Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Permaculture and Passive solar greenhouses in Ulaanbaatar (Day 21)

Note: All photos on this post are Copyright Pierre Thiriet 2010 and appear with permission of Pierre Thiriet.

Met with Anne Randall today, Agronomist/Technical Advisor at the French NGO Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES - pronounced 'jheh-rehz', not 'Gee-reez' - it's French after all!) to compare notes and share information between projects.

It's one of the simplest, most important things an NGO can do - share information with other NGOs working in the same area - so that learning curves can be accelerated (mistakes don't have to be made twice if shared), and projects can grow to flourish and complement each other.  Based upon our meeting today and the information shared from both sides, the potential for this to occur between the GERES and ADRA projects is significant.


Photo: GERES Research & Development Center in Ulaanbaatar.

GERES are the good folks that brought us the Passive Solar Greenhouse design in Ladakh which have achieved year-round vegetable production down to minus 25C at approximately 3,000 meters above sea level (and which we modeled during the Permaculture Design Training for the classes on passive solar greenhouse design).

Anne picked up on theGreenBackpack doing further research for her current project, which is to develop & implement a passive solar greenhouse design which can achieve year-round production in Mongolian conditions (illustrating, by the way, another permaculture principle: Multifunction, in which this daily log also functions as an informational resource, a networking tool, and a historical record for future volunteers and aid/development workers to build upon in Mongolia).

Since operating in Mongolian conditions from only August of last year, GERES has already achieved a 3-seasons greenhouse design, using a double-layered, concrete block / brick clad walls insulated with polystyrene (floor must be insulated too), single-sheet polyurethane plastic sheeting (imported from Korea, expected 2-year lifespan), a reflective 'solar blanket' type insulative layer for nighttime, and specially calculated steep-angled 'glass' (plastic) wall to maximize solar gain for Mongolia's latitude.

Photo: GERES 3-Season Greenhouse in Ulaanbaatar.

We shared and discussed challenges, mistakes, and lessons learned about our respective projects, and spent the next two hours brainstorming possible solutions for achieving year-round production within the greenhouse in Monoglian conditions.  Here's a quick list of some of the solutions we came up with:

  • Build coldframes within greenhouses to create an even warmer microclimate within the coldframe.
  • Use repurposed waste plastic bottles as inexpensive, readily available and durable cloches within the greenhouse to protect seedlings.
  • Explore plastic bottle wall construction options for 'glass' wall to create 'double-glazing' effect with air tapped inside bottles.
  • Re-using plastic bottles could help keep plastic out of waste stream (and prevent them from being burnt as winter fuel).
  • Improved ger stove design will decrease pressure on fuel requirements and the family budget.
  • Build root cellar under ger/house to maximize heating/cooling efficiency and security (root cellar must be dug deep enough to perform effectively).
  • Household heating system could potentially be extended to heat root cellar and/or greenhouse.
  • Establish windbreak/suntrap behind north wall using  fast-growing Populus laurifolia (Laurel-leafed poplar)  + Caragana (Siberian peashrub) species (keeping harsh Mongolian winds off greenhouse could help increase heat retention).
  • Organic matter dropped from living windbreak can then be used to build soils within the greenhouse and hasha.
  • Organic matter dropped from living windbreak can be used as cover material for pit latrines, for potential future use as 'humanure' (not currently culturally appropriate) .
  • Build hot compost heaps (using dungs (such as chicken or goat) which are not used for fuel) inside the greenhouse to add heat biologically and relieve potential conflicts on precious 'fuel'-dungs.
  • Chickens could be a valuable addition to a small-scale-intensive, passive solar greenhouse system, conditioning and building soil during winter season in a 3 or 4-season greenhouse, providing nutritionally and financially valuable eggs from March - October, plus meat and/or more chickens when needed.
  • Drip-irrigation systems maximize water efficiency and increase thermal mass within greenhouse.
  • Human urine from households can be diluted into drip-irrigation system to be used as a free and safe liquid fertilizer (provided all members of household are healthy).
  • Raised beds within greenhouse make management and harvesting easier; line paths with dark rocks to increase thermal mass.
  • Use planting guilds to maximize production from small-scale-intensively farmed space.
  • Plant potatoes in stacks to maximize production and create more space for other crops.
  • Cucumbers, squash, and other climbing/rambling crops can be trained up walls or across roofs to maximize growing space for other crops. 
  • Alfalpha, oats, or a native 'green manure' species (such as vetch) can be planted around hasha perimeter to help build soils within hasha walls (and provide backup animal fodder).
  • Local varieties of seabuckthorn and currants can be planted within windbreak of hasha walls to boost family nutrition. 
  • Research cold-climate species native to comparable climates to maximize productivity (eg Lonicera caerulea edulis, or Blue honeysuckle is a highly nutritious, climbing berry native to Siberia that will tolerate minus 40C and produce down to minus 7C).
  • Low-grade animal furs not suitable for commercial use may be a locally and readily available insulative material for floor that will break down and build soil over time.
  • Coal ash may be a locally and readily available insulative material that could be substituted for polystyrene within the walls, though further research into how safe this material is must be conducted before being implemented.

Ideas were flying so fast & furious that I am sure there are a few things I've missed; the point is that when like minds collaborate towards a common goal,  

1 + 1 can = 3.

In other words:

None of us
Is as smart
As ALL of us.

Best wishes to Anne and the rest of the team at GERES-Mongolia, we hope to continue to support and collaborate with them towards achieving their project goal of building 180 passive solar greenhouse for family beneficiaries throughout Mongolia over the next two years.

A bientôt!

Photo: Inside GERES' research greenhouse.


List of useful web resources from Anne Randall (merci beaucoup!) to help you with your passive solar greenhouse design:



1 comment:

  1. how do you pollinate in the cold months when natural pollinators are not at work?