On blizzards, and groundhogs, and greenhouses

Stuck in the normally shoveled driveway (the 24″ side is the correct depth)

Wednesday was a snow day.  Boringly, that blizzard that hit everywhere hit here too…how could it not?  We’re quite used to snow here (we usually get 80″ per year) and Feb. 2nd’s storm was different mainly because it was paired with a bit of wind, too.  (shrugs) What can you do?

The girl was home from school, and so she and I had lots of time to discuss the meaning of the day, Groundhog Day.  “Gimme some other names for groundhogs,” I said.  “Whistle pigs and woodchucks”  she said, ever reaching for a gold star.  We discussed the older traditions of Imbolc and St. Brigid’s day, especially the notion of winter’s continuance, and how having a sunny day on this day means more winter.  “So the old lady was the Irish woodchuck,” she said.  “I wonder what it was before it was the old lady?”  Ah!  Perceptive child.  All traditions, religious or otherwise, are usually just pauses in the undertow of time. Something will overtake the whistle pig, eventually.

Keep in mind these things are between 9′ and 10′ tall

Recently, however, I have received a ton of questions about my greenhouses.  So I thought I would show you what’s going on in them despite the white stuff outside.  Here’s a bit of a photo journal, taken on Thursday at lunchtime.

Little teensy wrist, huh?  And a waist-high drift standing between me and dinner!

Here:  I have made it in:  and it’s quite toasty inside.  (23* is the worst it’s been indoors all winter.)

But turning around, this is what’s climbing up one side!  It’s quite okay to have snow 5′ or more up the sides, but up and over the top is kinda unusual.

I’ve knocked some of the snow off from the inside, but yeah, I might have to tackle some of it out here too.  Maybe some other day.

But other than the fact that I’ve clipped these lettuces into mere bonsai of their former head-y selves, I haven’t made a dent in the mache.  This is a typical bed.  Dinner!

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16 responses to “On blizzards, and groundhogs, and greenhouses

  1. How nice to see all that fresh food inside despite the snow outside! What material do you use to cover the greenhouse frame? It looks like plastic but I’m impressed that the weight of the snow did not make it collapse.

    • Hi Chile! Yep, it’s a commercial greenhouse so it’s a six-year UV-stabilized poly. I often look at them with a touch of carbon-weary guilt, but…a little bit of plastic has kept us fed and kept off grocery store food for 4 years now. So I figure our footprint is fairly tiny. Plus, the stuff’s pretty strong!

  2. I think plastic used wisely, as in applications such as this, are okay. It’s the incredibly wasteful use of plastic when there are practical alternatives (sometimes including nothing at all as in all the cheap plastic crap from across the ocean…) that should be the focus of our elimination efforts.

    I just had a really bizarre thought. If you wanted to grow something that liked even warmer temperatures, could you set up a mini-greenhouse or cold frame inside the greenhouse to create a warmer micro-climate?

    • Your instincts are pretty good, Chile. I use agricultural cloth over the tops of all the hoops you see to make mini-greenhouses…it’s enough to add a few more precious degrees under the covers. So the only problem is we don’t have a lot of light, or rather, enough light to keep them solely solar-heated (plus, the more layers you slap on, the less light gets in, etc.) to a level to, say, keep it warm enough to grow oranges in there. I would have to add supplemental heating of some form, and even then, it still gets cold. So I just plant things that can take the chill and call it a day! No worries then if the supplemental heating quits on me, etc.

  3. I had no idea that you recieved such a high average amount of snow, 80″ is quite a bit. I honestly don’t know what ours is and it really doesn’t matter as it is so very different every year. Your greens look great, we have not had the best luck with our kale this year do to the constant temperature fluctuations but our turnip greens and baby kale are still looking good. Also, you were so right about the parcel being hardy, I saw some the other day in a spot where the snow had melted and it was good enough to find its way onto our plate.:)

  4. El – that looks like what we had here last year. This year, close to nothing – no snow, no rain (OK one snow fall, 6 inches this entire winter). Everything is going North & East of us. I am starting to feel cursed actually.

    After our all too dry summer & fall – and my non-watering- my hoophouse harvest was not what it should have been, but it’s starting to pick-up again: 10 hours of daylight, and I can hear them grow in there! Yeah!

    And for Chile, I remember a column from Barbara Damrosh where she said she planted her citrus tree inside her hoophouse. Can’t remember if it was unheated or minimally heated. But her point of view was that it did not get cold enough in there to kill the tree in winter (in Maine) while in summer it luxuriates in a free root-run which it can never have in a pot. And that more than made up for being chilled in winter. She has a TALL hoophouse, though… I remember citrus trees reaching 15 feet and more when growing up in the tropics

    • Ah, interesting! When we originally planned our greenhouse here (not allowed thanks to stupid zoning), we had planned on putting in some dwarf fruit trees that needed warmer winter temps but wouldn’t take up too much space. There’s an online nursery that sells a lot of dwarfs – Four Winds, I think.

  5. Wow that’s a lot of snow!!

    Four Winds is a big one for citrus! The first I’d read about extended season growing was about a couple in Wisconsin who grew under row covers inside a hoop house.

  6. Hi there! I’ve been lurking on your website, which I have very much enjoyed. 🙂

    You have probably already taken this into consideration, but we have had our greenhouses collapse under snow before (where I work, which is in the Hudson Valley of NY), actually bending the supports. It was an unusual winter that did that, but since then we have propped the supports up with two by fours cut to an appropriate length to avoid having that happen again. Not trying to give unneeded advice – just don’t want to see your greenhouses damaged! The props are kind of a pain to work around, though, which is a drawback.

    Anyway, that’s enough out of me! Thank you for the inspiration you provide.

  7. That sun is sure feeling stronger every day, I don’t think I’m just imagining it! And, I heard the cardinal sing his real song today, so it’s not just me 🙂

    We’re on 55 inches of snow so far, and 30 is normal for us! I guess it’s all relative. I had to dig out my little tunnels today, and the cold frame was completely missing under a drift.

  8. When I saw that first greenhouse photo I was wondering if you had low tunnels inside- as Elliot Coleman does. Hope your spring comes soon!

  9. How excellent..you have a lettuce stocked snow cave. We were slapped with inches of ice this week with only a bit of snow. Yuck, nothing manages ice.
    I’ll never have a woodchuck in my yard again- only whistle pigs. I’ve never heard that term before; it’s a keeper.

  10. is it 75* i see???? Let me rent a space in there and spend the rest of the winter. This is crazy winter. Maybe this spring we will do a hopop house, but dont know where to start!

  11. We had a snow day Wednesday, too. We weren’t under the weather advisory that you were under down there, but managed to get enough blowing and drifting to shut things down. After the gorgeous weekend, I’m feeling a bit of spring fever and am hoping we’re done with snow but I’m sure we haven’t seen the end yet.

  12. Chile, yeah, to second Sylvie’s comment, Barbara Damrosch and hub Eliot Coleman have one marginally heated greenhouse they call the Cool House in which they grow things like their citrus. Their other houses are Cold Houses, like mine, with no heat at all other than what our sun provides. See their Winter Harvest Handbook, it’s pretty great. And I have a friend here who heats his greenhouse with one electric space heater and is able to grow 15′ high figs and citrus and mangoes and a whole bunch of stuff in there, here in Zone 6. It can be done, it’s just a question of what you want, I guess. Anyway, check their books out, at least to fuel your fire for your next place.

    Mike, yeah, temp. fluxes do definitely take a toll on some brassicas. I have been able to grow broccoli and red kale in the greenhouse for 80% of the winter, but…this was not one of those years! I do know that the smaller the plant, the better it survives; get ’em young and beat ’em up, they can take it…but I bet you’ve already figured that out 🙂 And yeah, it’s a crazy amount of snow we get. It gets warm enough though that it melts and freezes…it’s not like we’re looking at six feet of the white stuff out there all winter long, like you can in some ski or mountain areas.

    Sylvie, well, I guess you should count yourself lucky-ish if you’ve not gotten clobbered with anything, but…the winter’s not over yet! A drought, though, has to be the worst, I would think. Not much you can do about it. Glad to hear things are popping up for you though in the hoops!

    Yep, Paula, that’s the way I grow my stuff (under row covers in the hoop house). I do have some figs in there too, and rosemary and a couple of other would-die-if-outdoors plants. It’s fun!

    Hi Anne! Thank you so much…I don’t consider it unheeded advice, and, on re-reading my post I do seem kind of cavalier about all the snow, don’t I? My apologies. I am a FOOL for knocking the snow off the hoops, and do it every day. The day I took the picture, though, I really didn’t feel like also digging out the side, and indeed I did it the next day. What helps here is that my greenhouses are only 16′ wide, and that the white stuff is climbing up a good 5′ around both greenhouses, which adds side stability (no racking) and so I would only worry about the 4′ or so that’s exposed at the top. It’s wind and racking that bring these things down, with maybe the odd ice storm on top of snow, especially if the frames are wider, taller and longer than my own. But I agree: working around the posts can’t be fun. Are you at Cornell? The veg website is one of my fave go-to sites so if you have anything to do with that fine institution, my hat’s off to you.

    Sara, I loved seeing your snow pics. It is all relative, though, you’re quite right.

    Hi Tessa, glad to meet you! Indeed, that man is my guru. Plus, he’s cute. 😀

    Pamela, yeah, it’s my two outdoor iceboxes stocked with veg! nice image, huh? Whistle pigs. It was the girl who came home singing a ditty about them and then I remembered what they were!

    WF, start with any of Eliot Coleman’s books. You will so not be disappointed, and maybe you can grow some lemongrass for Mrs WF, she’d love it!

    Aastricker, well, if the 6″ that’s fallen here since the weekend (and I am writing this on a Tuesday) is any indication, I think we can keep our snow shovels out for a while yet. Well, it keeps us in fine shape for dirt-digging weather, right?

  13. Belatedly…. yes, I’m at Cornell, at one of their field stations. I work in plant pathology, mostly tree fruit research, with a little bit of grape and berry work thrown in. I love my job, but it’s grant-funded & this may be my last year. 😦 However, as I peruse your site and others like it, I have hope that I can continue to work in agriculture in some fashion even after this job ends!

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