Essential Tips for Building a Durable Walipini Greenhouse


| 6/22/2017 11:16:00 PM


Tags: greenhouses, natural building, earth sheltered, Lindsey Schiller,

In the 1990s, a philanthropic arm of the Mormon Church called the Benson Institute started an unusual project. A group of volunteers constructed a prototype underground greenhouse for farmers near La Paz, Bolivia. They called the design a ‘Walipini’, meaning place of warmth in the local language. A simple pit with plastic sheeting as a roof, the design minimized costs, while aiming to create a more energy-efficient greenhouse for year-round growing using the stable temperatures of the soil underground.

For several years, the Walipini greenhouse produced crops for the community. The project’s biggest impact, perhaps, came many years later, as the the idea has slowly caught on among North American gardeners. Proponents praise the ability of a pit greenhouse to grow year-round using a simple low-cost structure and the earth to naturally heat and cool it. While there is truth in those statements, there is also a great need for caution when building a Walipini greenhouse.

Many North American gardeners mimic the original Walipini design exactly, as laid out in the Benson’s Institutes report on Walipini design and construction. The original greenhouse, importantly, was designed for the climate of Bolivia, 16 degrees South of the equator and with moderate winters. Placed in a different climate and latitude, the same greenhouse will naturally yield different results.

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Any well-functioning year-round greenhouse should be customized for the local climate and conditions. The following tips serve to help you design a durable, year-round underground greenhouse – one that is based on the original Walipini design, but customized for a North American climate. 

Tailor the Structure to Your Sun Angles

The most critical part of customizing a Walipini greenhouse – and the element most first-time growers regrettably overlook – is to design the structure for the solar angles at your latitude. The original Walipini was designed for Bolivia, 16 degrees south of the equator. There, the sun is high in the sky year-round; shallow roof angle will allow light to penetrate the greenhouse throughout the year.




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