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.