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I have seen the advertisements for Rick Austin’s book, Secret Garden of Survival on a lot of blogs in the prepping community, but had not really considered it much. There wasn’t any reason that I passed it by, but I guess something didn’t trigger me to find out more about this book until last week when I stumbled on a glowing review from another source. Now, my curiosity was peaked so I went out to Amazon to check out the book further.

The premise of this book is that it will teach you how to grow a camouflaged food forest and this really caught my attention for several reasons. The first was the basic concept of having food growing in your yard that doesn’t look like a garden. One of the thoughts I and obviously Rick has had is that having a garden of nice pretty rows is an invitation to theft. I don’t have a tall fence around my property; neither do many of my neighbors. It is really easy to see who has a garden in their backyard and this could be a prime target by unscrupulous or simply starving people in a grid-down situation. To have your food somehow less obvious would be a natural advantage.

The second reason I was interested in this book are the concepts that Rick uses of a food forest and how to take advantage of nature. By using Permaculture concepts, he discusses how you can grow your food in guilds. Each guild has various layers each complimenting and benefiting the other layers. His approach uses foods planted not in rows, but probably more like how you would find them growing in the wild. This was a great idea in my opinion. I am sure that has something to do with the frustration experienced in our garden this year with weeds.

Lastly, the food forest concept mentioned in the book Secret Garden of Survival isn’t so dependent upon watering and changing all of your plants every season. This is Permaculture and your plants aren’t annuals. By planting fruits, berry producing shrubs and ground cover, you only have to worry about them the first year. One of the issues I have with gardening at least this year is how much work is wasted. Every year we have to plant, mulch, weed, fertilize, weed, water, weed and then pull it all up and do it over again. Since I have refused to use any weed killer in my yard since about 3 years ago, the battle with weeds seems more frustrating I guess but lately I have been thinking about why we fight this battle of the weeds. Surely, nature has a reason for weeds and my weekly waste of time continues to be futile. There has to be a better way.

On to the book review…

The Secret Garden of Survival is 112 pages and there is at least one photo on just about every page. Richard covers wide array of topics from how to prepare your land for planting a food forest to Permaculture guilds, grey water systems, rain water collection, planting, pest control and harvesting. There isn’t any one subject that is covered to the point of too many details and this book was a quick read. I think it took me a couple of hours to blast through it.

What I liked

I really like the concept of a food forest. I think this is simply brilliant and maybe it says something about my laziness, but if I could have the years, time and money I had invested in our current and past gardens I would completely redo everything like Rick mentions in this book. I think the concept makes perfect sense and it boggles the mind when I think of so much wasted time I have put myself and my family though with the traditional approach. Having food that comes back year after year seems to be a perfect model for anyone who wants to be prepared and this book has given me a ton of new ideas for our yard.

Now, does that mean you shouldn’t have a garden? No, quite the contrary; having a garden is such an important item to cross off your list, but if you have the time (2 years ideally), patience and land to start a food forest, that is what I would do. Would I get rid of my garden entirely? No, but I would scale it back a little and let the food forest do most of the heavy lifting.

What I didn’t like

I’ll just be honest and say that I don’t think this book was worth the cost I paid. I paid $29 on amazon and was pretty surprised that the book was as thin as it is. Some people paid even more. It’s my fault I know for not reading the details, but I just assumed it would be more like a manual. As it is, this is a great introduction to the concepts I mentioned above, but there are so many other things he could have put in this book. There were plenty of photos, but it was very short on the details of actually planning your guilds and displaying charts and graphs. Also, there were quite a few typos and the images weren’t high quality. Some were so dark it was difficult to make out what the author was trying to highlight.

If you are looking for a really good introduction to the concept of a food forest with photos from someone who has actually done it, this book may be for you. If you are looking for a resource book that you will refer back to time and time again because it is such a wealth of information, I might suggest a different book. I’ll admit that this was probably all because of the price. If this book was maybe closer to $6 I wouldn’t have felt as much disappointment, but I do think I was expecting more “how to” information and this book, while showing me something new I hadn’t considered, left me wanting more. Now I will be looking for a new resource that goes over the topics that Rick spurred my interest in. I’ll let you know if I find something better.

I have seen the advertisements for Rick Austin’s book, Secret Garden of Survival on a lot of blogs in the prepping community, but had not really considered it much. There

If you watch Doomsday Preppers like me you probably saw this episode that showcased two Preppers. The difference for me it was that I have actually heard of two of the preppers on the show. Rick Austin is the author of the Secret Garden of Survival: How to Grow a Camouflaged Food Forest which is an excellent introduction and thought starter on the concepts of Permaculture guilds and how they can be incorporated into the Prepper garden plan. He frequently speaks at conferences and self-reliance expos. Along with Rick was his wife (and this was news to me) Survivor Jane who has her own survival blog, started the #preppertalk hashtag on Twitter and speaks at Prepper Conferences also.

The show spent the first part of their episode focused on Rick’s camouflaged food forest that he has grown on his secluded property in the Appalachian mountains. I was already familiar with the concepts but seeing his home and surrounding lush permaculture garden was interesting and got me thinking about this subject all over again.

The brilliant aspect of this from the standpoint of preppers is that unlike a garden, the camouflaged food forest requires less maintenance, less water, no chemicals and best of all, doesn’t look like a garden. This could be especially helpful if we have some EMP event like Rick and Jane were prepping for. One fear of a massive EMP strike is that there is no longer any power for long periods of time. With this is the potential for vehicles to no longer work, gas pumps and pretty much any other electronic devices unless they are heavily shielded. If this happens, trucks won’t be rolling to deliver food.  Food shortages lead to food riots which lead to people scouring yards looking for food. Gardens will make an easy target in the right season. If your main food source is hidden in what looks like an overgrown patch of plants, you will be more likely to have your secret garden overlooked.

What are Permaculture Guilds?

I found this great article below on the Never Ending Food website that describes the process and concepts nicely. I also recommend getting Rick’s book the Secret Garden of Survival for some great photographs and practical application advice. It is much cheaper on Kindle now. You can also visit Rick’s site and read the first chapter online for free.

Diagram of a permaculture guild.

Permaculture is based on natural systems like those that we see in forests.  In a forest system, there are multiple layers of vegetation growing together in a very diverse setting.  We see many types of trees, shrubs, plants, insects, animals, and various other things all living together in a system that continually strengthens itself.  All of these components of a natural ecosystem serve a function (or several functions) that support each other like the strands of a web.  One strand on its own may be weak, but the combination of all the strands together add to the overall strength and usefulness of the web.In order to mimic these natural systems and to provide for human needs (i.e. food, building supplies, fuel, fibers, etc.) we must learn to identify and work with the various functions of our natural resources.  This is where the concept of the “Permaculture Guild” comes from.  A guild is usually defined as an association of people working toward a common goal.  In Permaculture, a guild is a grouping a plants, animals, insects, and other natural components that also work together to help ensure their survival.  Instead of planting gardens, Permaculture teaches us how to “build guilds”.  Instead of teaching about specific plants, we teach about the plant’s functions.  This is why Permaculture can work throughout the whole world.  It is a guide for design rather than a “how-to” type of agriculture.  (For more information on Permaculture Design, click here.)A good Permaculture guild generally has seven components:

Food for us

When building a guild we need to think about maximizing the health and nutritional benefits that we will be getting from our systems.  In order to eat a diversity of foods we need to plant a diversity of foods.  In Malawi this should be based on our 6 food groups. This means including fruits, vegetables, staples, legumes & nuts, fats, and even animals.  With good planning, we should be able to receive foods from all of the 6 food groups throughout the entire year.

Food for the soil

All plants need nutrients to grow, just like we do.  One of the main nutrients that plants use for growth is call nitrogen.  An easy way to get nitrogen into the soil is by planting legumes (i.e. beans, peas, groundnuts, leguminous trees, etc).  All legumes are considered “nitrogen-fixers” and are able to take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a usable form in the soil.  Using legumes actually helps to ”feed” the plants that they are growing near.  The leaves and other organic matter from legumes may also be added to compost to increase the nitrogen content.   Any organic matter that is added back to the soil will eventually help to act as food for the soil  This includes: leaves, kitchen scraps, market resources, decaying matter, compost, compost tea, mulch, manure, etc.


Deep rooted plants, such as trees, will reach deep into the earth’s soil (like a miner) and bring minerals up to the surface.  These deep rooted plants also act as diggers to break open the soil, make it soft, and allow for air & water to be easily absorbed.  Some diggers also take the form of root crops that can be used as staple foods. Examples of diggers include: cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, Irish potatoes, trees and other deep rooted plants, etc.  Diggers can even be insects and animals that burrow through the soil such as: ants, termites, worms, beetles, mice, etc.


These protect the soil from the sun, help to hold moisture, and help to keep “weeds” (good plants in the wrong place) down. There are many types of groundcovers available in Malawi.  These include: sweet potato vines, pumpkin, cucumbers (minkaka, zinkhananga, fwifwi, etc), and anything else that will vine or spread across the soil.  Mulch is also a form of groundcover.


Climbers help to maximize food production, especially in areas where land resources may be scarce or limited.  In most forest sytems you will generally see examples of climbers, because nature uses all of its layers to their fullest potential.  Examples of climbers that you can use in Malawi include: beans, passion fruit (magalagadeya), loofa (chinkupule), air potatoes, cucumbers (zipwete, minkhaka), etc.


These are stronger items that support the climbers and make the most of our space.  Supporters can be living things like trees, bushes, stalks such as a maize or sunflower, or they can be non-living things like houses, bathing areas, outdoor toilets,  walls, fences, etc.  The main thing to be careful of is choosing the right supporter for the right climber.  Some climbers are very aggressive and can bring down a fence, or take over a tree.  If you put a passion fruit vine into a mango tree, you may not end up with any mangoes.  This is where thinking ahead and planning become very important.


Any thing that helps to protect your guild is a protector.  In terms of protecting your guild from damaging insects, strong smelling plants can be very useful.  Things like onions, chives, spices, lemon grass, and pungent flowers can help to repel insects and even confuse them making it difficult for them to find their food.  Natural predators can also be very helpful in controling the insect problems in a guild.  Beneficial animals and insects such as frogs, birds, lizards, praying mantis, ladybugs, etc should be attracted to the garden with various types of habitat and plants that they prefer.  You can even protect from larger animals like goats and people by using things with thorns or sharp ends.  Some living fences that we have seen are even more effective than the razor wire that many people put along their fences.

If you watch Doomsday Preppers like me you probably saw this episode that showcased two Preppers. The difference for me it was that I have actually heard of two of the