Well, it’s been a quiet winter so far here on the homestead. Nowhere near the spirit-crushing amount of snow and cold temperatures we endured last winter. Yet. Thank goodness. That was a challenge. We’ll see what February brings.
Still, this season does bring a change in daily life that we both look forward to and dread at the same time. Fire building we look forward to – constantly carting wood into the house, we dread. Snow is really great for skiing and snowshoeing; blowing it off the driveway is not so enjoyable. Walking the dog takes on new meaning. However, we all agree that snow days are awesome.
It’s our first winter with the hoop house. Paying attention to snow accumulation is the new pastime. We’ve only had one large snowfall followed by warming temperatures that made us a bit nervous. Heavy snow is the enemy. By pushing up and out on the plastic from inside the structure, the snow is persuaded to let go and slide off. I use a special broom with curved bristles (that I already owned) and a step stool for this job. I also use muscles that have been dormant a long time.
Winter around here means less sunlight which in turn means less power. The days are short and often overcast. The solar panels need to be cleared each time it snows. Our backup generator gets a workout. Not so much the vacuum and washing machine. And now it’s snowing again.
On the plus side, all of the seed catalogues have arrived! So I’ll pour another cup of coffee and settle in by the fire to plan next season’s vegetable selections. Then I’ll strap on the snowshoes and walk the dog.
The ancestors of our polka-dot hen, Dottie, came from the Basque region of Spain. It may seem odd that a southern chicken could feel at home as far north as Great Lake Huron’s Bruce Peninsula, but the two areas share some things in common. One is the almost identical seasonal light and day length: both coastal areas share the same 45-degrees-north latitude as sun-spots like Monaco, Bordeaux, and Tuscany. But in midwinter, there’s no way Dottie could mistake her current home for her ancestors’ on the coast of Spain, or for her more distant ancestors’ home in South-East Asia.
For our chicken’s winter comfort, we want to capture the daylight of southern Europe while insulating them from the frigid winds and temperatures of frozen Lake Huron. It’s not too hard to do–we housed them in our light-filled garage last winter, and plan to introduce them to shelter in a greenhouse next winter. But even poultry from South-East Asia can’t take the summer heat trapped in a greenhouse for long. Which leaves us with a nice problem to have: after evicting Dottie and her friends, what plants can we grow in an environment hotter than a balmy Bruce Peninsula summer?
If we’re going to go south, let’s go a lot further south. How about to Mexico and Peru, two countries that bracket the tropics at the equator? We could grow their peppers and tomatoes. We like fruits and veggies like those and could sell some of them to help pay for the greenhouse/barn.
But an “ordinary” greenhouse barn isn’t enough for us. We want one that we can move around, yet still anchor to the earth so it doesn’t imitate a huge, expensive kite. Many greenhouses or hoop houses are linked to the earth with spiral ground anchors or big beefy metal stakes. This is a challenge at our site: the current depth of soil over bedrock ranges from 2 to 6 inches. What to do when you are surrounded by such boundless constraints? Get creative.
An article in Forbes magazine (July 12, 2013) details how constraints drive genius. How did all-world architect Frank Gehry dream up his iconic billowing steel museum in Bilbao, the capital of Dottie’s Basque homeland? According to creativity experts including Gehry himself, it took constraints. Our greenhouse will not be a work of genius, but the amount of constraints leave a lot of room for creativity to sprout up. Stay tuned for the harvest.
There is only so much room inside the house, under the lights for seed starting. As the heat loving tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers need more space, the cold tolerant vegetables get turfed out. They are living life on the edge out in the cold frame.
Running a cold frame takes hourly attention in this land of ever-changing weather. Sunny days are lovely, but tender seedlings quickly fry if the lid remains closed. Ask me how I know. Think solar oven. Other days bring their own dance of lid up, down or slightly cracked. Laying a piece of frost cloth over the open frame to block wind or bugs adds another move to the dance.