My North Dakota Cistern-Fed Solar-Heated Greenhouse

A homesteader in North Dakota shares his experiences farming using a cistern-fed solar-heated greenhouse to extend their short growing season.

| November/December 1977

A short growing season in North Dakota is extended by using this cistern-fed solar-heated greenhouse.

There's more than one way to build a lean-to solar-heated greenhouse!

North Dakota has a lot to offer the prospective homesteader. Bismarck (where I live) has relatively little smog or pollution, a low-density population, and — in general — a more relaxed way of life than you'll find in most other parts of the country. The one thing we certainly don't have up here, however, is a long growing season. And that — in a nutshell — is why I decided several years ago to build a lean-to greenhouse.

When I set out to build the conservatory, I decided that I wanted the unit to utilize solar heat and natural rainwater to as great a degree as possible. The first requirement was easy to meet: All I had to do was build the hothouse onto the south-facing side of my home and angle the glass walls correctly to take the best advantage of incoming winter sunlight. The second requirement could be-and was- taken care of by a cistern.

Briefly then, here's how the whole thing went together.

The Subterranean Cistern

Although my house has no basement, it does (because of the depth to which frost penetrates In these parts) rest atop a 5 foot deep foundation wall. Which meant that it was a simple matter for me to build an underground cistern by [1] digging a 5 foot-wide by 5 foot-deep by 30 foot-long trench along the south side of the house, [2] laying up cement block walls on the three outer sides of the excavated area, and [3] pouring a 3 inch-thick cement floor the length of the trench.

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