Underground Greenhouse

At most latitudes, the temperature six to eight feet below the surface stays between 50 and 60°F. An underground greenhouse uses calm below-ground weather to keep plants growing whether it’s snowing or sweltering.

underground greenhouse
Underground greenhouse in Spetchley Gardens, UK. Stairs down to entrance on right. Image by Mezzapod via Flickr.

Designs for an Underground Greenhouse

underground greenhouse
Underground greenhouse. The inside can be cased in stone, mud brick or any dense natural material able to absorb large amounts of heat. Cool weather crops like lettuce, kale and brocolli can be grown during winter in harsh climates. The glazing creates a “greenhouse effect.” If your water table is high, obviously that could spell disaster. You should build your greenhouse at least five feet above the water table. This manual from GrowTest Urban Gardening has good information.

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Mike Oehler’s underground greenhouse design. Mike digs a deep trench for access on the shaded south side which also allows cold air to sink and be warmed by the deeper, warmer soil. Many install tubes within the soil to transfer warmed air into the earth, yet Mike believes you need only the cold sink to allow the transfer in most climates. How to: motherearthnews. Mike Oehler’s book: The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book.

During the day, the earth walls store heat. The walls are the battery that release their heat at night. A properly-designed pit greenhouse is naturally warmed at night from five sides. In an above-ground greenhouse only one side, the floor, is heated during the day. A waterproof barrier extending along the periphery and down the berms are necessary. Here are a couple of earthbag underground greenhouse plans.

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Care must be taken waterproofing, draining and ventilating the greenhouse. The most efficient pit greenhouses have south-facing windows. The north wall stores heat.

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This earthen-walled underground greenhouse has lots of natural clay to absorb heat. The two most important factors in a pit greenhouse are the large amount of thermal mass (stone, soil, water), and its positioning toward the sun. Via organica.net.pl


Must-Haves For Greenhouse Owners

Potting Soil

Seedling Heat Mats


17 Incredible Underground Greenhouses Around the World

walipini
An underground greenhouse is called a walipini in South America, from the Aymara Indian language, meaning “place of warmth.” As you dig, you save your upper-most topsoil to serve as the bottom of the greenhouse. Use the deeper soil as the new berm on the north side (or south side if you’re south of the equator). Angling your window 90 degrees to the sun on the winter solstice will allow the pit to store the most heat during those days when the sun shines the fewest hours.

1) Walipini From LaPaz, Bolivia

Here is a large walipini in LaPaz, Bolivia. At two minutes they go inside the walipini, at four minutes they walk around the outside. In Spanish. Obviously they do not get much rain there.

2) Pit Greenhouse Made With Local Stone

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An underground greenhouse made of local stone in Nepal at almost 10,000 feet altitude, where the temperature falls below freezing 199 days per year.

3) Underground Greenhouse In Mongolia

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This pit greenhouse in Mongolia is currently producing food during three seasons of the year. As the footprints show the entrance is on the opposite side.

4) Pit Greenhouse With Good Insulation

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Inside of above pit greenhouse. In a cold climate, the north, east and west walls should be well insulated. The north ceiling should be well insulated as well.

5) Start Of A Homestead Walipini

At this homestead, the owners are beginning to dig for their underground greenhouse. Using the excavator will help cut down on the time it takes to finish the structure.

6) Underground Greenhouse From Tennessee

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A greenhouse built into a hill in Tennessee.

7) Walipini From Sandstone In Texas

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This pit greenhouse is in Texas, it is essentially a hole dug into the ground. Here the soil was such hard sandstone, minimal wall support was necessary. The picture was originally listed at http://taroandti.com.

8) Patagonian Underground Greenhouse

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Earth-sheltered greenhouse with earthbag walls in Patagonia. Note the use of plastic around the periphery.

9) Walipini From An Earthen Embankment

An underground greenhouse can help naturally insulate crops, enabling gardeners to harvest all year around.

10) Pit Greenhouse From An Old Missile Silo

A Nebraska couple turned an abandoned missile silo into an underground home. The walls are two feet thick—four feet thick in some places. The place where the missile was held is now the couple’s garage. They’ve covered the ground with wooden flooring and plastic turf. Their underground greenhouse is the only place where natural light comes through. In the (massive) greenhouse they are able to grow tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, and green beans.

11) Walipini With A Drainage Ditch

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Digging a shallow drainage ditch around the perimeter of the greenhouse will lead the run off water away from the structure. Via darfieldearthship.com

12) Pit Greenhouse

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Pit greenhouse. Many underground greenhouse owners store barrels of rainwater at the back of the greenhouse to soak up and store even more heat. Note the entranceway to right.

13) Installing A Walipini Roof

When you are deciding on materials, don’t forget to consider your areas climate. Choosing the wrong material could cause the roof to collapse and kill your crops.

14) Pit Greenhouse With Old Windows For A Roof

Walipini is another name for a pit greenhouse, this one is topped with old windows.

15) Hand-Dug Underground Greenhouse

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See step-by-step photos of a greenhouse in New Mexico dug by hand!

16) Pit Greenhouse Made By Simple Ground

This man, from Simple Ground, shows us his underground greenhouse. He says that they were able to save money by bending the galvanized steel themselves. Their plan is to use aquaponics for the plants inside, he even shows the start of their fish pond inside. He describes the purpose of the underground greenhouse, and how it regulates the temperature to help plants grow all year around. They haven’t started growing anything yet, only because they finished building at the end of fall.

17) Walipini Built In Ladakh

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This mud brick walipini in Ladakh which produces food year-round in a very harsh climate.

Many More Uses for Your Underground Greenhouse

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This amazing couple turned an old gunite pool into a ‘closed-loop food-producing urban greenhouse.’ The greenhouse houses tilapia, chickens and hydroponic vegetables and fruits.

pit greenhouse
An easy way to warm up and bring light into your basement. Build a mini-pit greenhouse on the south side of your home. naturalbuildingblog.com

underground greenhouse
A pit greenhouse used as dining area.

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A pit greenhouse for musicians.

Part 1 of a video series about the construction of an underground greenhouse, by Homesteadonomics. The builder says he’s doing it to extend his growing season, because he lives in an area with high winds, and because it seems like a cool project. He gets about 60% of the digging done by hand, a backhoe finishes the rest. Then he built a rough stairway, and poured a concrete footer. At the end of the video he does a nice job of showing what’s next. As of writing he’s in the middle of building; now he’s up to part 5.

pit greenhouse
At the New Alchemy Institute bioshelter, fish tanks and compost heat the greenhouse and adjoining house. Water is dense and holds heat even better than rock, soil takes third place in heat storage. The solar aquaculture ponds are above-ground, translucent tanks. The fertile pond water was used for irrigating crops.

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Driftless Farm Greenhouse by Roald Gundersen, Wisconsin. The larger you build your pit greenhouse the more efficient, as the temperatures inside of a small greenhouse can fluctuate quite quickly.

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Driftless Farm Greenhouse, Wisconsin. A 2800 s.f. straw-bale insulated solar greenhouse. The whole tree supports were made from site-harvested black locust, a fast-growing, sturdy and rot-resistant tree that’s abundant throughout Wisconsin.

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Earth Sheltered greenhouse by Hiroshi Iguchi, Japan. A greenhouse that obviously does not completely close. Via fifthworld-inc.

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Greenhouse by Rob Stout, New Mexico. swsolardesign.com.

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Pit greenhouse attached to a home. Via solarinnovations.com.

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Semi-underground greenhouse surrounded on two sides with a stone wall and earth behind. Via solarinnovations.com.

This incredible “Greenhouse in the Snow” is in western Nebraska, close to the Colorado border, and when the video was filmed (early December) it had been 1 below zero the day before. Yet, in the greenhouse, lemons are ready to pick. Inside the greenhouse the temperature was in the high 70s during the day, and only fell to 38 F at night. Tomatoes were growing.

The greenhouse is 80 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 12 feet high. Russ Finch, the owner of the home, says, “the entire energy cost for the year is $600.” The video shows a lemon tree so lush, they have to prop up the branches to keep them from crashing. He also grows sweet Meyer lemons. He shows a Valencia orange tree, a peach tree, roses, papaya, grapes, kiwi, figs. He grows a lot of cactus, too. The heating system is entirely geothermal, his only heating system is a small unit that circulates air heated by the ground.

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Greenhouse built into a hill. Via solarinnovations.com

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Pit greenhouses attached to stone buildings are also extremely energy efficient! See inside here: solarinnovations.com.

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Straw bales are a great insulator (an R-value of 1.5 to 3 per inch). Manure below ground will also help to keep these plants warm. Photo by Terrie Schweitzer, via flickr.

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Cold frame of old windows and straw bales. Placing manure or compost down below the layer of topsoil will help keep the area warm.

How to Build an Underground Greenhouse: Resources

Great step-by-step guide to building an earth-sheltered greenhouse with center work space/cold sink.

An underground greenhouse in Bozeman, Montana. As you can see in the video, there’s snow on the ground there. But in this completely underground unit, he’s growing peppers, radishes, chard, cilantro, basil and zucchini. He mentions that one day, even though it was 28 F outside, it got up to 117 F in the greenhouse (he forgot to throw open the doors). There is no outside heating, just a series of water barrels that help retain heat.

The partially-submerged YMCA Solar Greenhouse in Blacksburg, Virginia.

A clearinghouse of info on solar greenhouses from L. David Roper.

Mike Oehler’s Earth Sheltered Greenhouse.

Photos of underground greenhouse construction in Kyrgyzstan.

How Joseph Orr built a mud heat-storage solar greenhouse that even heats an adjacent room.

A step-by-step look at building a cinder block underground greenhouse.

Photos of a bermed, solar-heated greenhouse in Southern Idaho.

Step-by-step construction photos of a small, earth-sheltered greenhouse.

Step-by-step instructions and designs for a quonset hut style greenhouse made from chain link fence top railings. You’ll need a lot of land for this one.

If you’re okay with this, here’s how to build a greenhouse that’s heated by an adjacent chamber of compost.

What life is like at the Solviva greenhouse, where it’s 4 degrees outside but, inside the greenhouse, you can be plucking fresh tomatoes in 75-degree heat.

Best Books on How to Build an Underground Greenhouse

The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book by Mike Oehler

Solviva: How To Grow $500,000 On One Acre by Anna Edey

The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman

Solar Greenhouses Underground by Daniel Geery

The Solar Greenhouse Book by James McCullagh

Gardener’s Solar Greenhouse: How to Build and Use a Solar Greenhouse for Year-Round Gardening by Ray Wolf

More Underground Greenhouse Resources

National Center For Appropriate Technology: Learn about slope, orientation, glazing, etc

Solar Greenhouses: Lots of info here by L. David Roper!

Compost heated greenhouses: Provided by the National Center For Appropriate Technology

Cedar Built Greenhouses: Wood greenhouse kits, they will make a kit for your foundation

Build It Solar: For other solar greenhouse links

Underground Greenhouse Video

(This is part 1 of 34 (so far)!)

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Author: Keiren

Keiren is an artist who lives in New York City. A lover of animals, nature, science & green building.

Comments
  1. Thank you for sharing this information.

    The team here at Eden Ranch will begin building one of these as a project for demonstration and growing organic foods at our farm in the Caribbean.

    Internships available year round, if anyone would like to participate.

    Inquire at edenranch@gmail.com or visit our website at: http://www.edenranch.org

    Happy growing and we look forward to post our progress!

  2. I use greenhouse-quality 50% shade cloth over a hoop house to garden in the summer in the high desert. In the winter, I change the shade cloth out with greenhouse plastic.

  3. We are building a community garden program as a part of Wayne County (GA) Parks and Recreation Department. please post us with your gardening information. This is a hands on learning project. We are working with the local Boys and Girls Club and several community groups. We are also building a data base and library of basic gardening knowledge. The purpose of the Wayne County Community Garden Program is to teach our students how to go out and teach groups how to build community gardens. We prefer not to use poisons and chemicals and will not use any Monsanto products.

  4. Just linked to this in my article about sun pit greenhouses on my garden website – Through Nana’s Garden Gate – great photos!

  5. Hi there I love your site – the 5th picture from the bottom shows a pit greenhouse built into a stone wall. I contacted Solar Innovations and they tell me that this is not one of their projects and that your reference is incorrect. Can you please give me the correct reference to the designer/builder/owner. I would love to duplicate the project but need the contact info. Thanks…..

  6. Hi all, great site and informations, keep on the good work. However i can’t find solutions for hot weather conditions, we are in Portugal at Alentejo, the temperatures during the summer reach 38/40Celsius

    We intend to grow mushrooms that suport temperatures untill 30celsius 🙁

    can any one tell me if a pit green house hepls me on these ??????

  7. Thoroughly impressed to see the work being done in these environments. Anyone using the concept in northern New England? And stories to be shared?

  8. Hi,

    I live in NZ, I have got very interested in building an economical Walipini on our land, we do have the space with 3 acres.. I have tried the Benson Institute but every time I am taken there I cannot find any information or the plans they talk about having.. I am also struggling to find any sort of detailed PLANS for building a Walipini using the clay rammed as the walls. Is or do you have any such plans? Any help would be very much appreciated 🙂 Best regards, Maggie

  9. I built a semi-pit tunnel greenhouse here in Kansas that I use to grow food year-round. If anybody’s interested, just google my GreenFin Gardens website and click on the ‘Semi-Pit Tunnel Greenhouse’ link on the left side of the page.

  10. What I feel is a bit wasted, the walls of they greenhouses which are buried .. walls should be fairly oblique and built in stair – ledges, and then it can be grown on the walls too.

  11. This concept was being shared with folks by Scott Nearing in his books still available. In the early 70’s he wrote Living the Good Life. It is probably the original pictorial of building a solar greenhouse. There is also the Nearing Frame in his honor by his son for growing on cuttings. Isn’t the search window wonderful?! We even had pictures way back then…

  12. I found an online site that might help you with the build.

    This site won’t let me do a url, the the site is undergroundhousing

    hope this helps.

  13. Hello,

    What would be the best design for up here in Wasilla Alaska where we only get 5 hours at the most of daylight during the winter. And 20+ hours during the summer? My land is almost flat as can be. How deep with you have permafrost? Any aid would be helpful.

    Rich

  14. Great, thank you, good ideas for the taking.

    We will try to intigrate one in our food forest …

    Anne & Herb in the High Alps, France.

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