Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Fresh food in the depth of winter...

Posted 1/14/20 (Tue)

In the past few years here in North Dakota, a number of people have attempted to grow garden produce in winter greenhouses.

Admittedly, it’s a daunting possibility, but there is no doubt it is possible.

There are two examples of this possibility. The first is in Reykjavik, Iceland. The city sits at 64 Degrees North Latitude and it has greenhouses to grow food to feed the 200,000 people who live in Reykjavik and the surrounding communities.

That includes bananas, avacodoes and peaches. Yes, in a greenhouse 2 degrees off the Arctic Circle.

The good news is geothermal energy is everywhere in Iceland and nobody pays for heat.

So when they build greenhouses at that latitude, the cost is reasonable because of the constant temperature from the deep.

The downside to that is on the winter solstice, Reykjavik will dip to about 3 hours and 40 minutes of daylight, so a lot of electricity needs to be used to help sustain growth.

The same applies in Alaska. There are numerous winter greenhouses now growing selected foods for the populations of Anchorage and Fairbanks and perhaps rural Alaska.

Now, it’s being attempted here in North Dakota, but it isn’t limited to a certain type or structure.

People are getting creative in their best attempt to feed their families and get produce to the farmers markets of the region.

Some people have purchased kits that allow a passive solar response. In other words, there are black water bladders that absorb sunlight during the day and radiate the heat during the night.

Others are filling black barrels with water which has the same effect as the bladders.

The problem with North Dakota, however, is that it will get far too cold every winter for solar alone to sustain growth inside a greenhouse. The only renewable way to circumvent that is to have a personal wind turbine, which is available for farms for about $20,000.

Others have dug holes in the ground and made their best attempt to duplicate he geothermal affect that is going on in Iceland.

Dig a hole four to six feet deep, set a greenhouse over the top and use the constant 54-degree Fahrenheit temperature to keep the greenhouse warm in the depth of winter.

Some people decided to build traditional greenhouses and use wood or coal fired heat to keep plants growing.

That option wouldn’t cost a lot of money, but the labor would be excessive keeping a furnace heating a greenhouse.

One producer was growing trees inside a hoop house, or greenhouse without shelves. Because these structures mimic a lower latitude hardiness zone, it is quite likely that fruit trees such as peaches, cherries and pears can be grown in North Dakota because if you are Zone 3, the plastic cover will give you Zone 4 and if you are in Zone 4, the cover will give you Zone 5.

Cornell and Michigan State universities have done studies about having fruit trees under plastic.

Challenges that come along with that include keeping the trees watered. Is there a well, surface water or rural water? Either way, trees require a lot of water.

But, Farm Tek in Iowa, a leading seller of greenhouses and greenhouse materials, has devised a rain gutter system that sits on the sides of the greenhouse and drains the water into barrels or hoses that take it right into the greenhouse. It’s ingenious because a lot of water rolls off that plastic when it’s raining.

Another is lighting. Did you know that if you live near the Canadian border, plants will go dormant the week before and after the winter solstice? There just isn’t enough light to sustain growth so the only way to counter that is with artificial light.

The other thing with fruit trees is they have to be pollinated and if the trees are in a greenhouse, how do bees get in there.

You can do what the University of Minnesota-Crookston did. They put bees in greenhouses and didn’t allow them to escape.

You can open the ends and the sides so bees can move freely about, or you can manually pollinate, which is a difficult task.

In three years you should have your fruit and whether you keep it for your own use or take it to market, you would have something nobody else has at a farmers market in North Dakota. My guess is you would sell out quickly and often.

It doesn’t hurt to work on that good old, Yankee ingenuity. You never know what you might accidently discover.