The Garden Survives (Another) Record-Breaking Winter
Go ahead… you can blame me for this winter. Again.
I’ve already fessed up to you about last year, and how I sort of “wished” for a dip to sub-zero temperatures.
Whoops! The Polar Vortex arrived.
Last year’s wish was for a good reason, though. If I was going to sell vegetables through a winter CSA, and encourage fellow market gardeners to do the same, I wanted to make sure that the unheated low tunnels could adequately protect my plants. Luckily, the low tunnels won! My CSA began in January, and will run until our local Farmers Market picks back up again in May.
This year, I sure didn’t wish for a Polar Vortex Redux, but I think I may have accidentally jinxed us.
Back in January, in a radio interview for “Across Kentucky,” I made this statement about growing winter vegetables in low tunnels for my winter CSA:
“The vegetables came through (last year’s Polar Vortex) remarkably well… so well that I feel pretty confident that, really with any kind of winter that hits us, production of vegetables through the winter is possible in them.”
Perhaps Mother Nature thought I was getting too big for my britches, ‘cause she really walloped us this year. Big time.
Although our winter had been rather average, a winter storm of historic proportions arrived on February 16th. We received 15 inches of snow, followed by double digit sub-zero temperatures — as low as -14F (-26C). A few days later, we received over 2 inches of rain on top of the snow, leading to structure collapses in our area, and a historic “Ice Tide” in local creeks and rivers that hadn’t been seen since 1918.
Many of you who follow me on Facebook know that I went into this event feeling more than a little anxious than usual. Should I leave the snow on the low tunnels, as extra protection against the sub-zero temperatures that were forecasted, or should I remove the snow as I usually do to avert tunnel collapse?
It was a “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” situation.
I chose to leave the snow on the tunnels. Actually, I didn’t have much of a choice. The walkways between my tunnels are only about a foot wide, and since the tunnels occupy my entire garden space, I had absolutely nowhere to go with that much snow.
Turns out, almost all of the PVC tunnels (covered with double layers of Gro-Guard 34 or Agribon 30 fabric row covers) were able to handle the heavy snowfall. One tunnel out of nine did collapse, perhaps because it was constructed a little differently from the others. I usually construct my tunnels by burying the ends of a 10 foot length of PVC pipe (each end to a 1 foot depth), but the ends on the downhill side of this tunnel were slipped over buried rebar instead. Coincidentally, the point of failure on these tunnels was directly above the rebar, as the PVC pipe bent and snapped, rather than flexing outwards like the other tunnels.
Even though the tunnels weathered the snow event, despite showing signs of compression, the 2 inches of rain proved to be too much. To give you some perspective of how much weight each tunnel was subjected to, you should know that one inch of rain weighs about 5 lbs per square foot. Since I know how much liquid precipitation was in our snow (I’m a cooperative observer for the National Weather Service, so I record and report things like this daily), I calculated that each of my roughly 4 foot by 40 foot tunnels had to support at least 1360 pounds of snow (1.44 inches of liquid precipitation in our 15 inches of snow). Once the 2 inches of rain arrived, each tunnel had to support about 1.5 tons of rain-soaked snow (3056 pounds)!
Despite the frigid temperatures and collapsed tunnels, I’m excited to report that the vast majority of the vegetables survived! After 2 weeks, the snow finally melted away from the tunnels on Wednesday, providing an opportunity for me to open the covers and check on the beds before the next storm arrived (that’s right, we now have almost 6 inches of snow on the ground, and are expecting near-zero temperatures tonight).
So let’s take a tour!
**I apologize in advance for some of the pictures — I chose to use my iPhone camera, rather than risk dropping my more expensive camera in the mud. Sure enough, my iPhone was baptized in the snowmelt.
So, I’ve learned my lesson, Mother Nature. Since it seems you’ve been listening to me the past two years, I’d like to put in a request now for an average winter next year. Not mild, not cold… just average, please.
Want to learn more?
My eBook, Garden Under Cover, will be released in April… that’s plenty of time to begin planting for your winter garden next year. This book will be chock-full of information about everything from low tunnel construction and management, to planting schedules for vegetable varieties that excel in the cold. Subscribe by clicking here or on the tab at the top of this page.
Alternatively, learn from the same gardening resources that I used in my early winter growing experiences. Clicking on the following links costs nothing extra to you, but provides affiliate advertisement income that helps me pay for this blog to operate.