Note: This review covers the 2013 version of Crisis Education’s 4 Foot Farm Blueprint. Crisis Education has released a new version for 2014. Click here to read my review of the 2014 edition. The 2014 edition is very different from the version reviewed below.
One of our Colony members posted this link to our Facebook wall last week:
Gotta say, we knew just from the first viewing of this video that it was a scam, but we looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “It’s for the Colony,” and pulled out the credit card. $7 with a double-your-money-back guarantee? What could go wrong?
So we sit through the initial infomercial, then place our order for the eBook.
The next video tells us that we can get 10 more free eBooks by ordering the $14.95 per month newsletter. Or pay $17 each. A measly $170 for true self-reliance. It’s a bargain!
We said no thanks.
He’ll GIVE us the 10 free eBooks AND a free 30 days to peruse the newsletter. We can cancel at any time and these top-secret but critical reports are ours to keep.
Maybe because it was 1am. Or maybe because we’d had a couple of beers. Or maybe because we just love you guys so much, we accepted his generous offer.
The third video is offering us a monthly seed shipment without which our initial $7 initial investment will surely be wasted as we can’t possibly be trusted to choose seeds that will work with this ultra-secret system. Only $27 for 10 seed packets each and every month with no repeats. Ever!
Yeah, no. We don’t love you guys that much. We’ve been gardening awhile and have our own seed bank of reliable seeds that work in our cooler South Dakota weather.
Yes, we’re sure.
Yes, we know we’ll never ever be able to convince you to sell us your seeds at this rock-bottom price ever again. Ever.
Yes, we’re freaking sure!
And an hour and a half later, we finally have access to our members only download area.
So I open the 4Foot Farm eBook and confirm my suspicion – the infomercial was given more time, energy, and editing than the actual product.
I could critique the eBook as a whole, but there’s really not much point. It was mostly written as a hypothetical full of ideas, but offered very little in the way of expertise. Despite the infomercial promising “exactly how” or “use this trick,” the eBook itself had “ideas to try” and phrases like “I would maybe.” Not to mention its absolute lack of the ability to deliver on the infomercial’s promises.
All you really need to know, if you haven’t guessed it already, is that this book touts vertical gardening as the ideal way to maximize space in a small garden. Vertical gardening is the idea of growing up instead of out. A hanging plant is one of the simplest vertical gardens. You can hang containers up the side of a wall, use hanging containers, or build some sort of tower or pyramid. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of vertical gardening, especially when using containers, because they are high maintenance (for me). Container gardens of any sort usually require daily attention by way of watering, rotating to better face the available sunlight, and so forth.
So let’s simply go over each too-good-to-be-true promise and see if this stands up.
1. How to get 118 pounds of homegrown food from a tiny 4 foot by 4 foot plot. Bonus: if you follow this step-by-step plan you can boost that to 136 lbs!
Maybe. I doubt it, but we’ll just accept this yield as true and move on. Although we really need to subtract 15 pounds from the 118 pounds since this plan (there are two potential plans outlined) has you growing potatoes in separate 5 gallon buckets that are not part of the 1 foot by 4 foot plan. That’s right 1 foot by 4 foot, not 4 foot by 4 foot. Does this guy know his own product? And if you assume he means a yearly yield from four of these 1 foot by 4 foot plots, it will cost $40 a month, not $10 as claimed. So that doesn’t work either.
2. The blatant truth about “Free Seeds.” It’s not too good to be true as long as you follow a few simple tips.
The eBook suggests one way to get free seeds….if you have seeds to trade. So it’s not really free. Honestly, if you want free seeds, my recommendation is to make friends with local gardeners. Most will share not only extra seeds that should do well in your area, but will also share expertise coming from years of experience. Be genuine. Learn from them. Simple as that. Then invest in a couple new varieties each year until you find your own favorites.
3. How to grow your garden in complete secret. Think about it – if your food production spot can be snatched away from you at any second, you’re not really independent. Use this trick to stay out of sight.
Honestly, I saw nothing about this in the eBook. I searched the whole .pdf file for the words “hidden,” “secret,” and “covert,” and came up with nothing. I suppose you could move your system inside, but then you’d need numerous grow lights to replace the required sunlight unless you have a large enough window that gets ample sunlight.
Personally, I don’t foresee a need to grow my garden in secret. Why spend electricity when sunlight is free? If you live in a hostile environment or have a really short summer season, you may want to pick a couple things to try growing indoors. I wish I could advise you here, but I’ve never had much luck with indoor gardening.
4. My “lazy food” trick to make it so you never have to lift a shovel… Plus one way to accelerate the process.
Not really sure what this refers to. Maybe it was the suggestion to buy soil? Or maybe just to plant amongst the weeds you just killed with Roundup (wait, wasn’t the infomercial anti-Monsanto? No hint of this in the eBook when the author recommends Roundup and Miracle Gro – both products of Monsanto-owned companies). Or maybe it was the lasagna composting idea, even though he didn’t call it this. (Lasagna composting is putting down layers of different compostable materials and leaving them for several months until they break down, composting directly in your garden plot.) He never directly referred to anything as a “lazy food trick” nor any way to accelerate the process.
5. The truth about these covert garden plans that you can use to not just save you $98 or more per month, but make you a tidy profit.
Covert? Again, nothing about anything done in secret was mentioned.
$98 a month? For 118-136 pounds of produce per year? That assumes you’d spend $8.65-$9.97 per pound on items such as potatoes, kale, or carrots. Not likely. At least, not as of this writing…
Profit? See my prior paragraph. Though he does mention starting seeds (presumably indoors, but he doesn’t specify except in his calendar of when to start things…which is only really applicable in his Texas climate) and selling off some of your seedlings, so maybe this is what he means.
6. The reason this is one of the only ways you can grow food in colder areas… Which is critical if you live up north!
We live in a colder climate. There are lots of farms here. None rely on vertical gardening. So no, not the only way. And I’m not sure how growing up instead of out would help in the cold anyway. Container gardens will allow your soil to cool faster than the earth, so it would actually be more difficult to grow vertically in colder climates.
7. How to use the “stalk stacking” technique to boost food yield. Hint: this works when you can force the two plants to work together.
I assume he’s talking about companion planting or the “3 sisters” method of gardening. Nothing is mentioned about “stalk stacking” in the eBook, nor is this technique suggested, implied, or utilized. Here’s an article by Mother Earth News on the technique if you’re interested.
8. The cheap trick to use if you’re over 70, can barely walk, but are still serious about growing your own food. This will cut out the heavy lifting, bending and hard work.
No idea. Maybe because vertical gardening means less bending? And it’s cheap because you use plastic soda bottles to plant in? But if you can’t lift a shopping bag, you’ll need someone else to build your system. An easier method is to use regular containers on a table top. No system to build, no bending, and can be equally as cheap by using repurposed materials. Maybe put a shelf above the table for a second level. You’d lose some surface area that vertical gardening affords, but even with the systems outlined here, you’d have some bending and stretching. You can still place your table outside to utilize free sunlight.
9. How to use one French botanist’s trick to force your plants to yield 400% to 600% more efficient crops. With some plants like strawberries you’re looking at a 2,984% jump by using this technique.
Yet again, there’s no mention of this botanist in this eBook. The infomercial, however, mentions Patrick Blanc, who IS a French botanist. He wrote the book The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City. Since the eBook outlines two possible vertical garden plans, I’d assume this is what he’s referring to. Your plants themselves won’t have higher yields, though; you’ll just get more plants into the same square foot space because you’re planting in 3D. 3000% higher yields on one strawberry plant? Would there even be room for leaves if that were true? Not to mention a glorious solution to world hunger.
10. And the 3 things your plants will need to grow fast, strong and healthy. Without these you might as well pack up and go back to the food lines…
Ask anyone what three things a plant needs to grow and I’m guessing you’ll find out as much as he shares about this. It’s nothing top secret. However, you really need more than three things: water, sunlight, appropriate temperatures, carbon dioxide, and nutrients. Though he probably assumes temperature and carbon dioxide will not be artificially introduced into your system.
And the tips:
1. What to do if you’ve got “bad dirt.” This technique will make your garden thrive and will even work in the Sahara Desert.
Just buy dirt. Yep, that’s it. But it won’t work in the Sahara. Why? Climate. May as well have claimed it would work in Antarctica. Oh wait, there goes that temperature assumption.
2. Detailed diagrams on exactly how to arrange your plants to get high-yield tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, beans and delicious spices. (Plus any other food you have your heart set on!)
His diagrams were suggestions, and not overly detailed. Keep in mind not all plants will work with his system, so hopefully you don’t have your heart set on pumpkins. That’s another issue with vertical gardening — you’ll need lightweight plants with shallow roots for the higher levels. Lettuces and other greens, herbs, and strawberries will work well for most vertical gardens.
3. This blueprint (on page 8) will show you exactly how to plant for the fastest growth and least amount of work…. Even if you don’t want to use a single shred of plastic.
No blueprints or diagrams on page 8. But he does have a plan that doesn’t use plastic. No idea how this offers speedy growth, however.
4. The weird-but-powerful by-product that can kick-start your four foot farm’s production.
5. Why you should never buy expensive “pre-started seedlings” from a nursery, and how to start your seeds the fast way…
Again, he mentions starting your own seeds to save money, then talks about starting potatoes from those in your pantry, but really doesn’t go into detail. This is again something he suggests you “could” do. Starting your own seeds, if you have the time and space, will absolutely save you money over nursery seedlings.
Now, all this alone should deter you from this product, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t do a little math. I am a nerd after all.
First, there are some issues when figuring out the math. We’ll dismiss those issues in a moment when we start calculating, but I want to point these issues out.
1. His list of vegetables and their yields (where he got the 118-136 pounds claim) includes 42-44 pounds of greens (lettuce, kale, collards, chard, mizuna, arugula, spinach, and cabbage). That’s a lot of greens….some of which you cannot preserve.
2. Many of the items on his list of projected yields are NOT in his suggested planting diagrams. For instance, he has projected yields of 6 pounds of broccoli and cauliflower, yet neither show up in either plan. Tomatoes don’t appear in one set of plans, yet account for 30 pounds of its projected yields.
3. As mentioned before, 15 pounds of potatoes in one system aren’t grown in the 1×4 plot, but in their own 5 gallon buckets.
But let’s ignore all these for the sake of disproving this guy’s math. This gives him the benefit of the doubt, but you’ll see the numbers still don’t work.
So this plan is supposed to feed you for a year, right? I painstakingly looked up each produce item he lists in his projected yields for each plan to find out their nutritional value and added up the calories in his projected yields. One plan has a projected possible yield of 118 pounds and the other of 136 pounds. This gives us a grand total of 22,013 and 25,347 calories respectively. And according to the infomercial, this should make up for 90% of our grocery bill.
Yet if you look at my article, Determining Caloric Needs, you’ll see that this number of calories isn’t that much. Let’s look at it two other ways though.
First, let’s assume we can preserve every last shred of our harvest and use it up over the course of a full year. We’ll divide these calorie counts by 365 days. That’s 60-70 calories per day. Probably more veggies than the average American consumes, but certainly not 90% of the grocery budget. And definitely requires other sources of food.
If we only had our garden to live off of, and we assume a bare minimum of 1,200 calories per day, that would give us 18-21 days of sustenance. Hardly the claims of the infomercial.
A side note: there’s a prior edition of this eBook that is a completely different book. It talks about growing food in a 4×4 plot using companion planting and succession planting rather than vertical gardening. It’s better written, not better edited, and still just gives you an overview. It discusses cold frames and vermicomposting, which may lend themselves to some of the original claims. But ultimately, you’re still better served saving your $7 and getting your information elsewhere.
Where to start?
I recommend the book All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It’s not vertical gardening, but it’s a great guide to small space intensive gardening that is widely used and recommended. And Vertical Gardener is a beautiful blog full of wonderful ideas on how to implement vertical gardening using all sorts of designs and containers.
Update: 10 Free eBooks.
I read them all. Pity me. I have a horrible headache now.
A couple are decent. Most are poorly edited. At least two had their first typo before the end of the second paragraph.
A couple were such grammatical monstrosities that I struggled to finish them.
Poor Man’s Prepping Guide, one of the 10 freebies, offers absolutely nothing by way of money-saving strategies unless you count the option of storing commercially bottled water versus filling your own containers. Otherwise, it’s a beginner’s guide to prepping.
100 Energy Saving Secrets reads like it was written by my fifth grader and even has repeated advice within those 100 suggestions. It also assumes you have a window air conditioning unit and can independently turn off the water heaters to your main house, shower, and drinking water. By contrast, The Off-Grid Energy Blueprint reads like it was written by a solar professional, and probably contains good information that was simply over my head.
The Lazy Farmer’s Guide to Raising Chickens was a nice concise overview of raising chickens, but it certainly doesn’t appear that any part of it was suggesting easy or lazy ways to go about doing things. The Ultimate Underground Bunker is only 26 pages of text. Again, it’s a brief overview, but had very little substance. You definitely need more information on such topics as sewage disposal and keeping your bunker in fresh air. This is not something you want to do halfway.
All that said, my advice remains… Save your money and turn to Google. Or purchase books with solid reviews from reputable bookstores. There are no secrets shared here, even in the books with “secret” in the title.
Update 2 (10/30/13): A New Product
A company called Survival Life is now offering an eBook, also for $7, called Growing Up: The Ins and Outs of Vertical Gardening. I saw their sponsored post on Facebook and the claim that you could feed a family of 4 with 8 square feet of space and decided to click. Yet, the post they linked me to said you could feed a family of 4 with only 4 square feet of space. Looking familiar? Different voice on the infomercial, but they also have a special “Members Only” section where you download their special report. This one is 50 pages. Other than the ability to feed a family of 4, the claims are milder than the 4 Foot Farm claims. They simply tout the benefits of vertical gardening.
After doing a little digging, it looks like this is a different “report.” I’ll be purchasing and reviewing it soon. (Update! See the review of Survival Life’s guide HERE.)
However, for now, my advice is the same. Stay away from eBooks that advertise through online infomercials and do the research yourself. Google is your friend. Vertical gardening is a great strategy, but you won’t get enough produce in 4 square feet to feed a family of 4. Not unless you’re just looking to grow your own salads and you’re getting the bulk of your calories from other resources.
If you want to give vertical gardening, companion planting, or square foot gardening a try, these books will serve you better:
Update: November 2013 — Crisis Education contacted me about this review. I was not asked to remove it or update it, but to review their next revision of the product. They did refund my money at that time (I had not yet requested a refund as I was waiting for my monthly newsletter which took more than 30 days to receive). I do not know if it is normally this easy to get a refund, but they tell me they respond to all emails within 24 hours. Whether you’ve had good experience with this or bad, please comment below so others will know what to expect.