Your Very Own Underground Greenhouse: How to Build

Last Updated: July 31, 2022

Have you ever considered digging a hole, setting up some polycarbonate siding, and growing some vegetables when they don’t grow in normal conditions?

A Walipini Sunken Greenhouse

What is a Walipini Sunken Greenhouse?

The Walipini Sunken Greenhouse is essentially a simple concept.

  • 1/3 of your space is tall enough for you to stand and build/plant/harvest.
  • 2/3s of your space is for plants to remain protected from cold temperatures, but still have access to sunlight.
  • A polycarbonate (clear plastic highly resistant to extreme heat and weathering) roof pointed in the right direction.
  • and dirt.

Why is a Walipini called a Walipini?

With the aim to build low-cost sunken greenhouses, a group of volunteers traveled to Bolivia in 2022. There, the local farmers farmed traditionally, and in the winter, nothing is generally grown. the volunteers adapted old designs of greenhouses and built greenhouses into pits facing the winter solstice sun. The farmers called it Walipini, a place of warmth. Year-round agriculture was now possible.

Sunken Greenhouse Vs Above-Ground Greenhouse

  • Increased wind and weathering protection
  • Warmer due to additional heat retention from the earth and dirt
  • Grow vegetables in cold climates or difficult-to-grow conditions more effectively with a Wali-pini sunken greenhouse
  • Creating a heat tunnel/vent from underground is considerably more effective than at the bottom of an above-ground greenhouse.
  • As you use more dirt, you can continue building out your greenhouse and initial underground structures.

How to Build a Sunken Greenhouse

Joe of Homesteadonomics undertook a 4-year project to build an underground greenhouse. He mapped out and documents the entire process in a 10-part series on his Youtube Channel for homesteaders on how an underground (sunken) Walipini-style greenhouse gets built.

Building an underground greenhouse may seem daunting, but to get started on any project, one needs to see how it’s done. Here’s an overview of the phases in constructing the ideal sunken greenhouse.

Choose Your Tools and Materials 

Joe started his sunken greenhouse with predominantly the use of a handpick, shovel, and a general outline of where his greenhouse would begin. He chose his construction materials based on the best and most economic resources available to him (his neighbors and their scrap). The addition of add-ons such as the trench for warmed or cool air to travel into the greenhouse and custom wood potting areas are dependent on the range of power tools you have access to, and the level of your construction and building skills.

Primarily, Joe used plywood, wooden beams, galvanized flashing, polycarbonate siding, cinder blocks, and cement in the construction of his greenhouse. Forklifts and heavy machinery were used for particularly challenging rock layers.

Choose your location well and with beforehand knowledge of the geological layers under the surface of your homestead property.

Dig.

The Walipini Sunken Greenhouse provides a stable, well-lit environment for year-round vegetable production. Dig a rectangular trench approximately 7 feet deep. Ultimately, your greenhouse will be approximately 10 feet tall. The design you have chosen for your greenhouse, relation to the sun, and the angle of your roofing will determine the end height of your sunken greenhouse.

Joe of homesteadonomics.com

Dig Out Your Steps and Stairs.

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Reinforce Your Exterior Framework.

Your exterior framing will determine the overall shape of your greenhouse.

Set up Your Concrete, Cinder Blocks, and Rebar.

Dig a 4-inch trench the same width as the long side of your cinderblock. Lay cement in for your first layer of cinderblocks, and the main foundational wall of your greenhouse.

Joe’s sPro Tip #1: Set up an entry for a 6-foot long rebar for your reinforcing and holding walls.
Joe’s Pro Tip #2: Set in steel bolts in between your blocks where you’re going to put your door.
Joe’s Pro Tip #3: Plan for an opening connected to a long trench, allowing for cooled airflow in the summer, and warmed airflow in the winter.
Thermal Vent Connected to Trench

Frame Your Door.

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Build Your Greenhouse Roof.

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Create Windows and Air Vents.

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Paint Everything.

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Cut Polycarbonate Siding

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Install Polycarbonate Siding

Joe’s Pro Tip #4: Pre-drill holes to reduce the risk of micro-cracks and premature weathering.

Install Galvanized Flashing

Joe’s Pro Tip #5: Galvanized Flashing increases overall strength and resistance to weather and wind.

Build Your Interior Plant Areas

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Build Your Plant Shelves

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Plant, Modify, Adapt, and Improve

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Enjoy The Fruits of Your Labors

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Build a Handrail

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Joe’s Pro Tip #6: [It Keeps the Wife Happy and I can Jump Over It.]
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Conclusion

Okay, we may not have the complete know-how to undertake a four year project to build out a greenhouse in the ground.

But, we have to start somewhere, right?

The smart, resourceful prepper is the informed prepper. And that task begins with information and an overview of what some of the steps even look like. Then, it’s looking at future communities complete with Wali-pini greenhouses and Aquapini food production.

“Always Be Ready” Max

Resources and Links

17 DIY Greenhouse Plans

Sunken Greenhouse Part 1: Dirt Work | Sunken Greenhouse Part 2- Block, Concrete, and Subframe | Sunken Greenhouse Part 3 – Framing, How to Install Polycarbonate | Sunken Greenhouse Part 4: Entry Steps and Retaining Walls | Sunken Greenhouse Part 5 – Ventilation: Remington Solar, Wind Diversion | Sunken Greenhouse Part 6 – Watering Shelves | Sunken Greenhouse 7 – Rainwater Harvesting & Cooling Tunnel | Sunken Greenhouse Winter Prep | Sunken Greenhouse Revival – Ventilation, Polycarbonate Panels (Part 2) | Sunken Greenhouse Tour 2020: Failures, Progress and Hope for the Future!

Opensource Greenhouse Blueprints and Diagrams

Stick with reality, people. This is an underground greenhouse in Minecraft with lava lamps in the form of sunstones.
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