Underground Gardening--Literally

By Kellene Bishop

Going Underground with Your Garden? Now she's really gone crazy!

 

Perhaps you've never conceived of an underground garden. I realize that it  may sound a little crazy, but I actually believe that it’s the future of food production for individuals who want to take control over their food supply while avoiding all of the problems which threaten a quality food source grown the good old fashioned way.

 

For starters, let me just share with you the nuts and bolts of how an underground garden works. There’s some amazing people who have really mastered this out there making it possible for 5 acres of underground garden producing at least as much food as 250 acres—more if you take into account the loss percentage as a result of birds, insects, and just standard wear and tear.

 

The concept behind an underground garden is that hydroponics is applied with a water re-circulation system that allows the same amount of water to used again and again so drought never becomes a problem. Additionally, with atrium lighting, that can be powered with solar energy, provides the sufficient sunshine. And an exact ratio of nutrient formula that is easily available commercially and wouldn’t require much space to stock up for as much as 10 years. Even better though, once the garden begins producing, there are simple ways in which the nutrients can be created naturally…so not stocking up necessary. The plants provide an abundance of oxygen too which makes it attractive for anyone who would want to create a solar energy underground home. (Did you know that one medium sized healthy plant with a broad surface area on the foliage can provide enough oxygen for one adult in a 200 square foot room? And the plant also improves the quality of the air by removing vapors and trap/absorb many air pollutants such as the chemical cleaning products.)

 

With the gardening happening underground, think of all of the nasty things that one could completely avoid. No more bullying lawsuits by Monsanto claiming a farmer is violating their patent—after all, cant’ do that if your garden area is underground. No more chem-trails, acid rain, vile pesticides or pesticide resistant insects. No wildfires to threaten your crop. No rabbits, birds, deer, or other critters to lose your food to. Oh yeah, and no weeds! (My least favorite part of gardening.)

 

While the initial set up of such a venture would require some major elbow grease (and expense to an extent) it’s a heck of a lot better return on your efforts than what the “normal” world does presently. You set it up once and you never have to plow, hoe, measure, stake, raise, or cover again! In fact, to some extent you wouldn’t even have to worry about watering it. That can be set up as automatic as the sun rising and setting. There would be no concerns about drought conditions and, my personal favorite perk, no marauders helping themselves to my food. Oh, did I say marauders? I meant USDA—trying to come in and tell me how much I can grow on my own dang property. Equally as offensive are HOA’s or busy-body neighbors who feign being wounded by a person’s display of gardening for all of the rest of the world to have to look at.  *insert dramatic whining inhale of breath here* (My gosh, nowadays, you would think that gardening was some sort of vulgar porn or offensive political messages for crying out loud! I’ve heard of people suing because someone’s public prayers “hurt someone else’s feelings for not believing the same way” but with underground gardening, you’re essentially always doing your praying, politicizing or whatever you want to call it UNDERGROUND and out of sight.

 

Because environmental temperatures are very simple to maintain, an underground garden means that so long as you do the work necessary to take care of the stimulation of plants like the bees are supposed to do (those that need it anyway, such as tomatoes), AND if you’re saving your seeds regularly, then once you establish your underground garden you’ve got a forever food source. You sure can’t make that kind of a claim about any traditional farm land or garden today. I love the concept of growing avocados, potatoes, cantaloupe, fresh herbs and eggplant all year round, all together!

 

Of course most of you wouldn’t have the need for 5 acres underground, but given that you can grow just about any standard produce plant in such an environment, even a small 200-400 square feet would easily be enough to feed a LARGE family all year round. Oh, and the food would taste SO much better  you’d never be able to go back to grocery store produce that’s imported in from all kinds of questionable places. (Questionable because of the growing conditions that aren’t required to follow the same standards as US foods.) Did you know that USDA certified Organic food is still permitted to be grown with more than 20 pesticides, insecticides, and other chemicals that neither you nor I would be inclined to use on our home gardens.

 

There are several underground garden movements that use soil instead of hydroponics. I think that is a unnecessary vulnerability for a self-reliant minded person to assume. The soil can eventually be stripped of nutrients that aren’t as simple to reintegrate as a nutrient rich water solution, and the amount of food that can be grown in a soil based system is much less than can be grown in a circulating hydroponic scenario.

 

While building underground may make you envision walls and ceilings collapsing in on you, keep in mind that there are underground facilities all over this nation that are underground specifically because of their inherent strength of structure. More and more parking lots are being done underground (for new builds and new expansions) than the above ground facilities. There are also an extensive number of key military facilities that are specifically built underground for the inherent security and environmental control. There are some underground plans being applied now that are actually several stories underground so that an 800 square foot space is easily able to be replicated in each story for a total of 5 acres. (And remember, 5 acres with this method creates a LOT of food!) Underground facilities are certainly better to handle most of what Mother Nature dishes out, not to mention what 2-legged enemies threaten to dish out such as nuclear or biological warfare.

Now, since it drives me crazy when a person completely dismisses an idea without actually looking into it, let me stop you before you try to tell me all of the reasons why this just can't be done. (Cause otherwise I just might strangle ya' *grin*) I suspect the first objection is cost, but consider this. We have farmers who are defaulting on loans for equipment that they purchased because the crops aren't coming in like they had expected. Hmmm...do you think there'd be more of a guarantee of a crop coming in with this kind of method? Additionally, this is actually LESS expensive to implement than just one of the many pieces of farm equipment that I've seen on the modern farms today. Sure it's a lot of effort, but no more than what I know is done to get a dozen acres going and unlike those kinds of farms, I'm eliminating the RISKS that are inherent.

Ultimately, I don't care that it's a lot of effort. How much longer do you think that we can keep going at this pace and not suffer the consequences of the horrible food that's such a large part of our food supply? Are you aware that the majority of the foods that people buy at the "health food stores"--you know, the meal replacement drinks, the supplements, etc.--are ARTIFICIAL foods.  And yet if I came up to you and said, "Hey, here's an artificial peach. You want one?" I suspect you'd politely (or not so politely) refuse. And yet that's what we're eating the majority of the time and yes, it's even infiltrated our "organic" food supply. So I look at it this way... "a lot of effort" or dying one cell at a time due to the poisons and all of the other risks in our food supply. I'd say it's a no-brainer.

If you'd like more information on how to do this yourself, you're not going to find sources on the internet. This technology is just starting to make an impact worth writing about. However, it has been written about in book form and white papers and you can look on Amazon for "underground gardening" specifically and you'll find some written works there. I'm fortunate enough to have been able to conduct live interviews with actual "doers" of this technology including an immediate relative. Essentially, if you apply the present concepts of indoor hydroponics, that works, except with a tweak for a water circulation system (which can be as simple as a large filtered water fountain) and on a larger scale in a "basement" setting. Ironically, we can learn a lot of "tricks" from the marijuana farmers. Many of them have taken to underground farming. *sheepish grin* Who knows, maybe I'll be showing you pictures of my own creation by next summer?

So anyway, this is my crazy idea that I personally will be applying in our new home. I just can’t think of anything better to ensure that I get the quality of food that I want and need without the liabilities that come with a fruitful crop. Underground gardening…it’s certainly some viable food for thought.

 

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Comments

I've written several articles about Essential Oils on this site. Just put them in the search bar.
After nearly 12 years now of research in the medicine practiced in Europe (which includes essential oils), Be Young Essential Oils is the only American company which complies with the medical standard of testing for Europe (which is E.O.B.B.D by the way) .

And ,if I am not mistaken Dill oil comes from dill plants,could you not grow more dill to replenish your supply? wink
great info Kellene, thanks

Being someone from an area where basements are not constructed due to hurricanes, and not having an empty backyard pool handy, I would like to suggest a garage or barn as an alternative for those who do hot have underground bunkers they can devote to garden space. (If you are so lucky, growing even a small number of food plants makes TONS of sense for air purification/oxegenation as well as moral!) Sure, a garage does not have all of the benefits of an underground fallout shelter, but it certainly is more common and applicable for the majority of readers. It does have the shared advantage of stealth - not broadcasting the existance of your garden to neighbors or satellite cameras.

Along with lighting (stockpile daylight spectrum lights!), a fan with exhaust ports on the hidden side of your barn/garage set up will be needed for ventalation/cooling in summer - but you need ventalation for the solar systems batteries anyway - gang them together. An excellent company named FarmTek (http://www.farmtek.com/farm/supplies/cat1a;ft1_fodder_systems.html) has commercial quality hydroponic systems which you can purchase, AND you can purchase just the cheap-to-ship trays and build your own expensive-to-ship racks from local materials if you are a DIYer. Their friendly staff will offer help to the DIY crowd as well! They have systems for plants as well as mass sprouting for animal fodder (Got herbivors?) - which could be multipurposed for sprouting human foods as well. Jost another option for those without underground bunkers...

I think this is a great idea... especially when this tyranical government makes home gardens illegal (for our safety!! of course)

What references are you using to create your underground garden? Is there a particularly good website to reference? We live on very sandy soil which requires a tremendous amount of amending before anything will grow. This may be a better solution.

I wish all research matters were solved by the internet, but unfortunately they are not. As is typical for my articles, I have the benefit to be able to interview actual experts on the matter including an immediate relative. There are books available on Amazon which address indoors hydroponics. You would simply adapt that to an underground scenario.

It seems (for the average person anyway) that this is a neat idea but the cost would be pretty prohibitive. I personally live in a very rocky area where mining has been done for over a century using dynamite to get thru the ground. The only reason I even have a semi successful garden is because I have livestock. That along with major composting I have built the ground up myself to a rich and fertile area. Without familial, community and neighborly involvement I don't see how any of us will be able to guard our food supply or livestock supply. You can be armed to the teeth but if 100 people who want your stuff come after you as armed as you are and barricade you in you just can't withstand that for as long as they can. But if you have that multi family or neighbor involvement then you have a "militia" that may be able to give you a fighting chance. I think its prudent to be in the best shape you can be in given age, health etc and as knowledgeable as you can be and to have as many like minded friends and family to help you protect your property.

I completely disagree about the cost being prohibitive. It's not like I earn 6 figures a year. It's no different than farmers investing in equipment that won't "pay off" so to speak for several years. I you actually look into the cost set-up, I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The criminal aspect that you refer to is also addressed with an underground scenario as I shared in the article.

Any recommendations on books to get a family started? I've always been one for starting out small to gain experience.

Thank-you Kellene! My husband and I were just talking about this the other night. But I couldnt find much on-line, so thanks to you, I will be looking at Amazon. Though I've never grown well, anything, as a Nurse, I've had opportunity to speak to many different kinds of interesting people over the years. I even spoken to people who grew "questionable things" in their basements, the information that I've received is that its actually very cheap to get started, although, as a Nurse, I wouldnt be growing illegal plants lol. but still, things are changing, I love the idea of building underground home, and I would definitely include an area for growing food. Underground homes are cheap comparatively, wont be wiped out by tornadoes, hurricanes, fire (depending on materials used) but there have been underground homes surviving wildfires. The other awesome reasons for moving underground are the huge saving on power, ac/heat are generally not an issue, and security..people wont know where you live unless they stumble, accidentally, on your roof. Anyways, Thank-you Kellene for all your great info. Blessings Be

Aquaponics is perfectly suited for underground gardening. Unlike hydroponics, It requires no water additives at all. Just live fish. And you get meat (fish) to eat along with your veggies. Because the ambient temperature underground remains pretty much constant, you don't have to artificially control it to suit either the fish or plants. A perfect world, in my opinion. However, with either method of underground growing, I think that mold could become a problem, and is something to be monitored closely. Some physicians believe that mold & fungus are responsible for a large percentage of our modern day illnesses.

I tried to post this at the end, but it keeps saying that I already did. It would apply here too. I do think that ensuring that there is proper and clean ventilation would be a good idea. Clean would be needed depending on outside situations (like a nuclear attack). The plants can clean most of it naturally. And I love the idea of the dill oil - wonder if that would lose it potency after awhile? Will need to research that one. Here is the rest of what I tried to post. My husband and I have been discussing this for awhile. Going underground eventually. We live in the desert where water is in short supply and caliche requires dynamite. Using an aquaponics system initally sounds counter productive in drought areas - but due to the recyling of water it's actually the solution to the problem, it also eliminated the need to blow up the soil to amend for tradidional gardening. We are in the process of setting up our first above ground system in the backyard. I did say aquaponics - not hydroponics. The difference is the use of fish as a substitute for chemicals. The fish, if you choose the right ones, can also become an additional food source - essential and so good for you protein. In our hot climate, it's most likely going to be Talapia. Undergroud in cooler temps it could be trout, bass, shrimp.... And if you can't (or won't) harvest your fish to eat, you could use a decorative type such as Koi. The fish provide the nutrients for the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. Throw chicken dropping over the fish for food along with some duckweed growing and you have a complete eco system. Chick will eat any fish "leftovers" too. There is tons of information on aquaponic systems on you tube, books at Amazon and probably your local library. I am looking forward to doing this system underground one day. Thanks Kellene for sharing with like minded people - that's community at it's best.

If you use the proper dill oil then no, it will not lose its efficacy. It's an unlimited shelf life and you need very, very little per gallon...we're talking one drop.

I like the idea of it, but I wonder about the complete lack of sunshine and the effect that would have on the plants. I know you can provide plenty of artificial light, but God designed plants and sun to work together. Maybe the absence of His light might cause the plants to be missing some micro nutrients. It sure would be nice not to have to fight insects and critters all season though! Hmmm, maybe I should start digging.lol

My husband and I have been discussing this for awhile. Going underground eventually. We live in the desert where water is in short supply and caliche requires dynamite. Using an aquaponics system initally sounds counter productive in drought areas - but due to the recyling of water it's actually the solution to the problem, it also eliminated the need to blow up the soil to amend for tradidional gardening. We are in the process of setting up our first above ground system in the backyard. I did say aquaponics - not hydroponics. The difference is the use of fish as a substitute for chemicals. The fish, if you choose the right ones, can also become an additional food source - essential and so good for you protein. In our hot climate, it's most likely going to be Talapia. Undergroud in cooler temps it could be trout, bass, shrimp.... And if you can't (or won't) harvest your fish to eat, you could use a decorative type such as Koi. The fish provide the nutrients for the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. Throw chicken dropping over the fish for food along with some duckweed growing and you have a complete eco system. Chick will eat any fish "leftovers" too. There is tons of information on aquaponic systems on you tube, books at Amazon and probably your local library. I am looking forward to doing this system underground one day. Thanks Kellene for sharing with like minded people - that's community at it's best.

I looked on Amazon. I'm only finding two options. Could you tell me what books you'd recommend? Or pass along your information for a small cost?

I am just having a hard time envisioning the space ... do you dig a hole? How do you access it? I'm assuming multiple layers of growth like with hydroponics, but I just can't see it in my head! Don't you have more pictures?? :) Maybe next summer :)

I loved the article on underground gardening. We live in Mesa, AZ and not far from us is a family who have a complete farm in their old swimming pool . Gardenpool.org. I have been there and it is awesome. They have fish in the deep end and chickens over top. They raise tilapia fish. It is an amazing set up. My question is , how do I do the underground garden using the empty in-ground pool that we have in our yard. I would want it to be completely covered over by dirt. Will we need to remove the gunnite pool altogether along with rebar, etc. and start from scratch or could we salvage and use the pool itself? Thanks for any help on this.

These are the same folks who were on the pilot episode of Doomsday Preppers. I'd suggest communicating with someone in construction on that matter because it will vary greatly depending on the type of pool, additional components such as steps, deep vs shallow end etc. Sorry. I'm not much help there.

I was wondering what type of light is used in these systems. I know of someone who tried this and ended up getting raided by the police. Apparently the police have helicopters that use infrared scanners to detect the heat coming from the lights to catch people growing marijuana underground - and they have - but these people were growing veggies and also got raided because of the helicopter scan. What they did was bury an old box truck body and added a concrete staircase at the back door of it. They were using fluorescent grow lights and a hydroponic system. While the police couldn't charge them with any crime, they were fined for not having the proper permits and inspections for an underground structure. So I would say to check out the laws and variances where you live to be sure you're not going to have any legal trouble down the road.

I quickly read your article on growing plants underground. It was a bit different than I thought it was going to be. The idea is not exactly new. We have developed an electronic system for growing plants underground too. I mean really underground. We grow plants in the absence of sunlight and artificial light all together. So, you are correct when you guessed that some day we would see totally new ways to grow food underground. Now we just need to convence the right people that we can do it. Good article.

This is the same type of food production that will be done in space, a station, or a station on another planet. For me I will be going the greenhouse route, delivered good soil and plant almost everything in large containers or tubs. I can start plants early and keep them late. This would be for a northern state with snow. Too much rock for underground, but a decent basement is also a good start.

I looked into hydroponic gardening many years ago, and was put off by the requirements necessary to keep mites, etc out of the gardening area -- supposedly, one careless time of not being scrupulously clean when entering the area could destroy an entire crop. Would the dill oil be helpful for blight and insect prevention of all types? I made the mistake of reading this article just before going to bed -- now I don't think I'll be able to sleep. Great ideas!

The dill will be for mold there certainly are other options for the insects--my first preference would be diatomaceous earth. But there are two essential oil blends that would also target that problems you bring up.

My daughter and I love your Blog Kellene, and have used many of the ideas promoted, especially cheese waxing - how did I ever survive without that knowledge? No more throwing out dried up pieces of cheese because we couldn't get through the 'warehouse' size block in time.

However, being in an area where there are "questionable" crops being grown, I would not count on staying very low-key with this particular idea because there is always someone watching (can't believe I just typed that). Unusual heat radiating from outbuildings (and underground) comes under scrutiny here, which has resulted in several busts over the past few years - and just purchasing the equipment could be a problem in itself.

Our farm has had low "flyovers" and that is rather scary because you don't know what is happening. Is there a fugitive nearby? What are they really looking for? There used to be an "alternative" mail order bookstore nearby - one who enjoyed regular visits from law enforcement. They didn't just sell books on growing plants, it was the "nightmare' how-to books (and clients) that the feds were interested in. I had an employee who innocently worked for them a couple of weeks and quit when she figured out the focus. They are gone now, probably went into a hole somewhere else.

There seems to be a lot of "room grow systems" on Craigslist recently and I have to wonder why, so be careful who you buy from – no need to draw the wrong kind of attention or association. Hydroponics needs a clean environment, so start small (under the radar) with just a few tomatoes or green peppers and see how that works for you. Start small and expand over time.

I know.someone who grows a few tomatoes and peppers in his apartment using this method. Years ago it was used mainly for pot. No is is becoming mainstream. I would love to try this.

And if you raise rabbits, the rabbit poo is excellent, natural fertilizer since they are herbivores. We are down to 4 rabbits now, but their poo output is still sufficient enough to build up our compost heap.

I love the idea of living and growing underground! Any chance you might write a book on essential oils and market the oils? I'm very interested in using them but don't know anything about them and I've heard many companies are not reputable.

Yes. Waxing cheese is actually a detailed process. There's a lot that most people don't understand about waxing cheese and as such I've had a lot of people interpret what they are seeing as something that merits throwing everything out and giving up. Because it's a more detailed process than appropriate for a blog, I've written a detailed Resource Guide along with video instructions. You can find it under the "Prep Pro Classes" tab above.

Intreging - I have a question [or two :-] ] I have a greenhouse attached to the back of our house and Keeping it warm isnt a problem but light is. I treid various lighting plans and all of them fell short on of of two fronts. They either didint work well for growing plants and getting them to blossom or set frit or they were too expensive to maintain, aka I would end up with the $36 tomato. What type of lightiing system would work - powering a system for us by soalr power is out as we get minimal sunlight in the winter. Id love to try this underground method if I could see a way to do sustain it economicially. I already have the space in my basement.

I would suggest doing a bit of homework on the internet for "Indoor gardening" as well as on Amazon. I sounds like you've got some "ifs, ands, and buts" that are unique to you so that would be my best suggestion. Besides...this is a self-reliance blog... hee hee (just kidding)

I've done some research on this and am about ready to start my basement garden. I was told for great lighting you can go to the marijuana shops and buy indoor grow lights that will give your plants the full light spectrum. So I went and they told me to get the tube lighting fixtures like people use in their garages. Then buy one blue spectrum and one yellow spectrum tube light and put them on each side of your fixture(they sell them at the marijuana-hydroponic shop). You can lower the light right over the plant and raise it as it grows because the lights come with chains for height adjustments. This should do well for every kind of plant you grow.

Great article and commentary on indoor gardening. There is a wealth of good, free information on the internet on hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics as well as sources to buy materials and kits. I have researched various systems extensively and have a friend who's experimented with several different systems. My recommendation is if you're interested in trying this but think it's cost prohibitive, start small. A small 2 foot by 4 foot indoor system can grow a lot of food. If you search google for them,there are plans for rubbermaid closet systems where you're largest expense is lighting. If you do it in a greenhouse or outdoors, that's not a factor.

As Kellene's article suggests, it is a lot of work to setup and maintain a large system, but so is a regular garden. Good luck to all those that choose this route, find a blog or discussion forum, and share your challenges and successes.

I'm going to setup a small system that I've been meaning to for years but haven't due to other priorities. I'll let you all know how successful it is.

I had not considered keeping bees underground. There are a whole host of questions I can think of regarding this issue. I will have to look into it. I agree we can be more self sufficient and my family is working at being as sufficient as yours.

Pollination can be mimicked. As an example, if you lightly brush the flowers that appear on the tomato plants, it's sufficient to get them to produce. However, you can also have bees in your environment. We really can be so much more self-sufficient if we put our minds to it.

What do you do about pollination? As Albert Einstein put it...without the bees...4 years and all...I realize his statement was much more intelligently put, but underground no bees right?

This is my goal for my winter project. I have an extra bedroom in my basement and it has been designated as a garden. I will be adding a small pond in the corner and will stock it with Tilapia. I can use manure from my chickens to grow the perfect algae for the tilapia to eat (you just put chicken manure in the fish pond one time). I will then recirculate the pond wonder which will be full of nutrients through the tubes of hydroponic veggies.

One other consideration for anyone who is doing this project: In my area, radon is a big problem. Our mostly-above-ground house had a radon reading of 100 pCi (during the winter – our radon problem is season-sensitive) when we first moved in…For anyone who doesn’t know, a reading of 4 pCi is considered high! If you are considering living or gardening underground, I would definitely recommend taking a radon reading in your structure during different seasons of the year; if your reading is high, there are certain paints that will seal against radon. Thanks for this article and all the comments; I have learned a lot and this has got me to thinking of the possibilities of how I can garden more efficiently!

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the obvious - mines. There are tons of abandoned mines - some US states have HUNDREDS of abandoned mines. Some of these mines have dozens, even hundreds of miles of tunnels. These mines aren't used for anything. While they may be full of hazardous materials, those can be removed and the tunnel surfaces coated to prevent any contamination.

I recently built an

I recently built an underground greenhouse for an aquaponics project. It was a disused cinder block trench silo, 7 feet deep. My project is only recently up and running, but the temperatures have been very promising. This morning, outside temp was 13F and inside was 46F.  I have been cataloging my progress at Facebook.com/troutsalad. Feel free to check it out if you have time. I would love feedback from others, as this is my first project of this nature. If I install solar, I could run this off-grid and add productivity to an abandoned corner of my farm.   The greenhouse has been covered since early January, in this coldest winter in a generation in central PA. My lowest inside temp was 27F. I'm not certain how much photosynthetic quality light I'm getting, though. 

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