Secret Garden of Survival: Growing a Hidden Food Forest

Let’s say you survive the end of the world as we know it… and let’s say you survive for a year. What are you and your family (and your livestock) going to eat when your food stores run out? How will you replenish a year’s worth of food storage and then feed yourself and your family each and every year after that? And how do you keep others from stealing it?


Look at the two photos at the beginning of this article. Which one of these is a garden? Which one produces more food? Which one will the unprepared hordes attack? Actually, they are both gardens, but the one on the top produces five times more food per square foot than the traditional row garden on the right. Furthermore, the one on top only has to be planted once in a lifetime, provides food for 30 years; never has to be weeded, never needs fertilizer and never needs pesticide, ever. And it is disguised to look like overgrown underbrush, so nobody knows you have food growing there.


In the Secret Garden of Survival we let nature do what nature does best…the way nature has grown plants for millions of years. – The Secret Garden of Survival™ uses what some have called “Permaculture” (or “permanent agriculture”), but it does so on a larger scale and in a more natural way, using what I have termed, NatureCulture™.

Author Rick Austin deep in his secret garden.
Author Rick Austin deep in his secret garden.

The beauty of this for a prepper is that you only have to plant once and a then you harvest for a lifetime. In the Secret Garden of Survival, we use “companion planting,” where you put plants together that have a symbiotic relationship — a relationship where each plant supports and benefits from the other.

We use plants to naturally attract “good bugs” that will pollinate your plants and that will also prey on and kill the “bad bugs” that you don’t want in your garden. We also use plants to keep away four legged pests too. For example, if you plant onions around the base of a fruit tree, mice won’t go near the tree in the winter and girdle it. Likewise, if you plant daffodils around the drip line of a tree, deer won’t go near it.


A top-down look at the layers of a typical guild

We plant in “guilds” instead of rows. Guilds are like a mini ecosystem of concentric circles of symbiotic plants planted around the central tree of the guild, such as a fruit or a nut tree. This tall tree ends up producing a canopy of leaves, and shade loving plants grow under the tree. Then outside the shade, shrubs (such as blueberries or blackberries) are planted around your tree in full sun. Then herbs are planted around your shrubs, and then ground cover is planted around your herbs. Since vines naturally grow on trees (there are no trellises in nature), a vine layer (like grapes) grows up your central fruit or nut tree.

Swales slow downhill water flow, creating an underground pool for your plants.
Swales slow downhill water flow, creating an underground pool for your plants.

We grow plants in three dimensions, so you can put more plants in the same area, which will significantly increase the amount of food you produce per square foot of garden space. In fact, you can grow five times more food per square foot in this type of garden than you could in a traditional row garden.


Not only can you grow more plants in less space, but the individual plants grow better this way too! Amazingly, the grape vines that we planted next to, and have growing on, our fruit trees, have always produced far more grapes than those vines we planted on traditional vineyard trellises. This type of garden looks wild and overgrown, and just like the art of camouflage, it all blends in because it has no definable shapes or rows. It looks “natural” rather than not man-made.


It’s not work because once you are finished with your initial planting, all you do is harvest, year after year.

In this close up photo of our Secret Garden of Survival, there are bush beans, cucumbers, peanuts, passion fruit, comfrey, mint, mountain mint, clover and oats- all growing in the same space. And all of this is underneath a pear tree that stands next to blueberry bushes. (Can you find them all?)
In this close up photo of our Secret Garden of Survival, there are bush beans, cucumbers, peanuts, passion fruit, comfrey, mint, mountain mint, clover and oats- all growing in the same space. And all of this is underneath a pear tree that stands next to blueberry bushes. (Can you find them all?)

It’s not weeding. In this garden, you don’t have to pull weeds because, for the most part, weeds are good. Weeds are just misunderstood plants. Weeds are “pioneer” plants, because they are generally the first plants to inhabit a new area. As such, they serve a purpose. Weeds will grow where other plants could not survive, and in the meantime, their roots break up hard packed soil so that water, microorganisms and other nutrients can move in. Additionally, when the weeds die, they create compost and mulch that will help other plants to be able to take over where they left off.

It’s not using pesticide. You need to understand this simple fact: 90 percent of all bugs are “good bugs.” Good bugs are beneficial insects that in one way or another are essential to the growth and health of your plants. Unfortunately, most insecticides do not discriminate, so they not only kill the bad bugs you want to eliminate, but they also kill the beneficial insects as well. By killing the good bugs you interrupt the lifecycle of the predator bugs and leave your plants vulnerable to numerous other pests.


Furthermore, once you have killed the predator bugs that were protecting your plants, the “bad bugs” can invade at will, and then your garden suddenly becomes a smorgasbord without anyone there to protect it. Additionally, these pesticides end up in the soil and they can kill the good microorganisms that allow your plants to be able to take up nutrients.


Nature has its own way of keeping things in balance. When you interfere with nature’s balance by using chemical pesticides, you end up creating an even bigger problem for yourself and your plants, and you could end up with no crops at all.

Even worse, some of these pesticides are systemic. In other words, once they end up in the soil they can then be absorbed throughout the entire system of your plant. So your plants will then carry these pesticides through their roots, into their stems, into their leaves, and into their pollen, thus killing even more good bugs. And if you can ever get fruit to grow under these conditions, these pesticides will now be inside of the food you are going to eat.


Lastly, where do you think you are going to get pesticides when the grid goes down anyway? When there are no stores, and no transportation, there will be no commercial pesticides available. It is far better to never start using them.

It’s not using fertilizers. In nature, plants grow just fine without commercial fertilizers. Yet almost all commercial farming, and most residential gardens, rely on it. The problem is that using commercial fertilizers is a lot like giving your plants addictive drugs…and once they are addicted, they have a hard time living without it. And just like pesticides above, where are you going to get commercial fertilizers after Armageddon?


It’s not watering. Once your plants are established, there is little to no need for watering in the Secret Garden of Survival.

That is because the best place to store water for your garden is in the ground. In NatureCulture™, we use swales (berms and terraces) to store water. When water drains down into the terrace, it is stopped from flowing further down-hill by the berm on the terrace. The water then seeps into the ground. A lens shaped pool of water forms under the berm. This water is available to the roots of the plants on the berm.

During droughts, when everyone else’s plants were dying, our plants where healthy and green.


The Secret Garden of Survival is a garden that takes up very little space, that you only have to plant once in your lifetime, that will provide food for you and your family for the next 30 years; that can grow five times more food per square foot than traditional gardening; and it’s a garden that you never have to weed, never have to use fertilizers and never have to use pesticides, ever.

Here is an example of how well it works. In two years we went from red clay to 12- foot-high blackberries, 15-foot fruit trees that were bearing fruit, and a lush green food forest that a passersby could not recognize as a garden.


Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.

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