Controlled Environments for High Production


Located high in the mountains along the gulf coast of Mexico, Jonotla—hometown of the Himalayan Institute Mexico—experiences rain year round. Moist air is carried over the continent from the ocean which then condenses in the mountains and falls as rain and fog, right at the altitude of Jonotla. The driest time of year still sees rain every few days. For this reason, many of the staple vegetable crops that are sensitive to excess moisture cannot be grown or have short windows of growth, necessitating that the people of Jonotla pay higher prices for vegetables imported to the region or travel to other towns to go to market. Some farmers succeed at growing more fragile crops, but rely on chemical controls to fight the mold, pests, and fertility issues caused by climatic conditions.

Fortunately, the simple technology of greenhouses can solve the problem of too much rain and cool temperatures so that some of these crops can be grown right at home. The HI Mexico greenhouse is currently being used to grow vanilla and tomatoes.

Raised beds, which improve drainage, are planted with tomato seedlings. Tomatoes easily rot and experience blight if too moist. Tomatoes are traditionally imported to Jonotla from other towns in the region.

In three weeks, the plants have grown rapidly under the favorable conditions of the greenhouse: warm and not too wet. Applications of aged cow manure feed the plants. Here, Energy Farming Program Leader Arizsandy installs guide strings to support the growing plants.

One and a half months after being planted, the tomato plants are full grown and beginning to bear fruit.

Marigold flowers (seen with darker, narrower leaves) are interplanted within the tomato beds to deter pests, which can be a problem in the crowded greenhouse environment.

Greenhouse technology can be as simple as plastic stretched over a small wooden frame then placed over a bed on the ground, or can be larger scale, such as the HI Mexico bamboo-frame house. At any size, the materials necessary to construct a greenhouse are relatively inexpensive and are readily available to farmers in the Sierra Norte. Growing in a controlled environment that is favorable to a particular plant is one method of avoiding chemical pesticides, fungicides (especially in the case of tomatoes), and fertilizers which become necessary when growing plants outside of their preferred environment.

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