Sunday, January 27, 2008


In colder times, I would have spent my day yesterday out on the ice of Howell pond, helping saw the ice crop into 16x24-inch blocks, hooking the blocks to the pulley system on the ice ramp, and finally storing the blocks in sawdust at the bottom of the ice house.

Unfortunately, this winter the ice is only an inch thick.

According to the ice harvesting veterans I spoke to:

Anything less than 4 inches of ice and it's too dangerous to go out there for risk of falling through. During an average ice harvest, the ice is usually 6 or 7 inches thick. To use the horses on the pond, the ice must be at least 10 inches thick. And the best ice harvest anybody could remember was 14 inches.

So there was no ice harvesting yesterday, and the chances of it getting cold enough the rest of the winter to take another crack at it look doubtful, at least according to the long-term forecasts. But I still learned a lot about the practice:
  • Ice must be tended like a winter crop. When it snows, the ice needs to be cleared off, or else the snow cover can act as an insulator and prevent the ice from getting any thicker. In other cases, the snow can get trapped under a layer of ice that freezes on top of it, creating ice blocks prone to breaking apart at the weak layer of snow.

  • The ice house at Howell holds about 25 tons. Ice stored properly there -- with sawdusk insulation -- can last three years. (A block of ice will melt about 30 percent each year.)

  • A hundred years ago, if there were a warm winter with no ice on the pond, the farmers would have had to buy northern ice shipped down from Maine. The ice that was used yesterday in some of the demonstrations was either bought or left over from last year.

  • Back in the day, if you wanted a cold drink, you wouldn't drop ice into your glass, you'd put your glass or bottle into the ice bowl. That's because there could be some nasty things in the ice itself (dirt, mud, animal waste, etc.).
Some photos:

Here's me sawing some domesticated commercial ice, just for kicks. Kind of like shooting fish in a barrel.

Maggie the farm dog likes to chase chunks of ice.

The view down the ice ramp.

One inch of ice will support the weight of four geese.