High-Efficiency, Year-Round Tropical Greenhouse in South Dakota

March 25, 2022
In Aurora, South Dakota, Shannon Mutschelknaus built a high-efficiency, year-round, tropical greenhouse.

In South Dakota, soybeans, corn, wheat, sunflowers, and alfalfa come to mind when contemplating the state's number one industry - agriculture. In Aurora, South Dakota, some of the crops at Wayward Spring Acres have veered in a different, more exotic, direction.

Shannon Mutschelknaus is a mechanical engineer and a farmer at Wayward Springs. He developed an interest in horticulture as a child and eventually began saving seeds and growing tropical and sub-tropical trees. He learned that there was a market demand for exotic tropical fruit trees.

"I discovered the demand for exotic tropical fruit trees was robust because seasonal hurricanes regularly ravage them," said Mutschelknaus. "Examples of the many plants I've successfully propagated include soursop, mamey, Garcinia humilus, Garcinio madruno, cherimoya, Monstera deliciosa, and passion fruit."

Mutschelknaus is also a mechanical engineer and saw an opportunity to combine his engineering, research, and horticultural experience to build a specialized greenhouse to expand his exotic plant business. With support from a SARE grant, he built an above-ground greenhouse with an insulated rear wall, passive solar heat, and an in-ground "climate battery." Climate battery greenhouses like Mutschelknaus's use the earth below the greenhouse to manage excess heat captured during the day. Tubing is buried beneath the greenhouse, and a fan circulates air through the tubing. Warm, humid daytime air circulates underground, where it cools down before re-entering the greenhouse. And at night, fans push the cool air underground to absorb the earth's heat and bring warmth back into the structure.

Mutschelknaus now grows leafy greens and tomatoes in his greenhouse and novel fruits like lowquats, soursops, and cherimoya.

His plans are available to the public with easy-to-read graphs, illustrations, videos, and clear guidelines.

"I underestimated the interest I would receive from others as well as the time it takes to communicate about my project to those interested," said Mutschelknaus. "However, I really enjoy the time spent teaching and helping others."

Dig Deeper

  • Read a Farm Show story about the solar greenhouse.
  • Watch Mutschelknaus's 2-part video series about building a passive solar greenhouse.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant:

Topics: Fruit, Season Extension
Related Locations: North Central, South Dakota