We are saying a lot of 4 letter words this week and none of them are nice. The WORST one is S-N-O-W.
The east coast got a typical dose of winter weather this past week, and while we didn’t get the 12+ inches that some of the dark corners of the forecast were predicting, we got enough to cause some worry.
Our biggest concern on the farm with snow is the growing tunnels. These structures are not greenhouses, meaning they aren’t heated. With little more than six millimeters of plastic covering them, a little snow can add up to a lot of weight and squash the metal frames if the pressure of the load becomes too great.
Most of our houses are really big, too! Four of our houses are 24’ x 96’ and nearly 15’ tall. Planning for snow is so important. Our tunnels are gothic-style which means they are peaked at the top and allow for rooftop accumulation to slide off (in theory). The bows of our houses are spaced every 4’ to allow for maximum weight support. We also sprung for the heaviest gauge of metal and added cross support to account for snow, and wind (another four-letter word.) Our snow removal routine is critical, and this year we have made leaps and bounds in bettering the process.
Our first step is always preparation. We have ice melt for days. The snow blower is filled with gas and ready (side note: the snow blower was the best investment ever! We say that every year about this time.) The poles, brooms, and shovels, Carhartts, mittens, and silk underwear are prepped and ready. And, we’ve got the generator and flashlights on standby in case it hits in the middle of the night.
Before the snow hits, we patrol the farm making sure that anything left out is picked up before it's a hidden aggravation. We make sure the houses are closed up tight and sealed the best we can. We use sandbags and even packing materials to cover all spaces (here’s looking at you, bubble wrap!). We stage our supplies with a plan on how we will tackle “sweeping” the property once the flakes fall. Then, we wait.
Most of the snow removal is manual and cold. Working as fast as the flakes fall makes it very tiring work. We know how pressed we are based on how heavy the snow ends up being. Lightweight snow is easy to remove and less stressful. The heavy stuff takes extra muscle which is fueled by the anxiety of not letting it build up.
You know how I like to be MacGuyver? One of my favorite hacks is the amazing way that push brooms wrapped in bubble wrap can take on the snow. This little creation is perfect for pulling snow off the top of the house from the outside, and “bouncing” it off the top from the inside. We call it, the bubble broom.
This year, my husband Brian topped the bubble broom idea and is relishing in his new title as “resident genius.” Turns out, if you use torpedo heaters (yes they are kinda scary like the name implies) to heat up the houses first, the back-breaking work with the bubble broom is so.much.easier!
We set our heater inside a metal wheelbarrow and in the middle of each tunnel for about 45 minutes. The heat rose to the top of our peaked houses and traveled down the length of the tunnel, exactly how we wanted. The air temp was still frigid (we could see our breath the whole time), but the heater was able to stay ahead of the quickly falling snow, melting it enough to slide off the top -AND- reduce the amount of snow that piled up on each side.
Snow on the sides of the houses is another critical aspect of snow removal. If it builds too much on the sides, the stress can push in the frame buckling it under the pressure.
We have small, four-foot alleyways between our main three production houses meaning we have to be super aware of sidewall pressure on the frames. Because the space between them is so narrow, they can’t be cleared with a snow blower and have to be hand-shoveled clear. In hindsight, I would have planned for more spaces between the houses. If you’re planning to put up structures like this, don’t be like us. Give yourself (and your back) a break, and always provide more space than you think you’d need around the perimeter of your greenhouses.
While we focus on keeping the houses protected and the farm accessible, it leaves the rest of the farm kinda forgotten. But that’s ok because we plan for that! Our spring fields are planted and covered with frost blankets and hoops. While we can’t see what's going on underneath, the snow is a blessing to these crops. The snow covering the crops will protect them even more from the low temperatures that are forecasted next week (I’m looking at you, Punxsutawney Phil), and as the snow melts, it will give the spring babies a good long soak.
Even though it makes us anxious as all get out, the snow is a good thing for plants. The white blankets insulate the ground from the frigid cold and provide winter hydration which is needed for spring to come on in a fury. The snow also helps to clear out any lingering pests that have somehow survived and seems to be the earth's metaphor for a natural cleanse.
The blessing and curse of Mother Nature can be found in a four-letter word.