Home Grow Your Own What’s a Walipini? Underground Greenhouses 101

What’s a Walipini? Underground Greenhouses 101

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Ever heard of a walipini greenhouse? It’s a very simple design for a greenhouse. Its underground with translucent roofing that allows sunshine in. This creates an underground greenhouse that utilizes the earth’s natural temperature to keep plants cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Walipini_2

The support walls of a walipini are typically built from stone, mud brick, or any other material that is strong and sturdy and can also retain heat in the winter and coolness in the summer. One way to create a greenhouse like this is to dig a hole into the side of a hill. This gives you a “ground level” entry into your underground greenhouse. Much like a walk out basement in a house.

More from the Guru: Grow Food Year Round in a $300 Underground Greenhouse

If you do not have a hill that allows for walk-in entry to your green house, you will have to build stairs or a ladder into your design. Also, its important to note that you do not have to dig a hole this deep into the ground to receive the benefits of digging deeper before gardening.  Just a few feet will provide insulation and water retention for the plants you are growing.

Taking it a step further, some walpini greenhouse creators dig a trench on the south side of the greenhouse which allows cool air to drop in and be warmed by the deeper and hotter earth.

earth-sheltered-pit-greenhouse

The idea that you can heat and cool areas based on the physical design of the space is quite mind boggling, honestly.  Catherine Bleish did a tour of Raven Rocks Eco Village in Ohio, and they are building a huge earthen retreat center building that is able to maintain decent temperatures year round because of this type of architectural design. Check out the video tour here:


The positioning of your roof is important, especially in areas with long cold winters. You want the roof of your walipini greenhouse to be at a 90 degree angle to the suns rays on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. This way your greenhouse can most efficiently store heat when it is receiving the least amount of sun.

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Be aware of the depth of the water table in your area. If you dig your walipini greenhouse too deep, you could flood out your crop during heavy rains.

This original article was written by John Bush and 3 years later expanded by Catherine Bleish. 

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Cat BleishKenneth BrodinN. L.Evan FalkenstineMark Recent comment authors
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Cindy A
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Cindy A

Do these work in hot desert areas?

Budh
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Budh

Just bury in deep enough en check out a watertank. 🙂

liza
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liza

will this work in northern europe, like finland during the winter times??

Jake
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Jake

The window angle diagrammed is 45 deg not 90

randall
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randall

i think they mean 90 degrees to the sun, not 90 degrees to the surface of the earth.
that being said, i live on a latitude of 52 degrees which puts our winter sun at a much lower angle than depicted here. i just assumed that this design is suited for austin, tx (a latitude of 30 degrees) as that is where these folk have built this great idea of theirs.
love it, by the way!

makes me think of one of those earthship homes:
http://earthship.com/

Mark
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Mark

90 degrees to the sun at winter solstice

Evan Falkenstine
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Evan Falkenstine

Jake, I think the angle is supposed to be 90 degrees to the incoming rays at the suns highest point on the winter solstice. You are thinking it looks like 45 degrees from level.

Kenneth Brodin
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Kenneth Brodin

They are suggesting that the slope of the glass be perpendicular to the angle of the sun at your respective latitude, not the slope of the roof. In most areas the slope of the roof will a be out 30 degrees as measured to the horizontal plane.

SingerGuy
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SingerGuy

You have it spelled wrong in the title and the URL. It is Walipini, pronounced wall-ih-PEE-knee.

Catherine Bleish
Admin

Thank you, I went in and changed it!!!

Pat
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Pat

i think they meant 90 degrees to the suns rays hitting the window
.

N. L.
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N. L.

We have one in Colorado. Still working on getting it not to freeze in the really bad parts of the winter. (Cold for long and a lot of snow) but it’s usually only a day or two (enough to knock out my tomatoes, though) Thinking about an electric heater or wood stove for those few nights. But it’s only March and my blueberries are blooming, I have Swiss Chard, Celery, Marjoram, Sage, Cabbage, carrots and strawberries that have been there all winter (plants only) I just planted Carrots, potatoes and radishes. I just moved my cabbage out from the starters… Read more »

Catherine Bleish
Admin

Amazing!! Do you have any photos? A blog?