Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Thermal Mass Gardening

By Cam Mather

This post was published on November 29, 2006 on our blog at Many of our new readers probably missed many of these earlier posts. As gardening season quickly approaches, I thought you might enjoy a look at this older post, which I have updated with more recent photos.

* * * * * * *

As we become more aware of the impact of diminishing fossil fuel energy reserves and how energy intensive our North American diet is, we continue to expand our gardens and look for new ways to increase our harvest, and extend our season, which in Ontario can be quite short.

At Sunflower Farm, where the Aztext Press books are published, we have been looking at ways to improve yields without building and heating a greenhouse. Our barn foundation is one area we’ve been working on. The barn was taken down years ago, but the large concrete walls are still standing. In the 30 years since it’s been used for livestock, sumach trees and various other native species have claimed it. So this summer we started cleaning it out, and preparing raised beds for next year.

This is what the old barn foundation looked like BEFORE we cleaned it out

Our hope is that it will offer respite for a number of warmth loving plants, like peppers and eggplants. The walls shelter the gardens from the cool winds early in the season, and the thermal mass of the concrete walls and floor should help retain the sun’s warmth, to get the plants through those cooler nights earlier in the season.

We’re not sure how well it will work, but as they say… “every journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” In this case, that step was hours of back breaking work with a pick axe, hacking out small trees with aggressive root systems.

The “green” photo is the barn foundation this summer when nature still reigned supreme. The second image shows the raised beds produced with the soil that was already there. The logs lining it are untreated cedar posts that were discarded on our road, when township workers replaced them with newer ones this summer.

The weeds and other plants have been removed and raised beds made ready for planting.

2010 UPDATE:

As you can see from the following photos taken over the past few summers, the barn foundation garden has been a huge success. Not only do our heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants love the warmth of this protected space, but we’ve also grown okra, peanuts and sweet potatoes very successfully in it. Last spring Cam planted two apple trees in part of the barn foundation.

The sweet potato vines growing in the barn foundation

One of the apple trees in the barn foundation

We even had a robin use the barn foundation for her nest one spring (unfortunately some predator discovered her poorly protected eggs and they disappeared one night).

There's a robin's nest on the top of the third log.

A closer shot of the nest with eggs.


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