Thursday, March 24, 2011

what goes on under the snow

snowmold growing at the base of a magnolia
 It wasn't easy waking up yesterday morning and seeing fresh snow on the ground, or watching it fall all day after that.  It looks like we got 4, maybe 5 inches of heavy, icy snow.  Sometimes I think snow shoveling is fun, but yesterday's wasn't.

But it was almost gone this weekend, and we had a taste of spring then.  It has to come for real sooner or later.  The angle of the sun is high enough- I was out in the field a bit for work today,and around noon, the shadows were at about 45 degrees or maybe a bit steeper, which makes sense for this time of year.  It was below freezing, but the sun was intense enough that big sheets of snow were sliding off of the metal roofs of the buildings nearby.  It's a fascinating thing to watch and hear- it looks briefly like a waterfall, and the crash, when it reaches you, sounds like muffled thunder.  It's completely random when it happens too.  I would catch the motion out of the corner of my eye, then turn to see the roof clean itself off in the span of about 3 seconds.

It was good to see the snow melting so quickly- even if the air temperature isn't helping.

A few days ago, when the snow was almost gone, I was playing outside with the kids, and I noticed the most elaborate, delicate webs of snowmold, growing around the base of the magnolia tree (see above) that I had planted for my daughter when she turned 1.  It looked almost like spiderwebs with little drops of dew suspended in it.  It's hard to believe that mold could be so beautiful.

Apparently it grows under the snow all winter, feeding off of whatever is available.  With deep snow, the temperatures will hover at about 32 F which must be warm enough for mold.  Then when the snow melts, we get to see what it created.

magnolias do grow in minnesota- this one is a leonard messel
There's a lot that goes on under the snow, while from the surface it looks like everything is sleeping.  We've never had them in our yard, but I've seen elsewhere where voles will tunnel under the snow and leave complex little mazes behind- first as crusty little icy tunnels as the snow melts, then little depressed tracks, like luge courses in the lawn.  Most people don't like them that much- they tend to eat the bark of of shrubs, girdling and eventually killing them-but it seems to happen almost exclusively in suburbs where people have built their homes near the edge of a forest or old field, and I think that may be the price to pay for living near nature.

What I have seen in our yard- and which we had again this year is little brown rabbits living in our vegetable garden.  In the fall, I typically leave the stalks of of the kale and broccoli plants for the rabbits to munch on all winter.  This winter we had so much snow, that the rabbits were tunneling under the snow, and made a little cave in our kale patch, using the bobsled run that I tried to make over our garden as the entry path.  Most mornings I would come out and see in the snow a new set of tracks or two leading to a little hole where the kale patch would be.

Some people might try to chase the rabbits out.  But why?  We're not going to eat that kale anyway- and they rabbits are leaving us something really valuable in return.  Rabbit poop!

I can't believe some people pay for the stuff in 50 pound bags, stick it in their trunk (mmmm), lug it home and spread it on the garden, when the rabbits will do it for your for free.  With no effort on your part.

In the spring (hopefully a few weeks from now)  I'll put a 2-foot wire or plastic mesh fence around the veggie garden, and if I see any rabbits hanging out in the yard I'll shoo them away, and if they're really persistent, I'll give them a squirt with the garden hose.  That usually keeps them away all summer.  I tell them that they're welcome back after the first hard frost, and they must understand, because they always come back.


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