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Harvesting snow...

 
Jim Lea
Posts: 114
Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
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I have read Mollison's,Sepp's books, watched Lawtons Dvd's and searched the web for tips and tricks to help grow food and shape the land. I have yet to see anyone address what I am going to show/present here. Im not saying in anyway that it is not out there. Just that I have not seen it.
I drive a lot for a living and always have my eyes open to see what people are doing and how they do it. As all the greats preach, "observe, observe, observe"
The other day I saw the hillside in the attached picture. It wasn't untill nearly two weeks later that the light bulb went off. I realized what I was seeing.
We had a foot of snow fall and it was accompanied by a fair amount of wind. Most all the snow melted in 2 days. Not this area! It lasted for over two weeks! I believe two things are going on here. First and foremost, the snow was deposited deeper here in this band. I believe that the wind caused it. The wind blows toward the camera in the picture. The hill caused a vortex as it crested the hill blowing and dropping more snow just leeward of the top of hill. Something like 7 times as much. Remember most of the snow was gone in two days. This stayed over two weeks.
It is in an area that gets morning sun too.
For some people they may be able to spot this sort of situation and take advantage of it, by means of hugle mounds or swales. In effect it is a drift. One that will come back year after year!
I hear you now, not everyone has 80 acres of hillside. Your right, but everyone that has snow likely has a reocurring drift area that they can identify, and take advantage of year after year. It could be an area the size of a patio, who knows. Where I live we get 11.5 inches of percipitation a year. Trapping even 5X that in the form of snow drifts will make a huge impact on specific areas of our land. Why not let mother nature put water where she wants it, then take advantage of it.
The other thing that is happening there in that belt of snow is that there is less dessicating wind. The snow will melt slower and absorb. Im sure many more things are going on but my purpose here is just to make someone aware of a resourse they my not readily see. Not all landscapes are as barren as the picture. If it were covered with brush and trees I doubt I would have noticed it at all.
I have surveyed our area (20 acres) and have already spotted drift areas. Some are more tricky as they are not drift deposits but simply deep shade. I found one that was both! Golden. In this area in the summer the sun is higher and the shade much less. I sang the MC Hammer song out there in the woods... Da,da,da,da HUGLE time! If you dont know the song please forgive my lame ass sense of humor, you did'nt miss much. Also this was typed on a phone with the auto spell check off so please forgive my poor spelling. Spell check is often worse. I once sent pictures of owl boxes to my dad. Titled Owl condominiums. He got Owl condoms! Ahh!
Hope this post helps someone find a new good spot on their land. Maybe it is the same spot a choice plant or tree is thriving in already. Nature is our teacher. We must read from its book and learn...
Cheers,
Jim in Tehachapi CA
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Alder Burns
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What I learned growing up in snowy Michigan was that an inch of rain equals ten inches of snow. Perhaps you can get some in a bucket and melt it and see for yourself....perhaps drifting will compact it some. But in any case what looks like a lot of water in the form of snow might not really be very much at all....
 
John Polk
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A potential problem I see with this is that 20" of snow only represents about 2" of rain (which, indeed is great to 'save' in arid regions!), but many snowy areas also have short growing seasons. If this takes an extra 2-3 weeks to melt, it cuts back the time when you can plant. This could potentially cut your growing season by x weeks - crucial for many crops in short season areas.

Believe me, I have considered snow blowing a (private) roadway onto my property as a way to increase "rainfall", but am concerned about "thaw time". Perhaps a viable way to mitigate this problem would be to use a strip of clear plastic to "solarize" the snow, allowing it to melt quicker, thus getting deeper into the soil.

Anything for a little more "rain".


 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1066
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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first off, awesome observation, i think it is one that will set you apart from other gardeners and even permaculturists if you can learn how to use that naturally occuring event to your advantage...

i have decided this is how i will be getting a large amount of any moisture on my current project, there is often a small amount of snow in the area, accompanied by high winds, so by designing to create more drifts, i can catch thousands upon thousands of gallons of water in a drift that would otherwise be blown a mile down the road
i am getting spots that get deep drifts that stick for weeks when we have small snows that melt within a day or two of falling, i feel that the slow melt helps it get deeper than a fast melt would, kinda like a dripper hose vs a garden hose
there are a couple photos on my project thread that's linked to in my sig,
another place that catches extra snow is dips and ditches, i began digging out the pond last summer while building my first hugels and it filled entirely with snow during the storm that i captured all the photos from, at about 4.5ft deep, thats a lot of water thats not going anywhere but down into the soil, probably will get soaked up by the windbreak directly beneath the future pond

to me, snow capture is a MUST in places that dont get much rainfall, and i think it will make a MAJOR difference in how much water is available in the summer, i feel that texture is one of the best things you can do for this reason

also, i think a large part of why snow doesnt equal much water is because it loses A LOT of water to sublimation, or water going from its frozen state in snow to its gaseous state as vapor, reducing evaporation from sun and wind exposure allows a lot more snow to turn to water instead of gas, drifts help do this by reducing the amount of snow exposed to the wind and in some drifts the sun
i dont have proof to back it up but i think that if you were entirely without harsh sublimation, one could expect up to 4in of water per 10in of snow but with reduced i think you can expect anywhere from 1.5 to 3in of water per 10in of snow depending on the actual conditions of the specific site

in the killpecker sand dunes in wyoming, i am told by others who have visted (though even when i lived right next to them i never did) that the sand will blow over and cover a snow drift, and as some of the sand blows away, the rest getting warmed by the sun in the summer, the snow slowly melts and produces small ponds and lakes at random in the middle of sand dunes, seemingly out of nowhere to those who know not of this phenomenon, so i think that if you have a snow drift and you insulate it with organic matter, and shade, you could cause that snow to stay frozen and essentially preserved until the driest part of summer when it will melt and basically give you rainwater irrigation when there is no rainfall to be heard of
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 468
Location: Eastern Kansas
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So, the area under the drifts will have more moisture.

Very interesting. I think I should go and locate some drifts!
 
Jim Lea
Posts: 114
Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
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I certainly can not argue that snow can be deciveing. And I also should say part of the reason I am so excitrd is that right now we truck in water. So tapping any new resorce is huge to our lives.
I didnt discuss any of my math yesterday, just wanted to get the idea out there. I figure we would get near 50% more water per year in an area similar in snow depth. Calc'd at 1 in per foot of snow.
If used with a hugle and trees below to catch the water bulb that forms below a swale or hugle (underground) the trees can benifit in a huge way. We fall into the arid catagory here with 11.5 in/anually and very windy. we are a huge wind power area.
In the golden area I found, I figure it is 60X20. We got a total of snow this year of maybe 30 inches. That drift area got lets say 3 times that 90 inches total (I think more). Lets say for sake of discussion there is an inch of rain in a foot. That's 7.5 inches of rain in that area from snow. That equals 750 cubic feet of water. 5602 gallons of water. Thats more than our water man can haul in one trip. He can hold 4000 gallons and the cost is a steep! Now we can adress the water a flat area got. 747 gallons. BUT. There were areas that were blown dry! Some areas that were in wind tunnels recieved nothing, the wind blew it into the drift.
Concerning growing season and snow melt. It is not a problem here as the snow is melted already and last frost date here is June 15. I do understand how it could be a problem elsewhere. Adapting with rocks for solor gain might be an option. Solar traps might work. Improvise,adapt,overcome was our moto in the Marines. I think a drift could be usefull in some way.
For me I think it will be short season vegies on the hugle and orchard trees below. For deep watering long season watering.
To sum up, it may not be for everyone, but this permie is going to jump on it.
Thanks Paul (if you read this) for providing a great gathering spot for friendly discussions like this one.
Jim
 
Jim Lea
Posts: 114
Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
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Devon, very interesting post. I have never heard of the killpecker (hurts just to say it) dunes. This is kind of like the underground water bulge/bubble effect in permie books i think.
I believe that the bubble will be in the same spot year after year here in my golden spot. If I dont put trees there Im missing the boat. I like the idea of texture design to catch snow. Not sure yet how to design for it yet. Building large mountains like in my photo is not practicle... he he
Jim
 
Jim Lea
Posts: 114
Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
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I guess I'm thinking some might be considering me going gaga over this, but then I thought most dont know where Tehachapi is. While we live among tall pines and oak shrub. Just 400 feet below us is barren sage and nothingness. We are just minutes from the Mojave desert. Our relative humidity is most often 30 or so. Couple all that with the wind and this snow thing is pretty big to us. I see it as possibly the difference of make or break.
Dont get me wrong I have not taken offense to anything anyone has said at all. It is all good. I'm just filling in the gaps here. We are not blessed with 40 in of rain a year and all that comes with it. We live 10 month droughts every year. Its hard... just sayin...
 
Miles Flansburg
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Jim, I am harvesting snow all the time. I will try to remember to post some pictures of my drifts later. I figure that every little bit helps so why not try to keep whatever little bit of water we can get from snow.
Here are a few pictures of how much snow is trapped in Wyoming snowfencing. And over the last several years they have been planting trees where the snowbanks melt. There are some beautiful windbreaks growing now in places where there once was only sagebrush.

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=wyoming+living+snowfence&qpvt=wyoming+living+snowfence&FORM=IGRE&adlt=strict#
 
kirk dillon
Posts: 61
Location: Maple City Michigan
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Growing up in Williamsburg Michigan, it was pretty common to put up snow fences each season to stop drifts from forming in/ across your driveway. They were about 4 feet tall slats of wood inside a wire fence that you rolled out and attached to 6 foot metal posts driven into the ground. You could put them anywhere and just roll them back up in spring. Putting them near a pond would be my idea to better catch that extra water and not worry about when it will melt. Might be a good way to start harvesting snow and eventually when you have the wind figured out they could be replaced with some kind of bush or shrub.
 
Devon Olsen
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yes, drifting snow is definately not a resource to be wasted, even if its not much more, it is MORE
and i personally feel it can be much more because of the WAY that it provides water, as i was saying earlier, i think that without snow, even 20 inches isnt much to go off of, but with snow, 11 inches can be about the same amount of water average or more in some areas

some of the ways from observation of how snow works that i would suggest for harvesting more snow is taller hugelkultur beds, bushes and trees (even in unprotected areas, thick grass clumps and bushes capture themselves extra water by creating a small wind shadow effect and causing the snow to drift downwind of them in a triangular fashion), ditches that drop suddenly, rather than gradually, i feel they capture more snow this way, though there is a point where i think its too steep cus you cant plant the steep edge if its not gradual enough
smaller holes/pits/depression, besides capturing rain better, they cause smaller drifts where the wind cant blow it completely dry, they also allow snow melt to collect where it can be more protected from wind and sun, rather than running downhill
smaller mounds as well, causing drifting, allowing plantings to be higher to begin with and making for more contrast (which equals more capture because of there being more texture) between the small mounds and the small depressions
groundcovers, snow doesnt blow away so easily if its trapped under a mat of greenery

trees and shrubs also capture some snow on their branches that would otherwise be blowing away at a height far greater than any of your earthworks can reach, allowing it to fall down a little at a time to the earth below and reducing sun exposure to the earth below because the branches that were bare before are now a little thicker, not to mention the trunks causing their own little triangular drifts from wind shadowing


not last year but the year before, we had a snowstorm that was about 8"-10" of snow, but where we had our windbreak, we got 6-7.5ft drifts just behind them, thats a LOT more water than the spots that didnt have drifts, if we were to assume the one inch per ft deal, not accounting for wetter or drier snows as there sometimes are, thats still 6-7 INCHES of water, 6-7 out of 11.5 is a SIGNIFICANT improvement in the amount of water that hits a site in a year, not gonna do the math precisely but i'd estimate 65% to 75% increase as compared to the annual average in those spots as compared to the rest of the area, and that is just one storm, cant wait to see how it looks on a storm like that with all the hugelkbeds and the new trees and the swales and the ponds and the micro depressions and mounds that i have planned...
 
kirk dillon
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Location: Maple City Michigan
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I guess part of what I neglected to say was that the snow fences worked just fine on "flat" ground. For whatever that's worth...
 
Devon Olsen
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yes, snow fences are quite effective, i dont think i or anyone else actually mentioned snow fences themselves so it may be quite the useful comment to bring them up
 
Jim Lea
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Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
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I like the tall steep hugle beds and wind fence ideas you all brought up. Also I had not yet observed how exactly trees interact with snow. We are pretty new here and this is all good stuff to us to know use and look for
Jim
 
Terri Matthews
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The snow is melting at my place, and so I went out to see where the snow was the deepest.

It was the deepest where the trees by the creek are, which makes good sense. The trees would slow down the wind, and then gravity takes over and the snow settles out. This is basically the same thing that a snow fence does: it slows the wind down so the drifts end up where people want them to be, instead of across roads and such.
 
Kota Dubois
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kirk dillon wrote:
Growing up in Williamsburg Michigan, it was pretty common to put up snow fences each season to stop drifts from forming in/ across your driveway. They were about 4 feet tall slats of wood inside a wire fence that you rolled out and attached to 6 foot metal posts driven into the ground. You could put them anywhere and just roll them back up in spring. Putting them near a pond would be my idea to better catch that extra water and not worry about when it will melt. Might be a good way to start harvesting snow and eventually when you have the wind figured out they could be replaced with some kind of bush or shrub.


All five of my thumbs up on this response Kirk. I'd even give you an apple if I had the right. Short, concise and pointing to an experimental method for determining the best placement for permanent plants to achieve the same effect as a snow fence. I would suggest a deciduous hedgerow for the best result.

As for the question of how much snow produces a rainfall equivalent; up here in the great white north, Environment Canada gathers the snow in their gauges, melts it and then multiplies the resulting water by 10 to determine snowfall.

Great discussion!
 
Jim Lea
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Location: Southern Sierra Nevada's
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Kirk, I guess I was reading to fast. Your idea about placing temp fences is indeed great! Why not try out an area first to see if it is a fit.
I like.
Jim
 
Devon Olsen
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btw, in wyoming i have seen snow fences, the roll up wire supported kind on craigslist for 30 bucks, i didnt have a dime at the time or i may have jumped on the oppurtunity
so... check craigslist for snow fences if youre in an area theyre popular...
 
Miles Flansburg
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Got a chance to take a picture of the snowfencing where they have also planted trees. This is on a windy north facing slope where no trees or shrubs have been growing. The snow drifts slowly melt, watering the trees and they seem to be doing really well. Pictures may not be to good. I stopped in a windy snowstorm to take the picture.
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Cohan Fulford
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Good topic
I'm not in a really dry area, but not wet either- we are in an area naturally covered with mixed boreal forest, so definitely a bit more moisture than the parkland and then grassland to the east of here. We get around 500mm/19inches average, but varies a lot from year to year. Luckily, much of our rain comes in early through mid summer when it's needed most, but a good chunk of our precip is also in snow.
I've definitely been watching snowfall/ snow collection patterns on our acreage, the farm beyond, and the area in general. I haven't figured out all of the mechanisms, but the variations are huge even in a small area, and clearly area factor in growing season moisture for specific sites.
For example, even on my just under 6 acres, which is almost completely surrounded by trees on all sides, and about half of which is forest, so wind is not much of a factor, snowcover in midwinter can vary from a couple of inches or less to well over a foot! (not counting the areas where it is piled from shovelling, where it can bee from a couple of feet to over 6 feet).
The areas with least snow are inside mostly coniferous woods, and under/near individual spruce trees in the open. Of course these are shady areas, mostly dryish in summer, and while there are native plants that grow there, including some berries and potential medicinals, they will not be the focus of intensive planting.
The second area with lightish snow cover, and which melts the fastest (warm spells during winter as well as in spring) is the south side of a solid line of woods- esp spruce- and again, in front of individual spruce trees. So these areas will tend to be dry, but also warm far in advance of other sites- I started some advance work for new plantings already weeks ago in a strip like this, when the snow was still knee deep a few metres farther out! I plan on using this warm strip to plant crops that have difficulties in our short/cool summer, as well as some dryland species that I like to grow, and I'll have to work carefully with mulching and hugeling to conserve enough moisture for the mesic plants, trenching/swales for moisture loving plants and reservoirs of moisture for the others.

Open wooded areas of poplars, birch and scattered spruce get medium to deep snow, clearings get med to deep snow, and open areas on the north side of trees get med to deep snow which can last a really long time- many weeks after the south exposure areas are dry.
Interestingly, I've noticed the deepest snow of all is in the low, wetland areas (not talking about tiny depressions, but what we call sloughs, with small to medium woodies or only grass and sedges, areas which can span many acres). Presumably this is partly due to wind depositing snow in the lowest areas, but these sloughs are not necessarily surrounded by open land, could be forest all around, so not that much snow could be blowing in. And presumably partly because low areas receive less sun when the sun is low, but again, some of these areas are not wooded, fully exposed to sun, and still have deep snow. I feel there must be another mechanism/s that I haven't figured out yet, but the end result is that the same areas that receive spring run off and run off from heavy rains, which are lowest and wettest in summer also receive the most snow of all the local land types.
Not yet sure how these observations can amount to useful strategies, but I think it's worth noting the complexities in the water patterns even over a small area.

To get the most from snow, some of my initial thoughts would be: a snow fence as mentioned above, particularly for a windy site- noting it may do a couple of things: the slats slow the wind passing through, causing it to drop its load of snow, mostly on the lee side- that is, carry the snow through and drop it. That may be the sunny or shady side, depending where your wind comes from. If its the sunny side, I'd suggest a second fence to shade the resulting drift and help it melt more slowly (and of course, stop some more snow of its own). Once you worked out the ideal site with the fences (and ideal distance between- a metre or two?), you could plant a twin row of shrubs/hedges to slow the snow and shade it between them, trapping the moisture to support their own growth. You could most likely enhance the whole process even more by having the shrubs on hugels to raise their windstopping profile, and a swale between to hold more moisture longer. In a dry climate, that intermound swale might be the spot for trees, and of course could be used for any other more moisture loving plants, which would also benefit from reduction of dessicating wind in the growing season. I'd probably also put a depression in front of and behind the hugels/shrub lines, though you could probably reach a point where too much depression on the windward side of the first windbreak, and too high a windbreak, might stop all of the snow at the back, with none to go through....

Another thought is that if you have enough snow to need shovelling/removal you can strategise to move some of that snow to areas that need it more. We have numerous paths to shovel here, besides a lot of driveway, and I am both deliberately throwing snow onto dry areas when they are reachable, and trying to move it away from areas that I know collect excessive moisture in the spring... This could be taken further if you were using mechanical snow removal- eg piling the snow by a pond/swale or other reservoir area- I would suggest not piling the snow on the pond as it might take too long to melt, but rather piling it above/behind so the sun would hit the front of the pile and melt it down into the pond/swale.

I also have depressions dug around all of my ornamental beds- rock gardens and woodland gardens etc- besides providing soil to raise the bed, this makes it easier to mow around for one thing, and prevent grass etc from spreading into the beds, but of course after snow and rain these fill with water temporarily, keeping moisture in the vicinity of the beds to wick up. Naturally I will be doing this with edible beds I'm building as well, and in some cases I am looking at edible and medicinal plants that specifically want to grow in low/moist areas....
 
Johnny Niamert
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Location: Colo
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Skiers may know the OP's picture as a snow cornice.

It's not uncommon to have the top of a mountain completely wind swept and barren, and the leeward side to have many, many feet of deposited snow.
Like others have mentioned this could be mimicked by properly placed swales, brims, fences, and vegetation. Then proper soil development to use the retained water to maximum benefit once it melts.
 
Danette Cross
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Location: St. Ignatius, Montana, zone 5b
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This is exactly what has been on my mind tonight. Harvesting snow. Here in the Mission Mountains of Western Montana, we get an average of about 45" of snow a year. That's equal to 4.5" of rain. Then on top of that we get about 16" of rain on average - which ain't much really. So that snow is about 20% of all the moisture we get! I have thought up all kinds of catchment contraptions and doo-dads, but I have to say, the snow fence is in my mind - the "Winter Swale"!! Just like a swale on contour to work with the lay of the land to catch water, we could use those snow fences on-wind-contour to catch the snow, heaping it up where it will collect best, then as it melts, hopefully our land swales will do their beautiful work and we will have potentially %20 more water in our soil. Come mid-August, my back 3 acres are CRISPY! Not only hard on trying to grow food, but a fire danger. I have been busy with other parts of the farm but this coming season it's "The back 3's turn". Time to go to town (Missoula) and get some snow fencing at WalMart ($30 for 4'-50') and truck my butt out to the back 3 and run the fence where the SW winds and SE winds tend to cross the land. We get winds that drop from the Mission Mountains (SE), then also when it switches that come from the NW (summer) or S across the flat of the valley. I am diggin this topic! You can go to your County website to find wind data to get an idea of which way it's blowing at what time of year. http://wind.willyweather.com/mt/lake-county/st-ignatius.html
 
Danette Cross
Posts: 32
Location: St. Ignatius, Montana, zone 5b
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To be mathematially more accurate.... the entire area gets 45" of snow on average per year. The linear feet of the fence at a 4' height with prevailing winds will catch X=? snow. That x is your additional water. SO the placement, number and length of those fences is something you need to tweek to make the most of the system. Just like a swale made of earth. I said a potential of %20, but that would be inacurrate. The % increase would depend on the total volume of additional snow in inches that you have captured that would normally escape your land by blowing.
 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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I live in windy Wyoming like Miles and snow fences are just something I've always been aware of. We have them everywhere. On my own property the swales I dug last year are doing a very good job of capturing snow and I will be building a fence out of tires this year because we noticed the effect a strawberry pyramid I'd built was having on snow collection. Gotta work WITH the wind here. It's impossible to work against it.

What we have noticed living here all these years is that the worst part of the snow blow on our road is completely dependent on the rotation of the farmers fields. The field he harvested in the fall with stalks remaining collects the snow and we don't get huge drifts on our road there. The part he just plowed and planted will be undriveable because of the drifts. We've decided to get snow fencing and approval from the farmer to install it every fall depending on his crop rotation. It's either the farmer accepts the snow fence or we'll be driving on his planted field.
 
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