Despite a few days above freezing this week, most of our central MA farm is still under a thick blanket of snow. As I look out my front window, I can see the farm across the valley from us, completely free of snow. Why is that? It’s all about topography and the angle of the sun as it moves across the sky. Our farm is perched low on the north-facing slope of a river valley. The low angle of the winter sun passing across the southern sky means that this time of year, many areas are in the shade for most of the day. Cooler air also settles at the bottom of the valley, keeping temperatures a few degrees lower than the rest of town. The farm across the valley is on a south-facing slope, and their fields are perfectly positioned to capture the sun’s heat all day, melting their snow more quickly. It’s no surprise that apples were once grown on that side of the valley, but not on this side. It’s too cold!
Melting snow can tell us a lot about our garden conditions. Watch where the snow melts first in your yard in the spring, and you’ll learn where the warmer microclimates are. Use them to your advantage to grow heat and sun-loving plants such as tomatoes and flowering plants that will sulk in a colder spot.
The back wall of our garage faces south, trapping the sun’s heat on sunny days and releasing it slowly overnight. The wall also protects plants from cold north winds, keeping the area quite warm and sheltered. This is the only area of my garden where I can grow Mediterranean herbs that need hot, blazing sun to thrive. A mulch of pea-stone gravel also absorbs the heat, warming the ground faster in spring and helping the crowns of plants from rotting in my high-moisture soil.
So watch the snow as it melts in your gardens, and figure out your garden hot spots!