Giving nature a hand

Daytime temperatures may have climbed above freezing for three days in a row now, but there hasn’t been much in the way of a thaw. The ground is frozen hard, the snow is still six to eight inches deep, and the little sunlight that has broken through has reflected back off the snow. So, I decided to give nature a hand in the vegetable patch and start exposing the soil in the hope of helping things along.

I don’t intend rushing into planting, but I do need to get a lot of preparatory work done. Normally, I’d have turned the beds over in the autumn and dug well-rotted muck into a quarter of them. I never had the opportunity to do the work last year thanks to a wet summer being by a wet autumn and then by a long, cold winter. If removing the snow now helps thaw and drain the soil a week or two earlier than would otherwise be the case then I’ll have a little more time to get the preparation done. First, though, I had to dig my way out to the vegetable patch to make it easier to barrow snow out.

The snow is layered, with a two-inch thick frozen crust over four to six inches of wet, heavy mush. I have to smash the crust before shovelling the snow away. It’s a hard job, but it is made a little easier thanks to the frozen ground. I can walk on the beds without compressing them under my weight and it’s easy to slide the shovel across the soil’s surface. Of course, I still have to lift and throw a lot of wet, heavy snow.

The initial loads of snow were dumped outside the vegetable patch, making space for me to get at the paths and beds. As I worked my way in, I was able to dump some of the snow at the ends of the beds and in one corner. Some snow was simply flung over the fence on the right and onto the path—which was very good exercse. And the rest was barrowed out to join this pile.

After a couple of hours hard slog I had three large beds, a small bed and several paths cleared but there was still a lot to go. However, I have many other jobs to do so I left it that for the day and will resume tomorrow. Now all I need is a few hours sunshine a day for the rest of the week. And yes, I’m still expecting more snow and frosts but if I can get the ground to start thawing then it’s less likely for additional snow to lie for long. As for the shirt sleeves, yes, it was definitely much warmer at 4.8C. That’s 10-14C better than it has been.
Photos by the Wee ‘Un.

12 Responses to “Giving nature a hand”

  1. I read of someone else sprinkling black compost on top of the snow, and then covering their hoops with plastic. The compost absorbs heat from sunshine and melts the snow around it, and the plastic holds the heat in so it can keep working at melting the snow.

    Could be a bit easier than all that shovelling :-).

    • Chasing black plastic around a snow-covered hill is not exactly easy, either. The croft is quite exposed to fairly decent winds so black plastic, clear polythene, shade cloth, netting and the like all tend to disappear quite quickly. As have heavy pig houses and someone else’s chicken house.

      I did consider throwing muck over the beds, but I’d still have to wheel large amounts of it in and the paths would need to be cleared before I did that. I also don’t want muck on all the beds—only the ones where it’s appropriate for this point in the rotation.

      On top of that, I don’t mind putting the work in as shovelling is quite a nice job once you get into the swing of it,

  2. The Wee Un is turning into an accomploshed photographer. Clever chap!

  3. We have clear skies and sunshine this morning, although the air and ground temperatures are both below freezing. In fact, the sun is sufficiently strong to get the solar hot water heating running and that means the soil I exposed in the vegetable patch should start to warm. Now we just need a couple of days like this.

  4. it must be spring. No woolly hatted Stoney, we get the full head view!

    • Actually, my hat fell off and landed in the snow. Harvey then grabbed it. I was left with a choice of going bare-headed or sticking my hat on with a combination of snow, ice and dog slobber.

      • mummys little angel Reply 10 March, 2010 at 07:24

        Ah that’s dog for you, ever helpful…he was just making sure it was dead!

        Lassie, the wonder dog, has to inspect MLA’s socks as they often crawl off on their own after being worn!

  5. Something similar to what Darren says.

    I have a vague memory (70s maybe) of some scheme to sprinkle soot over the Arctic. As far as I remember it was to combat some climate problem of the time. The idea was to melt the ice for some reason. As I say, it’s only a vague memory. It was probably on ‘Tomorrows World’ or ‘Horizon’.

    If you’ve got access to soot it might be worth trying it out on a couple of square metres. You never know, it might save you a bit of spade work in the future. If nothing else soot is meant to be a decent fertiliser.

  6. LittleFfarm Dairy Reply 13 March, 2010 at 08:59

    Hey Stoney, sorry to change subject briefly but…did you hear this morning’s (Saturday) episode of R4′s “Farming Today”? There was a lot of discussion about intensive pig farming with one of the farmers justifying teeth clipping & tail docking of piglets – he said that in the wild, pigs engage in tail biting regardless; it’s nothing to do with an intensive system. However, when we kept a few weaners they were neither clipped nor docked; & we never had any such problems.

    • Tail biting happens outdoors, too. Paul, over on Raasay, has a litter at the moment that’s indulging in serious tail biting. Not only are his pigs outdoors, but they’re semi-wild with the sow having built her own nest well away from the housing he has.

  7. LittleFfarm Dairy Reply 13 March, 2010 at 10:05

    Interesting! And yet the intensive farmer was saying that owing to the new system they’re using they are considering stopping tail-docking as they feel it’ll be less of a problem with the pigs’ improved conditions. He did say that it’s more a problem with feral pigs that “having a few porkers in the orchard.”

  8. LittleFfarm Dairy Reply 13 March, 2010 at 10:07

    Sorry, I meant “than” in the last sentence, obviously! Perhaps it’s more to do with the basic survival instinct in the feral/semi feral pig as there is more direct competition for food/mates?

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