One of the principles of Permaculture is “Stacking Functions” or making every structure/addition to your plan serve at least two, if not more, functions in the landscape. So, a chicken tractor not only contains and protects my chickens but also adds to the tilth and fertility of my soil and provides an interesting visual component to the yard. When we added solar panels to the homestead, we wanted to honor this principle — and constructing a small greenhouse allowed us to install the panels, as the light was not great on the roof of the house. The number of functions we have stacked on this small structure became very clear to me as I prepared for an upcoming solar homes tour.

Function One: Solar Collector

There are eight panels on the roof, 13 feet in the air, with  airflow underneath (which will help keep them cool in the heat of summer, and, thus, more efficient). These panels should produce all of the energy we use over the course of the year.  We will adjust consumption so that this happens. The panels, even though they are on the roof, do not shade the interior. Because we are so far north, the winter light is very slanted and reaches to the back of the space nicely. The panels shade the wall of the garage next door instead, even in high summer.

The greenhouse itself is also a solar collector. On sunny days, it is much warmer inside, which is why I am straining honey there rather than in the kitchen. My plant starts are warm and growing and some of our more delicate perennials made it through the winter inside. Mark has moved an old school desk and chair inside so that he can sit there on winter afternoons and look out at the world while reading. The recycled brick floor and large black pots along the back wall also hold the heat. The cats love it.

Function  Two: Growing Plants

There are two garden beds in the greenhouse where plants can grow directly in the ground. This spring, I’ve planted them with greens like lettuce, radishes, and arugula and they will hold our late fall crops as well. There are also five large pots along the back wall for more plants, like an early Siletz and a late  Longkeeper tomato and the eggplants.

Finally, we just built a shelf to hold starts at window height, well above the garden beds. These are brackets with planks laid across. The planks can come down when no longer needed and wateredstarts  drain directly on the garden beds below. They also hold the occasional cat nap…Because of the construction design, we can open windows all around the building, high and low, to control the temperatures and air flow.

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