Winter veggie gardens bloom in Minnesota as home greenhouse options grow

A short growing season. Sudden, deadly frosts. Minnesota is difficult terrain for gardeners, but a company based in Emily, Minnesota, allows people to grow their own organic vegetables – in large quantities – during our long, cold, dark winters.

“We can get up to 500 planting sites on a 96-square-foot farm that would produce around 140 heads of lettuce a week,” said Jon Friesner, founder of GroShed.

At the recent Home and Remodeling Show at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Friesner showed off the sheds he calls farms. They are actually well-insulated, windowless pre-built sheds that use hydroponics and LED grow lights to grow vegetables.

But you don’t have to settle for just salad.

“We have grown over 70 varieties of plants, from eggplants, peas, beans, zucchini to dozens of different types of lettuce, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes,” he said. “There is not much that cannot be grown.”

Even if it’s 30 below zero; the days are short; the sun is weak, he said. An 8 by 12 foot shed uses about $ 2 of electricity per day, and grow lights provide enough heat to keep the shed warm, he said.

Friesner plans several markets for the sheds: homeowners who want to grow tastier products for themselves and friends, community groups who want to improve the quantity and quality of winter products, and entrepreneurs who want to supply grocers with fresh, locally grown organic products Small-scale restaurants. The sheds meet all of these requirements while reducing the environmental impact of growing and transporting food, he said.

“Our current global food system is moving things everywhere at high cost,” said Friesner.

GroShed has sold eight units since its launch in July 2018. A base model costs $ 13,000. Larger units – up to 16 x 40 feet – are priced at $ 150 per square foot. Friesner hopes to cut prices as his business grows.

Jon Friesner is the founder of GroShed.

Courtesy Groshed

At its home show in Minneapolis, GroShed visitors said more about the freshness, taste, and health of the foods they could grow than if it would save them money.

“It’s definitely something to see,” said Brad Akkerman, veteran gardener of Princeton.

Akkerman uses greenhouses, but not in winter – they are difficult to heat and he caused them to collapse under the load of snow. He said he wants to grow his own vegetables all year round.

“If you can grow herbs or vegetables in the winter, that’s great,” he said. “Everything is so much better to grow at home than what you can find in the store.”

Two men are talking to each other.

At a home exhibition, GroShed technician Jake Stern (left) explained how the structures work.

Martin Moylan | MPR news

Show participant Randy Green of Minneapolis said structures like GroShed’s could be a healthy community asset.

“Minneapolis definitely has a shortage of fresh produce in communities like northern Minneapolis that I think you could really benefit from, especially if they are affordable and sustainable,” he said.

Ron Kidder, who lives in Ideal Corners, north of Brainerd, bought a GroShed in December. He had long tried growing vegetables in a dome greenhouse in winter. He said the plants aren’t getting enough sunlight, but his new structure works great.

“I just plug it into an outlet from my porch, use a hose to bring water into the reserve tank every couple of weeks or so. Otherwise it will take care of itself because it’s so automated.

Groshed owner Ron Kidder is holding a large head of lettuce.

GroShed owner Ron Kidder says he picked some really big heads of lettuce.

Courtesy Ron Kidder

So far, Kidder has focused on growing lettuce. A head he made grow and grow struck about 2 feet. He has harvested around 40 heads and shares what he and his wife cannot eat with neighbors and friends.

Kidder says his GroShed offers a mentally refreshing dose of green even in the eternal gray of winter. It’s only three meters from his back door to his GroShed

“You just go in there. It’s cozy and warm and everything is growing, ”he said.

GroShed isn’t the only one who thinks it makes sense to grow vegetables in the cold winters of the north without using massive greenhouses. A Boston company – Freight Farms – stores hydroponic farms in 40-foot shipping containers.

And the University of Minnesota has developed so-called deep winter greenhouses. These are passive solar greenhouses that primarily rely on the heat from the sun and only use additional heat when needed.

The greenhouses have a south-facing, glazed wall that is angled to get the most solar energy possible on the coldest day of the year. Warmed air is blown underground and stored in rocks that provide warmth at night.

Deep winter greenhouse

A deep winter greenhouse on Paradox Farm in southern Otter Tail County is built with exterior wood and polycarbonate walls. The farm sits on 160 acres and is owned by Tom Prieve, pictured, and Sue Wika.

Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News 2014

“There are some people who say, ‘Oh, we only grow for ourselves.’ Then there are the other people who are actually trying to sell (produce), ”said Daniel Handeen, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Building Research.

The model is well suited for salads, herbs, sprouts and other greens that don’t need a lot of sun to grow. There are 25 of these Minnesota hardy greenhouses in operation across the state.

Handeen said the greenhouse owners who sell products are focused on serving small groups of customers who sign up to get winter over products. They don’t want to serve grocery stores. Companies like Bushel Boy in Owatonna and Revol Greens in Medford focus on this business, with large commercial greenhouses producing tomatoes and lettuce all winter.

Anyone looking to build a smaller, hardy greenhouse can download plans from the University of Minnesota Extension’s website. Handeen said it was possible to build a 100-square-foot structure for about $ 5,000.

Working in the greenhouse

Sue Wika enjoys her work in the deep winter greenhouse on Paradox Farm, especially on really cold days. The products grown in the greenhouse are sufficient for the owners of the farm, their animals and around 10 other families.

Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News 2014

Financially, investing in a GroShed or other greenhouse to grow food in the winter may or may not pay off, said Ryan Pesch, an educator at the University of Minnesota Extension.

“It’s economical for some and not economical for others,” he said. “But the most important motivating factor for people to do this in the first place is often related to how we can better feed ourselves and other people throughout the winter.”

He said most people grow vegetables as a winter business with one of the university’s deep winter greenhouses.

“Nobody is getting rich from winter greenhouse production yet. These are very modest businesses and greenhouses of modest size,” said Pesch.

The City of Minneapolis is working with the University and a number of Minneapolis nonprofits – Appetite for Change and Tamales y Bicicletas – to bring two 1,200 square feet of winter greenhouses to the city soon.

“This project could help people in food insecure neighborhoods grow food at a better price and with a better climate impact,” said Tamara Downs Schwei, the city’s local food policy coordinator.

And in Minneapolis too, GroShed will soon be represented at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.

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