A greenhouse for the North

If you've ever bitten into a slice of tomato and wished for a little more flavour, or watched sadly as your cucumbers begin to rot just days after you bought them - well, now there's a new, made-in-Yukon solution for your veget

If you’ve ever bitten into a slice of tomato and wished for a little more flavour, or watched sadly as your cucumbers begin to rot just days after you bought them – well, now there’s a new, made-in-Yukon solution for your vegetable woes.

Bob Sharp, who lives on a small farm out at Cowley Lake, says he and his son have created a greenhouse kit that can extend the growing season in the North.

“Being able to grow your own food and eat your own food, being able to do it in a way so that you knew what your food was and what’s being put into it … seemed to make great sense,” he said.

Sharp has received $10,000 from the Cold Climate Innovation program at the Yukon Research Centre to help develop his Solar Growing greenhouse kits.

One of his greenhouses is already on display at Whitehorse Elementary School, and two others will be placed at Elijah Smith and Golden Horn elementary schools.

Sharp said his greenhouses retain heat better than conventional models, which means they can be used for longer.

“If you bring a southern one up here, they don’t really function very well,” he said. “They don’t store the heat very well and so you’ll protect yourself from frost, but you won’t really extend the growing season by any great extent.”

He said the typical Yukon growing season runs from late May to late August. But a Solar Growing greenhouse, he said, can be planted in mid-April and harvested in the beginning of October.

The key is that Sharp’s greenhouses use a “heat sink” – beds filled with rocks that absorb heat during the day and release it slowly during the night. Sharp said he’s used recycled computer fans to push hot air across the rocks during the day. At night, the fans push cool air across the rocks, which is warmed by the heat dissipating from them.

“It’s heat exchange,” Sharp explained.

The greenhouses also have vents that open automatically if the inside temperature gets too hot.

And unlike conventional greenhouses, Sharp’s design only has windows on one side. He said that’s because the sun mainly shines in on the south side, not the north. Greenhouses with windows on both sides lose heat through the north-facing side, he explained.

Sharp said he’s used a similar greenhouse for the last 15 years, and has helped several residents in Riverdale to build their own. But these eight-piece kits are a new innovation that he hopes will encourage more people to think about greenhouses.

“Can we help people to grow their own food in a way that makes good sense?” he asked.

Sharp said his Solar Growing greenhouses could help improve food security and are also good for the environment.

“Every tomato you buy that’s come up from Mexico, you’re paying for the diesel and the fuel and the carbon footprint that comes all that way,” he said.

He also hopes his greenhouses will give students a chance to learn more about where their food comes from. Sharp works in experiential education for the Department of Education, and said students will help create the rock beds and care for the plants at the three greenhouses placed at Whitehorse schools.

“They want to do this stuff. And the reaction from the teachers is good,” he said. “This isn’t just about growing food. It’s understanding the whole process.”

But beyond that, Sharp doesn’t have major plans for his business. When asked how many of these greenhouses he’d like to sell, his answer was clear.

“I hope not too many. My son and I are doing this together, and we’ve been spending a lot of time at it,” he said. He explained that he’s in his mid-70s, and he doesn’t want to spend all his time on this project.

If he gets too many orders, he said, “there goes my afternoon nap.”

Despite Sharp’s modest goals, the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun has already ordered four of his greenhouses, and he’s also had some interest from Outside.

Sharp said he’s selling an eight-foot-long greenhouse for $1,945 and a 16-foot model for $3,225. More information is available on his website at solargrowing.weebly.com.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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