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.

7/13/2018 6:47:15 AM

This has been helpful. Thank you. I live in Noonan, ND, 4 hours NE of you, and I've been wanting to set up a year round lil greenhouse for myself, nut have been wondering how i can keep it warm during our - 20 below temperatures and extreme wind, without braking the bank.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: September 14-16, 2018
Seven Springs, PA

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard