Deep Winter Greenhouse: Extending the Growing Season for Northern Climates

By Nyssa Langlois, Writer & Copy Editor for Farm Table Foundation

As we enter the beginning of fall, many of our regional farmers begin to prepare for a slow, if not nonexistent, growing period. Winters in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota are frequently met with shudders in response to the bitter, dark transition that takes over the landscape. Winter in the north is rarely thought of to be an agriculturally productive time of the year–rural farms become barren, and hearty, local crop supplies become incredibly slim.

Yet there has been a recent introduction to these northern agricultural communities that would allow local farmers to grow a variety of greens and root vegetables year-round. The University of Minnesota has spent the last few years researching the sustainability and productivity of deep winter greenhouses, structures specifically geared toward the northern, blistery winter climates of Minnesota and Wisconsin, to provide produce throughout this harsh time of the year.

Research done by the Department of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Minnesota has indicated there are specific methods to maximizing the productivity of these deep winter greenhouses. By using unique methods to retain and transfer solar energy, the design for these greenhouses allows for optimal growing even during the darkest winter months. These deep winter greenhouses are an ideal way for small farms to continue producing a good share of their root vegetables and greens varieties year-round, as this style of greenhouse is oriented toward plants that don’t require copious exposure to direct sunlight. Turnips, radishes, baby kale, sprouts, Asian greens, and herbs do exceptionally well in this particular environment.

In order to sustain and further research in this endeavor, the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships office has worked with the construction of five deep winter greenhouses at different locations throughout Minnesota: the Organic Consumers Association in Finland, the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Alternative Roots Farm in Madelia, and the Lake City Catholic Worker Farm. The greenhouse in Finland opened in February of this year, and the second installment of the project, located in Bemidji, opened at the end of September.

The Farm Table Foundation is excited for the opportunity to expand its knowledge base on deep winter greenhouses, as finding more economic and sustainable ways to continually produce local, organic food is a top priority of the organization. To keep the community up to date on this new greenhouse practice, the foundation has invited Greg Schweser, the director of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Minnesota, to conduct a discussion about deep winter greenhouses at the Farm Table Foundation. Schweser will be addressing the specific design techniques used to create a deep winter greenhouse, as well as the thoughts and energy that go into creating this kind of structure. This discussion will take place on Tuesday, November 14, at 6:00 p.m., and it will be open to the public. Tickets can be procured for $15 at the Farm Table Foundation website under Classes and Events.

Nyssa Langlois studied at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire and worked as a program advisor for World Endeavors. Her current positions are copy editor, writer & server extraordinaire for Farm Table Foundation in Amery, Wisconsin.

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