Ice Farm

It was so close to being snow. We’d received 18+ inches of snow less than two weeks earlier, and we were finally feeling dug out, when a new system came in from the Dakotas. Thunderstorms blew past to the south, snow fell to the north, and we were pummeled right through the length of the freezing rain and ice in the middle.

After months of snow, hearing the pattering sound of rain against the windows always feels a bit foreign. Of course, with this much snow on the ground, the threat of flooding on the farm is a real factor when rains arrive before a thaw! I think most homesteaders hope for a slow thaw in springtime, so the moisture can soak into the ground and not create moats around the coops or floods inside the barn.

For the most part, however, the snow became a giant sponge for the rain, but anything rising above the snow froze the rain on contact, creating layers of encasing clear ice. It dripped off the roof lines, creating long, thin, stalactite icicles. These formed as well on fences, on the rim of the bird feeder, even on the edge of the canopy in front of Farmstead Creamery.

The ice made every walking surface dangerously slippery, and we immediately brought out our trusty strap-on cleats. No falling allowed! Pigs slipped and slid, trying to navigate their ice rink pens, and the ducks were grumpy that their door had completely frozen over, and they had to wait a day before being able to galivant outside.

With the first day of ice, the power went out in our area for a few hours, and Mom and Steve had to rise in the early darkness to make certain that the generator at Farmstead had kicked on and that everything was running in the aquaponics greenhouse. If the air and water pumps don’t kick back on, the fish have 15 minutes before the would use up all the oxygen in their tanks, so it’s critical to see that everything is working correctly.

It’s a sizeable generator, but only big enough to run the essentials. That means only certain lights and outlets work, prioritizing cold storage, access to water, and keeping the greenhouse going. A few new additions in the greenhouse such as extra pumps need rerouting by extension cord to working outlets to keep the plants alive as well. Even in the best of conditions, it’s always a scramble.

On the second day of ice, power was again out for nearly 12 hours, and already bending and groaning trees were nearly doubled over, with tag alders filling the lane like weeping willows and birch trees aching and crackling in the breeze. Dripping icicles that had once aimed straight downward were now bent at a lethal-looking angle as the branches had continued to sag, making their tips appear curled as the continued wet precipitation grew them ever longer.

Ice crusted on our high tunnels and entrance canopy, catching the fluffy snow that then followed. While Kara chipped out frozen doors and Mom and Steve bashed the ice off the canopy, I dug my way into our 50-foot high-tunnel to pummel off the ice from inside to prevent its collapse. At first, inside was hushed and dim, the plastic between ridge poles and rafters sagging with the icy weight. I had to start at the bottom of one edge, breaking the ice free by pushing it outwards, so it could slide off. Gradually working my way up to the peak, one section at a time, the snow and ice was evicted, and the soft light of the gray day could enter once more. The high tunnel lives to see another snowstorm.

With the fresh snow on top, walking conditions are now much less treacherous, but the weight continues to accumulate on the trees. A wild cherry broke off behind the chicken coop, just missing their fence. The last remaining branch on the ancient sugar maple that had been our swing tree when Kara and I were little (the one where its huge canopy had blown down in a storm several years ago) was sheared off. As heartbreaking as it was to take down its neighbor (the leaning maple), it’s certain that the weight of the ice would have brought it crashing down into the farmhouse by now.

The promise of warming temps has us hopeful that the ice will be able to shed from trees and bushes, so they can release their weight and recover. The scene is certainly magical but in a rather dangerous way. I can feel the ache of the trees as they try so valiantly to hold up their burden. I can sense the desperation of the songbirds as they try to hang onto the icy feeder and find any type of shelter.

Hopefully, the ice will melt, and we’ll be back to a calmer, snowy March that inches its way to spring and gentle rains. I appreciate receiving the moisture, but this ice reminds us of the dangerous as well as generous properties of water. I’m grateful we were able to stay put and weather the storm. Stay safe out there, and we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.