Cool Turf Used to Stay Warm
by Amy Lignor
The daily news on The Weather Channel even has people living in the warmth of New Mexico chattering their teeth, as they hear about the record-setting cold temps being felt across the country. When the world around you is -37 on a sunny morning when you wake up to enjoy your coffee, you know it’s going to be one brutal day ahead. Temperatures that are more likely to be seen in Greenland are now popping up in Connecticut; so cold, in fact, that it would not be a shock to see polar bears leave their own melting environment and travel to the “outback” of New York State just to find some welcoming frozen turf.
So how does the “green” world survive in ice? Are there ways growers can extend their seasons to help out their crops, as well as warm their families and perhaps decorate their homes at the same time? Oh, yes…and these are just a few examples that are helping and taking over in the eco-friendly world.
The first is called a “Walpini.” This Aymara Indian word meaning “place of warmth” is actually being used by growers in very cold climates to give their crops a little boost, and is working better than the “normal” greenhouse.
When it comes to having the cash to build, greenhouses fall under the category of expensive when it comes to both building them and heating them throughout the coldest times of the year. The walpini, however, solves this issue. An underground greenhouse, this building was first created in the mountains of South America approximately two decades ago. Combining the methods of solar heat with an earth-sheltered building, the walpini calls on nature’s own resources for a warm, well-lit environment that serves nicely for growing small crops all year long.
Placing the growing area six to eight feet underground, the rectangular hole is then covered using plastic sheet material. The longest area of the rectangle/building is set facing the winter sun. A thick wall of earth is created at the back of the building, with a much lower wall at the front, which provides the exact angle needed for the plastic roof. What the roof does is seal the hole while creating an airspace of insulation, allowing the warm of the sun to penetrate the construction. This is where the warm, stable air comes from to increase plant growth. This greenhouse also uses the thermal mass of the earth, itself, so that less energy is needed to heat the walpini than a greenhouse set above the ground would need. Waterproofing, drainage and ventilating correctly is what the grower must do to get the job done. Models and instructions are available that, with the use of cheaper materials, will end up costing the grower only $250-$300 to build.
Now, that’s one for the grower. But what about one for the regular “home” that is being used to help people save on energy and stay warm in colder climates. You can date this next eco-craze back to 9th century Iceland, when turf houses were first being built.
Not a difficult premise to understand, considering that animals hibernate in dens within the earth to stay warm during the winter months, turf houses are basically set upon the same foundation. Already seen in locales that extend from Scotland to the American Great Plains, turf houses are coming back to the architectural world, leading some families to take lessons from the Vikings, and use the earth to remain warm when the above-ground world is freezing. Some of these same principles can be found in the astonishing houses created by master designer Frank Lloyd Wright and his use of organic and underground architecture.
Another new eco-friendly creation is being used to not only warm homes, but also decorate them, and it comes from an artist named, Alexandra Kehayoglou. Taking the normal rugs and carpets that most people have in their homes already, this is one artist that brought nature into the mix. Using grass, sand, and even tufts of moss, she is creating soft textured rugs for the “green” loving home. Nature is brought indoors in a luxurious, artistic way. Designing every piece by hand, each rug is a one-of-a-kind “pasture” that helps hold in warmth, save on energy bills, and allows the imagination to roam while the temperature outside the window drops like a stone.
Now, that is some pretty cool turf!