Where agriculture is concerned, dairy is king (or is dairy queen?) in northern NY State. But with the kind of winter we’ve had so far, I wonder if we shouldn’t start producing other crops, ones particularly suited to our region. How about we raise snow peas. Or iceberg lettuce, perhaps. OK, so I’m indulging one of life’s most futile activities, griping about the weather. But for farmers, foresters and gardeners, there is an up-side to all this snow.
Snow has been called the poor person’s fertilizer because it’s a source of trace elements and more importantly, of plant-available forms of nitrogen, a nutrient often in short supply. When snow releases a whole winter’s worth (what’s that—six, eight months around here?) of nutrients in a short time, the nitrogen value can add up.
Since air is 78% nitrogen, you’d think plants would have all they needed. But atmospheric nitrogen, N2, is a very stable, inert molecule that plants are unable to use. Where does useable nitrogen come from? Some soil bacteria can fix gaseous nitrogen, converting it to water-soluble forms that plants can slurp up. Lightning also turns nitrogen gas into plant food. But this only accounts for a small percentage of the nitrogen found in snow.
Turns out snow is a better fertilizer today than it was years ago. There’s an outfit called the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), which basically measures stuff that falls out of the sky that isn’t some form of water. According to the NADP, the vast majority of snow-borne nitrogen comes from pollution …. For the rest of the story, read on.
Article courtesy Paul Hetzler, Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County