What is a Permaculture Greenhouse?

What is a permaculture greenhouse?  Well, for the most part it serves all the same functions as a regular greenhouse.  Except a permaculture greenhouse uses the principles of permaculture.  It creates a surplus of resources while generating no waste.  And it uses as few external inputs as possible.  If you want to learn more about permaculture in general, start here

While no two permaculture greenhouses are the same, there are a few concepts and techniques that many of them have in common.  Let's take a quick look at what those are, and discuss a few exceptional examples of permaculture greenhouses.

Photograph answering the question

Permaculture greenhouse - By Lamiot - Own work, GFDL, Link

Permaculture Greenhouse Features

These are only a few of the common techniques used in permaculture greenhouses.  If you want to learn more about any of these, follow the links below or see our section about the common concepts of permaculture.

  1. Passive Heating
    Permaculture greenhouses are often designed to take advantage of passive heat from the sun.  This is accomplished by completely exposing the south and/or west side of the greenhouse to the sun's rays, while insulating the opposite sides with materials that can absorb and retain the warmth.
  2. Solar Energy
    Any fans, lighting, irrigation, or other powered utilities in a permaculture greenhouse are likely to be powered by solar energy.
  3. Thermal Mass
    One common way to heat greenhouses in cold weather is to use materials that are capable of retaining warmth from the sun to heat the greenhouse throughout the night. 
  4. Walipini
    Walipini greenhouses are built entirely or partially underground, and use the earth around them for insulation from the cold air.  A glass roof allows sunshine in to warm the earth and feed the plants all day long.
  5. Biological Processes
    Some permaculture greenhouses bring biological processes indoors to heat the greenhouse.  By locating compost piles inside a greenhouse, the heat that is given off by the composting process is trapped indoors.  Sometimes animals like chickens, ducks, or even goats are introduced into the greenhouse to heat the area and provide carbon dioxide for the plants.
  6. Rainwater Harvesting
    Water supplied to water plants or stored for thermal mass purposes is likely rainwater that has been harvested from the roof of the permaculture greenhouse.

"I can't change the world on my own, it'll take at least 3 of us." - Bill Mollison

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A Few Notable Permaculture Greenhouses

At Jerome Osentowski's Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, he grows many tropical fruits all year long at 7,200 feet of elevation deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  Crops include bananas, figs, and full assortment of vegetables.  A subterranean air-circulation system stores hot air all day and circulates it at night to keep the greenhouse warm.  Jerome shares his knowledge in his book titled The Forest Garden Greenhouse.

Canadian permaculturist Francis Gendron has designed a greenhouse that can maintain temperatures above 60 F with no external inputs - no electricity and no gas of any kind.  And that's in far northern climates with nighttime temperatures dropping to 10 F.  The entire design is available in a package called The Greenhouse of the Future that includes a DVD documentary, an eBook, and technical plan drawings. 

A permaculture greenhouse with living quarters included

Permaculture greenhouse with living quarters - By Lamiot - Own work, GFDL, Link

What is a Permaculture Greenhouse?

As you see, a permaculture greenhouse is used in the same way any other greenhouse is used - for growing plants in a controlled environment and keeping plants warm in cold conditions. 

When you ask the question, "What is a permaculture greenhouse?" you are really asking what makes a permaculture greenhouse different from a traditional greenhouse.  The answer is that the design of a permaculture greenhouse allows it to perform all the functions of a greenhouse without any external inputs like electricity, gas heating, and an outside water supply. 

If you want to learn more, check out our list of resources.  You'll find plenty of information there about permaculture greenhouses and all of the other common concepts that come into play in the world of permaculture.

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