A Walipini is an underground greenhouse with a transparent or translucent roof. The word ‘Walipini’ means ‘place of warmth’ in the Aymara language of an indigenous Bolivian tribe.
These greenhouses work on the principle of using nature’s resources – i.e. the earth – to create a stable-temperature environment in which a cool climate area can significantly increase the variety of crops you can produce as the greenhouse, with little or no energy inputs, provides a warm space for plants to grow in.
There is a lot of information out there about building your own Walipini. One useful resource is this pair of videos from Ben Green, which show his home-made Walipini in his garden in Wageningen, The Netherlands. In the first, we see how the Walipini is a circular structure dug into the side of a hill with one central supporting beam made from living willow making a pointed roof, and a small tunnel leading inside.
The film gives a clear sense of the shape and area of the greenhouse and Ben’s work with natural systems by planting up the ground-level edge of the greenhouse with supporting species such as mint (“lots of mint!”).
He also introduces the crops he is growing inside, some of which are surprising for the Netherlands and inspirational for using the greenhouse to grow tropical species, like lemon (Citrus x Lemon) and “Calomandin” which I think is a spelling error as it looks like Calamondin (x Citrofortunella Microcarpa). He also uses recycled materials for the supporting beams and roof.
In the next film, Ben shows us his transformation of the Walipini roof from one with central beam to a reciprocal structure. He gives quite a lot of detail of the process itself which can easily be replicated just from watching the film, though again there are many materials on reciprocal roof construction out there.
Both films are beautifully shot with some interesting close-ups of leaves and of the texture of the plastic which, even if you are not interested in making a Walipini, are quite pleasing to the eye. In a world saturated by films of people telling you how to do things, the non-instructional style with just information on the screen can be a refreshing change.
1. Benson Agriculture and Food Institute, 2002. ‘Walipini Construction (The Underground Greenhouse). Benson Agriculture and Food Institute: Utah. Available as a PDF here: https://www.solaripedia.com/files/1257.pdf – retrieved 12/11/16
2. Green, B, 2014. ‘Walipini Underground DIY Greenhouse’. Youtube, 2/5/14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IA-AIp_5vw– retrieved 12/11/16
3. Green, B, 2016. ‘DIY Walipini Greenhouse with Reciprocal Roof’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYXJbfDk7qA – retrieved 12/11/16
4. Ziggy, 2008. ‘How to Build a Reciprocal Roof Frame’. The Year of Mud, 26/11/08. https://www.theyearofmud.com/2008/11/26/how-to-build-a-reciprocal-roof-frame/ – retrieved 12/11/16