The Yukon Research Centre is growing plants through the winter in a project that could revolutionize the availability of fresh food in the north.
The "Agridome" is the brainchild of project manager Glenn Scott with Yukon College's Cold Climate Innovation.
"Unfortunately we didn't have a terribly cold winter here in the Yukon. I was probably the only guy sitting around praying for negative 40 because I wanted to see exactly what the dome would do," says Scott.
"Right now it's certainly in a very, very big experimentation phase but the unit definitely works, we're getting some good, solid plant growth here."
Scott built a greenhouse, or rather a green dome, that optimizes the amount of space used to grow plants, while using minimal heat.
"The less space that I have to use, the less money that will have to be spent on actually heating that structure."
Scott says domes are the most energy efficient structure by virtue of their surface-area-to-volume ratio.The opaque structure is super-insulated and lined with plastic sheeting to reflect the energy-efficient lighting inside.
Vegetables and herbs grow in neat vertical rows, getting their nutrients from a spray which is absorbed by soil-less "rockwool" around the plant roots.
The system, called vertical aeroponics, means 32 square feet can grow upwards of 600 plants. This winter, Scott successfully experimented with conventional plants, including tomatoes, peppers, sweet peas and herbs.
"On the couple of nights when it actually did go down to -35C, with only a standard space heater consuming 1,500 watts, I was still able to maintain a temperature of 15 degrees in here," he says.
"That was a very clear indicator that yes — this structure is entirely appropriate for these kinds of extreme environments."
Right now Scott's plants are tiny, but he has big expectations for them to grow in the next month or so. He's already inventing a method of wiring and shelving, to hold the heavy fruits of his labour.
Scott hopes this prototype will eventually be used in communities throughout the Yukon, providing cheap and fresh vegetables, using a minimum of money and energy.
The Yukon Research Centre is funding the Agridome project, with money from the Yukon and federal governments.
Stephen Mooney, director of Cold Climate Innovation, says they are always looking for bright ideas like this one.
"Any Yukoner can come through our doors, meet with our team, and sit down and discuss the ideas. And we get all types of ideas, it doesn't just have to be greenhousing — we're open," says Mooney.