Above: Just-harvested ice at the Hanford Mills Museum. Photo posted on January 21 at the Hanford Mills Museum Facebook page.
The deep freeze of the past few weeks has been good for something: Liz Callahan, the executive director of the Hanford Mills Museum in East Meredith, expects this Saturday's ice harvest festival to yield well-formed ice blocks 10 inches thick. Last year's ice was only six to eight inches thick.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride of an ice growing season," Callahan said.
Two weeks ago, the ice was only 3-4 inches thick. The recent extreme cold temperatures "helped us catch up, for sure," she said.
Even 10 inches is only average, as ice goes.
"We've had 18- and 20-inch years," Callahan said. "This year is better than the last few years, where we've haven't had such great winters for growing ice."
The staff at Hanford Mills prepares the ice on their mill pond all winter long for harvesting in early February. The surface of the pond is scored and cut into blocks, which are lifted out, put on a sledge, and hauled to a nearby ice shed for storage until July, when the ice is used to make ice cream the old-fashioned way.
Just like any other crop, a good ice harvest depends on just the right weather.
"Steady, cool weather is best," Callahan said. "It's those warm spells where things really get melted -- especially periods of warm precipitation -- that hurt your ice."
Hanford Mills Museum Ice Harvest Festival. Saturday, February 1, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 51 County Highway 12, East Meredith. $8.50, seniors, $6.50, children under 12 free. hanfordmills.org.