Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fun for the Whole Family

"There is no such thing as fun for the whole family." Jerry Seinfeld

Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
 'Tis the season to be jolly....

'Tis the season indeed...the lovely season of steamy kitchens and the smell of home made goodies...the season for merry carols and blinking lights.....the season for quiet reflection on the blessings we have and the gift of our Lord Jesus. It's the time for board games and card games, reading books wrapped in afghans in front of a fire, and other toasty indoor pursuits.  

'Tis the season....
....for watching the weather forecast the night before and waking in the gray chill before sunrise to check the wind.  For early morning texts and climbing out of a warm bed to a cold floor.  For putting on that extra layer.....and wrapping your hands around that first cup of coffee hoping some of the warmth soaks in.  
Because it's December and these weeks before Christmas, before the New Year, are not only the season of Advent, but....the season to cover greenhouses.

October is for harvest but, if the weather holds, the early weeks of November are no time to rest.  The combines may be shedded but the tractors and tillage implements barely cool down before fertilizer is being knifed in and conservation structures repaired of the damage suffered in summer storms.  Only November rains, or heaven forbid, November snows put paid to fieldwork and send farmers to their shops and computers.

Greenhouses suffer from summer storms, but greenhouse coverings are temporary even without wind or hail. For greenhouses like ours, growing a relatively low value short season crop, then standing idle for the rest of the year, the only economical roof for all those flowers and vegetables is plastic.   Plastic is light and bright...but only for three or four years. Plastic is strong and flexible...but only for three or four years.  Plastic resists the damaging rays of the sun....but..., well, you get the drift.

July is too hot; January is too cold, but there are days in December that are, as Goldilocks says, just right.  Mornings when the frost lies heavy on the grass as the late winter sun peeks over the hills; mornings when the smoke rises from people's chimneys in a unwavering column.  When the forecast from NOAA says "winds calm to light", that's the time for the skid loader to rumble to life, to find the insert tool, a screwdriver, a hammer and the scissors, and to postpone that second cup of coffee until the plastic is all fastened down.

The greenhouses range from 100 to 150 ft. long.  The ground to ground greenhouses require two separate pieces of plastic so we pull and unfold one at a time. That means a surface area from 4000 sq.ft. to 7200 sq.ft. is just laying there, vulnerable to the slightest wisp of air movement.  If an errant breeze curls under the south end of a greenhouse, pretty soon the whole structure looks like a silver cloud or a surfer's wave.  Once the air is underneath, you can never really get it out again. This situation occurs so frequently, Blake coined a phrase to describe the phenomenon, calling it a polyethylene induced microburst". A child's first task in the family greenhouse business is to sit on a corner of plastic until someone tells you to move.
 One of our family myths concerns a day we might have been pushing the envelope weather wise. That day was so windy that Lee and Ann insist they were lifted into the  air like Dorothy's house, still holding on to their corner of plastic.

 Every family needs its legends.While their college friends headed home for Christmas break to relaxation, home cooked meals, and perhaps a ski trip to Colorado, our kids came home to perch on a precipice, backs against a frigid wind, helping cover the newest greenhouse construction.  They can be forgiven for believing their parents saved at least one naked greenhouse to cover every Christmas Eve.

The gutter connect greenhouse pieces are tubes 24 ft. wide.  The good news is that's  a much smaller piece of plastic to maneuver and maintain.
The bad news is all the work has to be done in an 8 inch gutter 10 ft. off the ground. The plastic is lifted high in the air on a homemade platform contraption, ropes tied to what we hope is an outside corner of the tube.  The manufacturers fold their tube plastic different ways, so this part of the process tends to be a crapshoot.  With a person in each gutter pulling the plastic and another on the platform attempting to keep it tracked to the center, this part of the process is both physically challenging and nerve wracking, especially if the plastic has been formed in a way that it stubbornly refuses to unfold without being forced apart inch by sticky inch by hand.
The view from the gutters is a pretty one: distant fields turned gold by the slanted winter sunlight, the patches of trees filigreed black. From the apex of a greenhouse on the hill, Hurst Greenery is adrift in a silvery sea.
Silhouetted against the winter sky, the guy held up in the air by the skid loader weaving wirelock at the other peak of the greenhouse looks the size of a Lego man.
We count down the greenhouses we cover like a child counts down the days to Santa Claus.  When the last insert is snapped down and the new plastic inflates like the blimp, we straighten our frozen knees and shed our sodden and snagged work gloves.  We roll up the ropes and haul off the plastic trimmings.  The skid loader is parked by the pyramid of new plastic rolls and the golf cart/tool cart is parked out of the weather.  Time for that second cup of coffee.  Our mantra is: If you cover a greenhouse (or two!) in the morning, you have already accomplished enough for the day.
 Every family has Christmas traditions.  Some bake cookies together; some shop Black Friday together; some gather to cut their Christmas trees together.

Our family covers greenhouses.....

1 comment:

  1. Oh, the legends of your family sound much like my own family. I too have had that Dorothy feeling, but not on plastic, but instead corrugated tin. Thanks for sharing on the Country Fair Blog Party this month.