Ah, the country life! Smell that fresh, blocky air as you till up one row and back again like always. Living off the land is what Minecraft is all about, after all. Building a big farm base is just a natural extension of that.
So what crops are useful enough to cultivate and which ones aren’t worth the bother? And how do we get the best use out of every free block of dirt and stalk of wheat? That’s what our one-page farmer’s almanac is here to answer! True, this info is mostly available elsewhere on the web scattered across 50 pages and videos, but we aim for a complete, one-stop guide to the essentials here.
As always with our Minecraft guides, we write from the point of view of hardcore survival single-player; you can extrapolate from there to other modes, but farming loses its point in creative modes.
The entire purpose of farming in Minecraft is to obtain food and materials for crafting or other utilities. So we will focus on the more practical crops to that purpose, but we will address everything you can grow out of the ground. We will not be talking about mob grinders this time – also spoken of as “farming.” We’re talking about actual farming.
Wheat is the golden king of Minecraft crops, available in the game almost from the beginning. It’s also a central crop with multiple uses:
Food staple in the form of bread (3x wheat = 1 loaf)
Bread loaves can be used to breed villagers
Ingredient in making cake and cookies
Feed for breeding cows, sheep, goats, and mooshrooms
The seeds are also feed for breeding chickens
Used to heal and tame horses and llamas
Craft material for hay bales
The bales are also used to breed horses and llamas
Trade with villagers
You need: shovel, hoe, bucket, water, wheat seeds (from grass), a plot of dirt, and outdoor-level light (placing torches or other light sources will allow indoor farming). Wheat will happily grow within 2 blocks of any water source. Wheat crops are best laid out exactly as the villagers do it; a trench of water with 2 rows of wheat on either side. Wheat does need tilled farmland (using the hoe) to be planted.
You get wheat seed from breaking any clump of grass, which has a small percentage chance (12.5%) to drop seeds. The most efficient way to gather a starting batch of seeds is to take a bucket of water into a grassy area and dump it on the ground in a place where it will spread out to the standard 7 blocks radius, then scoop the water back up and go around the circle picking up the seeds that dropped. This method also auto-harvests every plant growing in the same radius.
As a food, wheat is pretty effective in bread loaf form. Cakes are a ton of trouble for not much payoff, and cake slices and cookies have such low hunger satisfaction and satiation value that you can scarf down a whole stack and be starving again minutes later. Four loaves of bread (12 wheat) fill you up for the day.
Harvesting wheat has a far higher chance to drop fresh seeds (up to 3 per stalk) than wild grass, so once you have a crop going of even, say, 5×10 size, you’re set for life on wheat. After a couple harvest cycles, you will likely have surplus seed even after you’re done breeding chickens.
Growing wheat is not strictly necessary for survival, as you can easily stay fed through slaying passive mobs as they spawn or through fishing. However, you will likely want to farm wheat anyway, because it has so many useful functions, especially in farming chickens (feathers for arrows) and cows (leather for books, for bookshelves, for enchanting gear).
Before we move on to the other crops, let’s put in an eco-friendly word for composting. A compost bin is easy to build (7x slabs of any wood), and can turn your excess plant waste into bone meal. Bone meal is useful for a number of functions:
Fertilizing crops if you’re in a hurry
Creating expanded color dyes
Only way to reliably grow 2×2 trees
Craftable for bone blocks
Only way to farm flowers
Before the compost box was added, the only way to get bone meal was from bones, dropped only by skeletons. Too precious to use then unless you had a mob farmer rolling. But now with composting, bone meal is plentiful.
Getting back to those flowers, there’s a trick to producing infinite amounts of bone meal, grass stalks, and flowers (particular to whatever biome you’re in). It goes like this:
Clear out a flat patch of grassy dirt at least 7×7 in area
Right-click to fertilize the grass with 1 bone meal; a 7×7 area of grass, tall grass, and flowers will sprout
Use the shears (important!) to harvest all the plants generated
Take this harvest back to the composter; you will discover that you have plant matter sufficient to replace the spent bone meal and still have more compost left over
Eventually you start generating enough to make more than when you started. The only expense in this process is the shears, which will wear down and break. However, they’re easy to replace at 2x iron, which is effectively limitless from plain mining. The reason we use shears is because, even though a full clump of grass has the same odds as wheat seed to generate compost, grass has a pitifully small chance of dropping seeds and you will find that plain harvesting through breaking is not self-sufficient. Shears make for a 100% chance that grass clumps drop.
Once you have this system going, you should be able to accumulate extras of flowers, grass, or bone meal, simply using up whatever feeds into the system and setting aside what you want to save.
Of course, this isn’t something you’ll want to do all the time. Merely farming wheat the normal way generates enough excess wheat seed to feed the composter. A full 64-stack of seed generates about 3-4 bone meal. This is just a system to generate bone meal or flowers fast, and a proof of concept that bone meal and a composter form a renewable system.
Sugar cane is next on the list because it is nearly as essential to survival progress. You can forget its use as an ingredient unless you’re showing off. The real value is in the paper, which is necessary for making maps and books, which again craft into bookcases for enchanting your equipment. One more sideways use for it is generating underwater breathing room, since it can be planted under water.
Sugar cane is dead easy to farm, not even needing tilled farmland. Plant it in any block of dirt next to water. There was an urban legend going around for a while that it only grows on sand, probably due to its natural generation. Sugar cane is also easy to find, being common along any waterway in most biomes. You can get fancy with a plotted out farm; I just slap about 8 canes down on the shoreline nearest wherever my base is be done with it.
Sugar cane grows fast, since it even grows in complete darkness at night. It’s a “set and forget” crop. You don’t even need as much if you craft a Cartography table early on, which saves on paper when you’re working on maps.
Carrots, Potatoes, and Beets
Whether these three accessory crops are practical to you come down to one question: is there a village nearby? You will not find these crops in the wild, except for treasure chests in Mansions, Temples, and such, or an extremely rare drop from zombies. At villages, you can chop these right out of their crop layout and replant them in mass. They grow at about the same speed as wheat, with the same methods.
As for food value, there’s really not much to recommend them over regular wheat and other sources. The “villager crops” only have a few special uses:
Carrots can be gilded into golden carrots
Potatoes can be prepared baked
Taming and breeding pigs, rabbits, and villagers
Carrot on a stick can lead a saddled pig around
Villagers trade in their crops
It is the villager trading aspect which will likely be the biggest reason to farm these crops. There’s not much reason to go to this much trouble otherwise, unless you’re really into breeding pigs or rabbits for some reason (see livestock section below).
Sweet berries are an often overlooked crop, but they’re worth seeking out if you happen to be in the neighborhood of a native biome for them (all taiga and snowy biomes, plus rarely among mountains).
Take a look at how practical sweet berries are in survival hardcore:
Plant anywhere in any dirt – no water or tilling required
They grow fast
You can harvest the berries by right-clicking, then the bush will generate berries again
Eating berries feeds you as much as a cookie, but at higher appetite satiation
The bushes deal thorn damage
The bushes also slow down anything walking through them
Sweet berries also help bees make honey, if you’re farming that
This last bullet point is noteworthy, because it applies to mobs too. Which means you can use them like cactus in mob traps and other security scenarios. However, unlike cactus, berry bushes only deal damage to a moving target.
So you have a fast-growing, well-behaved plant that provides food and modest protection too.
Melon and Pumpkin
Melon and pumpkin are the two vine-grown crops. They grow by the same methods as wheat, but need an additional, adjacent block to produce their product. Once a melon or pumpkin grows next to its vine, it won’t produce any more until you harvest the produce.
Melons are easily dismissed from our attention in survival. They’re only obtained from jungle biomes and a few chests. They do produce food or a placeable block, but melon slices don’t stick to your ribs enough to be practical for a food source.
Pumpkins, on the other hand, are important for their non-food uses. They can be found growing in most biomes, in small numbers, but even one pumpkin is enough to generate four seeds to start a farm. Pumpkins are useful for jack-o-lanterns, which have a slightly larger light radius than plain torches and can be placed like ordinary blocks. But the greatest use is in crafting golems.
Steel and snow golems are undervalued in survival hardcore. True, they die to a sneeze unless vigilantly guarded with splash potions. But snow golems (let’s just call them “snowmen” and be done with it, shall we?) are a handy type of “bodyguard” which are cheap to replace. A snowman trapped in a room will produce snow, so you have an infinite supply of that. Growing a pumpkin farm and having access to enough snow to build your first snowman means you can produce infinite snowmen.
So make them! Carry a stack of snow blocks and pumpkins with you when spelunking caves, mansions, mineshafts, and any structure where enemies are afoot. Snowmen will draw hostile mob fire away from the you, giving you time to scamper to cover or take offensive action. Snowmen dropped in a cave system will scout ground ahead of you, finding the mobs before they find you.
Snowmen in a turret, together with a mob trap like sweet berry bushes, cactus, or lava, form a formidable line of security. Since the snowballs that snowmen throw do knock mobs back a hop, even while they don’t do damage on their own, they can knock mobs into a line of cactus for easy damage-based farming.
You can hear a snowman getting into a fight with a mob from a few blocks away, so they even serve as a mobile alarm system. If you’ve dropped a few snowmen in a mineshaft and they’re peacefully cruising around, you know there’s no danger close by.
Nether Wart is the one crucial reason to visit the Nether in survival mode. There’s pretty much a formula to farming nether wart:
Get into the Nether only after obtaining the greatest possible set-up (armor + building materials for shelter) to ensure not dying
Find the nearest fortress and raid it like a thief in the night, with the single objective of obtaining a nether wart sample (look near staircases or in every chest)
Find and dig up about a dozen soul sand blocks
Get the hell out of there
Back on the Overworld, place your soul sand, plant your nether wart on it, and think about how you’re going to go back and beat a blaze for obtaining the blaze rods needed for crafting and fueling a brewing stand
Potions are the whole entire reason you want nether wart, since this incredibly rare and precious ingredient is the starting point for every useful potion. The problem is that the entire potion system is cut off to you unless you pay regular visits to the Nether because now brewing stands require blaze powder (from rods, from blazes) just to run, in addition to needing the nether wart to get anywhere.
Alchemy is unfairly hard in Minecraft. Even more so than real life, and that’s saying a lot.
We’ll cover the rest of the planted crops here, while not needing much attention because they’re of little use to strictly survival players…
Bamboo – Very useful in scaffolding construction, and also as a steady supply of sticks for ladders and fencing, but not very practical otherwise. There isn’t much bamboo can do that wood can’t, while being limited to jungle biomes only.
Cocoa beans – They only spawn in jungle, where a pod can be harvested into seeds to grow more pods. They are useful for making cookies if you want to knock yourself out making stacks of food that you’ll consume immediately after a short jog, and for providing the color brown for dying purposes. You plant the beans on a jungle tree log, by the way.
Kelp – Has some use as food (when kiln-dried) if you just spawned in an ice biome and are about to starve to death. Dried kelp can also be made into blocks for a decorative, if impractical, building material. Growing and harvesting is dead easy, but all done underwater, of course. Since kelp grows right up to the surface of the water, it is easy enough to just cruise around the surface on a boat and chop off the tops of kelp plants as you speed over them, which you will automatically pick up.
Cactus – Plentiful in deserts and easy to grow on any sand, cactus is one of the few sources of green dye and, of course, makes an awesome security feature due to mobs taking damage from it. However, now that we have sweet berry bushes, cactus is a little less useful in this regard. Still, mobs pathfind around sweet berry bushes but stagger into cactus with impunity, so there’s that slight bit of efficiency if you’re going for farming.
Mushrooms – While mushroom stew does make a dandy food in the absence of other options, mushrooms are not a common crop. They’re tough to find, and then when you do find them, they’re likely in a giant mushroom forest or mushroom island biome where you can mine them forever and never need to farm. They’re finicky to farm, requiring a low light level which is also dark enough to spawn mobs. The exceptions are of course the exact same two soil types (podzol, mycelium) where they were already growing in plentiful numbers to begin with.
Sea Pickle – Nearly useless underwater plant. It has a slight glow when planted and produces lime dye when smelted. You’re not missing anything.
Nether Fungus – The Nether equivalent to mushrooms. They are easier to farm in the Nether, but are also useless for most anything except breeding Hoglins and Striders. Why bother in survival mode? When in survival mode, anything you can do in the Overworld should be done there, since you can easily teleport between the two.
A huge menagerie of animals can be bred in Minecraft. Only a handful of them are of any practical value. It might be useful to tame and command a few more animals for their own purposes, but you’ll rarely want to breed them. Here we’ll focus on the two main livestock you want to breed:
I tend to keep chickens in a double-high-fenced area or enclosed large room, with a door facing inward so that a switchplate can be used for the door outside the coop. I then add a second, smaller fenced area just outside the door with a gate. I do this because chickens tend to be little escape artists.
You want to farm chickens because, of course, they provide a steady supply of feathers when slaughtered, and you need feathers for arrows, the only ranged non-magic weapon in the game. As a side order, chicken meat is a handy food source.
You get more chickens two ways: Breeding a pair with a handful of wheat seed, or getting a lucky hatch chance from throwing eggs. Once you have about ten chickens, you can start a daily routine where you breed them all, then slaughter a couple adults. This will keep you at population replacement numbers with a decent steady yield.
Chickens will follow you if you hold seeds. Keep some seeds in your pocket to lead chickens away from the door before you exit, then put away the seed and make a break for the door. You’ll lose a few chickens occasionally when they manage to get outside with you, but I just slay these in the fenced patio before they can stand on the pressure plate to hold the door open and allow the others to escape. No really, they do this! They also sometimes manage to glitch their way over fencing. That’s what they’re clucking about in there all the time, hatching their next coordinated escape plan.
Cows are a solid livestock, least of all for their meat, which is some of the densest nutrition in the game. More importantly, their leather is necessary for crafting books, which make bookcases. You put bookcases around an enchanting table to get better enchantments, and enchantments on armor, weapon, and tools is necessary for any kind of survival progress.
I keep cows in a large, fenced area or stone-walled barn. They’re not as apt to escape as chickens. You breed cows by feeding each of them a sheaf of wheat, and have to get to about ten or so before you can start slaughtering them regularly. Once you have enough books, your need for leather will taper off although item frames still come in handy for single-item emergency storage.
Beehives are only marginally useful and spawn naturally enough in most forested biomes to be not worth going to much trouble. The honey they produce is very handy to bottle, however. A bottle of honey satisfies as much hunger as a pork chop, while also curing poison. This makes honey valuable when exploring abandoned mine shafts, home to those horrible little poison spiders.
You can breed bees with flowers like other livestock. Obtaining honey is simply a matter of dipping into the hive with an empty bottle, but run away quick because this agitates them. If it’s too much bother, a plain old pail of milk from a cow cures poison too.
You likely won’t find time to bother farming other livestock, but some of them have their use.
Sheep – Since you obtain wool by sheering, and it grows back quickly, you won’t have much need for sheep even if you’re crazy for wool. You can gather a few in a nearby pasture and visit once per day. Maybe bring some wheat to breed a pair once in awhile if you want to be sure of keeping up a stock. Sheep never wander far.
Pigs – Since you want to farm chickens and cows anyway, and they also provide meat, there’s no reason to farm pigs. I haul off and slay every pig I see. The pork chops stack up, making for a great staple food source, but if I’m going to raise livestock then chickens and cows are the first priority anyway.
The rest – While the occasional dog or horse may come in handy to tame, you likely won’t have much reason to breed them. Most of the rest of the passive mobs in Minecraft are either of only novelty value, or spawn so plentifully that you likely won’t have cause to herd them.