How a Small School in New York Built an Off-Grid Tropical Greenhouse Garden
When most people think of a tropical getaway, they imagine it on a beach in the Bahamas or a bungalow in the Caribbean. You would never imagine such a lush tropical place to exist in a greenhouse in New York unless you are the students of Homestead School, that is.
Homestead School is “a private Montessori school focused on humanitarian and sustainable education” located in Glen Spey, NY. The school was founded in 1978 on a 200-year old, 85-acre homestead by Peter & Marsha Comstock. Although the school was always dedicated to farming, they developed a formal permaculture program in 2017, beginning with planting fruit and nut trees, keeping honey bees, and developing a biodome plan.
In 2018 that plan came to life and Jack Comstock, assistant head of school/co-lead teacher, put their plans for a 42′ tropical greenhouse into motion. Jack said, “A biodome greenhouse solved the problem of students missing out on most of the growing cycle.” With a Growing Dome greenhouse, students can grow year-round, even in New York. On the topic of why they decided on a tropical climate, he said, “he has always been drawn to the tropics.” What better way to bring the tropics to New York than creating a controlled environment to grow tropical plants?
Tropical Greenhouse Design & Construction
When we asked Jack how the project went, he said, “it happened so fast with the help of students, staff, and parents it came together quite smoothly,” almost as it if it was meant to be. Even past students came out to help put things together. The hardest part seemed to be the excavating their inground koi pond that acts as a swimming pool. This involved digging and collecting boulders from around the property. Please note this is not the standard pond that comes with all of our Growing Dome Kits. It is above and beyond any pond we have ever seen!
Jack wanted to “showcase the best technology.” Hence, they worked in conjunction with Jerome Osentowski, author of The Forest Garden Greenhouse and one of North America’s most accomplished permaculture designers, to install a “massive climate battery.” Jerome’s “revolutionary climate battery” is “a subterranean air-circulation system that takes the hot, moist, ambient air from the greenhouse during the day, stores it in the soil, and discharges it at night.” Jerome’s climate battery design has been incorporated into many Growing Domes across the country. In addition to the climate battery, the tropical greenhouse also features a climate control heating system designed by a local engineer, a 5×10 ft wetland area, and a wood boiler hot tub.
After construction of the pond and Growing Dome, Jack and his team of students got to work building beds, prepping soil, and planting plants.
Growing Tropical Plants
Today the inside is filled with tropical plants, including a dwarf banana tree, pineapples, two species of avocado, mangos, a citrus wonder lemon tree, lemongrass, and much more. Jack seemed particularly fond of a species of night-blooming jasmine that fills the dome with a pleasant aroma. Although the students don’t regularly eat food out of the Dome, the bright color and big leaves create an inviting space for recreation. “It feels like being outside, and the temperature never drops below 60 degrees.”
They will “never stop experiencing the Dome.” The greenhouse is a recreational space that the students of Homestead Schoool will enjoy for many years to come. Including Jack’s own children Mira (4th grade) and Kiran (1st grade).
A big thank you to Jack, his wife Nisha, and the whole Homestead School for allowing us to share their epic greenhouse story. It truly is an inspiration. If you have questions about building a tropical greenhouse please refer them to info@growingspaces.
You can find all of our Featured Growing Dome’s highlighted in our monthly newsletter “The Happy Grower,” on our social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram), and in our blog. At the end of the year, we create an annual calendar that includes every Dome of the Month. We send them to all Dome of the Month participants, along with a gift of Growing Spaces gardening goodies! Apply here.
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