Journal: Late January 2020
Crushed: lessons learned on winter low tunnels
It’s almost February and after weeks of endless snow and subzero temperatures our fields are covered with nearly 4 ft of snow. While we only have just over 4 and a half acres, our property is long and narrow (only 100 ft wide!), so that means Carl has been busy snow-blowing and plowing thousands of feet of driveway and roads around our farm. Between keeping the house, barn/shop, and greenhouses clear and helping out a few elderly neighbours, snow removal has become a full time job. As more snow fell, we watched as our neighbor’s horse arena collapsed and saw photos of a friend’s greenhouse relegated to a crumpled pile of plastic and wood under a mountain of snow.
Admittedly, we were feeling pretty good about about being so diligent about keeping on top of things. But… we were a little worried about one thing: our low tunnels.
The tunnels are covering our fall planted cold-hardy annuals with the hopes of shepherding these young plants into spring unscathed by snow and too much cold. Hopefully this would help us get a big jump start on spring.
Memories of fall. Here are the low tunnels before we covered each bed/ tunnel with plastic for the winter.
We nervously watched as the snow piled higher and higher and were impressed with how well they were holding up. We contemplated removing the snow, but realized we had painted ourselves into a bit of a corner. Our tunnels are 75 ft long and only separated by a narrow walking path between the beds. So as the snow got deeper, there was just no place to put it. Oh- and we have 6 of them all right next to each other- did I forget to mention that?! That’s what made it especially difficult, there was just no way to get the snow off the tunnels and out of the paths once you were in the middle of this sea of little caterpillar tunnels we had created. Ugh.
We (OK, mostly Carl) are usually pretty good at looking ahead to see what the consequences might be of doing this or that. Unfortunately we overlooked this one. Big time.
It might have been just fine if it had stayed cold and then warmed up slowly in the spring. But that’s not what happened. It warmed up to 7C (45F) and then it started raining. A lot. Day after day and the snow was getting heavy. We were heading out to the field every day just to pat ourselves on the back about remark at how these little buggers were still standing.
And then… We walked out one afternoon aaaand, uh-oh. Quite a few bows were crushed. Some right to the ground, smashed. Others were just caving in a little. What do we do now?! Start shovelling the nasty, heavy, wet snow off the tunnels however we can. We did our best to clean off the tops and try to take some of the weight off, but it was a challenge. There was just nowhere to put the darn snow.
EEK! Here they are now. Sigh.
So here we are a week later and you can see that all is not lost (trying to stay positive). Lots of bows are still standing, albeit many are a little worse for the wear. Some are totally kaput. I’m trying not to picture the little snapdragons and sweet williams that are buried and crushed under there. I have already seeded a few extra flats in the greenhouse to fill in the holes and replace any that don’t make it come spring.
So, here’s are the lessons learned and what we would do differently next year:
Don’t put the tunnels so close. Skip at least one bed in between to allow ourselves space to put snow if need be.
Sweep off the tunnels after a storm. This probably seems like a given! But really I think that the tunnels would have been fine if there was enough space between them for the snow to slide off a little after each storm. (But still, I will certainly be sweeping them off next year!)
Don’t give up! It wasn’t a total fail and we’ll be looking forward to seeing how things fared over the winter. I have a feeling that lots of the plants will survive, even under the crushed hoops. File away these lessons and be sure to not make the same mistakes again.
Say la vie. I guess that’s life, and that’s farming. Sometimes a great idea doesn’t work out, dreams are crushed (and so are hoops). But we always try to look at things on the farm analytically, and not emotionally. It was a good idea, and a good try. We’ll make modifications, think about other potential issues with the design and give it another go next year. In farming and life in general you often just need to move on. Don’t get too hung up on your failures and move forward with new knowledge and a new plan.
Until next time, Sarah