Super Greenhouse

Uses no fossil fuels, only the sun's energy …
and produces from March through Christmas.

By George DeVault

Super Greenhouse: For $200 in materials, Steve Moore built this solar-heated greenhouse. He recouped his costs from the first cutting of lettuce.  

We're looking for innovators like Steve, so we can tell their stories. If you know any, contact us.

Steve with his daughter.

Farmer Steve Moore used to grow 22,500 kg of early tomatoes in 900 square meters of heated greenhouses each spring.

"It was a good money-maker," Moore says. "It really filled in in the early spring when we needed some cash flow for us and our wholesaler. The wholesaler supplied 14 markets in and around Washington, D.C."

But Moore says he felt he was also creating a monster.

"We were four years into tomato production and realized that we were burning 1,500 pounds of propane in 10 days to heat this greenhouse, pumping fuel oil from a 2,000-gallon fuel oil tank and buying oil on futures to lock in prices with our distributor.

"Wow! we said. This is a strange detour for a family that has been farming with horses and trying to live a sustainable lifestyle for 27 years," Moore recalls.

"We need to make some changes. We have to save our own energy, too. We have to have less work, use less unsustainable energy and we need better nutrition, fresh food instead of all of the canning we were doing. We went back to square one."

Moore abandoned his big, fuel-guzzling greenhouses and began experimenting with simple, homemade structures that burn no fossil fuel whatsoever. He bought plastic pipe, cut up big sheets of old greenhouse plastic, scrounged used plastic water pipe and put them all together in simple structures that harnessed the power of the sun.

"The materials cost us $200 per house. We recouped that the first cutting of lettuce," Moore says.

Gradually, experimenting with different greenhouse designs and materials, Moore finally worked his way up to his present greenhouse, a 8.5- by 29-meter structure that helps to feed 130 families every week from mid-March almost to mid-December.

"It really looks like a standard greenhouse. It is embarrassingly simple," he admits. "Ventilation consists of louvers and wide double doors at each end that are opened by hand. The key is to have a lot of airflow in a greenhouse to reduce disease and other problems. Growing in healthy soil, we don't have to worry about disease as much."

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