Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published May 27, 2011, 12:00 AM

Solar-heated soil stirs heat

System offers longer season for crop growth
Frazee, Minn. - Dallas Flynn typically fields a few accusations from the early-season customers at the farmer’s market in Detroit Lakes, where he’s already selling crops like radishes, spinach and kale.

By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM

Frazee, Minn. - Dallas Flynn typically fields a few accusations from the early-season customers at the farmer’s market in Detroit Lakes, where he’s already selling crops like radishes, spinach and kale.

Uninitiated buyers want to know where he got his vegetables, figuring there’s no way those goods could have come from local soil that just a few weeks back still had snow cover.

“We’ve got cabbages ready to harvest, and most people don’t have their gardens in,” said Flynn, owner of Forest Glen Farm about three miles south of Frazee.

The not-so-secret weapon at Flynn’s farm, which he operates with his wife, is a high-tunnel greenhouse in which solar panels keep the ground warm nearly year-round. The sun power is used to run fans blowing heated air though a series of drain tiles buried under the greenhouse.

On Monday, for instance, the temperature four feet down in his solar-powered high-tunnel greenhouse was 65 degrees. In another standard high-tunnel on Flynn’s farm, it was 48 degrees at the 4-feet-under mark.

The warmer dirt extends the growing season inside the jungle-like structure to 300 days, March through December, Flynn said. This year, for the first time, he’s even trying out some fruit trees – peaches, Bing cherries and pears.

“As far as anybody knows, this is the first one to heat the soil,” Flynn said of the greenhouse.

It’s not the only one now. In the three years since it was built with help from a grant from the University of Minnesota, Flynn said it’s been copied at a number of Minnesota vegetable farms, including ones near Morris and Hastings.

“There’s always somebody coming out to look,” Flynn said.

Last week, the visitors included a group of Fargo city staff and City Commissioner Mike Williams.

Williams said the trip to Forest Glen Farm was for fact-finding, as the city has received some requests for community gardens.

Solar-powered high-tunnel greenhouses could give New Americans in Fargo who are used to growing in warmer climates a chance to raise their native crops, Williams said.

“We might get some new taste sensations out of it,” he said.

Flynn said his project, run by three solar panels, cost about $23,000 to build.

Williams said community gardens ideally would tap into resources of charities and social-service agencies and would likely start with a pilot project. No definite plans have been discussed.

“There’s a lot of different ways you can arrange it,” he said. “The idea is making use of stuff that’s already there.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

Tags: