To most of us, icicles grow naturally, usually off the roofs of poorly insulated houses. But at Utah-based Ice Castles, man-made icicle farms are growing 15,000 icicles a day. ow else do you think giant ice palaces get built? Welcome to the world of icicle farming.
We first heard of icicle farming from a short and charming story in Modern Farmer that, in turn, pointed to a local Vermont TV segment on odd jobs. Since we've always considered ice architecture to be cool, I got in touch to Ryan Davis, co-founder of Ice Castles to find out more.
Davis and co-founder Brent Christensen, the engineering masterminds behind ice palaces from the Mall of America to Vermont, started their company about five years ago. The castles are made entirely of ice, but in the beginning, they all begin as water along an undulating metal tube. This is the ice rack where icicles are grown overnight. As described in US Patent 8511042 B2 ("Methods for constructing ice structures," awarded to a Brent Christensen), water slowly drips down from the top of the plank forming icicles. Easy. Depending on temperature and water flow, an icicle can grown as long as 3 feet overnight.
Left: patent art version of an icicle field. Right: Real life version. Photo by Kendra Garvin.
The fragile icicles are then harvested by hand and transported over to the site of the ice castle-to-be. Icicles are stacked vertically and horizontally like long, thin bricks, held in place with slurry as mortar. A single ice castle might be constructed from half a million individually farmed icicles. The walls are up to 15 feet thick and 40 feet tall.
An engineer placing icicles.
Sprinklers going off at the top of the growing ice structures.
Then comes a second sprouting of icicles. Sprinklers are turned on over the ice castle, and the dripping water forms more icicles. It takes about a month to grown an ice castle, but the sprinklers are kept on throughout the winter to keep the ice fresh and strong. "One of unique of the ice castles that make them so beautiful that the formations change through the season," says Davis "As we keep running the water, Mother Nature changes it up and the formations come out looking different." On windy nights, the icicles might come out sideways. On warmer night, the icicles grow especially long.
For his part, Davis acknowledges his job is an odd one. "People are like hey, what do you living, and I'm like let me show ya because if I told you, you wouldn't get it." If you can't get to an ice castle yourself—in Vermont, Utah, Minnesota, and New Hampshire this year—you can live vicariously through these photos and Ice Castle's gorgeous Instagram account.
All images courtesy of Ice Castles unless otherwise noted.