David The Good is a Florida native, a gardening expert and the author of four books you can find on Amazon, including Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting and Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his popular website www.TheSurvivalGardener.com and follow him on his insane YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/davidthegood.
- Tell us a little about where you grew up and what it was like when you grew up. Were you always interested in gardening and composting? Were you always interested in being an author? Who were some of the most influential people in your early life?
I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, down in sunny South Florida. I never knew how good I had it as a kid until I moved to Tennessee for a radio production job in my 20s. There I quickly realized that I really hated being a million miles from the beach and slogging through mud in 35-degree winter weather as rain fell from gray skies. After a few years in exile, I returned to my beloved Florida for six years, then moved early this year to the equatorial tropics. Growing up I was introduced to gardening by my kindergarten teacher in a private Christian school. She had us plant beans in dixie cups of soil, then water and take them home. Less than a week after planting, the little bean plant burst from the soil and I was hooked. I had never seen anything so amazing, so I raided my mom’s pantry to repeat the experiment. I planted all the beans I could find in pots of dirt here and there, totally enthralled. Since I did poorly in school (other than when I was planting beans), my mom pulled me out and homeschooled me from first grade through high school. This gave me plenty of time to pursue gardening. I asked Dad if he would help me plant a garden in the back yard. He was not a gardener and knew nothing about it, but he was (and is) a great Dad, so he got some railroad ties and some decent bagged dirt and cut an 8’ x 8’ spot in the backyard where I could plant. I regularly bought seeds with my allowance money and tried planting all kinds of things. Many of my experiments failed, as South Florida is not hospitable to vegetable gardening, but I had enough success to keep gardening. By the time I was in college, my parents had ceded about ¼ of the backyard to my garden plots. I grew everything from long radishes to coconut palms. Dad did draw the line at some Asian beans that I planted, though. They rapidly grew up a trellis and covered a big chunk of the roof, the vines thickening into monstrous trunks as the beans grew and grew. I have no idea what they were – this borderline homeless guy from church gave them to me and said some Thai had given them to him. As for composting, I learned about that from the gardening books I devoured. I was reading serious natural history and biology texts at age nine so I picked up a lot of information. No one in my immediate family did any gardening so my friends and teachers in the field were books combined with experience.
When I was young I really didn’t enjoy writing. I wanted a story to be fully down on paper as fast as I could think and I got frustrated with writing everything out. I liked the idea of being a novelist but I didn’t do more than write occasional lacklustre sci-fi and fantasy tales and attempt to sell them to Asimov’s and The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I got a nice rejection note from Gordon Van Gelder in college, though. I started writing for the school newspaper in college because I was one of the few students on the paper that could actually write, though I started there as a staff artist and cartoonist. From that I got a job writing radio scripts and advertising for Coral Ridge Ministries, thanks to being given a chance by Chuck Burge who was the Executive Producer and head of the radio department at that time. My job was to write the “coming up next time” style promos that radio stations would run, then from there I went on to writing full scripts, ads, television commercials and all kinds of other marketing-related stuff for a range of clients. This taught me to write even when I wasn’t “feeling creative.” Previously I had just written when I felt like it – being on a deadline made me into a force of nature. At one point I wrote scripts for three different daily radio broadcasts at the same time. This meant I was cranking out fifteen scripts a week, plus versions tagged for weekend airing. When I started my daily gardening blog later on, it was a breeze.
My greatest influences early on were my Dad, my Mom – who was also my teacher – my Grandfather, Judson, who taught me to work with my hands and think big, my Grandpop, Hal, who taught me how to think about money and time, my neighbor across the street, Cheryl Campbell, who taught me some creative writing and hired me to manage her lawn and gardens when I was 14 and she was spending months on end with her husband and daughter on their houseboat… there were quite a few that helped me out and encouraged me. I remember my Great-Grandfather taking me out to work in his huge garden in Upstate New York when I was quite young, then sending me home with a handful of beet seeds and some lime for my garden back South. Stan DeFrietas, author of the Complete Guide to Florida Gardening, was my go-to teacher through his words, though I never met him in person. I read through that book dozens of times.
- If there is one thing you would like to communicate through your writing what would it be? What do you hope people take from your work?
We live in a system designed by a loving Creator God who left patterns for us to discover. When we work with those patterns, we will succeed. I want people to realize that there’s no magic in gardening, though it often feels like it. Anyone can be a green thumb. It’s a learned skill and all of us fail our way to success. Some people get it quickly, some don’t, but anyone can grow their own food. Look for the patterns and discover what grows well for you and what doesn’t. God placed man in a garden at the beginning – you’re doing His work when you tend the soil.
- Survival gardening is a term I was unfamiliar with until I came across your books. Can you tell us a little about what it is and whom it is for?
I ask questions like “can I live off this ground if everything else was taken away? For how long? Would this help me with nutrition? As medicine? With Calories?”
I discovered Austrian Economics in the early 2000s. I also spent most of my adult life under the shadow of terror, inflation, crashes and booms. If you don’t know how to grow food – a basic skill – you are leaving a very important part of your existence in the hands of centralized forces. A lot of our food now comes from factory farms which are often thousands of miles away from where we live. Meanwhile, we grow grass lawns. This is stupid. I believe centralization is doomed to failure and re-localization is going to happen whether we like it or not. People always screw up complicated systems. Rome fell, the USSR fell, we will fall. I know how to take a lawn and keep a couple of families alive, at least for a time. If you don’t know how to do that, you’re putting too much trust in governments and corporations, not to mention your fellow fallen man.
- What is the difference between survival gardening and something like subsistence farming? Is it just a matter of the words you use?
A matter of words. I believe you can do better than mere subsistence if you’re really smart, but many of us – myself included – would be lucky to even hit subsistence levels in the first world. The game is stacked against us. City codes and regulations, a slant against agriculture, property taxes – these things mess you up. Try farming your front yard in most places and see what happens. Or try to build a little shack on a piece of land without electric and septic. They’ll kick you out and probably take your children as well. Survival gardening is a goal but the powers that be don’t make it easy.
- What would you say to people who would be interested in feeding their family organically through their own garden, but who live in areas where that is just not feasible (think New York City or most of the large cities in America)?
There are few places where it’s completely impossible to garden. Balconies, roofs, community gardens, borrowed land – there are a lot of options. Even a window box could probably grow you $100 worth of fresh herbs a year – or more.
- How much can someone save by growing part (or most) of what they consume? Is it easier on the pocket book than going to the grocery store three or four times a month?
Last year we managed to grow all the vegetables we consumed, with the exception of a few roots we bought. If I had to buy those vegetables, it would have probably cost me $600 per month, as they were organic and fresh from the soil. Honestly, I couldn’t have afforded to buy food of that quality – it’s a huge help. If you’re really interested in the money angle, grow the most expensive things you normally eat. Like tomatoes, or persimmons, or fresh herbs.
- Have you considered the environmental impact of farming vs. organic gardening? Which is easier on the environment? If we moved to gardening en masse would it likely be a net gain for the forests of the world?
This is a huge question. Modern factory farming feeds the world. Organic would have less negative environmental impact but sometimes doesn’t reach the yields of standard farming, likely because they’re just aping the practices of chemical farming and replacing the chemicals with more “natural” insecticides and fertilizers. The whole paradigm of farming needs to change. Personally, I see great opportunity and hope in agroforestry. That is, using tree-based systems to feed families, rather than soil-destroying tillage and annual cropping methods. I certainly believe in the incredible potential of annual crops but I see trees are hugely underutilized for food outside of the tropics. Forests can produce food at multiple layers. Trees, shrubs, vines, ground-covers, plus mushrooms and livestock – the whole space can be productive if planned out properly. The groundbreaking book Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith has some great ideas in it.
- How does composting help the environment? Is it something we should all be doing, or is it more for rural families?
Keeping tree limbs, shredded paper, kitchen scraps, etc. out of the waste stream is a great idea all around. Everyone can compost and I believe everyone should. Throwing food scraps out strikes me as insane. Put them back in the soil! Even apartment dwellers can set up a little worm bin and feed the castings to their house plants or the tree next door. As I write in Compost Everything, it’s not hard. Just THROW IT ON THE GROUND!
- You’ve dedicated a whole page of your website (www.thesurvivalgardener.com) to mushrooms. What is it about mushrooms that caused you to dedicate that much time to them, and will you be writing a mushroom book in the future?
Mushrooms are one of those dangerous hobbies. I am very careful about eating wild ones and think the hippies that pick hallucinogenic mushrooms in fields at night to be insane. Too easy to make a mistake. Personally, I stick to readily recognizable edible species such as puffballs, chanterelles, boletes, etc. Writing a book would be too much pressure – I’d hate to offer a bit of bad advice and have someone accidentally kill himself. I do love mushrooms, though. They feed the soil, have complex relationships with trees, dispose of waste and are often delicious.
- How did you get hooked up with Castalia House? Did you submit your work to them or did they search you out? What made you choose them as your publisher?
Vox and I met via phone when I did some audio production for the Voxic Shock podcast some years back. We stayed in touch and threw some ideas back and forth after that, then when Castalia House was launched I was an enthusiastic supporter since I am a classic sci-fi fan. I told him one day that I had a little book called Create Your Own Florida Food Forest which was selling decently but wanted to do a full book on extreme composting if he was interested in publishing it. He said “sure, why not” and Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting was born. He had the idea to call my books “Good Guides” and for me to do a series. I liked the idea and we have published two in the series so far, with another one due in March 2017. Compost Everything was a success, then Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening did even better, much to Vox’s surprise. He has absolutely no interest in plants or gardening… but the book sales have been great and he’s quite happy to have me on board.
- Who are some of the gardener/authors that have had the biggest influence on you?
First of all, God, since He created the first garden. There are also quite a few fascinating remarks on agriculture in the Bible. Then, in no particular order, Steve Solomon, Carol Deppe, Sepp Holzer, Herrick Kimball, Eric Toensmeier, Geoff Lawton, Paul Wheaton, William Horvath, Susan Ashworth, John Jeavons, Marjory Wildcraft, Justin Rhodes, Bill Mollison, Steven Edholm (www.SkillCult.com), Stan DeFrietas, Joe Pierce (www.mosswoodfarmstore.com), Jean-Martin Fortier… and I’m sure I missed a few.
- What would you recommend for someone living in a heavily urban area but who has a desire to get into gardening?
Borrow a little land and plant. Garden in tires or old bathtubs. Find a sunny balcony. Start easy. Beans, lettuce, sweet potatoes… then go from there. Never give up. Just do it.
- Lots of areas of the United States are now experiencing droughts due, in part, to intense farming and agriculture. Would survival gardening help alleviate this problem, make it worse, or be neutral?
It would help. Most of our gardening is based on the idea that we’ll always have water coming from the taps and seeds and fertilizer in the local Home Depot. Survival gardener save their own seeds, stockpile water, compost and keep their soil healthy… and this all makes the system less centralized. Think antifragile, as Taleb would put it.
- Do you plan to do something in the future in the way of nutritional fruits and vegetables that are efficient to grow at home? Are you interested in nutrition in any way?
I have touched on the importance of growing nutrient-dense crops in Grow or Die. I am interested in nutrition. Much of it comes from the soil beneath the plants, though, so you need to keep that ground rich and mineralized or else the plants will lack the good stuff as well. A great book on the topic is The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon. He says it better than I can. Basically, though, most food you grow in your backyard and eat fresh is going to be good for you and probably better than the aging produce at your local store. Vegetables lose nutrition after harvest.
- What inspires you?
The art of the Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists, and indeed, most of the painters of the 1800s… hiking through the rainforest or along the shore… the great ideas people leave on my website and YouTube channel… reading non-fiction… talking with farmers. I also like classic Bossa Nova, good gin, cigars and chasing my wife through the food forest. When I write I listen to house music. Not because it’s actually good, but because it has a beat and keeps me typing. I’m also a sucker for history, especially that of Rome and Byzantium. When Constantinople is recaptured from the Turk, I’m totally going over there to plant some fruit trees.