I am happy to share with you my personal Growing Dome experiences. In response to a recent question about where to place the Southern Burner Heater (Update: Southern Burner closed in 2019) inside the Growing Dome…you place it so the hot air is blowing on the water tank. This allows the tank to become a greater thermal heat mass radiating back the warmth into the space. If you just try to heat the air it loses that warmth very rapidly.
I purchased my 26′ Growing Dome in June of 2007, less than 60 days after working here. I’ve gardened since I was about 10 years old with my grandfather in Missouri, and have had some type of garden for most of my life. Here in Colorado the soil is AWFUL, very little organics to it and the big joke is that we have 120 days of growing season, but unfortunately those days aren’t consecutive! When I saw what the Domes could actually bring to harvest, I was sold immediately.
Our dome is located 18 miles outside of town and we now live in town. During the winter months I only go up on weekends, when there is enough sunshine for me to see what I’m doing. Lately I have only been to the Dome once every 3 to 4 weeks; life is busy. I am always really nervous about opening that door and seeing everything dead or dying, but it’s not the case at all. I walk in and the temperatures are lovely and the plants and seedlings are all just chugging along. Most of the time I spend more time just hanging out in the warm green space rather than really doing any work on it. The last time I was there I harvested 4 pounds of salad greens, about a pound and a half of kale and chard, and the sugar snap peas were in full bloom with a few fresh pods available for eating! That was with only a third of the perimeter beds in harvest mode, another third in seedling stage, and the last third in a fresh crop of kale, chard, parsnips, peas, onions, and more salad greens. This should be available starting for full harvest around early April, as I start filling the beds with summer crops.
I only have perimeter beds right now due to being short on additional funds to build the rest of the beds. And I am currently producing enough, with just the perimeter beds, to feed my husband and myself while providing veggies for 2 other families when we are in full harvest mode. I do have some plants in big pots sitting in the center space, but it’s currently mostly chairs and side tables for hanging out in. I did build up the perimeter beds to the top level of the foundation wall; the soil is within 4-5 inches of the top of that wall. The mass of soil underneath the plants, not in contact with outside grade level, provides some additional insulation for the roots of the plants.
I do have gold fish in my tank, the cheap 60 cent kind, and they are thriving. They have tripled in size and my husband has now named them. They provide a great service by keeping the algae under control in the tank, and their excrement in the water is a perfectly balanced fish emulsion fertilizer to water the plants with. I haven’t had to clean out the tank as of yet; we water from there and when the tank is reduced by about 1/3 we add another 200 gallons of fresh water to it. This way the tank water never gets swampy or skunky smelling. I often wash the dirt off my hands when I’m planting in the water tank.
We built our 26′ Dome over a weekend and had about 85% of it complete by Sunday evening. Udgar was our supervisor and we had 3 employees (one of whom was 7 months pregnant with a 2 1/2 year old in tow) and their partners helping. These were employees who had never seen a Dome built and definitely had never put one together. Jennifer, the pregnant mom, was able to only work mornings and another employee and her husband only worked afternoons, so it’s pretty amazing how quickly the Dome came together. We then had one more day of finishing the door installation and taping. I had the planting beds built and filled within two weekends. Not bad for a structure that performs as wonderfully as this one does.
“The amazing part of the Growing Domes is the part that you don’t even realize until you are hanging out in one, and how nourishing the ecosystem is to your mental and physical well being; it’s really a small slice of heaven for me.”
Here are two more blog posts that expand on the topic of heating the Growing Dome: To Heat or Not to Heat your Growing Dome & Winter Gardening in a Growing Dome: No Heat Required.