Our Little Thing - Creating A Sustainable Lifestyle In Patagonia

Creación de un estilo de vida sostenible en Patagonia  パタゴニアでサステイナブルな暮らし作り


It seems there is no end to what you can build out of earthbags. We've just completed our second earthbag poly-tunnel greenhouse and already it is meeting our expectations, which means that inside is hot and humid, but not too tropical... all in all a very unusual for Patagonian Chile, where icy winds blow from Antarctica and cold rain falls by the bucket full.

Our aim is to grow things only seen much further north in Chile, like Avocados and grapes. We already have an avocado tree growing, from a seed we planted in the much smaller trial earthbag/poly-tunnel that we built two years ago, so we know it can work. Two years on we have advanced our design. This is what we came up with.

The poly-tunnel is seven meters long, four meters wide and two meters high at center. Through the center we have dug a sixty centimeter trench that serves as a walkway and cold sink – the cooler air that gathers at night will sink into the walkway and then slowly slide down the slightly sloping earth foundation that the poly-tunnel is built on and out through the bottom of the door at the end of the trench. This will enable an exchange of the heat gathered during the day by the earthbags to warm up the life giving middle layer of the poly-tunnel where the vegetables and herbs grow.

We have built the east wall higher than than the west wall, to allow the setting sun to further warm up the bags. By the east wall we will plant our tomatoes, basil and grapes etc,. Just across the walkway, beneath the center frame, we will plant sage, lavender and other herbs, as more light will reach there than on the western side, where beetroot's, lettuce, cauliflowers and more will be planted.

The southern side of the poly-tunnel has walls reaching all the way to the roof, because no sunlight comes from the south, only ice cold blasts from Antarctica. The south eastern corner should be the hottest and there we will plant our avocados, more grape vines, and, if we can find them, tangerine trees.

PVC plumbing pipes create a flexible frame that withstands strong winds

We regularly experience gusts of up to a hundred miles an hour here, so the west, south and north sides of the roof are held down by a row of earthbags. The east is held down by turf. This is due to the fact that we are high on a hill and there is a road in the valley from which the hill can be seen. By building down into the earth, utilizing the trench and the east turf siding, we have lowered the above ground profile of the polythene roof to just one meter. To further hide the structure from any view from the east we have also transplanted a lot of Copihue bushes, which have been springing up all over our land ever since we fenced it off to keep out the neighbors sheep and cattle. Copihues grow very quickly and in spring have beautiful flowers and greenery that attract hummingbirds. In a year or so, we should have the whole structure invisible from the east and lots of little birdies flying about and our cat most likely hanging around in the bushes with her tongue waiting to get them – which we really don't want.

From forty meters away the greenhouse cannot be seen.

The only highway that runs through Chilean Patagonia, a 1000 km stretch of dirt road passes to the west of our land. It does not intrude our view and we wanted to ensure that we would not intrude on anyones view from that direction. So, with the earth dug out of the trench and the turf I dug up to build two garden terraces, I built an ancient Icelandic style wall. This hides any views from the road.

At just twenty meters the top of the greenhouse is barely visible

I thought I'd done enough to hide it all from view, but a few days ago we had the very rare opportunity to go on a forty kilometer rafting expedition down the Palena River that we overlook. The trip was organised by our local chamber of commerce in the hopes of encouraging the use of the river for eco-tourist type activities. We got into our inflatable rafts at the bridge that crosses the Rio Rosselot and within five minutes had floated down to it's confluence of with the Rio Palena. I had my camera at the ready to take a picture of this site we could never otherwise see and I was astonished by two things. First by the sheer majesty of the mountains that rise directly behind our land. We had no idea just how big they were!

The majesty of the land

Second I was surprised to see that we could see our poly-tunnel! From this angle the meter wall I built to hide it, does not suffice. So, even though very few people will ever glimpse our land from this momentary spot along the river, I am going to build a taller wall or plant a whole lot more Copihue. Such is life in the slow lane.






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Comment by Marta Gillette on January 11, 2012 at 10:34pm

Why do you have to hide the polytunnel?  Have you experienced theft since you've been living there?  I ask because I'm also on a land search in the south of Chile, so security is an issue ...

Comment by fudzimota on November 4, 2011 at 3:18am
Жизнь у вас в медленной полосе кипит!
Comment by Kim Swearingen on November 3, 2011 at 11:31pm
The majesty of the mountains is simply stunning!  Did you paint the pvc pipe black or does it come that way there?
Comment by Luis Felipe Matias Dacosta Neghm on November 3, 2011 at 8:14pm

mmm now if it is: a Invernadero jajajaj.

nice work...

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