Monday, December 13, 2010

Burning Calories

If you live in Iowa (and many who read this do), you were given the opportunity to observe an honest to goodness blizzard.  This is, of course, followed by some very cold temperatures.  And, weather on the extremes lead to some interesting occurrences on the farm.

First - the good news - we were able to harvest lettuce, pok choi, spinach, arugula, kohlrabi, mustard greens and swiss chard.  In December.  With temps near zero.  And winds howling from the northwest.  Tammy even tasted a carrot or two - they're still a bit small and we will harvest these in March/April (at a guess).  So, the high tunnel is doing its job and we continue to get fresh greens.

And now, for the sidelight to the good news.

It doesn't matter how used to active work you are, working in this sort of weather makes you feel like you sit behind a desk all day, every day.  Both Tammy and I are feeling more tired than we think we should after the amount of visible work is assessed.  But, it's the unproductive additional labor we go through that burns the calories and makes the muscles tired.

Consider first, the numerous layers of extra clothing.  It just takes more effort to move.  And some of the more 'efficient' movements aren't possible anymore when you are bundled up.  Just turning to look to your left (or right) requires a full torso movement because turning your head results in seeing the inside of a hood/scarf. 

Then, there is the extra effort trying to slog through snow to get to the high tunnel.  When you add super cold winds that seem to suck the air out of your lungs, you can feel very much like you have been running the whole way.  Then, you attempt to carry a couple of containers with produce at the same time.  Remember - it is REALLY cold out there.  You don't want lettuce to be out in the elements for long.  So, next thing you know, you ARE actually attempting to run back to the house.  The result is usually just a faster than normal slog....and a few moments of catching your breath.  In fact, it is probably more efficient to walk the normal pace.  But, we feel better if we try to hurry at least once.

Of course, there are always additional tasks that become bigger in this sort of weather.  For example, every east facing door was iced shut after the storm.  The main door we use for the high tunnel faces.... we'll give you three guesses and a hint (guess east).  Well done!  You guessed it!

Another issue is the limited working time the high tunnel provides on a very cold day.  The sun was out, so temperatures in the tunnel reached 40 or so.  This can be quite nice given the contrast outside (and no wind inside).  However, the temperature rapidly drops as soon as the sun moves from the peak angle for solar gain.  As a result, we find ourselves trying to work quicker so everything can get done in the short window given to us.

And, finally, we begin to appreciate row spacing even more when we are bundled up, tired and cold.  we are definitely going to work on better spacing so there are better work areas in the tunnel for the next batch.  It's nothing we can't work around this time.  But, now that we have some experience with it, I think we can optimize space use and still create a layout that makes moving around and harvesting easier for us.

Now that we've shared our adventures in winter high tunnel picking - we'll regale you with our adventures in attempting to dig out the monster drift in our drive.

After a nap.  


  1. Why not use a sled to pull your produce 'home'?

  2. Good point.

    That would work if the sled weren't in a building behind half that building's worth of material to move.

    In fact, I considered this very thing - until I identified the sled's location!


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