Winter Garden -- Geothermal Greenhouse Dec. 2012

Here are pictures from my geothermal greenhouse -- heated by the heat of the earth, watered with snowmelt and rainwater all winter. No electricity, no running water, no artificial heat!

First, the good news about the tomatoes: I found the first two red tomatoes of winter! Now, the bad news: I went on vacation for a week, and forgot to water the greenhouse before I left, and the sun came out and it was 140 degrees in the greenhouse when I got home -- and the tomatoes were wilted from lack of water. I saved them, and but as you can see above, the plants are not looking the best. But there is more good news -- the plants are shooting our new, strong sprouts, and the sprouts are flowering, thank goodness. My fresh winter tomatoes are my pride and joy.

I bought this Kadota fig tree two and a half years ago at a nursery in St. George. I’d never had a fig tree before, but this variety is stable down to 35 degrees, so I knew it would be fine over winter in my greenhouse. It spent the summer outside in the garden, and last winter in the greenhouse. I assumed it would go dormant, and I didn’t water it, and all the leaves fell off, which I assumed was dormancy, and it nearly died of lack of water before I wised up. The root survived, and what you see above is all new growth from this summer, where it spent the summer in the garden again. In October I brought it into the greenhouse again, and have kept it well watered, and lo and behold -- the leaves have not fallen off, and neither has the fruit. But the fruit has also not ripened. Last summer it ripened all summer and I ate it all. Hmmm. I think it needs compost. Will these figs ever ripen? I’m hoping to see progress after the winter solstice at the end of the December. The solstice has a magical effect on plants in winter. (The solstice is the day when day and night are equal, and then the days begin to lengthen thereafter.)

The traditional winter cantaloupe, grown in hot beds in winter for hundreds of years. Mine got hit by the same heat and lack of water that hit the tomatoes, but is still alive. It should begin to thrive after the solstice. I’ll keep you informed. 

This is my three-year-old stevia plant. This is the plant they use to make natural sugar. Some of you have tasted it on my garden tours -- pure sugar in the leaves. I use it in recipes coming out in the back of my winter gardening novel -- yes, novel -- in April 2013! Each winter, the stems die back and the plant resprouts from the base. Above you can see the new shoots. I’m hoping to sell some live stevia starts this spring -- if I get around to doing the propagation.

Last winter, I wanted flowers in my greenhouse over winter for a splash of color, so I went to a local nursery and bought some pansies -- the only thing they had. Little did I know the plants were infested with aphids, which immediately infested my greenhouse. (I dealt with it organically and successfully and self-sufficiently. There is a whole chapter about it in my vegetable-by-vegetable guide to winter gardening, coming to bookstores everywhere April 2013 -- yes, I have TWO books coming out in April! Anyway, disheartened, I went back to the 200 year old books to see what people were growing in their greenhouses -- and found geraniums were among the best. So I got some geranium seed and sprouted these geraniums. I left them in the greenhouse all summer in the 140 degree heat and I assumed they would die, but they just hung out all summer -- and now they are thriving in December! Best of all, no aphids!
This is a Christmas cactus. No sign of blooms yet. This also spent all summer in the greenhouse, bearing the heat, and it is growing and happy in December now.

Three winters ago, my neighbor came over one day with a pineapple top they had planted and kept in the garden just for fun. It was growing, and they didn’t have a greenhouse, so she said, here, you have a greenhouse, you take it. So I did. Over the summer it looked like it was dying -- and then this fall, it sprouted a whole new plant off the side, as you can see above! So perhaps I will eventually get a fresh pineapple?! We’ll see. I’’m told it takes three years to mature a pineapple plant, so maybe this plant is on schedule. 

This is a test of greenhouse peas. I have done some testing of winter peas in the outside garden, but not a lot in the greenhouse. I was out of the peas I usually plant in the greenhouse over winter, so I’m trialing two new varieties. I planted these about three and a half weeks ago I believe. Both types are doing well, but one kind, over the past few days, has suddenly begun to shoot up and grow taller than the other. But both types have about the same amount of leaves per plant, and it is the number of leaves that determines the number of peas the plant will grow, so being taller may not actually mean anything in the end. I’ll keep you updated in January.

Well, with every success there is also problems. Some animal -- I suspect a vole -- has dug into my greenhouse to eat my chard. I”ve filled the hole and saved it once, and I’m trying to save it again. This chard plant is three years old. But it is December -- I suppose the vole is hungry. Luckily, I have LOTS of chard in the outside garden. 

This is my orange tree -- interestingly, it does better in winter than in summer. The greenhouse has some humidity and I think the dry summer hurts it. Now if I could just get some oranges...

And this has nothing to do with the greenhouse, but I thought I’d give a quick update on our baby chicks. They were hatched out, naturally, by one of our hens on Nov. 12 -- extremely unusual. We had three. When we came home from vacation, one had vanished. But the two that are left are thriving, despite the bitter cold. They have a good mom!


  1. Wondering if you have come up with a way to keep the mice out of the winter garden?

  2. In his book "Backyard Winter Gardening" he mentions how the old timers prevented mice by surrounding their hotbeds on all sides with hot manure.