State of the Farm, February 2021: Snowbound

Up here in Massachusetts, we haven’t had much in the way of winter for the last couple of years.

I mean we’ve had winter. There are days of below zero cold. The ground freezes. The heating bill goes up—we’re always willing to do our part for global warming.

But we haven’t had much in the way of snow.

Starting back in December, that came to a close.

After thaw and compaction, I’m still looking at about twelve inches of snow on the ground. Last night we started another round so that twelve inches now has another inch or so on top. The weather report says the temperature is staying below freezing so I’m going to be lazy and wait until tomorrow to clear.

Given that, it’s a nice time to reflect on what we chores do around here that make winter so special.

Let’s talk about clearing.

We have a driveway about 150 feet long by twelve feet wide. It has two turnarounds and a broad flat section that’s more like thirty feet wide. In addition, we need to cut trails to the wood pile, the fruit trees that require pruning every year, the espaliers, the chicken house, the greenhouse, and the bird feeders—no cardinal is going hungry on my watch. Also, we need enough space that our wee dog can pee in peace. Penny gets upset when she has to bury her nethers in the snow.

In addition, we have to clear portions of the roof. It’s not strictly clear that we have to do that. We haven’t gotten enough snow to really justify since the winter of 1993. That was our first year in the house and so much snow fell people were skiing in Maine and New Hampshire into June. Roofs caved in. We had ice dams and watched, stricken, as waterfalls flowed down the inside walls of our Very. First. House.

We developed a mantra: “There is nothing wrong with this house.”

But you can see why we might be a little nervous about snow buildup on the roof.

It takes between two to three and a half hours to clear everything. The short time is for cold, dry snow. The long time is for wet, heavy snow.

We’ve gone through four snow blowers so far. The ancient Dynamark we bought back in the mid-nineties is still functional and we keep it as a backup. It says something that a 20 year old machine has outlasted newer ones. We’ve tried various brands and have recently settled on a Troy Bilt. I have some engineering reservations about it but so far it has taken everything Massachusetts can throw at it. If it fails, as did its predecessors, we can all fall back to the Dynamark.

I have some advice for anyone trying to live the way we do.

  • Indulge yourself regarding clothes. I use an insulated coverall over a sherpa hoodie for really cold days.
  • Good gloves. I’ve had good luck with fleece gloves lined with thinsulite. Remember, they will get wet.
  • Good boots. Insulated, preferably steel toed.

I used to have a cab on the snowblower but that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth.

One might ask, why not get or hire a snowplow?

Good question. There are a few reasons. For one, I’m not sanguine a snow plow won’t take out some of the espalier I’ve been working on for the last couple of decades. For another, if you hire someone you’re at their mercy. I have thought about putting a snowplow on the garden tractor but it looks like a lot of work and, ultimately, you can only push snow so far. The nice thing about a snow blower is that it throws snow away­—often twenty or thirty feet. At the end of the 93 winter, I had six foot snow banks on either side of the driveway but the Dynamark was still throwing snow over them.

I have thought about putting a snowblower on the garden tractor but I haven’t pursued it. The tractor is over twenty years old so that really means a new tractor. I’m holding out for an electric tractor but the technology isn’t quite there. Cub Cadet has one but it’s still early days. Also, their snow blower attachment comes off the power takeoff so the same battery that is driving the tractor would also be driving the snowblower.

Speaking of electric, Ego makes an electric snow thrower that intrigues me. It’s early days on the Troy Bilt but maybe someday…

After clearing comes our other chores.

I mentioned fruit tree pruning.

We have apples, Cornelian Cherries, peaches, nectarines, and others. Most of the “others” are exotics that are still in the evaluation phase. The others are well established. All of them require pruning and special care. The fruit trees on the espaliers have special needs. This needs to be done in February while they are dormant. If we do dormant spray (fungal sprays of high toxicity) it has to be done at the same time.

This is also the time of year where we evaluate the chickens.

I am not sentimental about chickens as a whole. Some chickens have come close to being pets—Sam and Abigail, for example. Both were with us for over a decade and passed of old age after surviving raccoons and a bobcat. But there’s something wrong with the current crop. They just don’t have much vigor. So, we’ll be putting them in the freezer come the end of March when we get new chicks. Essentially, we’re starting over. With any luck, we’ll have laying in October. If not, winter will set in and we’ll get laying in 2022.

It’s also the time of year when we start acting on spring plans. We’ve started sets in the greenhouse. Over the last few years, we’ve had relatively warm Mays followed by miserable Junes. This is a problem for a lot of crops. So, this year we’re trying some early season plant protectors.

The hydroponics in the greenhouse have been working very well. We get salads regularly. We tried rice in one of the grow beds a couple years back with limited success. The harvest/square foot for rice is just too low to be practical. I’m interested in trying buckwheat. It may have same problem but it is not a grass.

We’ve had very good luck with corn and chestnuts. About ¼ of the material in the bread I’ve been baking comes from our own efforts. As I’ve mentioned before, this summer we’re planning to go industrial on the garden. More corn, potatoes, and beans. By fall I’d like to have fifty pounds of calories to get us through the winter. We will see.

That’s it from the farm.

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State of the Farm, February 2021: Snowbound — 4 Comments

  1. When putting on the clothes, it is wise to layer — provided each layer is larger than the one before, the “squeezed into a sausage” stuff constricts blood flow.

    Part is the air between adds insulation. Part is that you want to unfasten or take off layers as you warm up, because snow shoveling is work. You want to avoid sweating, which is dangerous.

  2. After a childhood spent making and doing, I’m still happy to make and do. Just… not outside. Not outside in the snow. I have never yet encountered snow-weather clothes that could keep my feet and fingers from getting so cold that they hurt. I admire you guys down to the tips of my (thankfully warm) toes.

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