Learn How To Build A Greenhouse With Francis Gendron

I've always wanted to build a greenhouse, and many people would like to know how to do this as well. Earlier this year, I shared my review of the wonderful DVD "The Greenhouse of the Future". Now I have the honor of interviewing greenhouse designer Francis Gendron.

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After graduating from architect Michael Reynolds' Earthship Academy in 2012, Francis Gendron created his own company called Solution Era and toured eastern Canada giving speeches about earthship principles.

During this time, he met producer Curt Close, and through their collaboration the DVD and eBook, "The Greenhouse of the Future" was born.

Welcome to Edible Landscape Design, Francis!

My first question: Why build a greenhouse?

For the first time in history, many people are 100% dependent on technology, economy and politics. That is because they have never learned manual skills such as growing food, purifying water, or building shelters.

Building a passive solar greenhouse, or bioshelter, is a magnificent way to get all of those important skills back, thus providing greater fulfillment, food security, and health to those who choose to start the adventure.

You can use this building experience as an opportunity to learn how to recycle, use natural materials, and create a building that will interact with nature to create a micro-climate of abundance.

Where did you learn how to build a greenhouse? How did you come up with the design for your solar greenhouse?

My experience with green buildings comes from the Earthship Academy, created by architect Michael Reynolds, where we learned about completely off-the-grid homes that produce food, water and energy. In 2012, I was the school's first graduate.

Food production is one of the biggest problems of our century and I always thought something could be done. So I took the principles for creating an Earthship and applied them to greenhouse design. 

We need more resilient and local food production systems, and I believe that the Greenhouse of the Future can be a part of the solution.

What information should people be looking for if they want to build a greenhouse themselves?

There are two main types of information people should be looking for: first about the greenhouse itself, to help them choose the model that both fits their needs and that they are able to build.

The second type of information is how to grow food in a greenhouse micro-climate.

What questions should they be asking?

As for the questions people should ask themselves...

  • Where do I live? What's the climate like?
  • How long do I want to produce food throughout the year (6 months, 8 months, or the full year)?
  • Do I have access to a sunny place where I can build?
  • Do I want more than just food production? For example, you may want a beautiful place to relax in the sun during the winter.

Can you tell us the secret of how to build a greenhouse that won't collapse in snow or blow away in high winds?

There really are two main secrets: first, passive geothermal, which means that you bury your greenhouse halfway underground. This protects the structure from wind and extreme cold.

There are only a very few ways to bury a structure underground for long term.  One way is to use cement, which costs a lot and has a pretty big environmental impact. Or you can recycle used tires, as we did, which is almost free and transforms the garbage of the past into the abundance of the future.

The second secret: build a strong and resilient structure. For example, for the Greenhouse of the Future, we have used 45 degree angles for the roof, because that makes it strong and easy to build. Also, we've put 2x6 beams every 2 feet, to make sure the structure could support the snow's weight in just about any extreme climate.

If you do not have multiple feet of snow like we do here in Quebec (CA), you can always lighten the structure by using fewer trusses, which will allow more sun to come in and give your solar greenhouse even greater performance.

Would you share tips on how to build a greenhouse less expensively?

The less snow you receive and the milder the winter is in your region, the easier it is to build a cheap greenhouse, because you do not need such a strong structure. So a simpler greenhouse design can be used.

If you have a long, cold winter and don't want to spend all your money on heating bills, you will need a more resilient passive solar design. The best ways to save money in this situation is to recycle as much material as possible, and to inspire people around you so that you can work together as a community, building greenhouses for each other. This way, you save on both materials and labor costs.

Your design relies heavily on tires. Are tires safe to use around food plants?

Research has shown that plants grown in direct contact with tires are often filled with toxic elements. We often see people grow plants directly in a tire because it looks good. But that is not the way to go.

In our greenhouse, tires are used in a structural way and are completely separated from the plants area. Furthermore, the off-gassing of tires is neutralized in our greenhouse because of the absence of intense heat, light, friction and oxygen in direct contact with the tires.

We have a document on the safety of using tires in greenhouse construction, which is available here.

Thanks so much for visiting with us!

If you would like to learn more about how to build a greenhouse, you can read my review of Francis Gendron's ebook and DVD The Greenhouse Of The Future, or go directly to his websites Solution Era (in French) and Valhalla Movement for more information.

I would like to also thank Curt Close and Julien Watine for their assistance in coordinating and translation.

Have you built a greenhouse as part of your edible landscaping? If you'd like to talk more about it with a friendly group who loves edible gardening as much as you do, I invite you to join the Tasteful Landscape community.

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