired result.

The first type of mob farming, natural farming, is where you find a natural source of mob spawner and simply hang around and “farm” it for mob drops and experience. Many players’ first instinct when coming across a fiery little cage that shoots out bad guys is to immediately attack and destroy it. The mob spawners are really rare though, and it’s better to wall it off and save it for later.

More advanced natural farming involves building structures around the spawner to direct the flow of mobs and more efficiently farm them.

Exploit mob farming, and again we’re not using that term derisively, hinges on manipulating the in-game rules for mob spawning to your advantage. We know that hostile mobs spawn in the dark, be it on the surface at nighttime or in a cave any time. Mobs also take damage like the player, from falling, drowning, or being crushed. Using just those two bits of knowledge and a bit of ingenuity you can craft mob farms.

Creative players have come up with designs that encourage mobs to spawn in one location and then route them toward something that will finish them off (a high drop to the ground, a trap that smashes them, etc.). This strange looking water-tower-like design, for example, is one of the most basic mob farms you can construct:

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It seems like a strange structure, but it’s designed to specifically exploit elements of the game. Here’s what the chamber up top looks like with the “lid” off:

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There are four platforms and four little water channels. Water runs eight squares from the point it is placed, so you make the chamber big enough to accommodate that run length. Why the water? Once we put the lid on the chamber and seal it up so its pitch black inside, suddenly we’ve turned our little odd water tower into the only good spawn point for hostile mobs while the sun is shining.

You see, the game wants to continually spawn creatures to populate the world. When you create a pocket of dark in a tall structure, you’re creating a great spot for mobs to spawn.

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They spawn on the platforms, wander about, and eventually fall into the water where it sweeps them toward the hole. The hole is 25 blocks above the ground and the fall damage is enough (at that distance) to kill the mobs. They spawn, they mill about, and then they splat. All you have to do is hang out at the bottom of the water tower and collect the loot. Even this modest (in design and size) spawner will rain down mobs every few seconds.

The only disadvantage to building a mob farm like this, aside from the inherent risk of falling to death while building it, is that only mobs killed directly by the player actually yield experience. You’ll get all the loot but none of the experience unless you deliver the killing blow yourself. Some players build shorter towers so that the mob is hurt but not dead so they can farm the wounded zombies, skeletons, and such, for experience points.

There are as many ways to build a mob farm as there are to build a house in Minecraft, and the method we’ve shown here is about as simple as they come. Feel free to experiment with your own mad scientist ways to build a better deathtrap. If you’re feeling uninspired, check out YouTube; building mob spawners might as well be an Olympic sport as far as Minecraft enthusiasts are concerned.

Utility Mob Farming

Related to farming passive mobs via traditional farming techniques, and hostile mobs (using mob spawners and mob traps, you can also farm the utility mobs.

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Remember how the snow golem leaves behind a trail of snow? If you fence the little guy in, he’ll just walk around and around coating the ground with snow. You can follow behind with a shovel scooping it all up and use the resulting snow to create more snow golems, throw snowballs at your friends (or enemies for that matter), and make snow blocks to build snow structures like igloos.

You can also farm, albeit with much more difficulty, iron golems. Iron golems, as you may recall from the “Meet the Mobs” lesson, spawn in large villages. You can search out large villages or grow small ones to be big enough to begin spawning golems, and then construct containment units in the center of the village to attempt to trap iron golems. Therein you’ll need some sort of mechanism to kill them, like lava or suffocating them with blocks because they’re quite good fighters and you don’t want to go toe-to-toe with them over and over.

That method is really inefficient, however and if players attempt to farm golems at all in survival, they typically do so by creating a mock village that doesn’t look a whole lot like a real village at all but meets the in-game requirements of a village. Typically these designs revolve around creating a large arena like structure liked with doors, stocked with villagers you’ve stolen from a nearby village, and with a water-chute design that pushes the golems into a trap where you can collect the iron they drop. The golem spawns up top and is pushed into the trap.

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Under the trap, a simple collection device fills a chest with iron ingots dropped from the golem’s body. Setting up such a farm is a huge pain, to be sure. If you’re trying to build a massive iron-based structure in Survival Mode however, it might just be worth the hassle instead of spending forever-and-a-day mining iron.

Block Farming

Like mob farming, block farming is pretty advanced set of techniques you won’t need to call on early in the game but can prove quite useful later on. Although mining and digging is a lot of fun, sometimes if you need a lot of something or that something is rare, it pays to “farm” blocks.

Take obsidian, for example. It doesn’t spawn naturally but is created when flowing water hits a lava source block. As such, it’s extremely rare to just find obsidian laying around because it only occurs after the world is spawned and when water just happens to pour over lava. Yet, it’s absolutely necessary to collect obsidian to craft an enchantment table and to create the portal that takes you to The Nether.

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The best way to farm obsidian is to take a bucket of water and dump it on lava you come across while exploring. The above screenshot highlights the transformation: lava, water flows over it, lava converts to obsidian. When things happen in reverse (lava flows over water) you get cobblestone; a significantly less valuable resource.

Nonetheless, sometimes even something like cobblestone is worth generating if you want a source of it that doesn’t involve busting up all the stone around your base.

Here’s a simple cobblestone generator:

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A bucket of water dumped at the end of a 10-block trench will only run eight blocks, allows the lava dumped on the other end to crash into the water and become cobble (\with no risk of the water washing over the lava and creating obsidian. You can mine that block of cobble forever and it will always replenish.

Next Lesson: Engineering with Redstone

We’re on a whirlwind tour through Minecraft tips and tricks but we still have a few left to cover.

In our next lesson we’ll be talking about redstone, the Minecraft construction substance that’s part magic, part electrical engineering. With it you can build everything from simple light-switch-type devices to complex machines that help automatic in-game tasks.

For homework tonight experiment a little with farming. You can start light and capture a pig or two for a simple pork farm or go big and try your hand at building a mob farm.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/20/14