Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cold Hard Facts

I suspect nearly everyone who lives in the Upper Midwest is getting a bit tired of Winter by this point in time.  In fact, it is pretty normal for people to be getting a bit grumpy about Winter weather by the time we get to the end of February.  And, I suppose I succumb to the 'sickness' by posting about it here as well.  However, I've had subset of people wonder what we need to do on the farm in this sort of weather.  We've also had a few people ask how this might impact our growing season.  So... here we go.

Looks like Iowa is going to be cold for the next couple of weeks

It is normal for us to have shorter periods of very cold weather this time of year.  But, this continuous cold falls into the 'abnormal' category.  I find that I am apologizing to the chickens every time I go out there and they give me the look that says "You did this to me."   Tammy and I are the bringers of food, water, straw and tasty treats.  But, we are also the takers of eggs and, apparently, the reason things are cold.  They want to go outside.  Except, they don't want to go outside in "THAT."  So, they stay inside.  They don't like it, we don't like it.  But, that's just the way it is.

Tammy did cook up some squash recently.  That means the birds get the treat of seeds, skin and the rest of the leavings.  This makes them happy, but only for a very brief period of time until it's all gone.  We find that we have to deal with rotating waterers when it gets this cold because the base heaters just can't keep up.  We also have to check eggs frequently or we end up with eggs that freeze and split.  We've mentioned this before - but did you know that a fully frozen egg will not break if you throw it against a cement block wall?  Nope, won't even chip it.  But, it will take a divot out of the wall.  In short, we're glad we only have the laying flock (plus a few other chickens) at this time.  Everything we do for the birds takes longer and things tend to break or fail to work the way we're used to them working when it gets cold.

Looks like we're around 89% at the farm.  With the forecast being what it is...

We're both getting a little tired of doors that don't want to close and latch properly.  These doors work fine in most conditions.  But, this Winter?  No, don't think so.  I think I have become better acquainted with the ice chopper than I have any other year on the farm.  But, the real winner this past weak was what we had to do in order to get a new order of feed for the chickens.  Normally, the timing is good to pick up sometime in late February.  There are usually a couple of days of thaw (or less than frigid temps).  But, when we got them, we were preparing for a blizzard.  Once again, everything took two or three times the effort to complete the task.  But, it got done and the birds are taken care of for a while.

Of course, the house needs to get in on this.  The shower freezes up (drain and supply) most nights and we need to thaw them every morning if we want a shower.  At least we have the option of doing this.  The dishwasher also seems to want to freeze up every so often.  We weren't the ones that chose the outer walls for the location of each.  But, I can tell you two things that would change if we won the lottery!

Will we be able to put up a high tunnel in April
Believe it or not, this cold weather has us wondering about things later in the season.  For example, we had planned on putting up a high tunnel in late April.  But, before that there needs to be some excavation work done on the building site.  And, before that, the frost has to go out of the ground.  And, before that, the snow needs to melt off.  With temps routinely going below zero into early March, when will these things happen?  I guess we just prepare ourselves as best we can and then deal with it.  At the very least, it will be interesting.
When will the lettuce start?
We'd like to get things going in the current high tunnel.  But, this weather is pushing it all back.  One of the clues is the spinach that is in the tunnel.  Yes, it is still green.  No, it is not growing.  Sadly, the kale and chard do not look like they survived the cold this time.  So, we need to start new plants, but that sets back harvest time.  What can you do?  Well, you do what you can.

You might think that with all of this, we'd be anxious for Spring.  That might be true at one level.  But, you need to remember that for Rob, at least, Spring means the beginning of the busy season.  For those who teach, it is fair to equate the end of February with mid-August.  Still some time to have flexible scheduling.  But, that will soon go away.  Even so, I don't believe I'm adverse to removing the negative sign from the temperatures we've been getting.

Think warm thoughts
Start the post feeling cold and end it thinking warm.  We look forward to the days we know are coming when the temperature hits the freezing mark (and maybe even slightly above).  On those early Spring days, we will all agree how warm it feels when it is 34 degrees Fahrenheit and a strong sun shines down on our faces.  We'll go outside and do the things we haven't been able to do since December (or before).  We'll slosh around in melting snow and either avoid or joyously enter the puddles lined with half frozen mud.  Then, we'll end the day with some hot chocolate or tea, feeling tired because our bodies simply weren't used to the extended exposure to the elements.


  1. Jessie1:20 PM

    Great post. I enjoy hearing about your spring plans :) We have thought about building a high tunnel as well. Where do you plan on getting your kit? Do you know of any manufacturers here in Iowa who make them? Thanks!

  2. Jessie,

    Sorry I missed this earlier! Our high tunnels come from Four Season Tools



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