179: Penn Parmenter on Passive Solar Greenhouses.

Designing greenhouses using the natural laws of nature as allies and resources.


penn-and-cord-parmenterSince 1992 Penn and her husband Cord have been growing food just above the 8,000 feet level in the Wet Mountains of South Central Colorado. With many years of research and development, they founded Smart Greenhouses LLC and Miss Penn’s Mountain Seeds in 2013,
Together they build smart greenhouses all over the Rocky Mountain West at even the highest elevations. Their greenhouses are 100% sustainable as they heat, cool and ventilate themselves without the use of fossil fuel. Penn and Cord are also co-instructors at the Denver Botanic Gardens teaching a slew of high-altitude growing classes there and around the region.  Their very popular day-long Sustainable Greenhouse Design class is held on their 43-acre property and at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

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In this podcast: Greg reconnects with Penn to talk about the greenhouse designs she and her husband create, sell and teach about. Penn tells how her husband Cord took passive solar concepts and implemented them into the first greenhouse they built from reclaimed and scrap materials, and how they have made many improvements over time. Their greenhouse once kept her precious tomatoes safe and growing during a week of temperatures 10 and 20 degrees below zero.


Listen in and learn about:

  • How she and her husband starting growing in their 20s and thought they needed a greenhouse
  • The research and prep they did to get ready to build their own greenhouse
  • Why her husband was sure it was not going to work
  • Why they had to build it from memory
  • What passive solar is and why that is better
  • Some of the earth functions that are in play in the greenhouse designs
  • The barrels of water that are stored in their greenhouse and where they place them for the best advantage
  • The purpose and location of the opening vents allowing for natural convection
  • Her excitement for the new greenhouse and the potential to grow fruit year around
  • The wedding gift greenhouse
  • How others have learned to build greenhouses from Penn and Cord
  • Why there is only glazing on one side and insulation on the other of the building
  • Their recommendation of double glazing and why that is so important for greenhouses
  • The biggest problems in greenhouses: over-glazed, under-massed, and under-vented
  • Water in a cold-frame and why the exchange makes sense for all regions
  • The week of below freezing temperatures including the day of -32° F and what happened to their tomatoes
  • Why Cord works hard to improve the designs for his customers all the time
  • The wind considerations that are included in the design
  • Attached greenhouses and how the venting changes
  • The classes and consultations that Penn and Cord that they first offered
  • Why some greenhouses become garden sheds
  • Why they are teaching others the keys to their own business
  • HOA issues with wild animals in Colorado when growing gardens
  • The open range laws in the area that she lives that allowed a dozen bulls to roam the community
  • How Cord used his master blacksmith skills to improve and perfect his designs
  • Why she and Cord are designing, building, and teaching about greenhouses
  • Her idea how schools could build a greenhouse and learn much more than growing food

Penn’s Book recommendations:      

The Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse: Design, Construction, and Operation

How to reach Penn and her husband Cord:

Website: Pennandcordsgarden.com

UrbanFarm.org/greenhouse


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