Cuss all you want about this year's record snow, it is better
company than some guests. While it's hanging around causing us work
and inconvenience, at least it's been entertaining.
Come on, smile and admit that billowy white is easier on the eye
than a cold, gray, crusty landscape. Also, hasn't it been a
conversation starter and oiled a few rusty neighborhood
connections? For instance three, count 'em three, drivers slowed
and stopped to comment as we dug and took these photos. Seasonally
distant neighbors, they each broke tradition with quips along this
line, "Building an igloo now?"
A record breaking year is dramatically captured in this graphic from Oregon
State University's Prism project, which is supported by the
USDA RMA (United States Department of Agrculture Risk Management
Agency). On the map blue is a lot of precipitation (400% of normal)
while red is very little (none to just 20% of normal). Our
area -- southeast Michigan -- received 130-150% of its normal
precipitation in January. What about yours?
Even more important, this snow is making itself useful.
Useful snow: It's insulated the garden
It's kept the soil warm. No kidding. The ground is not frozen
under all that fluffy stuff. Sure, there is frost in the ground
where the snow has been packed down or scraped away but not in the
garden and not under lawn.
We dug in three places (photo proof!) in
three yards on Valentine's Day: In a garden in the wide open, in a
lawn in the wide open, and at the garden/lawn edge in the north
shadow of a house. We thought we might find a light crust once we
cleared the snow. Not so. There was no crust at all. We could have
dug with a trowel, and the soil was so warm we could handle it and
crumble it with bare hands.
We nabbed a worm at less that two inches deep, and took him in
to the turtle we are boarding. Darwin's gotten bored with packaged
food and really appreciated a free range worm.
Construction crews: Digging
We confirmed the results of our digging with a brick layer
foreman who said, "Oh yeah, where we are dealing with undisturbed
ground we are just peeling the snow away and digging. But where
we've been driving over the area, the frost is up to about three
We didn't need to check. Studies
have proved it over and over.
Good news for new plants
This is good news for all recently planted plants and roots in
general -- many will continue to function and even grow in ground
warmer than 40°F. It can also mean a speedier improvement for beds
and lawns that were aerated and topdressed with compost in fall.
That's because some soil microorganisms and soil animals that break
down organic matter and help minerals bind into fertile crumbs have
continued to work. Work they might normally not complete until June
may be done by April.
Some lawns and certainly some golf course greens may need
attention after being covered for so long at relatively warm
temperatures. During the first mild days after snow melt, the turf
may have a pink cast from snow mold. That will clear as the surface
dries and warms, causing little or no damage to otherwise healthy
The Valentine's Day Dig: 16" blanket, no ice below!
The tough part about shoveling in this kind of winter is
finding places to stack the snow...
...and the real work involved in digging into the ground is
making a path through the snow banks to break through to the garden
For you, for us, we did it. Then we cleared the snow to
reach the garden.
We almost stopped work when we shoveled off the "zero layer"
of snow -- the one in direct contact with the soil. That's because
we saw this brown stain. The soil was causing it to melt.
Then, it was just like summer -- insert spade, lift out
soil. Normally we need foot power and a hard soled boot on a spade
or even a fork to break winter crust but in this case soft snow
boots were adequate and the spade wasn't actually necessary. A
trowel would have done. "Shoot," Janet said, "I can stay out
here and pull weeds with my bare hands, it's so warm at ground
Where we've kept the path shoveled there has been only an
inch or so of insulation. There, neither spade nor fork would
penetrate. Not, at any rate, when driven by a soft snow boot. We
considered changing boots and cracking through the crust to check
its depth but had other things to check, first...
...such as looking for ice in lawn and garden areas shaded
by buildings. Here's the grass in that situation -- it and the
garden were as easy to penetrate as the garden soil we've already
showed you. On the right below, Janet's holding the square of sod
vertically so that it can be a bit hard to recognize as turf. So
we've included an orientation diagram.
Okay, back now to check the situation on our front
garden path -- mulched in summer, kept shoveled in winter.
Janet decided it was easier to grab the pick ax than to go inside
and change boots.
Two swings, then use the embedded pick as a
... to pop up a chunk of frozen mulch and soil. The
frost goes at least as deep as the pick.
Now, we are silly sometimes but we try to avoid being stupid.
Frost depth is a function of exposure, time and temperature, and
this year the first two have been extended, the last very low. So
we don't even need our bricklayer friend's
testimony to know when to quit.
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