Night shift at -40

Nightshift at -40


It comes nearly every year. Some years it’s December. Some years it’s February and others it’s January. 

You never know when nightshift at -40 will happen but it happens nearly every year. 

When your farming livestock it’ll be waterers freezing up, axing holes through ice, thawing frozen pipes, tending to frostbitten ears or combs of animals and praying the new babies don’t arrive. Hourly you check the animals if wind speed is up. Wind is the big problem. Most of the time buildings and animals can both tolerate the super frigid but when wind is involved it changes everything. A momentary ungloved hand to adjust a tool or something doesn’t warm quickly without the aid of fire, be it propane, diesel, electric or wood. In many respects I am happy to have just my small flock of hens to overwinter and not a commercial herd of flock of animals to tend to during winter. I can tell you several sacks of frozen seed potatoes one year are enough to keep you busy tending spuds more carefully. 

As a wannabe year-round or nearly year-round veggie grower in northern British Columbia, I can tell you the challenges of cold, wind and snow on greenhouses to extend the season make for a herculean effort. 

In our early years I was cutting massive amounts of wood and splitting to cure and feed into barrel woodstoves in our caterpillar tunnels and small Nursery. Starting plants early as possible to get a jump on our short season is a must for most vegetables. To get a good return on Tomatoes we need to start them by January or February. 

Tending stoves every hour to two hours during inclement weather is a test of mental strength as well as strength of the body. One friend described what I was doing as “torture and crazy”, and as I look back now I smile but also agree.  My two sons have now replaced my waking up often for woodstoves with needing to pee or needing a glass of water. Frigid temperatures can also affect propane’s pressure on furnaces in our modern greenhouse. Lower pressure means only one heater will work at a time which isn’t too big a deal but if pressure drops too low inefficient combustion affects the flame sensor which makes units turn off completely. Condensation on a furnaces circuit board can also bring fun. Thank google for wireless alarms and monitoring systems to wake me if a problem is about to arise. The challenge is to troubleshoot and repair problems before they become significant because small problems become larger very fast in cold temperatures. Duct tape and electrical tape along with MacGyver action usually gets you by till a break in the weather. Frozen pipes are a given and I know at some point I get to go into a crawl space (resembling a mass murder graveyard of bird bones and mice from the late great Mitche cat) to warm pipes with an electric heater. 

The cold is cleansing. If cold enough temperatures are reached insects who become pests are knocked back. Sunset and Sunrise are euphoric and if you get to see a starlit sky with northern lights you somehow feel like you won the lottery, or at least I do.

Nightshift at -40 always reminds us of our fragility but with fragility often comes beauty.

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