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Curious about Snow  RSS feed

 
Joel Andrews
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Location: Philadelphia, PA
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Hi all,

I'm a newbie to permaculture and this is my first post on the forums here. I thought I'd start off with a broad random question about snow and its affects, and see what kind of insights you all might have.
I live in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, PA. Like most of the U.S., we've been having a pretty crazy winter this year. We keep getting hit by one storm after another, along with record low temps for the Mid-Atlantic region. I know there's plenty of people who experience a lot more snow than this every year, but looking at all the piles of snow accumulating in my yard has made me start to wonder about the effects of snow on the soil.
For instance, you can accumulate a really large amount of water (in the form of snow) on top of the ground, and as long as it doesn't melt too rapidly, it seems like it would do a really good job of rehydrating the soil, since I would think it's just slowly trickling down into the soil as it melts. Then again, maybe this doesn't happen if the ground is frozen hard, since the snow melt will encounter some sort of icy barrier when it hits moister soil.

I've currently got huge piles of snow that I have piled up on either side of my driveway and sidewalk, and I'm wondering if there's some way to make good use of this stored clean water before it all just melts and runs down the street. Got any good ideas?

Another thing I'm curious about is the nutrient affects of snow. I've heard that snow captures nitrogen when it forms and can deposit it in the soil, but does anyone know if this is true or how much nitrogen it contributes? I'm also wondering if snow might have some affect on the pH of the soil.

Please feel free to share any bits of useful info you might have with regard to snow and its relationship to soil.

Thanks!
 
Johnny Niamert
Posts: 268
Location: Colo
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All my old neighbors used to shovel/blow their snow into the middle of the street. This would, IMO, waste a bunch of free water and create hazardous snow bumps for cars. I would always shovel all my snow into my yard and make big piles around shrubs and trees. I was the 'crazy guy'. I did this just for what you mentioned; slow released water when it starts to melt. This was better in areas that would get sun during winter, but my house faced south. I would make the piles not right on the edge, but throw it in a few feet, so it could soak in.

The back of my house was shaded, but I would shovel the snow off the deck around my apple trees, to soak in. Sometimes where the downspout emptied in the back would turn to ice, and smother some grass. It came back in spring usually. Or I just took the opportunity to seed clover.

Welcome to Permies.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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I've found that the snow tends to melt and run off because the ground underneath is frozen. Around here, the run off goes into lakes and recharges the water table that way.

The forest seems to be a different story. I think the ground doesn't freeze because of the amount of air in the root net, and leaf cover. Either that, or there is just so many air spaces in the frozen humus that melt water can still infiltrate.

If you want to capture snow melt in the city, then installing some form of cistern underground might be your best bet. You can catch rainwater run off from your driveway in the summer, and snow melt in the spring.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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yes piled up snow slowly releases water into the soil given the right circumstances. you hit the nail with most of your questions. IF there is a hard freeze before the snow hits the ground will be frozen and most of the water melted will run on top of that frozen soil. kind of like how the glaciers are melting from below.

The other thing you want to hydrate the landscape is for the snow to melt slow. if its in full sun on a warmer day the snow will melt some, but it will also evaporate much faster than its melting. in areas where snow hits the ground and you have hot days, a large percentage can just evaporate away. there are a lot of factors to this though. wind, elevation, temperature, vegetation cover, high ground or low ground.

as for nutrition in snow there is a lot of information about that online if you do a simple search.
 
Hester Winterbourne
Posts: 169
Location: West Midlands UK (zone 8b)
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This reminded me of the bit in Laura Ingalls Wilder's book where Almanzo's father makes him go out and plough a late snow into the soil. I had never got round to searching to see what the science behind it was. But interestingly, the article I found says that "over recent decades" the amount of nutrients in the snow has increased because of pollution. So Almanzo's father was ahead of his time! I wonder how they had discovered or figured out the advantage that long ago?

I loved those books...
 
Cj Sloane
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Jennifer Thorp wrote:This reminded me of the bit in Laura Ingalls Wilder's book where Almanzo's father makes him go out and plough a late snow into the soil.

Yes, I had the same thought.

The best place for the snow would be in a depression as high up on the property as possible. Also, a depression/swale a the lowest part of the property to capture it so it can't run-off into the street.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Almanzo was farming in a rather dry area. I suspect that the snow was worked in so that it would not sublimate. The dark soil would warm and the melt water would be saved.

On the TV show, Laura's family lived in an all wood building that would be tough to heat. In the books, there was sod and earth sheltering. Charles was given nails as a present from Caroline. Real steel nails !
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Pretty sure the snow was mentioned as "free fertilizer" though.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Here is an interesting study of snow.

http://www.taiga.net/wolfcreek/Proceedings_01.pdf

In South Western Wyoming there are the Killpecker Sand Dunes. They are the second largest moving dunes in the world!

The sand will bury snowbanks as they move downwind. Over time, sometimes decades, the snowbanks will reappear, on the upwind side, as the sand moves along.
Usually they will have turned to icebanks.
 
Thomas A. Cahan
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.. I remember Mark Twain describing such a thing somewhere out West in 'Roughing It'.. mystery solved!
 
Michael Vormwald
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Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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As I recall, snow has always been referred to as the poor mans fertilizer as it does in fact transfer nitrogen to the soil.
As snow melts it will saturate the soil and some of this will percolate to the aquifer and some will run off to creeks, streams, rivers, etc.
 
Jonathan Davis
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Location: North Central Ohio
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I wouldn't want to pile snow in my garden beds for fear that it would cause soil compaction after the ground begins to unfreeze. I have seen big snow piles in my neck of the woods that stick around until mid April or even later. Making a pile upstream from your beds that would melt into them might be cool, if it were practical to do so...never considered it before.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Nick Kitchener wrote:

The forest seems to be a different story. I think the ground doesn't freeze because of the amount of air in the root net, and leaf cover. Either that, or there is just so many air spaces in the frozen humus that melt water can still infiltrate.



This. Totally. My observations lead me to concur.

Sorry currant conversation participants, I'm jumping in from the to on this one! That is all for now.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Jonathan Davis wrote:I wouldn't want to pile snow in my garden beds for fear that it would cause soil compaction after the ground begins to unfreeze. I have seen big snow piles in my neck of the woods that stick around until mid April or even later. Making a pile upstream from your beds that would melt into them might be cool, if it were practical to do so...never considered it before.


Interesting. In the maritime it seems like frozen ground and snowfall are almost mutually exclusive. When the ground freezes here it gets dry and all the moisture is sucked out of the ground only to refreeze and then the ground will freeze deep. I've been noticing this more and more often in recent seasons though perhaps only because I am paying more attention. I have however noticed that in areas which have tree cover, even just under my full sized apple tree out in the yard, the ground doesn't do the frost thing and freeze solid.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Exactly!
Here is quite common to have unfrozen soil, protected by snow.
Snow is great isolation for the soil temperature.
Here ground is frozen when we don't have snow and temperatures are well below 0°C.
It's not very common that we have snowfall and freezing temperatures at the same time, it needs to be around 0°C for snowfall and thus snow falls on unfrozen ground isolate it and ground stays unfrozen.
 
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