Quantcast

$300 Underground Greenhouse Grows Your Food Year-Round

From vertical farms to solar-powered "farms from a box," we've seen how farming technology has grown leaps and bounds in recent years. But for those who prefer something a little more rustic, growing food from a hole in the ground is as low-tech as you can get.

A walipini, meaning "place of warmth" from the Amaraya Indian language, is an underground greenhouse with a transparent (usually plastic) covering that stays warm by passively soaking up the sun's heat and absorbing the earth's thermal energy.

This underground greenhouse collects the sun's rays and earth's heat to grow food
Photo credit: schweibenalp.ch

Fruits and vegetables can be grown year-round, making it ideal for communities in colder locations that can't usually grow their own fresh and local produce during certain parts of the year.

The farming method isn't exactly new. Walipinis have been used in South and Central America for decades, including one that can grow bananas at 14,000 feet in the Andes.

The technique was notably adopted by The Benson Institute, a worldwide food security program of the Mormon church. According to The Plaid Zebra, the Benson Institute and its team of volunteers built a community-sized 74-feet-by-20-feet walipini in La Paz, Bolivia for around a mere $300.

The institute published a DIY manual on how to build such a structure. It explains:

The Walipini, in simplest terms, is a rectangular hole in the ground 6 to 8 feet deep covered by plastic sheeting. The longest area of the rectangle faces the winter sun—to the north in the Southern Hemisphere and to the south in the Northern Hemisphere. A thick wall of rammed earth at the back of the building and a much lower wall at the front provide the needed angle for the plastic sheet roof. This roof seals the hole, provides an insulating airspace between the two layers of plastic (a sheet on the top and another on the bottom of the roof/poles) and allows the suns rays to penetrate creating a warm, stable environment for plant growth.

Minneapolis-based Seasons Unity Project builds walipinis and says these structures can be constructed in places with surface temperatures as cold as -10 degrees Fahrenheit and as few as four feet below ground level.

The walipini can be a low-cost and effective year-round greenhouse.
Photo credit: Flickr

"Of course, many climates are too harsh for growing healthy vegetables, fruits, and herbs outside year-round. Rather than stopping at the apparent challenge or obstacle... [the structure] allows its caretaker to harvest, store, and deliver energy without generation or requirement of external energy or active energy input," the Seasons Unity Project said.

This 4-minute clip features a farmer from the Comanche community in Bolivia. He explains how a walipini helps grow crops, such as potatoes and quinoa, even during the frosty and rainy winter from December to February.

"It’s a new system for us. We can rescue the heat, and with that heat we can make a good production and we also save water," he says. "With a walipini...we can produce not only fodder (for animals), we can produce food for all the people who live here."

A walipini is also great for places like The Netherlands, which also cold weather spells. A volunteer farming group there called Creative Garden Wageningen is working on its own walipini, dubbed the Sunken Greenhouse that will house lemons, strawberries, peppers, and a variety of beans and herbs, as you can see in the video below.

Impressively, the structure's inside beam is a living willow tree. Additionally, the grounds outside have plots for plants such as beans, pumpkins, onions and more. The roof covering was made with donated landfill plastic.

“We made it ourselves for very little if no money at all using leftover and donated materials,” uploader Ben Green wrote.

He added that their walipini now has a reciprocal roof, "one of the few in the world to have such a roof."

Interested in building your own underground greenhouse? Here are 5 things you should know:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE 

Couple Builds Greenhouse Around Home to Grow Food and Keep Warm

Solar Powered ‘Farm from a Box’: Everything You Need to Run an Off-Grid Farm

6 Super Cool Tiny Houses Made From Shipping Containers

World’s First Robotic Farm to Produce 30,000 Heads of Lettuce Per Day

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Bernie Sanders holds his first presidential campaign rally at Brooklyn College on March 02 in Brooklyn, New York. Kena Betancur / VIEWpress / Corbis. Getty Images

Bernie Sanders has become the first contender in the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field to pledge to offset all of the greenhouse gas emissions released by campaign travel, The Huffington Post reported Thursday.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view of the flooding at the Camp Ashland, Nebraska on March 17. Nebraska National Guard / Staff Sgt. Herschel Talley / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The record flooding in the Midwest that has now been blamed for four deaths could also have lasting consequences for the region's many farmers.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

In tea, food, or just on your windowsill, embrace the fragrance and fantastic healing potential of herbs.

Read More Show Less

By Ana Santos Rutschman

The world of food and drug regulation was rocked earlier this month by the news of a change in leadership at the Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned and will step down in early April. His temporary replacement is Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute.

Read More Show Less
MartinPrescott / iStock / Getty Images

On Wednesday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first 20 chemicals it plans to prioritize as "high priority" for assessment under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Given the EPA's record of malfeasance on chemicals policy over the past two years, it is clear that these are chemicals that EPA is prioritizing to ensure that they are not properly evaluated or regulated.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Strawberries top the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list of U.S. produce most contaminated with pesticides. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / Getty Images

Which conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables in the U.S. are most contaminated with pesticides? That's the question that the Environmental Working Group answers every year with its "Dirty Dozen" list of produce with the highest concentration of pesticides after being washed or peeled.

Read More Show Less
A drilling rig in a Wyoming natural gas field. William Campbell / Corbis via Getty Images

A U.S. federal judge temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres of federal leases in Wyoming Tuesday, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "did not sufficiently consider climate change" when auctioning off the land, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
Mizina / iStock / Getty Images

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Oats are widely regarded as one of the healthiest grains you can eat, as they're packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Read More Show Less