Our Dome Home Became a Fertile Greenhouse

As long as I can remember, my husband Ken and I have shared a dream of one day having a home with chickens, a garden, children, dogs and cats. Right out of college, we started saving to buy our own place. But what we ended up with a tiny house dome, which was something much different…or at least, we took the long way to get there.

In 1997, my husband was getting his degree in art and painting in Flagstaff, Arizona. We were young and adventurous and, instead of dumping money into rent, we decided to buy ten acres of high juniper land in the bosom of two large volcanic craters northeast of town. We didn’t know much about growing things back then and didn’t worry about the fact that the soil was pure pumice. Our land had an 80 mile view of the Painted Desert and it felt like a wilderness of a forgotten kind…road runners roamed it and jack rabbits, coyotes, ravens, rattlesnakes and a creature related to the scorpion called The children of the Earth. When you went for a walk, pottery shards glittered everywhere, left behind by a not-so-distant prehistoric people. Our Navajo neighbors lived in a hogan and every Saturday smoke drifted up from their sweat lodge. We knew from the get go we were only visitors here, even if we spent a lifetime on the place.

We dreamed of building an Earthship out of tires, in imitation of the pit dwelling ruins that spotted the landscape around our property. But in the meantime, we settled on buying a geodesic dome from Pacific Domes  with a canvas cover. Ken’s dad came down and helped us build a platform for it using an old reclaimed Douglas fir dance floor. We built it up on a two and a half foot kick wall so we could put a sleeping loft inside. We also insulated it on the inside by cutting out triangles of plywood and bolting them to the frame and adhering Reflectex bubble insulation to the back of each panel. We installed a wood stove and burned pure Cedar. It smelled heavenly.

Arizona Dome Home
We had 80 mile views of the Painted Desert from our dome. It was a beautiful place to live

Our kitchen was a travel trailer we walked across the yard to reach where we had a propane fridge, stove and oven. We hauled our own water in five gallon buckets and took sponge baths each morning before heading off to work and school. I was a preschool teacher, outdoor education instructor and substitute taught at a Navajo boarding school nearby as well. Our outhouse was exactly that. A wooden box with a toilet seat over a trench, no roof included.  We put up a wind generator. They weren’t so efficient back then though. At night, after a windy day, we could decide…should we watch half a movie on a tiny black and white TV? Or run a lamp? To catch a real shower, we kept a room at a friend’s apartment in town. It came in handy when snowstorms hit and we couldn’t make it the 45 mile drive home at night.

Insulating the Arizona dome home
We had a wood stove inside the dome. You can see the plywood panels here. They were backed with Reflectex insulation. Cozy warm home

We lived in the dome for three and a half years while Ken finished his degree. It was a hard life. One day on a walk, my dogs chased after a jackrabbit and one of them never came back. We found her skeleton a few months later. She’d been devoured by coyotes. Another time, driving into town early one October morning after a rain, we hit a patch of black ice and rolled our truck. Luckily, we walked away from that accident. But when Ken graduated from college, we also decided to walk away from our desert life.

Interior of a dome home
We built the dome with insulation on plywood panels from the inside

Years passed. I wrote a hiking guide in Colorado, we traveled Mexico and Europe, I went to graduate school. But when I found out I was pregnant with twins, we decided to settle down near our family in southern Wyoming and open a used bookstore and coffee shop. In our usual style, we bought a ramshackled 100 year old house on the wrong side of the tracks and started fixing it up.

One of the first thing we did was put up our geodesic dome. The canvas had long ago disintegrated, but the frame was good as new. On the high plains of Wyoming, the growing season is short and high tunnels are mandatory. We spent a $100 on some greenhouse plastic and started growing things inside what used to be our former home. We’ve used the dome as a greenhouse now for eight years and grown many bushels of tomatoes and zucchini and basil and pumpkins in there…that is if we can keep the chickens out. Last year, the greenhouse plastic started cracking and falling apart. So I reached out to Pacific Domes again, 20 years from when we’d first purchased that dome, and asked if they made greenhouse covers for our 16 foot dome anymore. Yes, they did. And it wasn’t long before I got a box in the mail with a brand new greenhouse cover for our geodesic dome.

16ft Greenhouse dome
My daughter, Rhonwyn, waters cucumbers. Behind her is our dome with a simple greenhouse plastic wrapped over it. We took out a couple bars to build a wooden door frame. But it was hard to vent and the plastic didn’t last long in our arid, cold climate

Next year, we plan to rebuild our raised beds with the help of our 14 year old daughters. Next year, our geodesic dome will just be getting started.