Old folks tell that once Potyemkin lived in Moscow during winter; then came Grigoriy Bogoslov – on his nameday; then by the end of lunch Potoshov’s courier galloped in with such fruits that nobody has even seen before in neither Moscow nor Petersburg. With him came a handwritten note from Andrey: “These pineapples are harvested in a place where the wood is plentiful; and I have much of forest, thus there is more than enough of this rubbish.”

-Respect! – yelled Potyemkin across the table. – Thanks!... If Potashov wanted to make a belt out of the skin on my back, I would right away. 









Our settlement is located in Siberia, in the foothills of Altai. It is easy to guess, then, that we are living in places that are not warm: not only is the climate abruptly continental, but we also climbed 600-700 meters up the mountains and that affects the weather a lot.  In 20 kilometers from us, people on the plains grow grapes and watermelons without a cover, but it is not that easy with us. The weather is unstable: it is hailing, or snowing, or windy, or cold, or raining, or it is hot and dry. But mostly cold. For this reason, growing vegetables here is officially called “risky agriculture.” Let me tell you about what we do to reduce the risks to our agriculture and to make it more effective. We do not have much experience, but already have some knowledge to share.

Basically, for me greenhouses are a subject of constant research and experiments. Even though, maybe in my old age, I will stop experimenting.

1. Domed Greenhouse

I made the greenhouse a year ago, reasoning that it would give me an opportunity to have more of my own tomatoes than on an open ground. Half-tunnels, popular among summer residents, are greenhouses that look like half-shells from polycarbonate, and I did not like the look of those. Plus in our village the Fuller’s geodesic dome is the traditional choice. So I decided to follow the traditions and to build a greenhouse in form of a half-sphere.

Diameter – 6 meters. Breakdown – V2 (this is the so-called “frequency of the dome”: the smaller the number, the more angular the dome). Since my goal is not to write a book about domes, I will not focus on the details; if you are interested, you can search and find plenty of information on Buckminster Fuller’s legacy. Next step, then, is to visit acidome.ru, which is the website with the specific calculator for domes, and enter the data. Connection type – piped.

What I did: I cut the necessary number of sticks from a larch bar.

1. cupol


A = 35 sticks = 1749 millimeters

B = 30 sticks = 1536 millimeters

I then bought 130 metal mounting plates 4x10 centimeters, and twisted them onto both sides of each stick. Because the bars were 5x5 centimeters, and with such thickness they did not converge on the nodes, I slightly sharpened their ends. Then the ready bars with metal plates were assembled into a frame with help of 26 bolts with nuts, following the blueprint.

Then I made one more similar frame and added some changes to it: a stronger bar, 4x10 centimeters. It allowed me to avoid sharpening 65 bars and made the frame more robust.

We also made frameworks of the “Joint” type, the one without a frame. It is not much more difficult to saw, but possible to save money on metal mounting plates. Same calculator of domes from acidome.ru can be used to develop the blueprint.

After mounting the frame, the following question becomes important: which kind of greenhouse cover will you use. For my first greenhouse, I experimented with polycarbonate. I do not remember exactly, but it may have taken about 6 sheets (size 2x6meters). There is an undesirable consequence of using such material: to cover a greenhouse, polycarbonate needs to be cut into triangles, and each triangle has sides with gaps, into which water constantly leaks. Because of that, polycarbonate sheets become cloudy. What do normal people do? They cover the perimeter of each triangle with something like “anti-dust tape”, to cover the gaps from water and to protect polycarbonate. And then, on top of that, all joints are pasted with some roofing butimen tape. It is rather expensive, but necessary. If the gaps are not covered, polycarbonate will become cloudy, and there will be no way of fully clearing the water from the roof, and that is an additional expense. Also, gaps that are not covered lead to loss of warmth.

Because of that, our next greenhouse was covered with a different material – thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) film. We are now researching the results, to see how long it lasts. It looks very durable, can be stretched and may last a long while. Two years have passed since we put it on; it has aged visibly, but looks strong enough.

Another important concern for a domed greenhouse is where and how to place the plants. We are still researching this aspect. It is possible that the classical idea will work well: a round box in the center, and also boxes with plants along the walls.


2. flowerbed

This would be considered the classical set-up. We decided to make do without boxes, and just planted straight into the ground during the first year, after thoroughly mulching all the space in the greenhouse. It looked similar to spacing in the picture above: plants in the middle and plants circling around the middle.

Then we decided to try a slightly different form. On the second picture, it is visible that the greenhouse slowly became not just a place for plants, but could also fulfill other functions. Right there in the greenhouse we saved some space for compost piles. And sometimes the greenhouse also played the role of a shed: at times we stored in it garden tools, oats for the horse, and empty plastic bottles. Then we placed the plants in a spiral. But with such placing it is important to remember another issue: because the greenhouse stands on an incline and is not leveled, water and nutrients inevitably leak down. Because of that, the plants in the upper part of the greenhouse were small and withered, and those by the entrance were big and strong. They obviously received more nutrition and water. Same could be noticed in simple gardens, if they are located on an incline, and plants larger in the lower part of the garden. Because of this, permacultural activities created the so-called “Valokanavas” – shafts along the sides, and a ditch along the slope above them. This is a good way to keep moisture and nutrients from the incline and not allow them to escape our plants. I drew an incline to illustrate this point.
3. place
We also made boxes without leveling out, same as on the picture and the plants grew well at the bottom, and small at the top of the garden.

Thus, next year I decided to place the gardens in the greenhouse horizontally, like so:


In this version more of the garden beds are located horizontally.

The next step was connecting the greenhouse with the garden. This idea was realized in form of a system of tall hilly ridges: ditches were entered into the greenhouse and used for spreading water across the territory.

This method solves several issues: it keeps the water in the garden, spreads the nutritional substances from the stables, which are located a little higher up the incline, and keeps the water away from the house, which is lower than the garden on the incline.

Next step was to lay down a line of irrigation along the ridges.

Following permacultural ideas, it is a good thing if each building and each object fulfills at least three functions and good if each is connected to at least three other objects. For example, our greenhouse not only grows food but also serves as a place to dry laundry and serves as a barn, and protects the garden beds from the wind. It also collects water and keeps the compost. It is also a good place to drink tea in cold weather, we even have chairs there for that purpose. Starting this year, my chickens are kept in the greenhouse. The next idea – attaching a chicken coop to the greenhouse has already been realized, and now chickens walk around the greenhouse and fertilize the garden beds during winter.

As for the crops, the greenhouse is now mainly used for growing tomatoes, greens, and beans. This year we also plated lagenariya, eggplant, celery, and peppers.

1 Greenhouse by the house

It is very smart to build the greenhouse attached to the house. It provides additional heat for both the house and the greenhouse, and makes it easier to care for the plants: you go outside in the morning, and there you are in the greenhouse, not a far walk. Additionally the attached greenhouse allows to arrange automatic watering of the garden beds with the help of a pipe attached to one of the sinks. I will not talk about a variety of greenhouses that allow to grow vegetables all year: our structure does not allow things like that. But it allows to extend summer a little and is comfortable for seedlings. For this greenhouse we used the TPU film that I mentioned and described before.

In terms of garden beds, we had tall and filled with organics boxes which reached the level of one’s belt, to avoid reaching down to the plants. The only negative side of having a greenhouse attached to the house is the constant temptation to clutter it, especially when it is not been used; and that in hot weather it powerfully heats the porch (which is an obvious plus in the winter and in between the seasons). At this time I am experimenting with installing a dehydrator (dryer) in the greenhouse, as well as all sorts of automation.

Oh yes! An important things about the greenhouse: without an automatic (or at least an easy way) of providing watering and automatic ventilation, any greenhouse can easily become a burden! To install ventilation, a simple hydraulic vent can be used (it is a thing that when heated pushes the rod and opens the window). A basic machine, should not cause any issues, but for some reason we already had two that stopped working. It could be, perhaps, because we have heavy windows and strong winds… I think about using an electric opener from the actuator for a satellite dish. Automatic watering for both the greenhouse and the outside garden is a subject of my long-term experiments, as is everything that is related to water… Now, there is a watering lane laid from the pump of the “stream” type and from the hydro tunnel pump, and the sprinklers are installed to manage all watering efforts from the house. It works well, but I think that I will keep adding things to this infrastructure.