Sustainable Passive Solar Greenhouse – Aquaponics.

Practical Aquaponics Greenhouse

Green house employing passive heating and cooling.

Murray Hallam. Good morning, my name is Murray Hallam of Practical Aquaponics and I’m here this morning talking to Cord and Penn Parmenter from  Wycliff in Colorado. Now I've been told that you pair are going to be at the training that is going to be happening in Florida in April. Is that correct?

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Penn Parmenter.  That’s right. We’re looking forward to coming to Tampa to teach people about sustainable greenhouses.

Murray Hallam.  Yeah, well this has really got me interested because we get a lot of people talking to us from colder climates and I understand you two live in the Rocky Mountains somewhere is that right? Where’s Wycliffe?

Cord Parmenter.  Well actually it’s called Westcliffe.

Murray Hallam. Oh, sorry.

Cord Parmenter. It’s in the south central part of the state of Colorado, and we are at about 8,100 feet (2,500m) and yeah, we get some pretty cold weather and our greenhouses seem to do pretty well in this cold climate.

Murray Hallam.  And, do you get warm summer days as well?

Practical Aquaponics Greenhouse Parmenter passive solar house.

Passive Solar greenhouse under construction.

Penn Parmenter. Oh boy does it get hot in the Rockies. The sun is very intense at high altitude and so the normal greenhouses can spike really hot and get very cold in the day, so these greenhouses can stabilise those fluctuations using thermal mass.

Murray Hallam.  Ok, do you mind explaining to me what you mean by thermal mass and ah just exactly how does that work, and look I'm looking at your website at the moment and I think I can see some barrels in the back of the greenhouses. Is that right?

Cord Parmenter.  Yes, there are a lot of different kinds of thermal mass, earth mass being one that is readily available, we like to use water mass, basically, thermal mass is any dense material that gives and takes heat. The water mass is much more efficient about absorbing the heat, also giving it back at night. So we like to lean our greenhouses mostly toward water mass. We also use the thermal mass of the earth, raised beds and any other concrete or brick structures within the greenhouse.

Murray Hallam.  That is really interesting. And, how much constant temperature can you obtain? Is it good enough for the plants to be ok during your really cold winters?

Practical Aquaponics Parmenter greenhouse 4

Passive solar greenhouse nearing completion.

Penn Parmenter.  Well, this is my favourite part - We have two different greenhouses, and one of them we use less water in and so it gets a little cooler in the winter, so I grow cooler plants in the winter in that one, but the warmer greenhouse, that has an optimum amount of water in it, it can grow tomatoes year round, and that is the holy grail of the Rockies, the tomato.

Murray Hallam.  I reckon. That is fantastic because in the extremely cold climate that you have in some parts of North America, you know to be able to grow tomatoes and that kind of thing year round is just fantastic.

Penn Parmenter.  It is. These greenhouses are proving out more than we even thought they would, so it has been fantastic.

Murray Hallam.  Wow. And the interesting thing about it I think, if I understand you correctly, is there’s nothing all that high tech about this.  We’re not, we haven’t got any fancy pumps, or gas heaters or anything like that have we?

Cord Parmenter.  No, in fact it’s mostly very simple passive solar concepts, you know, this is old talk technology. It’s all about balancing the bringing in of the heat and the storing of the heat.  Which is not to say that you can’t use some active solar to increase the effectiveness of it, we’ve just been very happy with the results of the regular passive solar and just how well it works just on its own.  We haven’t had a need really to go beyond that because we can grow year round without a lot of expensive systems you know.  Once the basic structure’s in place it works really well.

Murray Hallam.  So tell me this, are you going to be able to give people instructions at the course sufficient for them to be able to go ahead and build their own greenhouse, or is it more complicated than that?

Penn Parmenter.   Great question, because that is what our class is all about.  It’s empowering people to do this themselves. We teach them the formula, there’s a ratio between glazing, insulation and water.  And we also teach them that they can salvage much of the materials, or they can buy them all new, or they can do a combination and therefore they can keep their costs down and the whole thing just works great that way, whether you want to buy it new, or salvage I mean.

Murray Hallam.   That’s the good thing about Aquaponics I think, as we move into a new age I believe, where oil is going to go up so much in price that people are going to have to grow a lot of their own food themselves or locally, to be able to obtain it locally, and this is just an amazing thing to have a greenhouse that is this efficient I think, and it’s exciting isn’t it because this kind of knowledge is just so much needed, don’t you think?

Cord Parmenter
.  Absolutely, um, it’s really simple technology and it’s available to everyone and that is what we love about it. Because of its simplicity it can get as complicated as you want to. You could get really scientific about designing these greenhouses, but we found when we made our very first greenhouse we had read a book about it and we had actually loaned the book out and were unable to get it back, and so when I actually built that first greenhouse I did a lot of guesswork and there were some things I got wrong, but you know it worked so well even on that. Later we got the book back and we reacquired the book and we were able to see where we had gone wrong and improve upon it.  It’s a very forgiving technology too, it’s very simple and yet you can improve it by using a lot of common sense.  I find the more that I think about the designs and the more I build the better my designs get. I’ve had such great success, right from the beginning, so I am starting from a really great place and have always been just improving on that and to me that’s very exciting . In fact I have a lot of new ideas as far as venting, cooling. As we have said before we are in a cool climate that gets very cool at night and it can get very warm in the day. Other climates may be warmer and not cool off as much at night, so I have some ideas about that. I am really looking forward to exploring some of these ideas and also it’s very satisfying to me to be able to share this with other people
Murray Hallam .  That’s fantastic thanks for that.  Just to finish off,  there is another thing you’re going to be doing there and I think we will have to talk about that in another podcast; but, aren’t you people into seed saving? Do I understand that is another one of the things you do?

Penn Parmenter.  We do, we’re really excited about this because this is something gardeners have dropped here in America since world war two. Seed saving should be a part of everybody’s garden system and this is putting seed saving back in the gardener’s hands.

Murray Hallam.  Fantastic. I just wonder, how you’re going to fit all this into one day, that’s what I’m beginning to wonder, because it’s going to be an intense day when you’re training for this, and I’m telling you, I’m going to be there with ears all open. I ‘m really interested in the greenhouse and I am very, very interested in the seed saving as well. But look, that’s it for now. We’ll get together again and we will do another podcast shortly. Thanks for talking to me today.

Penn Parmenter.  Thank you Murray
Cord Parmenter. Thank you.

Practical Aquaponics Murray Hallam Greenhouse

Greenhouse employing passive heating and cooling.


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13 thoughts on “Sustainable Passive Solar Greenhouse – Aquaponics.

  1. The info on passive solar greenhouse design and construction, including seed saving is great!

  2. Kia ora Murray, just a quick question, do you think that Penn & Cord will provide plans for building the passive solar greenhouse design and construction? for other folks to use. We are still chasing that ideal greenhouse.

  3. hi Murry I am also very interested in this design to incorporate it with one of your aquaponic systems. myself an my wife as interested in the homestead setup. we are on the mid north coast in the pappinbarra valley which is susceptible to hard frost’s. and have been looking for a system that will handle high heat as well as frosts. please keep me informed of any design plans. keep up the great work……..

    • We have a client with a Homestead kit not that far from you. They are still setting up. The system will work almost anywhere with appropriate greenhouse and the like. If you use Murray Cod or Silver Perch they will handle winter conditions well. Trout are also a good option for winter but not for summer.

  4. Cheers Murray, Would like to have a look at the homestead set up near my area if possible? If you would could pass my email onto them and see if they wouldn’t mind me having a look?

  5. Hi Murray
    Great stuff as usual.
    I wonder did you come across farmers in cold areas that put their cattle into their greenhouses to help keep them (the green houses) warm in the winter. It’s not as crazy an idea as it at first sounds. Obviously the main issue is segregation, plants/cattle, no big deal, just a wall. Cattle, like us are homeothermic, which means their metabolism creates the heat which they require to live. That of course, is fueled by their feed, (you’ll be feeding them anyway), The skin temperature of a healthy cow is a handy 10 to 20 degrees C or 50 to 68 degrees F. If the greenhouse at night is fairly well insulated, the cattle’s skin temperature, and the ambient temperature in the greenhouse will try to equalize. I’m pretty sure this works, and if a little science was applied, maybe caged Angora Rabbits or some other more manageable animal could be utilized. This could even offer the opportunity for another income stream.
    All the best …. Chris