Deep winter greenhouse dreams fulfilled by SFA-MN January class

Greenhouse tour.

Paradox Farm owner and educator Tom Prieve guides greenhouse tour. Photo by Emmy Tolbert.

Guest post by Emmy Tolbert

Have you ever dreamed of owning  a “deep winter” greenhouse–one of those polycarbonate covered structures, with interiors that feel like spring and summer, surrounded by black gold(soil) and lettuce seeds that grow into many shades of glorious green? That once found, built, or structured, is a true treasure during our cold Minnesota winters?

Just imagine my joy when I received the last reserved spot in the “Deep Winter Production of Greens and Livestock Fodder Utilizing Passive Solar Energy” class held at Paradox Farms in Ashby, MN.  Now sponsored by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Sustainable Food Production  instructors Tom Prieve and Sue Wika taught this class in a warm and cozy corner of their barn to thirteen energetic and excited students of various ages on a cold, blustery January day.

Prieve kicked off the morning with a tour of their deep winter greenhouse, where the students observed the unique practicality  and benefit of this polycarbonate-covered structure. The pair of educators (a pair of docs)  were inspired to build this greenhouse to fit their personal farm needs,  to nurture their goals of  being more self-reliant, and to foster the ethic of neighborhood supported agriculture.

After the tour, we listened to Tom and Sue describe the overall construction and operation of their greenhouse for  deep winter
greens and livestock fodder. Construction is relatively simple:  raising the structure, putting in a water line, installing pipes for  geo-thermal warming, and outfitting the building with recycled gutters used as growing trays. Sunlight pouring through twin wall polycarbonate sheets both heats the building in the day and and serves as natural “grow lights.” Add an LP heater for supplemental night heat and  fans to circulate the heat–and consider location, location, location.

“You gotta think about air in, air out”, said Prieve, “Your greenhouse has to face south.”  Siting your greenhouse must be a sure thing, which involves finding the “true South” from your location.

I learned not to neglect my greenhouse in the summertime as it will get extremely hot inside. Speaking from experience, a fellow student suggested taking out all plastic clocks and thermometers since “they will melt!”

Arugula in the Paradox Farm greenhouse. Photo by Emmy Tolbert.

Arugula in the Paradox Farm greenhouse. Photo by Emmy Tolbert.

When it came time for a break, we were encouraged to walk around and looked more closely at Paradox Farm.  To supplement  our bag lunches, Sue offered  freshly picked Tatsoi and Mizuna lettuce, Sumac tea, goat’s milk and my favorite, cow’s milk.. It was so satisfying, I had to restrain myself from being selfish and guzzling the entire quart. The fresh greens reminded me of summer’s pleasures.

After our refreshing break, we proceeded to the “hands on” part of the class. I learned that the deep winter greenhouse provides a vital source of lettuce greens with varieties such as Asian greens like Mizuna, Tatsoi, Komatsuna, and various mustards, as well as o arugula, Swiss chard, turnips, Red Russian kale, Chinese cabbage, Pac Choy and herbs. The planters are recycled gutters with wood sides; propagation mats heated to seventy degrees serve as heating pads helping the seeds sprout faster. Seventy degrees is the ideal temperature for fodder and greens.

Wika uses Carol Ford’s Garden Goddess basic soil mix which includes the following: 3 buckets of peat, ½ cup lime, 2
buckets of vermiculite, 1 cup greensand, 1 cup rock phosphate, 1 cup blood meal, and 3 buckets of compost. (For complete instructions, see below).

While learning how to plant, the class observed the following steps:

1. Fill the planters to the top with soil,  lightly pressing it down.

2. Gently sprinkle the seeds to plant.

3. Very scantly cover with more soil.

4. Place the planters on the propagation mat until they sprout.

5. Transfer the planters to the hanging part of the greenhouse to soak up the sun’s rays.

Sue Wika and Emmy Tolbert (left to right)

Sue Wika and Emmy Tolbert (left to right)

Wika loves to water these planters everyday by hand and  believes that working in their green house is better  than therapy. I can see why. Who else in these cold winters can say that they spend their days surrounded by glorious green color, while cultivating “spirited sprouts” and being revitalized by their green fruitful gain?

Prieve grows fodder for the farm’s livestock from sprouted barley seeds. He uses water to soak and eventually sprout these seeds.  When the Paradox farmers feed this green goodness to their animals, their chickens will lay eggs with bright orange yolks and their cow’s milk will be more golden in color,a boon for producing daffodil-yellow butter in the whitest snowy winter.

I went away with great ideas for my own deep winter greenhouse. The time with Tom and Sue was inspirational,  as was the joy of being in the company of  people who understand and encourage my goal of learning to grow my own food and being more self-sufficient as I mature into adulthood.

Tom and Sue used these resources in teaching the class:

Greenhouse design:
The Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual by Chuck Waibel and Carol Ford.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds 

Local building supply stores

Emmy Tolbert is a home-schooled student who writes for the Twin Towns Gardeners Markets in Wahpeton and Breckinridge.  This post is her second contribution to the Stand for Food blog.

2 thoughts on “Deep winter greenhouse dreams fulfilled by SFA-MN January class

  1. Shelly Elkington

    Excellent! We too are using a passive solar deep winter producing greenhouse and it’s so great to hear of the success of others. This winter has certainly pushed deep winter producing to it’s limits, but alas, we are a hearty bunch and will prevail! Thanks for the great story!

    Shelly Elkington

  2. Noelle Harden

    Wonderful posting Emmy! I found your story personal, informative, and inspiring. I’m glad you made it to the workshop.


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