by Bill Bush
SEDGWICK—Two years ago Jon Jenson decided to combine his love for plants with his desire to heat his garage by building a passive solar greenhouse.
The greenhouse contains eleven water barrels filled with fifty gallons of water each.
“With the cubic feet in this area, they should absorb enough sunlight, then release,” Jenson explained. “It’s called thermal mass storage.”
In fact, on sunny days the greenhouse can get too warm. He’s installed automatic vent openers on each end to allow some of the heat to escape. At sixty-two degrees the opener automatically twists to open the window. It becomes fully extended at ninety-five degrees, then gradually closes as the temperature inside the greenhouse cools.
Eventually Jenson wants to add two windows connecting the greenhouse to the garage and use fans to blow the excess heat into the garage. He hopes to heat the garage without the use of space heaters.
When he decided to build the greenhouse he determined the sun’s location between October and March and then built his outer wall at sixth-three and a half degrees.
“That’s how I determined where I was going to place my wall out there, cause I figured this angle based on the sun for six months so I get maximum exposure on to the barrels,” Jenson said.
Besides a little help with digging the footings, pouring concrete, and building the top beam, Jenson designed and constructed the greenhouse himself. And he claims he did it for less than $3,000.
Most of his materials came from repurposed construction material.
“Everything was going in the dumpster,” Jenson said. “It hurts me to throw stuff away. I’m a great big recycler.”
Jenson was on the city council in 1996 when Harvey County went to recycling, and sat on the pilot committee when they decided to put in a recycling center. He said Harvey County was the first county in the Kansas to mandate recycling.
Jenson said he doesn’t watch television, but instead looks up scientific stuff on the computer draws out plans and blueprints.
He also likes to read and listen to the radio, both of which he does frequently in his new greenhouse.
“I spend quite a bit of time out here,” Jenson said. “I have a chair here and when it’s nice out here I read. There’s always something to do, like these here need to be planted.”
He keeps all of his plants in the greenhouse during the winter. He also has dozens of newly sprouting plants that he recently planted. They will become his garden once the weather warms consistently.
He makes his own potting soil by mulching grass and leaves and then mixing them so they decompose into dirt.
Jenson learned gardening from his dad, who was a big gardener, raising vegetables and plants. His sister and some of his friends bring him plants to help them heal.
“It’s just something I have a knack for,” Jenson said.