So you must all be thinking, how did the farm fare this week in the face of all that snow and ice? Are the chickens still alive?! Well good news, it looks like everyone made it unscathed!
Chickens are pretty hardy creatures. Have you ever wondered why chickens feet don’t freeze? They have a remarkable adaptation called rete mirabile (latin for “wonderful net”) that’s a fine, netlike pattern of arteries that interweaves warm blood from their hearts with the veins carrying cold blood from their feet and legs. The biggest problem chickens have is dehydration that can result from wind and excessively low temperatures. Dry air sucks up moisture, and chickens can require as much water on a cold winter day as on a warm summer day. That’s why James, Robin and Danielle came in to look after the chickens last week- they needed to break up and dump out the ice in their water jugs, and refill it with fresh, unfrozen water. They could always be given extra food to last a few days, but unfortunately, temperatures weren’t high enough during the day last week to defrost their water. So what about the wind? As long as you give them a good wind break, they can survive fairly low temperatures, without additional heat, thanks to their amazing adaptation. That’s why a wind break was made for the chickens “outdoor” area out of row covers, which gave them a little added protection while chillin’ in the yard. (Chillin’ indeed!)
So how did the crops do?
Everything in hoop house south was covered with row covers, and is doing just fine. This includes swiss chard, kale, collards, baby leeks, and salad mix. The leeks and garlic in the field are doing great. Alliums are very cold hardy, so this is no surprise. Spinach and beets are also tough little plants, and were also unfazed by the cold. Just like chickens, plants need water to keep from being dehydrated by the cold, which is why everything is always deeply irrigated before low temperatures hit. The water in the soil acts as a heat sink and releases heat as it freezes, providing a little extra warmth for the plants. As for the brussel sprouts, well, we weren’t really holding out much hope for those anyway, were we? We’ll see if the peas made it…
How are the little baby plants in the greenhouse doing?
The trays that have not germinated yet are covered in plastic to keep the heat and moisture in. Once the seeds germinate, a double layer of shade cloth is placed over them to give a little added protection from the cold. The trays were also misted over to create a protective shell of ice. If you’re familiar with igloos, you know that ice can actually have an insulating effect. A few well thought out actions like these may mean the difference between needing to heat your greenhouse or not.
This week was a great example of how proper planning and knowledge of plant and animal physiology can protect farmers from losses in even the harshest weather. Great thanks to farm manager James Fry for giving me the rundown on the student farm this week!