Solar Greenhouse, Heirloom Plants, Hugelkultur and Compost
Our uniquely constructed passive solar greenhouse is designed to absorb solar heat during the day and slowly release the heat at the night. The day's heat is collected by a "heat sink" made of river rock, which was added below the concrete floor during construction of the greenhouse. Temperatures (in Fahrenheit) in the greenhouse range from the mid 40s at night to the 90s in the day, even on the coldest days. Excess heat is nearly always created on sunny days and whatever is not channeled to the heat sink is vented into the garage bay and upstairs living quarters to supplement heating there. An additional venting system is designed to expel excess heat directly outside if the greenhouse should become too hot.
Most of our greenhouse plants are organic, heirloom varieties. Heirloom plants are often handed down for generations through families or ethnic groups. They are propagated through open or natural pollination, as opposed to hybridization and genetic modification. Many heirloom varieties have been selected for taste and tenderness through several generations and so are often tastier than cultivars that have been selected for ease of shipping, uniform appearance, or ability to grow well throughout the country. Many varieties, which had been prized and maintained for generations, have been lost in recent decades as fewer people save seed year to year. Seed from heirloom varieties can be saved and replanted the following years, while hybrid seeds will not produce similar plants when saved from year to year.
Another vital reason to maintain heirlooms is to maintain their genetic traits for future use. When old varieties of food crops are not maintained, the gene pool grows smaller and smaller. This may lead to increased disease and pest problems.
Our heirloom varieties are grown in soil supplemented by compost made on site. Currently, we are growing leafy greens, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, and some healing plants such as calendula.
Hugelkultur (written by our Colorado Mountain College Intern, Teddy Goggin)
A quick Google search of the word “hugeklultur” yields oodles of data for a gardener’s noodle. Hugelkultur is a German word meaning ‘mound culture’ garden. These gardens make use of waste and refuse. Rocky mountain soil is ROCKY and drains water quickly. The traditional digging and amending is a cumbersome task. Our soil and gardeners need help. Using the German method of stacking materials, we created a raised bed capable of weathering a rocky mountain lifestyle.
The base of our garden bed was harvested by helpful beavers. We used old hay, leaves and green waste to create a middle layer. The next portion of our mound is aged manure from the alpaca and goats. Lastly we used recycled greenhouse dirt and local dirt mended with fully composted manure as topsoil. Local dirt adds local fungus also called “mycorrhizae.” This beneficial fungi helps roots metabolize food, like a probiotic.
As the logs decompose they help grow plants in three ways. Decomposing logs release nitrogen, a crucial plant food for vegetative growth. Logs release heat as they break down, warming the garden’s roots. Logs also act like a sponge. Water soaks into the old logs. Roots systems drink from waterlogged aspens.
The end result is a five-foot garden mound built to last. The built structure of the garden heats, feeds, and waters plants for years. These inputs allow crops more time to establish and yield fruit, flowers, and vegetable crops.
Our high-mountain location is extreme for horticulture. Local plants must adapt to conquer the short, harsh growing season. The hugel method allows gardens a few extra degrees of warmth in the spring and fall, lengthening and strengthening the growing season. Come on by and check out what we got growing!
Beaver Ponds uses three basic composting methods. Manure from the barns and corrals is piled in a mound and turned occasionally. A barrel, which can be turned, is also used to process compost. Alpaca "beans" make wonderful compost and, unlike ohter types of manure which need to be seasoned before use, alpace manure can be placed directly into the plant soil. We also use worms (vermiculture) to break down kitchen waste into compost.