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You know this article reminds me of the walled country house kitchen gardens in the UK where vegetable were grown in the middle and fruit not only in the middle but as shown here against the walls.

The idea of the walled gardens, as against hedged or fenced was to keep wild animals and other vermin out. Some even had space inside for domestic animals.
These gardens were usually larger than the ones shown here which appear to be solely for fruit growing. They also often had greenhouses against the walls.



Fantastic article and great perspective, as always. Many many thanks for all the time and research that went into it.



In England, too, there were glass-covered beds heated by a very thick layer of decomposing farmyard manure (which of course produces a lot of heat) beneath the growing medium. Pineapples were grown in England using this method.



Since there was little wind moving inside the walled areas, I wonder if fungal diseases were a problem during rainy season. Very cool article :)) useful for my research on urban gardening.



Great article - very informative. There I was, thinking that passive solar greenhouses with a wall on the north side, was new. It strikes me that cheap oil has done humanity disservice in addition to climate and pollution problems.



I was going to ask if you'd come across any info on the English greenhouses for pineapple growing that were 'heated' by horse manure... just what was mentioned in comment #3... (and apparently somewhere in the article where I missed it, but found it mentioned in the follow-up about the Chinese greenhouse).

I wonder if something like that could be combined with aquaponics...

Grant Richard Jones


Thank you creating this wonderfully well-researched article. So much has been overlooked and forgotten due to market convenience.The Korean systems such as the hot-rock on-dol floor are still being used.

Sherwood Botsford


For those of you who are intrigued by this:

* A barrel of water weighs about 450 lbs plus 50 pounds of barrel. Water has about 5 times the heat capacity of stone for the same weight, or about twice by volume.

* Three barrels high gives 8 feet.

* Single file barrels aren't stable, and they leak are between the barrels. However, it should be possible to embed barrels in an adobe or cobb wall. This would require a cap of some sort.

* One of the nuisances is that you need to drain the wall in fall, and refill in spring. A barrel takes a long time to freeze. You are good in fall until highs are frosty. I suspect the easiest way to drain and fill is to leave a chunk of hose in each barrel, or support the wall in a way that leaves one bung exposed for each barrel.

* This takes a pile of barrels. But if you can intercept barrels on the way to the land fill, they can cost only the transport.

* Metal barrels rust. A metal barrel wall will last only a few decades.

* Plastic degrades in sunlight. You want to truly embed it in the wall so that no sun hits the plastic.

* Pop bottles are freeze proof, but they expand enough to crack walls. You have to come up with a wall that tolerates movement.

Gabriele Fitzgerald


Thank you for such high quality of research:)



Are there any resources further describing the Thomery practice of storing fresh grape bunches in water filled glass bottles?


john iwaniszek


I wonder what accommodation for bees were made in this type of horticulture.

kris de decker


@ Joe


Both in French, unfortunately.

Brad Evans


I think it was Jared Diamond's 'Collapse' where I read that Easter Islanders surrounded each plant in their gardens with warmth retaining rocks. A similar idea.



@ Kris

Thank you very much! I used translate.google.com to provide an English version.

The skill and drive to produce such produce is magnificent!




Reminds me of the cucumber frames in _Alice in Wonderland_.

Deborah Spotts


We visited a passive solar greenhouse in Cheyenne WY: they used a wall on north, stacked black barrels of water on it's south-facing and glass sloping from top of wall to south. Impressive in that cold, windy local!

eric koperek


(1) Your "Low Tech Magazine" is truly impressive, a public service well done!

(2) In the Austrian Alps we use south and southeast facing cliffs (old quarries are ideal) and small ponds to create warm micro-climates for tender fruits like peaches, apricots, almonds, and grapes.

(3) A correction for your text: The Romans did NOT have the technology to produce large glass plates. The Romans did build cold frames (cloches) and green houses using sheets of mica or selenite imported from Crete and Cyprus. Many Medieval building windows that look like glass were actually made from crystalline sheets of selenite because it was much cheaper than glass. I grew up in a 400 year old house that had selenite windows. My father's family have been farming the same land for 800 years. We have Medieval books (written on vellum) documenting Roman use of mica and selenite for construction and horticulture. "Hortus" is Latin for garden. I have a modest website if you are interested in old-fashioned (low-tech) agriculture. Visit: www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -- or -- www.worldagriculturesolutions.wordpress.com

Shirley Williams


I have a book by Tim Smit, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, in Cornwall, England and pineapples were grown there before the First World War. My great-uncle farmed in Somerset and he had wonderful peaches that were harvested from trees on a warm brick wall.

eric koperek


Plant a peach tree on the southeast side of a pond (about one 16th acre in size = 50 x 50 feet square and at least 3 feet deep) then mulch the tree with stones 8 inches thick. (Apply rock mulch from the trunk to the "drip line" = the end of the farthest branch). The combination of rocks and water can raise canopy temperatures by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, just enough to prevent frost damage to blossoms. Planting the peach tree near a large boulder, natural cliff, or fruit wall 8 to 10 feet high provides additional frost protection. A south-facing cliff, small pond, and rock mulch can raise canopy temperatures about 18 degrees Fahrenheit. This is how we grow tender fruits in the Austrian Alps. This horticultural technology dates back to the Renaissance. Greek and Roman agronomists also wrote about the warming power of rocks. I have visited commercial orchards in Northern India where apple trees were planted among boulders as big as cars and mobile homes. The trees thrived in the protected micro-climate provided by the huge rocks which not only provide heat but also keep the soil constantly moist. For more information on old-fashioned agricultural methods visit: www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -- or -- www.worldagriculturesolutions.wordpress.com

Hagbard Celine


Peaches are NOT native to France. They come from southern China and their name relates to the thought that they come from Persia.



For those interested, a few "murs de pêches" can still be seen in Montreuil. The place is open to visitors every Sunday afternoon: https://mursapeches.wordpress.com

It's a small trip from Paris:



To know more about the "murs à pêches", you can visit the "Jardin-école" of the oldest association of Montreuil : the Société régionale d’horticulture de Montreuil, founded by fruit producers in 1878. A lot of tools and documents can be seen in the horticultural museum and the garden is surrounded with peach walls. You can also participate in free gardening workshops. http://www.srhm.fr

@ Joe
About the Thomery practices, you may have further information from the "Association de préfiguration du musée de la vigne", [email protected] or from the "Syndicat d'initiative" of Thomery, [email protected]
… or enjoy the fete dedicated to Saint-Vincent on January the 23rd in Thomery http://www.mairiethomery.com/

Eric Koperek


How to heat a "hot frame" with horse manure: Build hot frame either above or below ground. Traditional hot frames are built underground by digging a 3 foot deep trench to hold fresh horse manure. Length and width of trench is variable depending on size of hot frame. Fill trench with horse manure then compact lightly. Cover fresh manure with at least 8 inches of compost, top soil, or potting soil to protect plant roots from intense heat. Cover glass each night with a blanket of straw or other insulation. 3 feet of fresh horse manure will keep a hot frame heated above 70 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 full weeks = 1 1/2 months in the middle of winter when temperatures are below freezing. (8 inch thick foam insulation can conserve heat for 3 months). Hot beds = hot frames are traditionally used to extend the fall vegetable season or to start early season vegetable crops. You can make a cheap above ground hot bed from bales of hay or straw covered with old window frames or hoops and plastic sheeting. It is also possible to heat glass houses with horse or chicken manure but you need large volumes of manure to make this practical. Pile manure under greenhouse benches or dig out entire greenhouse floor at least 3 feet deep and fill with fresh manure. It is best to use a bobcat or similar machine for this labor. For more information on old-fashioned agricultural technology visit: www.worldagriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -- or -- www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com



I live in Eastern Germany, meaning east of the Elbe river, the dividing line between mild maritime climate and harsher continental climate in Central Europe. We still have milder weather than the same lattitude in America (southern Canada), but we do get -20°C nights in some winters and -10°C is normal, at least for a few days or weeks.

This makes it impossible to grow perennial mediterran herbs or frost-sensitive fruit trees (citrus, peaches, etc.) outside without risking losing the plants in any 1 winter out of 4. But on the other hand, you also can't just simply keep them in pots and carry them indoors in the winter, as they do need some chilling near or right below the frost point. So many people have a so-called "Wintergarten" attached to the southern or western side of their house.

I think the closest English term is "sunroom" - at least there's a picture of a German Wintergarten on the Wikipedia page of that term. It's basically an unheated glass greenhouse attached to a wall of the house, like an enclosed patio, so it gets a little warmth from indoors and at the same time absorbs what little sunlight there is in a Northern German winter (November, December and Januar have 50 sunshine hours each or less).

Sometimes, especially in more modern buildings, these rooms also have outside window blinds that are rolled down at night for extra insulation. Though, these days, most of my neighbors actually have installed floor heating and keep palms and such in there, the original purpose was to have a room that's just kept above about -5°C, to store potted plants that aren't tropical but wouldn't survive the occasional hard frost.

My father installed central heating in our Wintergarten and put an insulated roof on top to be able to use it like an extended living room, but I don't heat it anymore except in emergencies. Aside from overwintering lavender and everything else that doesn't like its potted soil freezing solid, I keep cold-water fish in there (bathtub-sized tank, so it doesn't freeze through to the bottom), also because the water serves as thermal mass, slow-grow some frost-hardy salad greens, and use it for starting seedlings a month or two earlier in the spring. (Central Europe has a weather phenomenon called the Ice Saints - 3 days in mid-May that can have freezing nights, even though the frost period otherwise ends in early Arpril and the daytime temperatures easily can go up to 20°C weeks before the Ice Saints. So even though the temperatures generally would allow it, you can't plant frost-sensitive things like tomatoes and pumpkins out in the garden before late May, shortening the growing season considerably. It helps immensely just to have somewhere frost-free and well-lit to take in the plants in for those few nights.)

Aside from that, we also use one of the south walls of our house as a fruit wall, again because the wall leaks a little extra heat in the winter. And because house walls have an overhanging roof anyway, to keep the whitewash (keeps the house cool in summer) from washing off in the rain. (Though logically, black paint would probably be better for fruit walls? Then again, maybe that would make the surface so hot in summer that the leaves close to the wall would wilt...)

We have a trellis with grapes on our south wall - it never brings much fruit, but that's more because it hasn't been pruned properly in 20 years, and because the root zone between the cellar wall and the walkway (which needs a deep sand bed, as flagstones would sink and move on biologically active topsoil) is too small and doesn't keep water well. Still, the old grapevines have survived many a deep-freezing winter, without any extra covering.

And the small nectarine tree planted against the same wall (though not trellised) carried a lot of fruit until it caught a bad fungal infection due to 2 far-too-warm winters in a row (the spores spread in wet winters) and needed a lot of amputating.

I think my father learned that this was possible, even far north of the German wine growing area (where professionals grow the grapevines on the western slopes of mountains in the Rhine valley, for similar heat-storing effects), from his farmer parents, who also had a few peach trees planted in a walled orchard, just south of Berlin. So it's probably an old practice here in Central Europe, too.

Also, another origin of the modern greenhouse are the Orangeries that are part of many 17th and 18th century palaces in Germany, even up here in cold Prussia. Some of these palaces are even called "orangery castle". (I've even seen an Orangery in a palace in Moscow!) An Orangery is basically a large, unheated hall with tall windows, designed not to actively grow plants (the roofs are covered, so there's not enough light), but to store citrus trees in large pots out of the harsh frost.

They were just a luxury indulgement of the very rich, of course, not for large-scale farming. But still, the principle was tested widely, long before buildings entirely made of large glass panes (as in the 19th century conservatories) were feasible, even for princes.



Thank you all for sharing the article and thanks to all commmentators for their information This is the Internet at its best!

I have a long 30 m wall that's covered with ivy and I'm now going to use it to grow tender fruits as described in your article and comments . Thanks again.

Margarita Palatnik


I live a block away from the ocean and have a large vegetable garden. I fenced the ocean side with a 6 feet wind-break of wire covered with a white sunscreen fabric. The white reflects the sun and creates the hottest spot in my garden. I have planted berries all along a stretch of this fence, and right now it's the middle of the winter here (Southern Hemisphere) and my raspberries are all fruiting and ripening, even though we've had 4 frosts in the past two weeks. So I can only imagine if my fence had thermal mass, I could be growing tropical fruit!
Thanks much for a lovely, informative, eye-opening article!

Stuart Sachs


I've been gardening for 60+ years and have suddenly gotten the urge to build a wall and small greenhouse.

I now want to grow peaches that when you bite into them, you aren't confused with the things sold in a supermarket that look like a perfect fruit, but taste like a hybrid lemon.

Thank you!

Heather-Gaia Thorpe


The Botabical Gardens in Hobart Tasmania have a wall that has fireplaces in it for additional heat.

Stig Falster


Great article. It also clearly demonstrates the folly of not understanding and learning from our history.

Jenni werner


Inspired to build a wall -interesting questions arise as to when and why walls fell out of favour. Glass hot houses undoubtedly increase volume, but at what cost???

Matt in Oklahoma


Wow great stuff!

Nathalie Paravicini


fabulous article, thank you!

Dalia Beilin-Morel


Excellent Article.It all makes sense. We must get back to these methods. A nation of Gardeners !

Gardening is very therapeutic and rewarding. Even a window box can be a joy.



Interesting information. I live in Southeast Arizona at about 5000 ft, so have mild winters. We have a greenhouse with insulated roof (some would call it a sun room, but I use it as a greenhouse) attached to the south side of our straw bale home. If the sun shines even a few days per week, the greenhouse supplies all the winter heat our house needs. We have 800 gallons of stored rainwater in drums plus concrete blocks, concrete floor, and earth-plastered wall on the north to supply thermal mass. In summer, we open doors on east and west ends to prevent over-heating. In winter, I can grow tomatoes in pots on carts that I can move to the porch on nice days, but they are never quite as tasty as summer-grown tomatoes. In spring, I start warm-season seedlings in the greenhouse.



After reading this article two years ago, we put the technology to use. I have a nectarine that had never produced a crop due to late April freezes in our area. My husband and I built a ring of large black local rock just under the drip line of the tree. The ring is about 18 inches wide and tall. For the two summers since, despite late freezes, we have had nectarines. I am really impressed with how much difference the small addition of thermal mass has made. This winter we will build our little walls under an apricot that is also a poor performer!

kris de decker


@ SouthernNM

Well done, great to read this !



I wondered if concrete walls also work. I have a rooftop with a concrete sidewall where I would like to grow tomatoes and fruits.

Darian Sylvester


Enlightening and thought provoking article, well done! Sharing with peers and interested colleagues!

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