The Forest Garden Greenhouse. Jerome Osentowski. 2015. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont. 294 pp. main text. Illustrated with color photographs, tables, and charts. Paperback. $34.95. ISBN 978-1-60358-426-5.
The book has a subtitle “How to Design and Manage an Indoor Permaculture Oasis”. The author is a permaculturist who lives at 7,200 feet elevation in the Rocky Mountains. He is founder and Director of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. He has been a permaculture designer for 30 years and has built five greenhouses for himself and many greenhouses for clients. The base of the book is case studies of these greenhouses.
A short introduction outlines the contents of the chapters that follow, attempts a definition of permaculture, and notes that each of the chapters is matched with a principle of permaculture.
The first chapter has the running title of “The Beginnings” gives a short history of greenhouses, talks about the author’s farm background in Nebraska, and describes his taking up of gardening in the Rocky Mountains. The chapter includes a case study of his first greenhouse, which was his laboratory for learning how to grow salad vegetables, herbs, and perennials and was built with new materials consisting of wood and double-layered polyethylene sheeting. The greenhouse was operated for about 20 years. The destruction of the greenhouse by fire let to the construction of a new greenhouse at an advanced level of growing and technology. The second greenhouse was built with mostly salvaged materials.
The second chapter discusses greenhouses as growing-season extenders. Several crop-protection methods and structures are mentioned, including no protection, row covers, hoop houses, and various types of greenhouses. The construction of the “Climate Battery” is described after being mentioned in the first chapter. A climate battery is an active-passive system that uses fans and underground perforated piping to store heat and water in the floor of a greenhouse. A detailed presentation of this technique is in the fourth chapter. The climate battery is a permaculture feature of the greenhouse. The climate battery leads to cooling by taking heat and water from the air and storing it in the ground and then leads to heating by removing the stored heat and water to warm and humidify the air of the greenhouse. Its adaptation is applied to raising plants in cold climates.
The third chapter is a case study of the second-generation greenhouse, which was built on the existing footprint of the original greenhouse. It was made of polycarbonate glazing with recycled steel frame salvaged from another greenhouse. It has an improved climate battery and a wood-fired sauna. The permaculture design of this greenhouse fulfilled the Ethics of Permaculture (Care for Earth, Care for People, and Share the Surplus) with space to work, relax, have social activity, teach, bathe, and sleep as well as to produce food and build soil. The chapter gives details on the design and function of this greenhouse.
The fourth chapter deals with the climate battery as described above, and the fifth chapter covers considerations for building a personal greenhouse. This chapter notes use of framing and glazing materials, insulation, and beds and paths and development of microclimates in the structures. This chapter includes case studies of a greenhouse attached to a home and its interaction with the main house. Other case studies include greenhouses for year-round production and attached to a building other than the main house and a free-standing hoop house for summer crop production and winter storage of nursery crops.
The sixth chapter is called “Everything Starts with the Soil”. It has an interesting commentary on the essentially forgotten writings of an author who stated in the 1980s that the Earth is on the verge of another ice age (not noting that the Earth is still in the Ice Age). Global Warming would result in greater loading of water into the atmosphere with deposition as snowfall at high latitudes and then would result in the advance of great ice sheets. The author advocated aerial application of rock dust to remineralize the Earth and to forestall or reverse the glaciation. The author of The Forest Garden Greenhouse recommends that soil building start with use of pulverized rock (rock dust) or plants that have accumulated elemental (mineral) nutrients. The rock dust could include limestone, gypsum, various quarry fines (basalt, granite), or wood ashes and should be applied to a base of native soil regularly in small amounts along with mulch and other organic matter. The rest of the chapter describes practices for soil building in greenhouses.
The seventh chapter addresses creation of a forest in a greenhouse. The author notes that annuals are nutrient-hungry and have constant requirements for upkeep. He moved to the integration of annual vegetables into a perennial polyculture and to replacement of annual beds with a food forest. The author discusses appropriate plant species, planting schemes and successions, and utilization of space.
Management of water is the subject of the eighth chapter. In an area of only 17 inches of precipitation annually, half of which is snow, the author relies on water rights from up a mountain, water that is collected in storage containers from runoff from roofs, and from ponds that are filled with runoff across the land. Mulching is used to conserve water in the soil of the greenhouse. Soil organic matter is built up to hold water in the ground. In the winter time, only one greenhouse is operated. A forest greenhouse requires much attention to management of water. Perennials with deep root systems require deep wetting of soil, and perennials may transpire more water than annuals.
After a greenhouse is constructed, management of the greenhouse is required. The ninth chapter addresses issues of management. Emphasis is on pest control. Key strategies for pest management are discussed including of biological control measures A plan for management requires a planting calendar, year-round log, records of practices for pest control and fertilizations, and records of crops grown and expenses. Greenhouse growers must be prepared to deal with extremes of cold temperatures. Although the climate battery may maintain temperatures at about 45o F, during a cold stretch, a backup heating system likely will be required.
The tenth chapter deals with off-site case studies with two four-season, free-standing greenhouses, a geodesic dome at a high school, insulated high tunnels, a greenhouse attached to a dwelling, and two hydroponics-aquaponics facilities.
The end of the text has a short conclusion and acknowledgements. Appendices have an example of a temperature log, a listing of attributes of plants, recipes, and amendments or fertilizers that can be added to soils, and a planting calendar from one of the case studies. The book also has a glossary of terms, a bibliography, and an index.