Life beneath the snow

When you glance out the window in New Hampshire today, you might think, except for birds visiting the feeder and birdbath, it’s a dormant snow covered landscape. But that would be wrong. There’s a lot going on beneath the blanket of white stuff, a secret ecosystem under there that’s alive and active.

junco

The small space between the earth and snow, called the subnivean zone, is where the temperature remains a constant. It’s an insulation area not only for small species of animals and plants, but for microbes that fertilize the soil. These miniature creatures absorb nitrogen from the snow and from decomposing plants… like all those fall leaves covering your borders… then they die as the snow melts providing the nitrogen that our garden plants need to grow.

Bunny Feb. 2019

About 6-8 inches of snow is needed to maintain a good insulation area under the snow. We’ve come close this winter with fresh snow covering the old. It recently snowed overnight, a light snow covering the bunny in the photo above taken the day before.

Snow Feb. 2019

 Today the bunny is going… going…. gone

snow Feb 2019

When temperatures rise and there’s a thaw, small tunnels in the subnivean zone are visible.

subnivean zone, 2019

I just hope these little critters, voles, mice and other animals, are gathering sunflower chips sprinkled for the birds, and not after tender bark of my shrubs and trees.

16 thoughts on “Life beneath the snow

  1. Re the voles: One winter they munched on the roots of about 75% of the perennials in my raised beds. And I have entirely given up on planting tulips or crocus. If we get a hard and unrelenting frost this is not a problem but the freeze and thaw cycles that seem to grip us now seem to lead to heavy critter damage.

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    • The freeze and thaw cycles this winter have been too numerous. Fingers crossed for no damage in my small garden. As for voles, I see them grabbing birdseed and disappearing beneath the snow. Better the birdseed than my tulips, right?

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