OPINION: The Best Greenhouse for the Rocky Mountain Climate
Edward Norman | 6/3/09
I am a huge fan of locally grown healthy foods.  So much so that I operated an organically certified CSA (community supported agriculture) market garden in Santa Fe, and my own kitchen garden at 7600' in Aspen Springs, Unit 6 in Pagosa Springs.

Both of these endeavors included year-round affairs in greenhouses — for good reason.  Everything wants a piece of your garden in a climate as harsh as we find in the Rockies, especially at this elevation: frost, hail, drought, deluge, extreme sun, snow, wind, deer, rabbits, mice, voles, insects, disease ... neighbors ... you've got the picture.

So a protective enclosure for the garden, precious creation that it is, manifests stunning results.

With the mentorship of Maine Garden Guru and Yankee Zen agricultural innovator, Eliot Coleman, I adopted a remarkable, simple, highly effective, and affordable system: the movable greenhouse grow tunnel.

I covered my 25' wide garden composed of 4' wide beds (by far the most efficient and productive method for growing food crops) with a huge sheet of agricultural grade, 4 year UV resistant visqueen, stretched over a system of 1" PVC pipe, bent and slipped over 1/2" re-bar posts set 3 feet apart. This created a typical cathedral "greenhouse look" while making a cheap, light, strong, moveable, snow shedding structure.

Commercial steel-frame buildings can also be used.

This appropriate use of petrochem high technology has the effect of moving the garden 2 growing zones South.  That would be like growing in Georgia, right here in River City — without additional heat!

Just select hardy greens, grow carrots, beets, parsnips, etc.; plant in the proper timing and you'll have good eats all winter.
In fact, the greenhouse will probably be suitable for only hot weather crops in the summer —  tomatoes, peppers, melons, and other hot weather plants — because of the EXCESS HEAT during our Rocky Mountain summers.

Soil and air temperature are only two factors for successful year round green housing. There are two other very important factors to consider, and one is greenhouse specific.

ONE: No matter what your temperatures are in the winter, loss of light slows plant growth to a crawl during the "Persephone Period" of November into March.

TWO: An immovable and stationary greenhouse becomes a perfect breeding ground for insects and disease as well as invasive plants after the first year of use.

We can add artificial light to resolve the "fading winter light" issue, but this does require energy input.

We must institute a complex program to balance the pests by breeding beneficial insects and controlling pathogens. This calls for rare agricultural mastery; OR we simply slide the grow cover to a clean cultivated adjacent site while the first is allowed to lie fallow and refresh in the (now useful) harsh Rocky Mountain climate.

All in all, my experience with the solar input of the South West leads me to conclude that "heating" is the very least of the challenges to growing year-round at the Springs.  The #1 challenge remains keeping it simple and real.

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