[permaculture] Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s - LOW-TECH MAGAZINE
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Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s - LOW-TECH MAGAZINE
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Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s
[image: Montreuil peaches]
We are being told to eat local and seasonal food, either because other
crops have been tranported over long distances, or because they are grown
in energy-intensive greenhouses. But it wasn't always like that. From the
sixteenth to the twentieth century, urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits
and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only
These crops were grown surrounded by massive "fruit walls", which stored
the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate
that could increase the temperature by more than 10*°*C (18*°*F). Later,
greenhouses built against the fruit walls further improved yields from
solar energy alone.
It was only at the very end of the nineteenth century that the greenhouse
turned into a fully glazed and artificially heated building where heat is
lost almost instantaneously -- the complete opposite of the technology it
Picture: fruit walls in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris.
The modern glass greenhouse, often located in temperate climates where
winters can be cold, requires massive inputs of energy, mainly for heating
but also for artificial lighting and humidity control.
According to the FAO, crops grown in heated greenhouses have energy
intensity demands around 10 to 20 times those of the same crops grown in
open fields. A heated greenhouse requires around 40 megajoule of energy to
grow one kilogram of fresh produce, such as tomatoes and peppers. [source -
page 15 <http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/i2454e/i2454e00.pdf>] This makes
greenhouse-grown crops as energy-intensive as pork meat (40-45 MJ/kg in the
[image: Dutch style all glass greenhouse]
Dutch-style all-glass greenhouses. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.
In the Netherlands, which is the world's largest producer of glasshouse
grown crops, some 10,500 hectares of greenhouses used 120 petajoules (PJ)
of natural gas in 2013 -- that's about half the amount of fossil fuels used
by all Dutch passenger cars. [source: 1
The high energy use is hardly surprising. Heating a building that's
entirely made of glass is very energy-intensive, because glass has a very
limited insulation value. Each metre square of glass, even if it's triple
glazed, loses ten times as much heat
The design of the modern greenhouse is strikingly different from its
origins in the middle ages [*]. Initially, the quest to produce warm-loving
crops in temperate regions (and to extend the growing season of local
crops) didn't involve any glass at all. In 1561, Swiss botanist Conrad
Gessner described the effect of sun-heated walls on the ripening of figs
and currants, which mature faster than when they are planted further from
Gessner's observation led to the emergence of the "fruit wall" in
Northwestern Europe. By planting fruit trees close to a specially built
wall with high thermal mass and southern exposure, a microclimate is
created that allows the cultivation of Mediterranean fruits in temperate
climates, such as those of Northern France, England, Belgium and the
[image: Fruit wall in the UK]
English fruit wall. Wikipedia Commons.
The fruit wall reflects sunlight during the day, improving growing
conditions. It also absorbs solar heat, which is slowly released during the
night, preventing frost damage. Consequently, a warmer microclimate is
created on the southern side of the wall for 24 hours per day.
Fruit walls also protect crops from cold, northern winds. Protruding roof
tiles or wooden canopies often shielded the fruit trees from rain, hail and
bird droppings. Sometimes, mats could be suspended from the walls in case
of bad weather.
[image: Fruit walls pruning]
The fruit wall appears around the start of the so-called Little Ice Age, a
period of exceptional cold in Europe that lasted from about 1550 to 1850.
The French quickly started to refine the technology by pruning the branches
of fruit trees in such ways that they could be attached to a wooden frame
on the wall.
This practice, which is known as "espalier", allowed them to optimize the
use of available space and to further improve upon the growth conditions.
The fruit trees were placed some distance from the wall to give sufficient
space for the roots underground and to provide for good air ciculation and
pest control above ground.
*Peach Walls in Paris*
Initially, fruit walls appeared in the gardens of the rich and powerful,
such as in the palace of Versailles. However, some French regions later
developed an urban farming industry based on fruit walls. The most
spectacular example was Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, where peaches were
grown on a massive scale.
Established during the seventeenth century, Montreuil had more than 600 km
fruit walls in the 1870s, when the industry reached its peak. The 300
hectare maze of jumbled up walls was so confusing for outsiders that the
Prussian army went around Montreuil during the siege of Paris in 1870.
[image: Peaches on the fruit walls of montreuil paris]
[image: Montreuil fruit walls]
Peaches are native to France's Mediterranean regions, but Montreuil
produced up to 17 million fruits per year, renowned for their quality.
Building many fruit walls close to each other further boosted the
effectiveness of the technology, because more heat was trapped and wind was
kept out almost completely. Within the walled orchards, temperatures were
typically 8 to 12*°*C (14-22*°*F) higher than outside.
The 2.5 to 3 metre high walls were more than half a metre thick and coated
in limestone plaster. Mats could be pulled down to insulate the fruits on
very cold nights. In the central part of the gardens, crops were grown that
tolerated lower temperatures, such as apples, pears, raspberries,
vegetables and flowers.
*Grapes in Thomery*
In 1730, a similar industry was set up for the cultivation of grapes in
Thomery, which lies some 60 km south-east from Paris -- a very northern
area to grow these fruits. At the production peak in the early twentieth
century, more than 800 tonnes of grapes were produced on some 300 km of
fruit walls, packed together on 150 hectares of land.
The walls, built of clay with a cap of thatch, were 3 metres high and up to
100 metres long, spaced apart 9 to 10 metres. They were all finished by
tile copings and some had a small glass canopy.
Because vines demand a dry and warm climate, most fruit walls had a
southeastern exposure. A southern exposure would have been the warmest, but
in that case the vines would have been exposed to the damp winds and rains
coming from the southwest. The western and southwestern walls were used to
produce grapes from lower qualities.
[image: Thomery vines]
[image: Thomery today]
of the town of Thomery today, seen through Google maps. The old fruit walls
are still dominating the landscape. The houses were built later.
Some cultivators in Thomery also constructed "counter-espaliers", which
were lesser walls opposite the principal fruit walls. These were only 1
metre high and were placed about 1 to 2.5 metres from the fruit wall,
further improving the microclimate. In the 1840s, Thomery became known for
its advanced techniques to prune the grape vines and attach them to the
walls. The craft spread to Montreuil and to other countries.
system for grapes in Thomery. Picture: Topic Tops
The cultivators of Thomery also developed a remarkable storage system for
grapes. The stem was submerged in water-filled bottles, which were stored
in large wooden racks in basements or attics of buildings. Some of these
storage places had up to 40,000 bottles each holding one or two bunches of
grapes. The storage system allowed the grapes to remain fresh for up to six
*Serpentine Fruit Walls*
Fruit wall industries in the Low Countries (present-day Belgium and the
Netherlands) were also aimed at producing grapes. From the 1850s onwards,
Hoeilaart (nearby Brussels) and the Westland (the region which is now
Holland's largest glasshouse industry) became important producers of table
grapes. By 1881, the Westland had 178 km of fruit walls.
Serpentine Fruit Wall in the Netherlands. Wikipedia Commons
[image: Mur de retranchement]
different type of fruit wall. Wikipedia Commons
The Dutch also contributed to the development of the fruit wall. They
started building fruit walls already during the first half of the
eighteenth century, initially only in gardens of castles and country
houses. Many of these had unique forms. Most remarkable was the serpentine
or "crinkle crankle" wall.
Although it's actually longer than a linear wall, a serpentine wall
economizes on materials because the wall can be made strong enough with
just one brick thin. The alternate convex and concave curves in the wall
provide stability and help to resist lateral forces. Furthermore, the
slopes give a warmer microclimate than a flat wall. This was obviously
important for the Dutch, who are almost 400 km north of Paris.
Variants of the serpentine wall had recessed and protruding parts with more
angular forms. Few of these seem to have been built outside the
Netherlands, with the exception of those erected by the Dutch in the
eastern parts of England (two thirds of them in Suffolk county). In their
own country, the Dutch built fruit walls as high up north as Groningen
[image: Fruit walls improved 1]
Fruit walls improved, Nicolas Fatio de Duilier, 1699
Another variation on the linear fruit wall was the sloped wall. It was
designed by Swiss mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier, and described in
his 1699 book "Fruit Walls Improved". A wall built at an incline of 45
degrees from the northerm horizon and facing south absorbs the sun's energy
for a longer part of the day, increasing plant growth.
*Heated Fruit Walls*
In Britain, no large-scale urban farming industries appeared, but the fruit
wall became a standard feature of the country house garden from the 1600s
onwards. The English developed heated fruit walls in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, to ensure that the fruits were not killed by frost
and to assist in ripening fruit and maturing wood.
[image: Heated fruit wall]
heated fruit wall of Croxteth Hall Walled Kitchen Garden in Liverpoool.
Picture: The Horticultural Therapist
In these "hot walls", horizontal flues were running to and fro, opening
into chimneys on top of the wall. Initially, the hollow walls were heated
by fires lit inside, or by small furnaces located at the back of the wall.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, more and more heated
fruit walls were warmed by hot water pipes.
The decline of the European fruit wall started in the late nineteenth
century. Maintaining a fruit wall was a labour-intensive work that required
a lot of craftsmanship in pruning, thinning, removing leaves, etcetera. The
extension of the railways favoured the import of produce from the south,
which was less labour-intensive and thus cheaper to produce. Artificially
heated glasshouses could also produce similar or larger yields with much
less skilled labour involved.
*The Birth of the Greenhouse*
Large transparant glass plates were hard to come by during the Middle Ages
and early modern period, which limited the use of the greenhouse effect for
growing crops. Window panes were usually made of hand-blown plate glass,
which could only be produced in small dimensions. To make a large glass
plate, the small pieces were combined by placing them in rods or glazing
Nevertheless, European growers made use of small-scale greenhouse methods
since the early 1600s. The simplest forms of greenhouses were the "cloche",
a bell-shaped jar or bottomless glass jug that was placed on top of the
plants, and the cold- or hotframe, a small seedbed enclosed in a
glass-topped box. In the hotframe, decomposing horse manure was added for
[image: Hot frames and cloches]
the greenhouse was born. Foto: Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed
In the 1800s, some Belgian and Dutch cultivators started experimenting with
the placement of glass plates against fruit walls, and discovered that this
could further boost crop growth. This method gradually developed into the
greenhouse, built against a fruit wall. In the Dutch Westland region, the
first of these greenhouses were built around 1850. By 1881, some 22 km of
the 178 km of fruit walls in the westland was under glass.
These greenhouse structures became larger and more sophisticated over time,
but they all kept benefitting from the thermal mass of the fruit wall,
which stored heat from the sun for use at night. In addition, many of these
structures were provided with insulating mats that could be rolled out over
the glass cover at night or during cold, cloudy weather. In short, the
early greenhouse was a passive solar building.
[image: Greenhouse against the wall]
built against a serpentine fruit wall. Source: Rijksdienst voor het
[image: Dutch greenhouse 1930s]
Dutch greenhouse from the 1930s, built against a brick wall. Picture: Naaldwijk
in oude ansichten
The first all glass greenhouses were built only in the 1890s, first in
Belgium, and shortly afterwards in the Netherlands. Two trends played into
the hands of the fully glazed greenhouse. The first was the invention of
the plate glass production method, which made larger window panes much more
affordable. The second was the advance of fossil fuels, which made it
possible to keep a glass building warm in spite of the large heat losses.
Consequently, at the start of the twentieth century, the greenhouse became
a structure without thermal mass. The fruit wall that had started it all,
was now gone.
During the oil crises of the 1970s, there was a renewed interest in the
passive solar greenhouse. However, the attention quickly faded when energy
prices came down, and the fully glazed greenhouse remained the
horticultural workhorse of the Northwestern world. The Chinese, however,
built 800,000 hectare of passive solar greenhouses during the last three
decades -- that's 80 times the surface area of all glass greenhouses in the
Netherlands. We discuss the Chinese greenhouse in the second part of this
Kris De Decker
[*] The greenhouse was invented by the Romans in the second century AD.
Unfortunately, the technology disappeared when the Western Roman Empire
collapsed. The Romans could produce large glass plates, and built
greenhouses against brick walls. Their technology was only surpassed by the
Dutch in the 1800s. However, the Roman greenhouse remained a toy for the
rich and never became an important food supply. The Chinese and Koreans
also built greenhouses before or during the middle ages. Oiled paper was
used as a transparant cover. All of these greenhouses had thick walls to
retain the heat from the sun and/or a radiant heating system (such as the
Chinese Kang or the Korean ondol).
- Heat your house with a water brake windmill
*Sources & more information: *
- Open Air Grape Culture
John Phin, 1862
- The last peach orchards of Paris
Messy Nessy, 2014
- Geschiedenis van het leifruit in de Lage Landen
<http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/groenekennis/2016438>, Wybe Kuitert, 2004
- Onzichtbaar achter glas
Ahmed Benseddik & Marijke Bijl, 2004
- Chasselas de Thomery
<https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chasselas_de_Thomery>, French Wikipedia
- Murs à pêches <https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murs_%C3%A0_p%C3%AAches>,
- L'histoire des murs
website Murs à Pêches
- Food-Producing Solar Greenhouses
<https://www.princeton.edu/%7Eota/disk3/1981/8105/810506.PDF>, in "An
assessment of technology for local development", 1980
- The development and history of horticulture
<http://www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c09/e6-156-07-00.pdf>, Edwinna von
- Geschiedenis van Holland, Volume 3, deel 1
Thimo de Nijs, 2003
- A Golden Thread: 2500 years of solar architecture and technology
<https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/977568.Golden_Thread>, Ken Butti &
John Perlin, 2009
- Une histoire des serres: de l'orangerie au palais de cristal
- Manual complet du jardinier
<https://archive.org/details/manuelcompletduj32nois>, Louis Claude
- Onderhoud en restauratie van historische plantenkassen
Ben Kooij, 2011
- Leifruit: toekomst voor eeuwenoude hovernierskunst
Julia Voskuil, 2011
- The magic of Britain's walled gardens
Bunny Guinness, 2014
- Visiting the palace of Versailles' kitchen garden
Janet Eastman, 2015
- Hot Walls: An Investigation of Their Construction in Some Northern
Elisabeth Hall, 1989
- History of fruit growing
<http://wiltshiregt.org.uk/the-journal/history-of-fruit-growing>, Tom La
- Fences of Fruit Trees
Brian Kaller, 2011
Posted on December 24, 2015 at 03:29 PM in Agriculture
<https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/agriculture/>, Cover story
<https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/diy/>, Energy consumption
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for this post.
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
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
Posted by: Norman | December 24, 2015 at 05:29 PM
Fantastic article and great perspective, as always. Many many thanks for
all the time and research that went into it.
Posted by: Ludo | December 24, 2015 at 07:40 PM
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
Posted by: Charlie | December 24, 2015 at 07:52 PM
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.
Posted by: Troy | December 25, 2015 at 04:34 PM
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
Posted by: Kaia <http://kaia.ca> | December 25, 2015 at 09:30 PM
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
I wonder if something like that could be combined with aquaponics...
Posted by: Gerald <http://www.beyond-eco.org> | December 25, 2015 at 10:46
[image: 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.
Posted by: Grant Richard Jones <http://www.jonesandjones.com> | December
26, 2015 at 01:30 AM
[image: 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.
Posted by: Sherwood Botsford | December 26, 2015 at 02:00 AM
[image: Gabriele Fitzgerald]
Thank you for such high quality of research:)
Posted by: Gabriele Fitzgerald | December 26, 2015 at 09:49 AM
Are there any resources further describing the Thomery practice of storing
fresh grape bunches in water filled glass bottles?
Posted by: Joe | December 26, 2015 at 05:46 PM
[image: john iwaniszek]
I wonder what accommodation for bees were made in this type of horticulture.
Posted by: john iwaniszek | December 27, 2015 at 03:57 AM
[image: kris de decker]
Both in French, unfortunately.
Posted by: kris de decker | December 27, 2015 at 01:11 PM
[image: 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.
Posted by: Brad Evans | December 27, 2015 at 07:57 PM
Thank you very much! I used translate.google.com to provide an English
The skill and drive to produce such produce is magnificent!
Posted by: Joe | December 27, 2015 at 08:07 PM
Reminds me of the cucumber frames in _Alice in Wonderland_.
Posted by: drs | December 27, 2015 at 08:52 PM
[image: 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!
Posted by: Deborah Spotts | December 27, 2015 at 09:05 PM
[image: eric koperek]
(1) Your "Low Tech Magazine" is truly impressive, a public service well
(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 --
Posted by: eric koperek | December 27, 2015 at 09:32 PM
[image: 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.
Posted by: Shirley Williams | December 27, 2015 at 11:12 PM
[image: 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 --
Posted by: eric koperek | December 28, 2015 at 10:57 PM
[image: 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.
Posted by: Hagbard Celine | December 29, 2015 at 12:59 PM
For those interested, a few "murs de pêches" can still be seen in
Montreuil. The place is open to visitors every Sunday afternoon:
It's a small trip from Paris:
Posted by: Vincent | December 30, 2015 at 12:39 AM
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
About the Thomery practices, you may have further information from the
"Association de préfiguration du musée de la vigne", mponsth at wanadoo.fr or
from the "Syndicat d'initiative" of Thomery, si.thomery at wanadoo.fr
… or enjoy the fete dedicated to Saint-Vincent on January the 23rd in
Posted by: Seraphine | December 31, 2015 at 02:43 PM
[image: 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 --
Posted by: Eric Koperek | December 31, 2015 at 10:45 PM
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
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.
Posted by: Vivi | January 07, 2016 at 03:28 PM
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
Posted by: Dj | May 01, 2016 at 01:36 PM
[image: 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!
Posted by: Margarita Palatnik | July 01, 2016 at 10:03 PM
[image: 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.
Posted by: Stuart Sachs | February 21, 2017 at 12:20 AM
[image: Heather-Gaia Thorpe]
The Botabical Gardens in Hobart Tasmania have a wall that has fireplaces in
it for additional heat.
Posted by: Heather-Gaia Thorpe | August 31, 2017 at 12:43 AM
[image: Stig Falster]
Great article. It also clearly demonstrates the folly of not understanding
and learning from our history.
Posted by: Stig Falster | February 25, 2019 at 03:16 AM
More information about the permaculture