It’s easy to forget that the sun is even present in the winter. The warm star still rises to light our short days, hiding behind a white haze of clouds. But, for the most part, I find myself missing the sun most days of winter. (Maybe it’s foolish or shortsighted to miss something that’s not even gone.)
Though, despite my longing, I do see signs of the sun’s daily work. Snow melts. Ice thaws. The occasionally earth warms up and gives off the fresh scent of dirt. Even on the bleakest winter days – when the winds are high and fierce, the sky is colorless, and the temps dip below freezing – our hoop house holds tight onto the sun’s warmth. Quiet and slow, cold-hardy crops grow under sheets of fabric row-cover. These will be the first flowers that spring forth as winter fades.
We wouldn’t be able to extend our season like this without help from the sun. Our hoop house only operates within a system of solar dependance. A small solar panel on the southwest side of the hoop house harnesses the sun’s energy, and charges a (BIG) battery. Then, the battery powers a small fan that inflates the space between two layers of thick, translucent plastic. This inflated plastic acts like a big cozy blanket, locking in warmth. This gathered energy also powers a thermostat which senses the fluctuating temps of the hoop house, and opens louvers on either end of the house when it gets too hot in there. And of course, the thick, clear plastic lets in as much light as possible, even when the sun hangs low in the winter sky.
Sunlight triggers a cascade of opportunity and dependance. It allows the plants to convert energy to make food, allows us to nurture these plants, allows our business and bodies to grow and flourish. Essentially, we owe a great debt to the sun. It’s energy sustains us, even when we forget it’s there, or lament its attention to the other hemisphere. Farming in winter is a combination of harnessing and utilizing the light and warmth that we have, and planning for summer, riding on the promise of the sun’s return north.