UST-KAMENOGORSK – Husband and wife team Nikolai and Lyudmila Zemlyany have created a garden of unique underground greenhouses in their village of Ukraina, near Ust-Kamenogorsk. The greenhouses, which they have been building and maintaining for the past five years, provide them with produce to sell and give local students a chance to learn gardening and botanical skills.
In their underground gardens, the couple grow coffee and myrtle trees, lemons, bananas, persimmons, figs, hibiscus, bay and even ginkgo biloba. They call them “intelligent greenhouses” because they use heat pumps and are less costly to maintain in Kazakhstan’s harsh climate than the more typical glass structures. Though underground greenhouses are uncommon nowadays, the couple said they have been used as far back as the times of Peter I in Russia.
The Zemlyanys began creating their underground garden as they both neared retirement age. Before retiring, Lyudmila had taught electrical engineering at a college in Ust-Kamenogorsk, and even then managed to create blooming gardens in nearly all the offices and classrooms there. Nikolai, a qualified power engineer, has calculated every step of the future family business. He got the idea from the Internet, which brought him together with a former aircraft designer from Kiev. The Ukrainian innovator covered the walls of his greenhouses with aluminium foil, but Nikolai found another, more efficient way of providing insulation and warmth by covering the roofs of his greenhouses with carbonate polymer, which holds ultraviolet rays in summer and infrared rays in winter. Descending into the gardens doesn’t feel like entering a cave, though additional lighting to prolong “daylight” by sodium lamps is used only from December to February. In winter, the underground garden saves precious heat and in the summer it feels cool and provides an escape from the hot sun. The soil temperature at the optimal depth of 2.5 metres is 12 degrees Celsius all year round, which is economical.
In general, maintaining the family’s four greenhouses, which cover an area of 1,000 square metres, costs 10 or even 15 times less than maintaining the more common Dutch ones, depending on the harshness of the winter. This year, frosts have only just come to East Kazakhstan, which has helped them save on coal used for heating. One stoker is able to heat the stoves easily. They have also installed a pump in the boiler room to pump the warm air out of it.
In addition to the stoker, the couple has hired two young women from the village to help them run their garden. Their children and grandchildren also help around the greenhouses.
“My husband and I are in town only overnight, and all the rest of the time, we’re in our garden,” Lyudmila said. They enjoy spending most of their time in the village, where they have built a cottage for their children, Lyudmila said. The ecology is much better, and the work is good for their grandchildren, who can learn about their natural environment by directly interacting with it.
The village school students are frequent visitors to the Zemlyanys’ greenhouses, where they learn gardening and tending to plants. The vegetables, fruit and pot plants from their greenhouse are accepted by retail outlets and individuals.