Shielding your crops from the conditions.
Imagine being able to house your crops in a sunken greenhouse that self insulates, not having to worry about harsh winters or dry summers ruining your garden. Sunken greenhouses are one of the most ideal structures for farmers and gardeners dealing with fluctuating climates.
What are sunken greenhouses, also known as pit greenhouses or underground greenhouses?
In simple terms, sunken greenhouses are structures that gardeners use to extend the growing season, as underground greenhouses are much warmer in winter and the surrounding soil keeps the structure comfortable for plants (and people) during summer heat.
The structures, also known as wallapini, take advantage of solar radiation and the thermal mass of the surrounding earth. It is one of the earliest known sheltered greenhouses in the world.
They are widely used in Tibet, Japan, Mongolia, and various regions across the United States. More recently, having been constructed in the mountains of South America for at least a couple of decades.
They are used all across the world by farmers and gardeners who hope to harness the sun’s thermal energy and extend their traditional growing season.
The unique design of these structures is what sets them apart from traditional greenhouses.
Similar to Mike Oehler’s original underground house design, the “sunken” aspect of the sunken greenhouse design means that the greenhouse quite literally sinks down into the earth and uses the earth’s mass to benefit the crops in the greenhouse.
Wallapini greenhouses are intentionally designed to retain both heat and cold air.
They bring light and heat into the greenhouse and convert it into energy. This self-sustaining process leads to a greenhouse that can regulate its own temperature levels.
The intricate design of the wallapini greenhouse uses a wide, angled roof to take in sunlight and convert it into solar energy.
Additionally, its sides are bermed into the earth so that they trap and insulate the thermal heat under the ground. This allows farmers and gardeners to keep crops warm underground even while the above ground climate is bitter and cold.
One of the earliest recorded examples of an underground greenhouse was built in 1798 at the famous Lyman Estate. The Lyman Estate Greenhouses are some of the oldest surviving in the United States.
The design idea caught on in the 1800s to protect rare grape and fruit tree varieties from the harsh cold farmers were facing. The first sunken greenhouses were heated with wooden stoves, but many new heating methods have become popularised since then.
Today, many farmers and gardeners choose to embed pit greenhouses into their land to take back control of their growing season and keep the temperature of their crops regulated.
The biggest plus that comes from building a sunken greenhouse is that the design keeps the temperature of your crops regulated year-round. With these greenhouses, you don’t have to worry as much about changes in weather having a negative impact on your crops.
This is particularly important to note with more extreme weather to hit the world in 2023. Many are not considering the impact of weather on crops used to combat collapsing food chains.
Leaving your crops subject to the elements can lead to devastating results. I’ve been into growing my own vegetables for a while, and there have been too many times this year when a storm would blow.
Since the wallapini is underground, plants are much less likely to suffer from weather damage. They are protected by the earth bermed sides of the sunken greenhouse.
As the wallapini stores both hot and cold air, it self regulates the temperature of its interior and keeps your crops healthy despite the climate changings outside. This also makes it easier for gardeners to plants crops that may not necessarily be ideal for the climate they live in.
Underground greenhouses are designed to harbour an especially moist, humid environment, to aid the growth of your crops. When planting above ground, crops can easily become dried out by the sun’s heat.
When crops are regulated underneath the ground, your plants are isolated from the elements, so it’s easier to keep moisture from evaporating back into the atmosphere. This is especially conducive to aquaculture plants that thrive in moist conditions.
Due to the fact that pit greenhouses are embedded into the earth, you can still lay crops flat underneath the ground, even if the structure is built into a hill or elevated piece of land.
With a sunken greenhouse, your vegetable garden is also protected from extra hungry visitors. The bermed walls and the roof over the ground keeps your garden out of the way of creatures roaming.
The only thing to do is decide which type of design would be best for you/your circumstances.
There are many different design variations of sun pit greenhouses.
However, all sunken greenhouses are designed to regulate temperature in a similar way.
A traditional greenhouse is built with four glass walls and a glass roof.
This basic design may allow a traditional greenhouse to warm up quickly, but it does not give the structure the ability to trap temperature for long periods of time.
On the other hand, pit greenhouses are intentionally designed with one open wall to take in sunlight and one earth bermed wall to insulate thermal energy.
Berm greenhouses are ideal for farmers and gardeners who want to strategically extend their growing season longer than their climate at home might allow.
It’s a pretty intriguing set-up that combines the principles of passive solar heating with an earth-sheltered building. But how to make one?
From the American sustainable agriculture non-profit Benson Institute comes this enlightening manual on how a wallapini works and how to build it:
Sunken greenhouses tick both boxes: Navigating unpredictable weather with crops, and also ensuring you are as disconnected from the corporate food chain as possible at the same time.
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