Tropical, Exotic South Dakota

Posted by Marie Flanagan on Nov 10, 2022 9:57:42 AM
Marie Flanagan

In a high-efficiency, year-round greenhouse 


In South Dakota, soybeans, corn, wheat, sunflowers, and alfalfa come to mind as the state's agricultural products. In Aurora, South Dakota, some of the crops at Wayward Spring Acres have veered toward a more exotic direction.


As a child, Wayward Springs' Shannon Mutschelknaus developed an interest in horticulture and began saving seeds and growing tropical and sub-tropical trees. He learned that there was a market demand for exotic tropical fruit trees and began propagating them.


"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, a mechanical engineer, 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 loquats, soursops, and cherimoya.

FirstcherimoyagrowninsdFirst cherimoya grown in South Dakota

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

 Watch Mutschelknaus's 2-part video series about building a passive solar greenhouse.




Want more information? See the related SARE grant:

Photos courtesy of Shannon Mutschelknaus


About the author

Marie Flanagan is the communications specialist for North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE), a U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and education program.


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