The dwarves in your Dwarf Fortress society need alcohol to be happy and productive. And food, too. It’s possible to trade for food and drink with any caravans that show up at your fortress, but it’s much more reliable to grow and make your own.
In this Dwarf Fortress farming guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about building Farm Plots, fertilizing, and keeping a steady supply of seeds.
Farming starts with building a Farm Plot. Building one, planting seeds, and harvesting require at least one dwarf with the Planter Labor (or to have the Planters Labor set to everybody). Farm Plots have to be built on some sort of dirt (not stone) — clay, loam, sand, and silt. These tend to be close to the surface.
A fortress doesn’t need a lot of farmland to function. Each dwarf eats about twice and drinks about five times per season. Since a single seed can produce up to six harvestable plants (or more — see fertilizing below) and each plant yields one (easy) meal at a Kitchen, a fortress with the max population of 200 dwarves could (hypothetically) survive on a 6x6 farm plot for food. Making a drink at a still produces five drinks per plant, so you can (ideally) supply a full fortress with alcohol with a plot of the same size.
Those are ideal world numbers, though, and Dwarf Fortress is too fun for that, so you’ll eventually need a little more farmland. It’s going to take you a long time to hit the max population, though, so start small. We like to make two (and, eventually, four) 5x5 plots in a large room.
To build a Farm Plot, open Build (b) > Workshops (o) > Farming (f) > Farm Plot (p). Once it’s built, you’ll have to assign a crop to each season.
Which crops you can plant in each plot depends on the season and where the Farm Plot is located (or thinks it’s located). Some crops can only be planted in a subterranean plot and others can only be planted above ground. Let’s look at that distinction now.
Above Ground versus Subterranean crops
Every block in Dwarf Fortress is either a subterranean block or an above ground block. An above ground block is one that, effectively, can see the sky — there are no blocks anywhere above it except for sky. Subterranean blocks are everything else.
The trick here is that a block only has to see the sky at some point to think of itself as an above ground block. That means you can cover an above ground farm plot with a floor and make it a, basically, indoor above ground plot.
The fastest way to do this is to channel from ground level and clear a plot. Once it’s been dug out, you’re free to cover over it with a floor to prevent anything from sneaking in and causing mayhem.
Irrigation, flooding, and mud
There is also a workaround to needing soil to build a Farm Plot. When water drains off of a flooded block, it leaves behind mud, and mud can support a Farm Plot no matter what the underlying block is made of. You’ll see it described as a “muddy” block when you hover your mouse over it.
You can flood a block (or a room or, frankly, your fortress) with any water — either by draining a stagnant pool, diverting part of a river, or even with an aquifer. However you decide to flood the plot, it’s best to (try to) contain the water with doors linked to levers — this will (usually) prevent you from flooding your fortress. Bear in mind, it can take quite a while for that floodwater to evaporate.
It’s also possible to move water manually, but it takes a lot more time. Channel a hole into the roof of the future Farm Plot and designate it as a Pond Zone. This will make a new task for dwarves (usually children) to haul water to that location and dump it. Each Pond only gets one task at a time, so designate multiple Pond Zones in the same spot to speed up the process. The water will then disperse around the room. When you have mud covering your future Farm Plot, remove the zones or make them inactive to stop the dwarves from dumping water.
Fertilizing with Potash
A block of planted Farm Plot will grow up to six harvestable plants. It’s possible to increase that yield by roughly 50% if you fertilize the plot with potash.
You’ll see a checkbox at the bottom of the Farm Plot window when you click on the plot — the same window where you pick what crops to grow during which season. You’ll also see how much fertilizer you need.
To make potash, you’ll need to start with a Wood Furnace. Order ash from the furnace to turn a wood log into an ash bar. From there, you’ll need an Ashery Workshop where you can order potash — potash also comes as bars.
How to get more seeds
How a plant gets processed determines whether or not you’ll get seeds to replant. Anything cooked into a meal — either plants or seeds — in a Kitchen will not give you seeds. Plants processed at a Still or Quern usually gives you seeds back.
To make sure you keep a supply of seeds, you’ll need control what plants get used for what purpose in the Labor menu under the Kitchen tab. Here you can turn on and off cooking and brewing for each type of plant you have. The other tabs similarly determine how seeds, drinks, and meats are used.
Gathering Plants on the surface or in an underground cavern will get you plants to process. These can be cooked (no seeds) or processed into a drink or milled (yes seeds).