Walipini Greenhouses – Some DIY Tips

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: – retrieved 12/11/16

2. Green, B, 2014. ‘Walipini Underground DIY Greenhouse’. Youtube, 2/5/14.– retrieved 12/11/16

3. Green, B, 2016. ‘DIY Walipini Greenhouse with Reciprocal Roof’. – retrieved 12/11/16

4. Ziggy, 2008. ‘How to Build a Reciprocal Roof Frame’. The Year of Mud, 26/11/08. – retrieved 12/11/16

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth). Born in London, I am very interested in peace and community and have a degree in Peace Studies. I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and my Permaculture Teaching Certificate in 2018 at Aranya in India. For me, permaculture is about so much more than garden design; I am mainly interested in applying ‘human permaculture’ as a complement to peace practices. In particular, I like to look at how human permaculture can be applied through psychology, communication and education techniques. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. With my husband, I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia and encountered many permaculture and community projects. I have lived in various situations, from squatted land to intentional communities, as well as more ‘normal’ places, in the UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and sometimes run dance meditation workshops. Currently, I live in the Andalucian mountains.


    1. Actually the same concept will work as the temperature below ground is cooler. On average running about 55 to 60F depending on depth.

  1. Links
    Here is a list of reputable resources for building earth sheltered greenhouses, called Walipini’s, and other sustainable, low cost greenhouse options:
    1. Benson Institute- online plans
    2. Climate battery concept (Geothermal) Jereome Osentowski Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture. Book link:
    3. Greenhouse of the future- video
    4. Mike Oehler- Earth Sheltered Greenhouse- downloadable eBook and book. Mike writes with a sense of humor, and coins the gardening phrase “Thriving on Benign Neglect.”
    5. Mother Earth News- online resources
    6. Verge Permaculture- PDF and online.
    7. Misc: uTube, many worldwide examples.
    If you have a consumer friendly, reputable source please share!

  2. Hi, Are these suitable for victorian climates? Around southern victoria? Or would there be some tweaking to optimize growing? :) cheers xxx

  3. Hi, when putting plastic on, do it on as hot a day as possible. That way it will stretch a little bit and not sag so much on hot days. Don’t overdo it though. People who put up tunnel greenhouses do this I think. :)

  4. We are interested in doing this here at our home in Springdale, Oregon in the USA. Are there any suggested sizes for output, or perhaps the dimensions of the one you built? We’re looking for a starting point, and then we’re going to be assessing our space, so we can see how much supplies we need and how big an area we must dig, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button