1 week after mini hoopty #1 went up, I built the second one. In the spirit of experimentation, I spread a full inch of 75% cooked compost down to see how if the darker surface would hasten the snow melt. The answer is a qualified yes – it is faster than pure snow, but I found an even better way. Temps were averaging over 10 degrees warmer than the first tunnel, but with a full inch of compost, it appeared to be acting as an insulating mulch and the snow remained under the mulch for a solid week. Once I figured that out, I initiated a 3rd trial in the footprint of the 3rd, not yet built, tunnel. Onto this 6×80′ area I sprinkled 2 5 gallon pails of compost onto the shoveled surface (about 1-2 of snow left). This flecked the surface, but only about 15%. Verdict? The flecked surface was snow free sooner than the covered hoopties! The frost is still in the ground, as night temps are refreezing, but this very encouraging. To speed it a bit, you can see that I have laid the tufflite from #2 over the footprint of #3 for the week while I beat the rye into submission.
Hoopty #2, the one that got the 1″ of compost, was frost free in 2 weeks. Nighttime temps were 12-20 and daytime was 25-35 with some solid sunny days. Once the snow was off the winter rye cover shot up like crazy. this is posing more than a minor problem. The soil is a soup of compost and snow melt, and even scuffle hoeing is doing as much pulling as cutting and the rye is re-rooting with abandon. Looking through my agricultural arsenal, the Grillo was out – too wet even for the rotary plow. Then I spied my Sod Cutter. This thing is a beast, and it cuts 1-2″ into the soil. My hope was that this wold offer enough resistance that the roots would be cut rather than pulled. Even this is not working uber well, but I’ve hit the patch twice now and the rye appears to be getting the worst of it.
All this toil, from having to use an 8lb sledge to pound in spike to make holes for the hoops, to shoveling the snow and spreading compost, to having to then remove the hoops and try over several days to kill a cover crop speaks to the need to PLAN for winter farming in October or September. Back then I was thinking to cut back on my activities this year, but then my work schedule changed and I ended up more than tripling my grow plans and added a greenhouse to boot. Next year will be SO much easier! Clear the summer crops, apply compost, seed the soil. As November approaches I will cover with Agribon, then as the frosts get fierce, over this will go the Tufflite you see here. Frost will NEVER get into the soil and I will harvest throughout the winter with replanting of transplants in late Feb.
In the mean time, my learnings are awesome and even without a harvest the ability to walk across delightfully spongey, frost free soil in my little 6′ strip of heaven while the rest of the farm is under 6″ of snow would have made it worthwhile. Tomorrow this will get the remaining transplants, and the rest will be seeded to spinach. I have 3 more flats of lettuce that will be ready when Hoopty #1 is frost free, and Hoopty #3 will be getting the 20#’s of potatoes sprouting in my basement. Baby spuds in May anyone? Excellent.