Build Your Own Underground Greenhouse


Growing food in the colder months of the year is a challenge, and growers in colder climates that want to extend the crop-growing season are always looking for a better way to do so. Greenhouses are a great option, but they cost a lot of money to construct and heat during the colder months. The American sustainable agriculture non-profit organization Benson Institute has come up with a set of easy to follow instructions on how to build a much cheaper alternative, the so-called walipini, which means “place of warmth” in Aymara Indian. The walipini is basically an underground, pit greenhouse in which it possible to grow vegetables all year, even in the coldest regions of the world.

The walipini is built using the principles of earth-sheltered building and passive solar heating. The Walipini is basically a rectangular hole in the ground that should be 6 to 8 feet deep. Once the hole is dug, it should be covered by plastic sheathing. The longest side of the rectangular hole should face the winter sun, which is to the north in the Southern Hemisphere and to the south in the Northern Hemisphere. At the back of the structure, there should be a thick wall of rammed earth, while at the front there should be a much lower wall, which provides the ability to angle the plastic roof in the correct fashion.



The roof serves two functions, namely to protect the plants and to heat the greenhouse. The plastic roof is made up of two layers of plastic, namely a sheet on the top and one on the bottom of the roof/poles. It works to seal the hole in the ground, and creates an insulating airspace for the garden. In addition to that, it lets in the sun’s warmth and traps it, which creates an even temperature inside the walipini and allows for successful year-round vegetable growth.

By being built underground, the walipini also takes advantage of the earth’s thermal mass, meaning that a lot less energy is needed to heat up its interior compared to a conventional greenhouse. The structure must of course be waterproofed and ventilated correctly, face the sun at the right angle and have an adequate drainage system. The Benson Institute has a detailed manual on the construction process available here.



The Benson Institute built a 20-foot by 74-foot field model walipini in La Paz, Bolivia, which they say, cost only about $300 to build. The low cost is due to volunteer labor and using materials such as plastic ultraviolet (UV) protective sheeting and PVC piping, which are very affordable.

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SOAK in a Pop-Up Spa Repurposed from Reclaimed Shipping Containers


San Francisco startup, SOAK, inspired by Amsterdam saunas and dubbed, “an urban bathhouse for healthy hedonists,” has turned shipping containers into a spa that can be transported to any urban location.

Taking measures to “minimize its hedonistic impact,” the spa can operate entirely off the grid or return excess power to the grid. It bears its own solar hot water and is equipped with systems for photovoltaic to generate all of its own power and for solar thermal collection to heat water, as well as for rainwater collection and grey water filtration.


Designed by Rebar Art & Design, SOAK features a lounge and changing area, garden, rooftop deck and the expected energy-efficient sauna and hot tubs. Half of the water that is used by the hot tubs is harvested from rainwater. Used grey water gets infiltrated, processed through gardens, and then released to the ground. Black water goes into the city’s system; all grey water gets recharged in the aquifer.


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Why Did You Think They Were Called “Heirloom Seeds”?

Since I happen to love heirloom tomatoes and grow only them in our garden, how could I resist such a solid piece of writing from Insteading?

Since I happen to love heirloom tomatoes and grow only them in our garden, how could I resist such a solid piece of writing from Insteading?

Why Did You Think They Were Called “Heirloom Seeds”? (via Insteading)

Most of us in the Western world get the majority of our food from the local grocery store.

Hawthorne EcoVillage Joins Minneapolis Green Homes Initiative


The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota has set a goal of building 100 energy-efficient homes during the next five years in an effort to revitalize neighborhoods in the northern region of the city that have been suffering the most during the economic downturn. Homes will be built on vacant, city-owned lots and will be priced between $150,000 and $200,000. Energy efficient and designed to complement surrounding structures, it is expected that the new homes will contribute to increases in property values, along with owner confidence.

Green features of the new homes will include low-flow plumbing fixtures and whole house air exchanger systems with continuous ventilation along with the use of low-VOC paint and Green Label-certified carpeting.


Twelve homes are currently under construction and will be completed in August 2013. An additional 15 homes, to be ready for occupants in October 2013, will be constructed after receiving city council approval in June.

One-third of the homes are to be built in Hawthorne EcoVillage, four square blocks of the region that have been designated for a multi-phase project that utilizes green building design and construction strategies and incorporates sustainable site planning, energy and water efficiencies, urban reforestation, indoor air quality improvements, and materials conservation. New construction goals for Hawthorne EcoVillage included the meeting of LEED-ND standards.

Since receiving a $500,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation in 2008, the Hawthorne EcoVillage project has made significant improvements to the area that include home repairs, rehab and renovation work, new construction, and the planting of a Tree Nursery. Efforts have succeeded in reducing drug crimes and prostitution and the project is on track to meet the objectives of economic and environmental renewal.