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Setting is in an era when glass would be expensive, in a cold, mountainous region with a lot of goats and horned monsters. I know horn was used in lanterns, but I'm not sure if it would allow through the forms of light that plants crave. Cold/heated frames would be fine, too, if that makes a difference. Would the type of horn matter, and can I vary the thickness, maybe? I know the Romans used some sort of oil cloth, which doesn't seem very transparent.

Amount of horn is not an issue due to number of goats and horned monsters in the labyrinth within the mountain. Mostly the populace eats meat and goat cheese, but there aren't a lot of plants during the coldest months.

Update: The windows shown at 0:55 would apparently serve the purpose nicely, since folks have pointed out the panes don't have to be completely transparent. No Brawndo necessary. https://youtu.be/ZgiC8uG4Kpc

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    $\begingroup$ This will depend a lot on what you are trying to grow, also horn will not be much cheaper you are talking about tens of thousands of cattle for one greenhouse. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 28 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ The major difference between horn as a window glazing material and glass is that it is imaginable for a medieval economy to manufacture enough glass for a hothouse; it is not imaginable to harvest enough horns. But! What about gut? It is definitely more transparent than horn, and it is available in much larger quantity. Or what about mica? Especially in a mountain area it may be available in large enough quantity, and it was actually used to make (small) windows, for example for lanterns, ovens, stoves and so on where it was much better than glass. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 28 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, and oiled cloth or oiled paper is at least as translucent as horn. Try it. Take a sheet of ordinary paper an put a few drops of oil on it; spread the oil to form a uniform layer and test. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 28 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP mica would work, however mica sheets have to be small so it will be more like a clear stained glass window. it will also have to be a very steep roof, I would not trust mica thin enough to be transparent to hold the weight of snowfall. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 28 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ Glass is not that hard to make green house quality glass was made in the 9th century BC. green house glass needs to be transparent but it does not need to be flat. but again the small size means only shade tolerant plants will survive. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 28 at 22:50
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Transparency as such isn't important for greenhouses – it doesn't matter if you can see through the windows. Usually the purpose of a greenhouse is just to keep the temperature above freezing, for plants that would be damaged by frost; it only needs to let through enough light for plants to grow. That could well be the case if it were glazed with horn, mica, rice paper or other translucent materials.

Even if it's significantly dimmer inside, that might be OK, because many plants are adapted to grow in e.g. forest floor locations where they get a lot of shade. It doesn't matter much if the material blocks UV or infrared – most photosynthesis uses visible red light, and to a lesser extent blue light.

I assume the horn would come from a fictional creature, as nothing on Earth produces large plates of keratin that you could economically use to glaze a whole building. So you could specify that the horn in question is fairly transparent, like human fingernails.

In a permanently frozen region, I doubt even a modern (single-glazed) greenhouse could retain enough heat to prevent frost, so you would probably need heating. If the region is sunny then you could construct snowbanks to reflect additional sunlight into the building.

If it's very cold, a greenhouse made from ice might be an option, although that would probably be more technically advanced that just using glass.

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    $\begingroup$ For greenhouse heating, the traditional solution is heat from decomposing animal manure. When you collect the horns, collect the poo also. $\endgroup$ – jpa Oct 29 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ @jpa something like an anaerobic digester? the reaction produces heat, flammable gas and fertilizer. the technology to build such a thing is very simple, if you have access to clay then you are golden, all you need is a large sealable vessel with a fermentation lock(also pretty easy to make from clay) and compatible poop (such as rabbit poop) to start the reaction $\endgroup$ – Nullman Oct 29 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ Painting greenhouse glass white (or have opaque plastic sheets placed under the glass) is standard practice in many places, to prevent overheating in summer and to prevent sun-burn on crops that need shade. $\endgroup$ – Tonny Oct 29 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Nullman aerobic fermentation can produce enough heat (60-70⁰C) to kill the bacteria itself (+ co2 and nh3). No need to use the gases (they are not even flammable here). Anaerobic fermentation in agriculture is called cold fermentation - it produces acids, co2 and methane (this is used sometimes for heating). $\endgroup$ – G. B. Oct 29 at 20:12
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Transparent Aluminum Wood

They will need a good chemistry industry and product development, but transparent wood is showing promise in the lab. One real benefit over glass is that it is a much better insulator.

Perhaps animal horns could be treated in a similar manner to make them more useful glass substitues.

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I think it would be easier to make windows out of goat skin or even better - intestines?

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Historically, before glass panels were easy to get ahold of many people used thinly stretched hide for windows. The stuff never gets see through, but if you stretch it super thin it is translucent enough to let in a rather decent amount of light.

(When I say hide, think the hide stretched across the tops of drums, but pulled even thinner.)

Bonus is that it’s fairly waterproof after being properly treated, sturdy enough you’ve got to put reall effort into tearing it, and somewhat insulating. It wouldn’t work as well as glass for a greenhouse, but I imagine that, coupled with some braziers, plants that like shade would do fine in a hide greenhouse.

And making a full building of hide windows would be much less of a logistical nightmare than trying to make a million tiny bone/horn windows.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can imagine there being a hailstorm and the greenhouse just busts out in a sick drum solo ;) $\endgroup$ – Morgan Oct 29 at 23:35

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