Tropical fruit in Nebraska? Geothermal makes it possible … and cheap
Picture this: You’re in a grove of tropical fruit trees, eating oranges, lemons, and figs straight from their source. Where are you? Thailand? Sicily? Florida?
Chances are that the Midwest was not among your guesses. But Russ Finch, a mail-carrier-turned-farmer, is growing these tropical fruits in Alliance, Nebraska — in a greenhouse, of course. The aptly named “Greenhouse in the Snow” uses the Earth’s heat to keep the temperature at a balmy 28 degrees. Here’s how the geothermal heating system works, from Civil Eats:
Perforated plastic tubes make a circuit underground outside the greenhouse in a trench 8-feet deep where Finch says the temperature remains a steady 52 degrees year-round. A fan moves air through the tubes and into the greenhouse when it gets too hot or cold.
There are no propane or electric heaters, just a small motor that runs the small fan. That means the greenhouse uses very little energy, keeping costs down to about $1 a day, all but cutting out the fossil fuels needed to control the climate inside.
Sure, the cost of constructing a greenhouse of this design is pretty steep — like, $22,000. But with disease threatening Florida’s oranges and an ongoing drought in California, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to grow citrus in America’s breadbasket, where — as Finch points out in the video above — water and land are relatively cheap and abundant.
There are very few places in the world where you can enjoy a fresh orange straight off the tree, and then step out into the snowy outdoors. Right now, Nebraska is one of them.