For gardeners in many parts of the country, winter can be a frustrating time of year because it’s so hard to grow things. But recently, I came across an idea that can help fix this problem, especially for those of my friends who live in colder, snowier places than I do. Chinese passive solar greenhouses have three walls constructed of brick or clay. On the southern side, the fourth wall is made from a transparent material such as plastic foil to allow sunlight in. This unique type of greenhouse emerged in China during the 1970s and 1980s and is still widely used today. For those of us who like the idea of growing warm-weather crops all year long, the concept of solar gardening is worth learning about.


For gardeners who live in an area that gets a little chilly during the winter months, heating a traditional greenhouse can be essential for plant survival. But with a Chinese greenhouse, you don’t have to pay for heat. A Chinese greenhouse maximizes solar heat collection by having its transparent wall facing south and solid walls facing the north, east, and west side. At night, you can help the greenhouse maintain its warmth by covering it with an insulating material like straw mats.

Simple to Build

One of the biggest advantages of a Chinese greenhouse is that they’re simple and inexpensive to build. The frame is generally constructed of metal, bamboo, or a combination of both. The frame is what supports the curved, transparent wall, which is typically covered with a plastic film and insulating sheet. What makes the design of a Chinese greenhouse unique is that it uses a slope to optimize solar absorption for natural insulation. The side walls of the greenhouse extend along the slope, and a thin roof is built on top of the north wall.

Greater Yield

Without a greenhouse to keep your crops out of the harsh elements, it’s not possible to grow certain crops in the winter. But depending on your location, it may be possible to grow warm-season crops year-round with a Chinese greenhouse. Traditional glass greenhouses require massive amounts of energy to grow crops out of season, as the glass loses significantly more heat than a normal wall. Chinese greenhouses are built with three normal walls that block the cold winds and help to maintain heat. A Chinese greenhouse can be heated year-round with just solar energy, even when outdoor temperatures drop to below freezing temperatures. Of course, these greenhouses are heavily reliant on sun exposure, so weather conditions that limit sunlight can cause growing problems.


Chinese greenhouses can be more efficient places to grow crops than regular open fields. Chinese greenhouses are also more effective at conserving water. The use of a drip irrigation system can put water directly into the plant roots, which results in less evaporation. The plastic foil material used on the transparent side of the greenhouse helps to condense transpired water, which can then be reused. In addition, Chinese greenhouses can help conserve land, protect the soil from erosion, and increase income for farmers, as the greenhouses themselves are inexpensive to build. But even if you don’t live on a farm, putting in a Chinese greenhouse can help you grow your own healthy food all year long with a minimal start-up cost.