SECTIONS OF THE BOOK SOLVIVA:
Table of Contents
|| Some current realities
|| A visit to Solviva
How I got on the path of seeking
better ways to live... || Wastewater
Greyburg or Greendale: where
would you rather live?
A VISIT to SOLVIVA
WINTER in my HOME
In the midst of the record-cold and dark winter of 1984, the temperature
is well below zero degrees F, and the howling wind creates a fierce
windchill factor. The landscape is deep in snow, and my car barely
makes it up the driveway past the Solviva Winter Garden greenhouse.
This greenhouse has never needed any supplementary heat since
its completion in 1984. It has indeed stayed warm enough to continuously
produce bumper crops with only stored solar heat and the little
resident heaters, the 100 chickens and 30 angora rabbits. Today,
however, is the coldest it has ever been since the greenhouse
was built, and I am worried. I am tempted to stop and check in,
but I know how it is just to "check in": once inside,
it is impossible to leave because of the pure wonder of this garden
in winter, and also because there is always some task that begs
to be done. But today is my day off and I have other plans, so
I continue up the driveway, slipping and sliding up the hill to
My home in deep winter
Bundled up in full winter gear, with an armload
of groceries, I struggle against the arctic blast, down the path
toward my home. Before going inside I pull out a bag of birdseed
and trudge around the corner through waist-high snowdrifts to
fill up the bird feeders. Biting wind snarls in under my muffler,
and my fingertips ache from the intense cold as I fumble with
the mechanics of the feeders. A little chickadee hops right up,
looks me straight in the eye and says "many-thanks-to-you
... many-thanks-to-you". As our souls meet, a profound joy
courses through me. With squinting eyes I inhale the glistening
white landscape etched with naked trees and bushes and their blue
shadows, the deep blue sky, the brilliant sun. However, this is
not the time or place to linger, for the tips of my fingers and
nose are screaming for me to seek shelter. So I retrace my deep
footprints around the corner, open the front door, and quickly
step inside. In the entry hall I peel off my outer layers and
then open the inner door to the living room.
Welcome in from the cold
With relief I deeply breathe in the fragrant warmth
of my home and the beauty of the sun pouring in through climbing
and cascading green leaves and red, orange and yellow flowers.
Even after several years of living in this house, I still find
it hard to believe that this is possible, that the solar energy
radiating in through the south glazing is enough to keep my home
cozy even on such a cold day.
Enchanting scents waft from jasmine and honeysuckle,
sweet peas, pineapple sage and peppermint geranium, orange and
lemon blossoms, and compost-rich living earth. Some of the branches
and vines reach into the living room and kitchen, the weaving
studio, and even upstairs. This garden room has no walls or doors
separating it from the living areas but is instead fully integrated
with the whole house.
The weaving studio in
Ruthie at the loom
I reach up to pick one of the many juicy tomatoes
hanging from numerous 30-foot vines suspended under the skylight
that runs the full length of the lower 30 inches of the main roof.
These tomatoes are even sweeter than the finest summer tomato,
perhaps because they develop more sugar as they ripen more slowly
in winter. These same six tomato plants have been producing continuously
for four years.
I take two steps down into the garden, then across the warm concrete
floor and along the steppingstones set among the carpeting of
baby-tears, to the old clawfoot bathtub in the west corner. It
is surrounded by a bird-of-paradise plant with five flower clusters
in full plumage, an enormous Monstera deliciosa with seven ripening
fruits, a large hibiscus bush with a dozen red blossoms, and an
arbor of heavenly scented flowering ginger. Next to the tub is
the salad garden, pouring forth a continuous cornucopia of succulent
greens and herbs.
Heaven on Earth
Food for body and soul
I turn on the hot water, sprinkle in my favorite
bath salts and oils, and pick a handful of peppermint geranium,
rosemary and sage, tossing them in too. Then I turn on the hose
to self-water the southeast quadrant of the garden. I peel off
most of my clothes in response to the solar warmth and putter
around a bit, snipping a withered flower here, twisting up a vine
there, picking a bouquet of flowers and ferns for the kitchen
Next I harvest some 10 different varieties of red
and green lettuces, plus arugula, mustards, kale, lemony French
sorrel, red-veined chard, radicchio, mizuna, tah tsai, watercress,
parsley, dill, fennel, and crunchy radishes. I give them a quick
rinse and shake and seal them into a plastic bag and put them
in the refrigerator. And I take one perfect brown egg laid by
the greenhouse hens and set it to hard-boil. As I stand in the
kitchen, close to one of the warm-air ducts, I can just faintly
hear the hum of one of the fans that move warm air from the solar
roof into storage in the insulated foundation.
Before the tub is full, I have time for one more
task: pollinating the tomato flowers. For a few minutes every
two days I become a fairy godmother, touching each fully open
tomato flower with my magic wand (a watercolor brush taped to
an extension stick), ping... ping... ping...
Sweet and juicy tomatoes, even
A day or two later the flowers wither, but instead
of falling off, the way they would if not pollinated, the base
of each flower will fatten into a tiny green tomato, grow larger
and larger, turn yellow, then orange, then red, shiny, sweet and
When the tub is full and I have gathered my phone,
tape recorder and a cup of peppermint tea to be within easy reach,
I get in and slowly sink into bliss. Mozart's C-major piano concerto
joins with the birds singing and lunching at the feeder right
outside the window.
My body is afloat, slowly rising and falling as
I inhale and exhale deeply. My mind is free as I release tensions
from toes and fingers to neck and brow. I enter a state of peace
(...One of my golden memories is being in this tub one blizzardy
Christmas with my two little grandchildren, blowing bubbles and
splashing water all around....)
I finish off with a shower, rainbows arching through the mist,
diamond water droplets refreshing the surrounding plants. I leave
the hot water in the tub to slowly give off its warmth during
the upcoming cold night and then dry off with a sun-warmed towel.
I step up to the kitchen and take the bag of salad out of the
refrigerator, put a handful of crisp greens on a plate, top it
off with my favorite dressing and a few tasty nasturtium, borage
and fennel flowers, and then step back into the garden and sink
into the lounge chair. Here I bask in comfort, just a couple of
feet away from the cold raging on the other side of the window
panes - and the only furnace that is on is the big old nuclear
power plant up there some 95 million miles away.
So delicious, so nutritious
What a blessing it is to be munching on these greens
that grew from tiny seeds right in my home, in a harmonious blend
of water, soil, compost and sunlight, without any toxic substances
whatsoever. They now release a symphony of exquisite flavors and
health-enhancing vitamins, minerals, enzymes and active vibrant
life force. The egg is far higher in vitamins and 30 percent lower
in calories and cholesterol than factory eggs, because the lucky
hens live in freedom in a clean environment and receive fresh
greens every day.
People tend to think I must spend half my time just caring for
this indoor home garden. The fact is that it takes less than an
hour a week, and considerably less than that when I grow just
ornamentals. Two or three times a year I spend a few hours pruning
back and repotting some of the
plants and enriching the soil with compost and rock powders.
People ask, Don't insects fly and crawl all over the house? No,
insects are smart, they much prefer the garden area. However,
a few shy, slender daddy-longlegs-type spiders roam discreetly
around the house and do me a great favor by controlling the wool
moths which would otherwise devastate the wool yarn and weavings
in my studio. These spiders do nothing worse than leave webs in
the ceiling and a few shriveled husks of insects that they have
captured and eaten. I doubt the living quarters of my home have
many more insects than any other country house with wood beams
And people ask, Doesn't mildew form everywhere because of the
humidity from the indoor garden? No, because the air circulation
in the whole house is excellent due to the solar-heating system
and the strategic placement of ducts and vents that move warm
air down and around. Also, when the woodstove is lighted, it acts
as both an air circulator and dehumidifier. The extra humidity
in the house in winter is actually a great benefit. In normal
buildings the air is too dry during the heating season, which
can lead to respiratory problems and illness, dry skin and cracked
lips, static electricity, cracks in furniture and floors. People
with asthma and allergies comment with relief that they can breathe
more freely in my house. People's eyeglasses do fog up for a minute
when they come in from the cold, but that is not much of a problem.
Just before sunset I insert the movable insulation panels that
fit snugly into the window frames to keep the solar warmth in
the house. These panels spend the day in a long built-in pocket
below the greenhouse windows. It takes less than a minute to put
them up, and the same to take them down in the morning. On the
coldest, darkest days I leave most of them up in order to keep
in the warmth.
Because of the brutal conditions outside I make a fire in the
evening. I keep a stack of old newspaper by the Franklin stove
and first make a bed of thin twists of paper for kindling, followed
by increasingly thick logs of rolled paper, without any roller
or ties, to fill the whole stove. I wedge them in crosswise to
keep them from unfurling and to let air through, and then close
the stove doors and leave the flue damper open for about half
a minute, until the draft creates a good fire. This whole process
takes less than two minutes. Then I close down the draft, and
the fire continues burning hot for a couple of hours.
The woodstove heats water as
well as air and the masonry mass.
The stove sits in an alcove of brick and concrete,
which picks up so much heat that it is still warm the following
morning. A 100-foot coil of copper pipe, connected to the water
preheating tank, lies on top of the stove. This can heat the 80
gallons of water to 130 degrees F in just a few hours, which is
then complemented by the standard water-heating tank as needed.
Thus my space heating bill is zero, while the water-heating bill
is reduced by some 80 percent.
I know that a little tree frog, only about an inch long, is spending
the winter in my home, because now and then it peeps a few times
loud and clear. Many times I have tried to sneak up ever so carefully
to see it, but I swear it can hear my heartbeat, for it stops
peeping as I approach, and when it is quiet it is impossible to
find it in among the leaves. This evening, as I sit reading under
the lamp next to the garden, I have the distinct feeling that
someone is watching me from behind. I slowly turn my head, and
there on a branch with a bright red hibiscus flower, about 12
inches from my face, sits my little housemate, looking me straight
in the eye.
WINTER IN THE SOLVIVA GREENHOUSE
That night is the coldest it has been in decades,
and extremely windy. I sleep fitfully, concerned about the greenhouse:
Can it possibly survive this night without backup heat?
Outside: 4 degrees below
At 4 a.m. I wake with a start as ice and snow come
crashing off the roof and the gale rattles my windows. Now I am
wide awake and really worried. Rather than lie there fretting,
I get up and pull layers and layers over my pajamas, push through
a 5-foot snowdrift right outside the door, and set out across
the fields. It is an 800-foot passage. The surface of the snow
sometimes supports my weight; other times I crash down above my
knees. One false move and I could break my leg and be trapped
in the snow with no one to hear my cries for help except the brilliant
moon and the silver-edged clouds chasing matching black shadows
across the landscape.
Twenty minutes later I approach the greenhouse,
nestled in a snowdrift at the far end of the pasture. Whirlwinds
of white wisps whip around in the moonlight. My breath has turned
to ice on the muffler pulled over my face. I hastily shovel away
several feet of snow blocking the west entrance door, wrench the
door open and quickly close it behind me.
To my utter surprise, in here it is like a balmy
night in June. The thermometer reads 55 degrees F. The 30 angora
rabbits that help warm the greenhouse with their body heat are
quietly muffling about in their communal dens. I step into the
greenhouse, through the jungle of tomato vines, and here the thermometer
reads 45 degrees F.
I proceed toward the east end, inhaling the humid,
mild air, fragrant with tomatoes and nasturtium, thyme and sage,
and living earth. At the far end I step in among the 100 roosting
chickens who acknowledge me with sleepy murmurs, cozy in their
warm, spacious quarters. The thermometer reads 70 degrees F and
this warmth is generated by the body heat of the chickens.
Inside the rabbit room:
55 degrees F.
72 degrees Fahrenheit
in the chicken room.
The sheep help keep
the north wall warm
Outside: zero degrees
The sheep, enclosed in the barn along the back
of the greenhouse, their bales of hay stacked up against the wall,
further help protect the greenhouse on this blizzard night.
Thus, while the outside temperature is 5 degrees below zero F
- though actually much colder because of the windchill factor
- inside the Solviva Winter Garden greenhouse it is warm enough
to maintain a thriving garden, abundant with vegetables and flowers,
without any heating fuel. I can go back to bed without worrying
about the greenhouse freezing. So I tromp back across the fields,
a bit more easily now as I retrace the deep footprints I left
on the way down, feeling entirely at peace and as one with Earth,
Universe and self. This is true plenty, freedom and security.
The next day it is still
extremely cold and windy, with brilliant sunshine. The min/max
thermometer shows that during the night the greenhouse never dipped
below 43 degrees F. By 9 a.m. it is 75 degrees inside, and I turn
on the hose and with quick quivering motions provide everything
with a light refreshing shower. Two fans, powered by the sun shining
on the photovoltaic panels, hum as they force hot air from the
top of the greenhouse down through ducts and into heat-absorbing
water-mass storage. Some of the heat-activated vents are slowly
opening, increasing air circulation and preventing overheating.
The massive waterwalls are passively absorbing the solar heat.
Inside: 80 degrees Fahrenheit
Nine levels for growing
Twenty-five varieties of lush greens and herbs fill
the raised beds, with names like hon tsai tai, arugula, tah tsai,
Osaka mustard, mache, radicchio Treviso, mizuna, and the divine
lemon-flavored sorrel de Belleville. Above them rise 150 growtubes
hanging in seven tiers to the top of the greenhouse. They are
overflowing with 25 varieties of lettuces with names as lush as
their appearance and flavor: Lollo Rossa, Rouge Grenobloise, Rosalita,
Merveille de Quatre Saison.
Three of the seven tiers of growtubes are set upstairs
along the catwalk, and here are also a steady succession of dozens
of seedling flats ranging from just seeded to 3 inches tall and
ready to be planted into the raised beds and growtubes. Here they
sprout and grow strong without anyextra light or warmth, even
through prolonged cloudycold spells.
Seedling thrive upstairs
Wall of Nasturtiums
Three of the seven tiers of growtubes are set upstairs
along the catwalk, and here are also a steady succession of dozens
of seedling flats ranging from just seeded to 3 inches tall and
ready to be planted into the raised beds and growtubes. Here they
sprout and grow strong without any extra light or warmth, even
through prolonged cloudy cold spells.
Hundreds of tomatoes are ripening on 15-foot climbing and cascading
vines. Along the north wall, where the light is too dim for greens
to thrive, there is a tall wall of nasturtiums with thousands
of blossoms in infinite varieties of pastel and deep velvety colors.
The breath from the chickens and rabbits and their
bedding enriches the air with several times the normal level of
invisible molecules of carbon dioxide. The plants breathe in the
co2 through the stomata on the surface of their leaves, and the
co2 enrichment causes them to grow much faster and healthier because
it provides them with many more carbon building blocks to create
Five dozen eggs per day and the angora wool more
than pay for the animals' feed, while their body heat, co2, compost
fertilizer and good company are free fringe benefits.
various nectar-producing flowering plants provide habitat
for beneficial insects.
Good soil is full of
endless varieties and numbers of lifeforms, billions
of microscopic ones in just one teaspoon. Here an earwig
cares for her nest of eggs. Earthworms are essential.
Syrphid fly, Brown Lacewing,
Green Lacewing and aphids in various stages of develpment.
Nasturtium is favorite
for harmful insects, which then attract the beneficial
Ladybugs eat aphids, miniscule Encarsia formosa
wasps lay eggs in the pupae of whiteflies, while green lacewings
flit about like little fairies in search of any vegetarian insect.
Syrphid flies seek nectar from fennel flowers, hovering like hummingbirds,
and a dignified praying mantis is surveying the scene and, blessing
me with her eye contact, pronounces it Good.
Praying Mantis Heaven
That day, in spite of the cloudy, cold, short days
of mid-winter, we harvest, picking leaf by gorgeous leaf, wash
and bag 80 pounds of Solviva Salad, enough for 1,280 servings.
Some go off by UPS truck to the finest restaurants in the Boston
area, and the rest is delivered to customers in local Vineyard
restaurants and stores.
Seven months later we are in the middle of a sweltering
record-hot summer. There has been hardly a drop of rain for three
months. This day in August is more of the same. By now, the lettuces
in most other gardens have bolted. But because of the Solviva
growing techniques, the outside garden is a continuously productive
patchwork quilt of lettuces and other salad greens in brilliant
rosy reds, deep wine reds, lime greens and sun greens, dark greens
and blue greens.
Continuous salad production
even through hottest summer conditions
The sweetest cantalopes
on 30-foot vines
Inside the greenhouse it is surprisingly cool, and
yet there are none of the expensive, roaring, energy-consuming
exhaust fans that standard greenhouses run continuously. The hot
air is rushing out through the top vents, and cooler replacement
air comes in through bottom vents, and east, west and north doors.
Surprisingly, the greenhouse is as stunningly productive in summer
as it is in winter. It is hard to stay away from superlative adjectives
when describing this scene.
At the west end 10 varieties of peppers grow up to 6 feet tall,
yielding hundreds of fruits from sweetest to hottest.
The center of the greenhouse is filled primarily
with 10 different varieties of melons and cantaloupes, with vines
over 30 feet long loaded with ripening fruit suspended in net
bags and slings. Their flavor surpasses anything grown in an outside
A tall bower of European cucumbers fills the east end, with 30-foot
vines and 16-inch leaves, and foot-long tendrils seeking the next
handhold. Drooping from this bower are 18-inch delicacies, almost
2 pounds, with tender thin skin and no seeds.
Tomato plants with 30-foot vines form other bowers, heavily laden
with thousands of ripening fruit. The wall of nasturtiums continues
to flourish along the north wall, now cool and shaded from the
high summer sun.
In front of all the climbing vines is a long bank of five different
kinds of basil, more tender, productive and flavorful than any
grown outdoors. In here are also many different greens of the
Crucifera family. When planted in the outside garden, these greens
are devastated by flea beetles, but for some reason these pests
are not in the greenhouse.
Bees, hover flies and lacewings flit around sipping nectar and
at the same time performing the important task of pollinating
the flowers. Without this service there would be no fruit, unless
we take the time to touch each of the hundreds of flowers every
two days, which we need to do in the winter.
A quick shower for the whole greenhouse a couple of times daily
provides highly effective evaporative cooling. As in winter, there
are no mildew problems. Most plants are more productive, tender
and flavorful in the greenhouse in summer than they are outside.
In here they are sheltered from the harsher conditions that prevail
in the outdoor gardens, such as whipping winds and occasional
pelting rain, and the full blast of the sun's ultraviolet radiation.
The sheep mow and fertilize
the pasture and keep it free of poison ivy and brambles, and
provide wool, fleeces and delicious clean meat.
Everybody adores Jenny,
and vice versa.
The chickens roam free,
no mess or odor
I walk across the fields toward my home, passing
the grazing sheep and Jenny the burro. They are followed by the
chickens who happily clean up any parasite eggs or larvae, thereby
gaining good protein while keeping the sheep and burro healthier.
Grazing, they provide ongoing mowing without which the fields
would become an impenetrable tangle of poison ivy and brambles.
In the process all parts of the entire ecosystem, from plants
to insects to animals to humans function harmoniously and effectively
SUMMER in my
The solar-dynamic roof keeps
warm in the winter and cool in the
summer, and then flowers and shrubs
purify the wastewater.
The indoor garden is a joy
both winter and summer.
A jungle of 30-foot tomato
4 years old and still producing the best tomatoes year-round.
Even on this very hot day my home is delightfully
cool, without any exhaust fans. The hotter the sun shines on the
solar roof, the faster the hot air escapes through the top vents,
pulling house air out with it. The water pipes incorporated in
the solar roof provide for most of the hot water needs. Refreshing
breezes enter through doors and windows, strategically placed
to scoop in the prevailing winds.
The plants in the greenroom are thriving in full
sun, even cool-loving plants such as broccoli. The relative coolness
of my home on a hot sunny day is a great surprise to people who
think of solar houses as uncomfortably hot in the summertime.
I take a shower outside and the water runs down a lined trench
to irrigate a Viburnum odorata, Japanese maple and other moisture-loving
plants that grow around the deck. I happily recall taking hot
showers here in mid-winter. Standing in the snow under a hot shower
is like drinking hot chocolate with cold whipped cream.
SUMMARY of ADVANTAGES
of LIVING the SOLVIVA WAY.
I have found many advantages of living the Solviva
way. First of all, there is the matter of money. My living expenses
are several thousand dollars less per year than the average home.
For one, my solargreen home saves me about $1,200 a year in heating
oil costs. A friend in southern New Hampshire could save most
of the $5,400 a year she spends heating her home with electricity.
Furthermore, I save a couple of hundred dollars on water heating
because the water is heated mainly by the sun and free wastepaper
fuel, and I save another $75 because by burning the fires very
hot the chimney never needs cleaning.
I also save significant amounts on my electric bill because my
refrigerator is a whisper-quiet Danish Vestfrost, which uses about
75 percent less electricity than a standard refrigerator, and
my light bulbs are compact fluorescents which also use 75 percent
less electricity while providing the same amount of light as normal
In addition, I have a Solviva waterless compostoilet, and a regular
water toilet that flushes into a Biocarbon composting sewage purification
septic system, as well as a Biocarbon graywater purification filter,
and these save on wastewater management because I need no periodic
septic tank pump-outs ($480 per pump-out in some communities),
nor do I have the enormous expense ($8,000-$30,000) of upgrading
a substandard septic system or replacing a failed one. The average
life span of a standard septic systems is only 10 to 20 years.
By contrast, I estimate the life span of a good Solviva Biocarbon
septic system to be "forever".
I also save about $100 a year on solid waste management because
I compost all food wastes, burn all low-grade wastepaper, and
recycle all glass, cans, magazines, corrugated and plastic. Only
about 10 percent of my solid waste is trash. The recycling takes
no extra time whatsoever. In fact, I save time as I need take
only a few trips a year to the dump, because there is nothing
in my wastes that causes odors or attracts flies, rats or dogs.
Furthermore, I can save hundreds of dollars on food because of
what I can produce right in my home, and because of the superior
quality of this food as well as the excellent air quality produced
by all the indoor plants, I hardly ever get sick. This saves the
cost of over-the-counter and prescription drugs and saves time
that would be lost during sickness.
Thus my home clearly reduces my cost of living substantially.
It also, even in its state of incomplete conversion to a fully
solargreen home (my home is still electrified with oil and nuclear
power, instead of solar photovoltaic panels), it causes some 80
percent less pollution than a standard home. For instance, it
causes some 30,000 pounds less co2 pollution because the heating,
cooling and electrical systems require some 1,500 gallons less
oil than the average home, and it causes some 90 to 100 percent
less groundwater pollution because of the various Solviva wastewater
The Solviva Winter Garden greenhouse on the farm saves me the
$6,000 or more that a conventional greenhouse of equivalent production
capacity would cost to heat and cool, preventing the depletion
of roughly 6,000 gallons of oil and emission of 120,000 pounds
The various Solviva greenhouse and farm designs and management
systems prevent the bad odors and flies, as well as the pollution
of water, soil and air normally caused by conventional farms.
Thus, not only do the various Solviva designs greatly reduce the
cost of living and harm to our resources, environment and other
species, but they also promote good health and good feelings.
Based on my accumulated experience, I believe that these various
Solviva systems can be adapted to work sustainably in any urban
or rural location in any climate on Earth, for countless generations
BACK TO TOP
Chapter from the
224 pages with 155 color photographs and illustrations
Publisher/Distributor: Trailblazer Press 1998, RFD 1 Box 582,
Vineyard Haven, MA 02568
Tel: (508) 693-3341, Fax: (508) 693-2228, e-mail: email@example.com,
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