Community Solar Greenhouse

Community groups were beginning to appreciate the potential of solar greenhouses as a tool for business development and self-reliance.

| July/August 1980

The solar greenhouse—a proven heat and food producer for the family home—is beginning to be appreciated for its commercial potential. Many community groups, particularly those in big cities, are hoping that such hothouses might open up business possibilities to enable urban organizations to become more self-reliant.

So far, however, the going hasn't been easy. Even with rising energy and transportation costs, it's still less expensive (in most instances) to grow a tomato in the South or Southwest of the United States and ship it cross-country than it is to produce the same kind of fruit in a local solar greenhouse.

It is probable, however, that the gap between the costs of agricultural transport and local food production will continue to close as fuel prices rise. And greenhouses that incorporate true solar design principles will certainly go a long way toward making economical local crop production a reality.

Furthermore, solar greenhouses will become even more attractive investments as people gain experience in their design and management. It's important to realize that most existing solar greenhouses don't provide the same sort of environmental controls as do conventional commercial greenhouses. The lack of such amenities (which include misting equipment, automatic venting, backup lighting systems, and supplementary CO2 ... and are left out of most solar designs for economy's sake) causes solar greenhouse yields to be consistently lower than those of conventional hothouses!

Improved solar designs are currently beginning to solve such problems, but not all the difficulties in the production of commercial solar growing sheds are structural in nature. As more "solariums" are tested, researchers are beginning to suspect that new horticultural techniques will have to be developed if maximum solar greenhouse yields are to be achieved. In fact, some horticulturists now believe that many of the plant varieties bred to be grown in more conventional greenhouses might not even be suitable for propagation in a fully solar structure. Other scientists are beginning to grapple with the complex and delicate artificial ecosystems created by solar greenhouses, mini-communities which often result in unique pest-management problems.

Despite such obstacles, however, the number of business operations based upon solar greenhouses continues to grow. In general, today's moneymaking "sunhouse" firms are either small, individually owned enterprises, each of which tends to specialize in a single crop ... or else large corporate-owned facilities that most often don't grow produce organically.

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