Gardening Underground?

As a full-time freelance writer, I get a lot of weird stuff in the mail. Like that jar of kudzu honey that came to me -- smashed and sticky -- courtesy of the National Honey Board or the enormous luxury shower head that is still in its box in my closet. But every now and then, I'm sent something that really speaks to me and that I'm sure will speak my readers. Something like The Earth-Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book: How to Build an Energy Free, Year-Round Greenhouse by Mike Oehler.

Oehler, something of an eco-pioneer, will turn 70 in January, and he's been a proponent of underground living for more than 30 years, building homes and greenhouses into the earth in order to capitalize on the underground's near-constant temperatures. And, no, his designs aren't dark, unpleasant caves. Filled with natural light, they're actually quite cheery, and, if Hobbits were real, I imagine they would live in homes like this one.

So let's say I decided to rebuild my traditional, propane-heated greenhouse -- starting from scratch and taking the time to set it deep into the earth a la Oehler. All that greenhouse guilt I've been feeling would be mightily assuaged. After all, taking advantage of the sun's rays and the naturally insulating properties of the underground -- and reducing the the chilling effect of winter winds -- would eliminate the need for extra insulation and auxiliary heat. With propane costing me $500 to $600 a year, I bet it wouldn't take long for my earth-sheltered greenhouse to pay for itself. (Oh, and the carbon footprint of my favorite pastime would be reduced -- if not eliminated altogether!) 

Even if you're stuck in the city and have no land to play with just now, The Earth-Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book is certainly thought-provoking. See, just as I believe the future of landscaping will involve growing food crops in place of old-school ornamentals, I think Big Agriculture will one day have to make way for small- to medium-sized farmers. A loose network of solar and earth-sheltered greenhouses could enable them to produce fresh veggies many more months out of the year -- and much closer to home. 

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