Home Grow Your Own Grow Food Year Round in a $300 Underground Greenhouse

Grow Food Year Round in a $300 Underground Greenhouse


walipiniThe word Walipini, derived from the Aymaran language and an indigenous Bolivian tribe, is translated as “a place of warmth” and is an earth sheltered cold frame or transparent-roofed enclosure.

roots of walipini

This underground greenhouse was created for the cold regions of South America to maintain food production year round, but is now being adopted by gardeners of all skill levels across the world.

Most say that Walipinis should be at least 8’ by 12’ in size, but many people build even larger. Searching online you can find all types of plans and blueprints on how to design your underground greenhouse.

earth shelter Walipini

The temperature six to eight feet below the surface fluctuates from 50 up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit! If you are in an especially cold climate you would want to lay the inside of your walipini with stone, earth bags of lava rocks, or any dense material able to store heat. A lot of heat energy is required to change the temperature of high density materials like concrete, bricks and tiles, they are therefore said to have high thermal mass causing the walls act as a battery and release heat to keep the crops warm at night or on days with little to no sun.

wal2Reasons to Build a Walipini:

Cost effective: The materials to build a greenhouse are estimated to cost between a couple thousand dollars up to $12,000 to $25,000 to complete, yet the walipini will cost merely $300 with some designs.

Pests: An underground greenhouse has a huge advantage because it is almost impossible for pests to get on your produce compared to your typical greenhouse.  A typical greenhouse will protect plants from the cold and strong winds but it doesn’t protect them from damaging insects.

Minimal up keep: Seeing as the walipini is sheltered by the earth the materials will not wear as quickly. On a typical greenhouse maintenance is done pretty regularly and at least once annually, on a walipini only an angled roof is exposed to the elements which makes it much less necessary for routine maintenance.

walAlthough walipinis require minimal effort to maintain, it is important to be thorough with waterproofing, draining and ventilating your underground greenhouse sanctuary. Be knowledgeable about the water table and be sure to build your greenhouse at least five feet above it otherwise it could lead to disaster. But if you keep all of this in mind, there should be nothing stopping you from growing luscious greens, fruits, and veggies year round no matter the temperature!

Check out this video to learn more:


    • How did it turn out Markana? Thinking of homesteading and walking of the grid, and the walipini method is interesting for fruits vegetables needed to have year round on hand.

  1. How cool! Thank you for reading! Please update us with your results when you are done!

  2. This is beautiful, with simplistic design and easy to replicate. The only bit of info that seems left out is the costs or “sweat equity” that goes into excavating. How much, on average would it cost to rent/hire the machine and/or operator to perform this part of the build up? An inclusion of this info would be helpful in painting the whole picture. Thanks,

    • It doesn’t cost much to rent a machine to dig your hole from home depot!

    • Grow a pair and dig it by hand. I would have that hole dug in 2 days Free.

      • Not in my gumbo clay soil you wouldn’t.

        • lol I’d like to meet Clint if he really could do that. He needs to join my survival group.

        • I dug 2 3 foot deep, 3 foot wide, 10′ long trenches, separating the topsoil from the clay, filled the trenches with soft maple logs @28″ in diameter, then buried them in the clay, topped them with the topsoil and called it all “Hugelkultur” in about 2 hours. It got pretty rocky about 8″ down.

      • Not only that, is it really worth pulling your muscles and putting wear and tear on your body, especially in an off grid location, your body is the single best, yet delicate tool you have. Once you hit a certain point, the earth is more compact, the composition changes, there could be a layer of rocks. Two days my ass.

        • Your talking more than 41.5 tons of dirt for even he smallest recommended size, assuming there’s no clay or ledge. Not worth it to do it by hand.

        • Lol. After he’s done with yours he can come to my place!

      • Where I came from in Kentucky we didn’t use machines, we hand dug everything, ditches, septic tank holes for tanks, foundations and holes for under ground storage pantry’s for fresh garden veggies to keep and canning storage. Machine’s may make it easier and faster but it tkes all the fun out of making a homemade green house

    • Need to find someone with a machine. My FIL has one. Join a homesteaders group and I’m sure you’ll find someone to help you out. Digging down 5-6 feet over a 12 foot span is a lot of dirt. 1 cubic yard is 1.3 tons. An area 12 x 12 x 6 is 32 cubic yards for a grand total of 41.6 tons. If 1 person can move that in 2 days, that’s exceptional. And thats assuming that you don’t have clay or ledge.

  3. Please contact a local engineer if you are building a retaining wall of more than 4′.

    • Many of those construction green house are not straight down they have slanted walls that does not have 4 foot dangers, if constructed properly the highest point of ground is at the bottom at your feet of maybe 16″ if a person wants it that high. There is many under ground designs tht have levels in building it like stairs . Ground tables do differ from what a person with wet grounds to people with always dry grounds in how much footage a person needs to build a under ground garden greenhouse. Many county or state requirements may differ to where a person lives so it is always best to draw out the idea and go to the county office where you live because the ordinances may not allow you to build this. It all goes with how much property you own to what the county will allow you to cover with a building and you my be required to get permits & have inspected according to where you live.

  4. Not in my clay and gumbo soil.

  5. we get a couple of feet of snow several times a winter. How will the Walipini work? Clear the roof seems a little difficult.

    • Many greenhouses melt the snow on their roof because of the heat trapped inside. But you are right, it would probably need to be close enough to clear off for sunlight after a few days of snow…..

      • Build a n A frame with steeper grade over it,cover with a tarp.

        • What they didn’t tell you in this article is that the roof needs to be at a 90 degree angle to the winter solstice to get enough radiant heat. So changing the angle won’t work. You’re going to have to get out there and clear it off. If it’s heavy/wet snow, you’re going to need to do it several times a day.

          • We use Glass here in Canada with a 90 angle so the snow loses off. But with 6-8 feet of accumulation you will need to spend time shoveling the base of the windows or experience a flood in the spring. If the building is down hill of an accumulation of snow, you will also experience flooding.

          • Catherine Bleish

            Wow, I never thought about that!!!!! Great advice.

  6. Do you think this would work as well for keeping plants cool in hot climes? Or would it just trap more heat?

    • I think it would keep them cool, this method is used in South America.

    • You will need to design a way to let heat dissipate at the top of the greenhouse when temperatures get too high. It will turn into an oven and your plants will be cooked. Commercial greenhouses have big blowers and venting systems to circulate the air. Some will have shade cloths as well for plants sensitive to heat.

  7. I’ll do whatever I want in your clay and gumbo soil, mister.

  8. How would this work in an area like Houston Tx where we get lots of rain and potential flooding?

    • Great question, you are pretty close to sea level. I would do it up on a hill!

    • Rather than digging down below the water table, you can still either bring in a berm of earth, rock or cement for the walls.

      • I was wondering about that we are in a very flat swampy area so digging down would be disaster!

    • Houston? Just plant in the ground!! It’s greens growing season in the winter. 😊

  9. How well will this concept work in mountainous high snow load zones?

    • Better off with hugelkulture.

    • Brian, did u ever get an answer to your question? I have property in the mountains of Idaho and am wondering what one does where we receive a lot of snow!

  10. Christine Rosenfeld

    Just beginning to look into this. What is the method for removing/preventing water from getting in?
    Is it a french drain system? I’m not talking about water table issues… I just mean heavy rain, run off, etc. We’re in MidAtlantic and get some serious summer downpours… what keeps it out? Thanks!

  11. Candice Anne Casey

    Can you help us out with the video mentioned in the article. No link to it.

  12. Theresa Marchetti

    I live in Chicago, IL and had a greenhouse for 10 years. I had to heat it all winter. My storage was in a bunker that stayed 50* F all year. So, I don’t see this working without some kind of heat in our -22* F winters with 20″ of snow in 6 hours.

  13. Meredith Nicole

    The video is not linked here. Can you provide it, please?

  14. A few things:
    Any snow load would over burden this structure and the plastic.
    Non treated would would not last a season in my area and there does not seem to be any knee wall or elevation to keep the wood off the ground.
    For all that lumber you could use a pipe hoop house roof and get more thermal mass in the air with cooler summers, and less diffracted sunlight.
    Winter temps do seep into the hole is the walls are not insulated in winter. The frost line can be 4 feet down in some areas.
    I have seen some of these with insulating night covers. A good and cheap way to save the heat at night.


  15. Wondering if these would work in Canada. Live in southern Ontario where we can get a lot of snow.

  16. Our walipini is easier to clear than a our hoop house. It is easier to reach the top.

  17. on the unground greenhousehow keep fire ants out in the South

  18. Lovely. I am looking for a greenhouse for a year now, and I love this idea. Thank you.

  19. I am curious how pollinators would enter. It specifically mentions that pests are more easily excluded with this method. It seems that pollinators would be similarly excluded. Regular greenhouses, of course, are vented, and pollinators as well as pests can enter. Do people hand pollinate in a more closed system or simply grow only greens and things which do not require pollination to produce an edible crop?

    • Catherine Bleish

      Wow this is an excellent question! I am sure you have to leave the doors open on nice days!


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