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High Mowing Organic Seeds
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The Seed Bing - February 2011
Ah, Winter - Paul Betz, High Mowing Organic Seeds Sales Associate and owner of High Ledge Farm, VT

Paul BetzGreenhouse season gets closer every day, and while my greenhouses are sitting idle at this time of the year, that doesn't mean I can ignore them. They are always on my mind, especially with the threat of winter weather.

A few years ago I wrote about efficiency and maintenance. I am not going to rewrite that now; you can find a link to the article here. I will say that now is the time to start thinking about any greenhouse fixes and adjustments. Tune up your heaters and run them for a day or two before you have a house full of seeded flats. It's better to find out what's not working at the expense of a little fuel, rather than plants.

The work I do at this time of year is twofold; inside I am doing some "imagineering". I think about work flow, supply storage, what works, what doesn't work. Soon enough there won't be time or space to make these adjustments. Now is also the time to do a really deep cleaning. I haven't had the time to do one in the fall for a while, so come late winter I remove any weeds and sweep up all the soil and debris from last season. I check doors and openings for fit, and make any needed adjustments.

Outside, my main concern is snow. Snow gets heavy fast, and can actually absorb the water from the air and gain weight as time goes on. All that weight pushes straight down on the greenhouse, until it overloads the capacity of the pipe and any cross ties that support it. Typically the place the pipes fail is at the hip board, where a hole has been drilled. The result is a heavy, cold, expensive mess. As an aside, anyone who received an NRCS high tunnel is financially responsible for its upkeep, and if it comes down during the study period, you are on the hook. Our greenhouses are a gambrel style, with a high sidewall, which helps the snow to slide off. I make a point of clearing them after every heavy snow. I use a roof rake, and the snow generally comes off fairly easily. The bigger problem comes from the snow once it's on the ground. At some point the sides build up and there's no room for new snow to accumulate. I used to shovel this by hand but now I have a new ally.

About five years ago, I got a rear mounted snow blower for the tractor, and it is an amazing tool. I brought it over to a friend's farm and cleaned up his houses in a few hours. That includes the time it takes to fix any broken shear pins. It really shines where the room between the greenhouses is tight. It's hard to plow or push snow out for 100'. The snow blower throws it out. It takes a few passes to get all of it removed, but it is as easy as sitting in the seat. By keeping the sides clean, the new snow (there's always more snow coming) can slide off to then be moved by the tractor another day. An added bonus is that all that snow can melt somewhere else. I have some drainage issues we are still working on, and the last thing I need in the spring is to have all that cold water running through the greenhouse and taking away my heat. I can push it over the bank where it can melt in peace.

Here's to a successful 2011 season for you and your farm.


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