Like the office of Ceres Greenhouse Solutions, Alan and Liz Breakey reside at the foothills of The Rocky Mountains and endure the wide range of weather patterns that come with it. The only difference is they live in Alberta, Canada and not Boulder, Colorado.Their climate zone is “very cold” instead of “cold” and their growing season is shorter as a result. Alan and Liz’s climate and location is one of the reasons they contacted Ceres to inquire about a greenhouse for their property, and we were able to design and build a greenhouse for them that more than met their needs. We caught up with them last week to learn more about their structure and what they’re doing with it post-build.
For some background information:
Alan and Liz have lived at their property in Bragg Creek, Alberta for 40 years and have spent a lot of their working, and now retired, lives there raising purebred sheep and highland cows as a family hobby (their kids were involved in the local 4H club). When hay prices started to get expensive, Liz and Alan shifted their interest to building and tending a year-round greenhouse. They picked up “The Year-Round Solar Greenhouse” book by Marc Plinke and Lindsey Schiller, and started researching a greenhouse design that would be appropriate for their location and needs. When they contacted Ceres they were well-versed in our passive-solar design concepts and they presented us with the challenge of designing a structure that would endure their local weather conditions.
Alan and Liz live in an area with intense wind and snow loads (with the potential of snowfall between September and May). On the flipside, it gets really hot in the Summer months. This makes for a very short, but intense, growing season outdoors. Ceres did a snow and wind analysis at their geographic location and came up with a suitable greenhouse design. Because of tariff rates at the time of building the greenhouse, Ceres’ project managers worked with Alan and Liz to source the steel for the greenhouse frame from Vancouver, BC instead of from the states. The steel used for the frame was c-form steel – a super heavy-duty solution perfect for withstanding high wind and snow loads.
The result is an extremely durable and efficient greenhouse. When we talked to Liz, she mentioned they recently endured a windstorm that boasted 200kph (125mph) gusts and toppled hundreds of trees on their property.
The greenhouse was just fine.
She said their greenhouse was even stronger than some of the houses in their area.
Energy and water conservation is important to Alan and Liz so they installed solar panels to help power their greenhouse and they harvest rainwater to help lighten the load on their well. Their GAHT® (ground to air heat transfer) system does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to heating and cooling their greenhouse, although they have a supplemental propane heater for extremely cold winter nights.
They noted that they can exclusively rely on the GAHT® system to heat their greenhouse up until Christmastime – and even then they don’t use the supplemental heater that often.
When it comes to growing in the greenhouse, Liz said that she’s constantly learning what thrives in the growing environment and at what time of the year. For example, she found that her tomatoes grow better in the winter because the greenhouse space is too hot for them in the summer. Besides tomatoes, Liz has successfully grown microgreens in a hydroponic system for the local yoga studio bistro and has 75 huge pots she uses for propagation.
The greenhouse is a space where plants are nursed back to life but it’s also a lifestyle space for relaxation and mental wellness. Liz and Alan have a hot tub and an infrared sauna installed in the greenhouse which are especially lovely during the cold months. And because the greenhouse is well ventilated, it provided a safe space to meet friends and family during the pandemic. Liz and Alan said that the greenhouse is a hit with all their guests and Liz practically lives in the space. With their setup, we don’t blame them!
This greenhouse is one of a handful of projects we’ve completed in Canada, and we are looking forward to building many more for our neighbors up north.
For more information on why our greenhouse designs are ideal for northern climates, check out our blog, “A Greenhouse for Cold Climates, Eh?” and this account of one of our other Canadian growers. If you have a project in mind and would like to speak to a representative, contact us here!