“The frog does not drink up the pond in which it lives.” — Chinese Proverb
Since 1977, the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens has practiced sustainability daily through solar energy, biologically based plant production, education, an incredible volunteer force and creative community-based funding. As a result, you will find wondrous displays of plant life in the conservatory and beautiful, educating grounds. At the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens you can see first-hand how people have come together to sustain the importance of human values, community, ecology and renewable energy into the new millennia.
The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens is a regional center for demonstrating renewable solar energy – both passive solar heating and solar electricity. When the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens opened its doors in November of 1977, it was then the nation’s largest passively solar heated greenhouse. In 1986 a new passive solar greenhouse/conservatory was constructed in Lions Park. In 1997 the project added a photovoltaic system to help power the greenhouse/conservatory.
We have added more solar electricity, a solar heated, solar electric and wind turbine powered classroom/lab at the Paul Smith Children’s Village and many sustainable landscapes. Today, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens generates approximately 40 to 50% of its electricity from a photovoltaic solar energy system.
Sustainability has been part of the DNA of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens for many decades and long before the word sustainability was popularized. The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens philosophy of sustainability extends to people through inclusion of senior, youth at risk, and handicapped volunteers, believing that people are an important part of how sustainability should be viewed. In addition, we employ many non-toxic strategies for pest control, natural fertilizers and extensive composting in our operation.
Heating is expensive in greenhouses, but our greenhouse/conservatory is heated for free. A passive solar heating system provides 100% of the heat to three separate 30′ x 50′ greenhouse sections. The rest of the 6,800 square foot building also receives a substantial amount of heat generated from the solar greenhouses in winter.
Let’s look at some of the specifics of our solar heating system:
Heating is expensive in greenhouses, but our greenhouse/conservatory is heated for free. The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens is a regional center for demonstrating renewable solar energy—both passive solar heating and solar electricity (click here to learn more about our electric system). This technology is based upon many earlier designs of Native American Indians.
The use of solar energy in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens is elegantly simple. A passive solar heating system provides 100% of the heat to three separate 30′ x 50′ greenhouse sections. The rest of the 6,800 square foot building also receives a substantial amount of heat generated from the solar greenhouses.
A passive solar energy system is one that has very few or no moving parts. Thus the word “Passive.” The solar heating is a result of the combined effects of the following:
South-oriented, triple-thick polycarbonate glazing. Instead of glass we use a plastic material called polycarbonate. It lasts approximately ten years before it begins to yellow. It is triple thick which allows for two insulating air spaces. Dead air space insulates and slows the cooling of the structure as well as helps to keep it cooler in summer. The glazing faces south at an optimal 45° angle. It is strong and is resistant to both hail and fire. This glazing is hail resistant which is important in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Insulation. Both the east and west walls as well as the north roof are heavily insulated. The perimeter of the foundation exterior is also insulated into the earth with a two-inch sheet of Styrofoam along the outside of the concrete foundation to a depth of two feet. This insulates the ground inside the greenhouse from the cold ground outside the greenhouse during winter.
Thermal mass. The daytime sun heats the water-filled fiberglass tubes and 55 gallon metal drums. The containers are located along the north and south walls. The containers heat up to about 70° in the summer and 60° in the winter but will never feel warm to the touch because our body temperature is 98.6° and our skin temperature is usually warmer than the water. These water-filled containers give-off heat because the night/day difference in temperature is great enough to cause the warmer heat from the containers to radiate into the colder greenhouse. In summer they help to keep the greenhouse cooler because they are shaded most of the day.
Weatherized structure. All windows, doors, fans and vents are well weather-stripped to prevent leaks and cold drafts.
Temperatures. On cold, sunny Winter days, our high temperatures can be up into the 80s. On cold, cloudy Winter days the high temperature reaches to the 50s and 60s.
The night temperatures are in the 40s to 50s. When we experience extreme cold and high winds (down in the minus double digits). We can get down to as low as 34 degrees but it is usually for only a brief amount of time.
While the temperatures are not always ideal even tropical plants seem to thrive in this environment. In addition, we have developed specialized growing schedules that optimize our yields for growth in a passive solar heated greenhouse. Similar growing schedules can be found in the book “Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion.”
Cheyenne Botanic Gardens generates approximately 40 to 50% of its electricity from a photovoltaic solar energy system. It all begins with an array of solar electric cell modules that are the black rectangles located on the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens south facing roof.
The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens also has a solar powered gazebo that benefits from having solar powered night and security lighting.
Solar electricity is the conversion of sunlight into electricity. It is the cleanest energy option available today. Solar electricity is nearly inexhaustible and depends upon two of the most plentiful resources on earth: sunshine and sand.
The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens has two different solar electric systems that utilize “photovoltaic solar cells.” One system utilizes a battery backup for the greenhouse conservatory and the other is a “Grid Intertie” system for the Paul Smith Children’s Village. It uses the grid as a way to store energy.The battery bank. The battery bank is made up of industrial grade, lead-acid solar batteries. The batteries store electricity generated by the array for use at night or on cloudy days. The batteries can store electricity from one to three days depending upon the electricity load. If the batteries run low on power they are automatically re-charged from the electric utility.
In addition to the grid intertie system at the Children’s Village, we also employ a solar powered well adjacent to our farmer’s wind mill. Solar powered wells are fast replacing the old-fashioned windmills of days gone by. This is because they require less in the way of maintenance and are very effective and cost efficient.
The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens has two wind mills, both located at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. One is a vertical axis wind turbine that creates electricity for the site. It is manufactured by Windspire Power.
The Gardens also employs an old traditional farmers windmill that pumps water from a 100′ well in the Children’s Village. It is manufactured by Aermotor which is still making great windmills.
The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens developed the first public xeriscape in the state of Wyoming. Conserving water requires planning and an ongoing commitment to sustainable lifestyles. Many landscapes utilize water conserving drip systems rather than overhead sprinkling.
Instead of using treated, potable water, the grounds of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (including the Paul Smith Children’s Village) utilizes raw, untreated water that is pumped from the adjacent Sloans Lake. This saves the energy employed in treating water and provides a chlorine free water source which plants prefer. However, if you are on our grounds and are tempted to drink out of a sprinkler please don’t. This is untreated water and may cause undesirable results to your digestive health. Instead, look for water fountains inside the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Greenhouse, Children’s Village or nearby restrooms.
Other Sustainable measures
In addition to our focus on renewable energy and water conservation, we employ many non-toxic strategies for integrated controls for pest control, utilize natural fertilizers and have an extensive composting operation. If you have an interest in home composting please click here to download our Composting Brochure.
Fortunately the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens is the beneficiary of the City of Cheyenne’s recycling program which allows us to recycle all paper, plastic and metal.
Paul Smith Children’s Village and Sustainability
As you stroll through the Paul Smith Children’s Village you might not readily notice our underlying theme for the site: Sustainability: Past, Present and Future. There you will see (as mentioned above) a farmer’s wind mill, but in addition to that you will see hand powered pumps, walls constructed out of sustainable materials, Archimedes’ screw (an ancient method for hand pumping water, along with Indian Tipis, green roof dog house, active solar heating system in the classroom, energy conserving materials in the greenhouse and more. In addition, the site has been awarded earned a “LEED Platinum” rating, the highest possible, from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
Achieving a LEED Platinum rating for remodeled buildings and landscape is usually more difficult than for new construction because of restrictions imposed by the existing designs. This was the second site to have achieved a LEED Platinum rating in Wyoming and is the first public children’s garden to receive this designation.