Sustainable Gardening: Interview With Author Rick Austin

Gardening in winter, especially in a sustainable manner can be quite difficult. Bestselling garden design author Rick Austin recently sat down with The Inquisitr to discuss the process and to share some details about his new book, The Secret Greenhouse Of Survival: How to Build the Ultimate Homestead & Prepper Greenhouse. Austin's latest sustainable gardening book penned is a follow-up to bestseller Secret Garden of Survival: How to Grow a Camouflaged Food Forest.

Rick Austin is an off grid living and homesteading expert who tours the country speaking at conferences when not busy writing or working as a consultant for the National Geographic network and a renowned homesteading keynote speaker. The Secret Greenhouse of Survival is at least as informative Austin's first sustainable gardening book. The work is far more of a descriptive "how to" manual than a novel heavy on lengthy prose and light on useful information. Austin approaches survival in the same manner as many preppers, as yet another form of insurance against the unexpected.

Austin does not get hung up on titles or pigeonholing the reader into a prepper, homesteader, or survivalist category. The quest to live a self-sufficient lifestyle is all one needs to have in order to garner potentially life-saving advice from the survival gardening book, according to the author. The tips, tricks, and obstacle aversion tactics the homesteading expert experience over the past three decades formed the foundation of his new book.

Excerpt from the Secret Greenhouse of Survival:

"A couple of years ago, I wanted to build a greenhouse on my homestead that would incorporate many of the things I have learned about solar heating, insulation, growing plants, and self-sufficiency. Of course, I wanted to be able to grow food year round, but I also knew that any greenhouse would have to fit into my gardening and homestead principles.

In other words, any greenhouse that I built would have to be sustainable, provide year round food, but also not use pesticides, not use fertilizers, allow for symbiotic/ companion planting, and it would have to fit with my prepper mentality. By prepper mentality, I mean it would have to be sustainable without electricity, have to be secure from marauders, and would have to be camouflaged (or hide in plain sight) so that people would not realize it was a source of food in the first place."

IQ: What prompted you to write a second survival gardening book?

Rick: People that know me know that there is a lot more to me, and my prepping, homesteading and survival skills, than just being a gardening guy. I have been a prepper and have been building and living in sustainable homes since the 1980s. This is my fifth solar/sustainable home that I have built for myself, hopefully my last, and I have been doing gardening and growing food, i.e. orchards, vineyards, vegetables, nuts and berries, and in multiple environments, as I have moved throughout country for years.

I got into gardening and grew food, mostly because it is nice to be able to eat, both before, and after the end of the world as we know it. In all seriousness, I knew that having a sustainable source of food is pretty important in both a homesteading and end of the world as we know it scenario, so perennial food production was always part of my retreat and bug-in plan.

Throughout my 30 plus years of sustainable homesteading, I have done a lot with sustainable buildings, and over time, the technology, insulation, glass, building materials, has gotten better and more energy efficient. I have incorporated these new technologies into my buildings and become more self-sufficient and sustainable as a result.

I learned a long time ago that if you want to build a sustainable homestead, and home, you need to reduce consumption first. And since 63 percent of the average household's energy consumption is for heating and hot water, you can make the most progress toward sustainability if you attempt to control those energy costs first.

I've had many different climates to "survive" in when I lived in New England, vs. when I lived in Florida vs. Southern California and now in the Appalachian Mountains. I've had different plants in every location, such as apple orchards in the northeast, citrus groves in the south and west, and everything in between in the central part of the US. Throughout the years I discovered that whether you are growing apples, pears, oranges, pecans, peaches, bananas, avocados, grapes or almonds, nature has been growing things the same way for millions of years. The species of plants may be a little different, in different climates, but how nature works is the same.

People that have read my book Secret Garden of Survival-How to Grow a Camouflaged Food Forest know that I have developed a system of agriculture that I call "Nature Culture" where you create a food forest garden that lets nature do what it has been doing for millions of years; where there are symbiotic relationships between plants, with a series of mini eco-systems that also creates a garden which grows in three dimensions, as opposed to a traditional vegetable garden. The results of which have been nothing short of phenomenal.

IQ: I know your own camo greenhouse has allowed you to boost your sustainability plan in more ways than merely crop generation. How had the project helped with heating your home and providing a winter home for small livestock?

Rick: A greenhouse was always part of my plan on this latest homestead. And I wanted to use the greenhouse not only to grow food, but also to produce passive solar heat for my home, and hot water for my house. And since I was building a nice warm building to grow food in, it seemed like a good place to grow small animals as well, that produce protein for me. So I set out to build a single building that not only provided me with greens, vegetables, citrus and coffee (in below freezing temperatures in the winter), but a building that also could provide me with heat, hot water, and another place for my more "delicate livestock" like incubating ducks and rabbits.

how to build a greenhouse

IQ: will a sustainable greenhouse detract from the curb appeal of the home or generate more tracking of dirt from children running in and out throughout the day?

Rick: My Secret Greenhouse of Survival, just looks like an enclosed porch, it does not look like a greenhouse. So it really doesn't look like anything you would expect and no one from outside the building has a clue that I am growing food in there in 3 dimensions. In fact, we have even grown 6-foot-tall corn stalks in there in the summer — and I did it because the building was secure — so that I could actually get a crop, without the raccoons stealing it.

There is no dirt tracked in from the greenhouse. We put in crushed and washed stone floors, so that any water splashed around watering plants in the greenhouse drains down to the ground. And since we grow in raised planters or in pots on shelves over those planters, we never have a problem with dirt finding its way in from the greenhouse.

IQ: Will readers from a variety of climates benefit from the techniques detailed in the book, or do you need to live in a warmer climate to be successful with a camouflaged greenhouse during the winter months?

Rick: Just like in my garden, I didn't use conventional greenhouse building techniques. Most greenhouses focus on the solar gain, sunlight etc. and are mostly glass or plastic- as in the case of hoop houses and they really do nothing to retain heat in the cold weather. My Secret Greenhouse of Survival is well-insulated, uses highly efficient glass and has a great deal of thermal mass built in, where the sun heats these thermal masses like concrete planters and crushed stone floors and then those thermal masses give off heat all night long. I have had the greenhouse in subzero temperatures outside, and the temperature inside the greenhouse has never dropped below 45 degrees at night. With no supplemental heat. Try that in a glass or plastic walled greenhouse!

IQ: Could the humidity created naturally inside a secret greenhouse allow individuals living in non-tropical climates to grow produce such as oranges, lemons and perhaps even tea trees in order to garner nature's antibiotic – tea tree oil?

Rick: Yes, I grow oranges, lemons, tangelos, even coffee trees in the Appalachian Mountains. In the summer I take them outside in pots and they thrive in the heat and full sun. And then in the winter, I move them back into the greenhouse were they stay and produce fruit. It is always nice to have a fresh glass of lemon-aid or to make fresh squeezed orange juice, right off the tree, as the snow is falling outside.

IQ: Determining how to spend money destined on the family food budget and garden planning is often a difficult task. Prioritizing is a must. If you had to create a list of the top 10 self-reliant and preparedness projects or purchases, where would you rank a camo survival greenhouse?

Rick: In any such decisions I usually start with the "Survival Rule of Threes." You can live three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. The reality is that the Secret Greenhouse of Survival truly provides for all of the rules of three. Obviously it is a greenhouse – so it produces green food, but it also produces animal protein, too.

It is a shelter for your animals and honestly- if you could only build one building it could provide shelter for you, too. It is warm enough to sleep in at night in the winter. I have a rainwater collection system as an integrated part of the greenhouse — so we collect water from the roof in tanks that we use for plants, livestock and for ourselves if need-be. As I point out in my book, the greenhouse also provides us with heavily oxygenated air. Since plants give off oxygen and consume carbon dioxide, the opposite of humans and animals, we even breathe fresh, cleaner, healthier air, because we bring in heat, humidity and fresh air from the greenhouse into the home for heat during the winter. If you have ever experienced a "sick house" or "sick building syndrome" this greenhouse is a cure for that.

[Featured Image Via:]

[Book Cover courtesy of Rick Austin]