Archive for Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Frost’s fury

Topography played hand in determining

May 4, 2005

The Tonganoxie area's not quite free from the threat of cold north winds.

But, said Laura Walters, who with her husband, Perry Walters, owns Wild Horse Orchard, the frigid temperatures of the past couple of week's didn't seem to do much damage to this year's apple and peach crop.

The orchard, which is eight miles northwest of Tonganoxie includes about 8.5 acres of apple trees and two acres of peach trees.

On April 23, the area saw a record low temperature of 26 degrees. But at the Walters' orchard, the temperature dipped to a mere 33.8 degrees.

"We're high on a hill," Laura Walters said. "Cold air will sink. There was some foliage damage, but I don't think we had much damage to the fruit."

Down but not out

But not everyone fared as well, weather-wise, in the cooler temperatures, which included a week in which the mercury didn't climb past 60 degrees.

George and Betty Lingenfelser live south of Interstate 70 near 182nd Street in southern Leavenworth County.

Each July Lingenfelser's pickup truck can be seen in downtown Tonganoxie laden with sweet corn fresh from his garden.

This year may be different, although Betty seemed to be taking the temperature drop -- and the damage to their garden -- in stride.

"After three freezes it's down, but it's not out," she said, chuckling.

The Lingenfelsers tried to prevent the damage.

"We covered the potatoes with four thicknesses of cloth and the tops still froze," Lingenfelser said. "Then the second and third times it froze them off at the ground -- hopefully they'll come back. ... But I don't recall ever having this many freezes."

The peas suffered too, Lingenfelser said.

"I was real surprised about them (the pea plants)," Lingenfelser said. "They're suppose to take cold weather, and 95 percent of them are gone."

The corn planted in the garden was wiped out, as well, but Lingenfelser said the corn planted in the field, a little later, is yellowed, but might survive.

"If the good Lord's willing, maybe they'll be all right," Lingenfelser added.

It wasn't just the temperatures that hurt the plants she said.

The first freeze was on a windy, moonlit night, she said.

"On a dark night it doesn't hurt so much," Lingenfelser said. "But when it's bright moonlight and clear, look out."

Tracking the temperature

Mike McGraw, who farms throughout the county, said the first freeze, on April 22, nipped his corn.

It got down to about 27, McGraw said. But that freeze only lasted a couple of hours, and the ground's temperature was still warm.

For McGraw, this past weekend's temperatures were much more damaging. At 1 a.m. Saturday McGraw checked his thermometer. It was 27 degrees.

It's worse on the lower ground, McGraw said.

"It's even burnt our grass in our yard," McGraw said. "It looks like it's going through a drought stress, with brown patches -- it's got frost damage."

The late freezes likely damaged hay crops as well, he said.

"The brome grass is supposed to be growing at a rapid rate, getting most of its growth right now," McGraw said. "It's not even growing because it's too cold for that."

But McGraw is primarily concerned about the corn crop.

There's more corn planted in the county this year than last, he said.

That's partly because of the threat of the Asian soybean rust fungal disease and the fact that there are no soybean varieties resistant to the disease, McGraw said.

And, he said, last year's bumper crop of corn probably encouraged the planting of more of it this year.

"Corn last year was really, really good," McGraw said. "And everybody still has that in the back of their minds."

Though technically it's early enough to replant, McGraw said that's probably cost-prohibitive. So while he's hoping the plants will pull out of the freeze damage, he's worried.

"I've seen it get frost this time of year, but not stay here this long," McGraw said Monday. "We've had a repeated frost now for probably four nights and they're talking about it again tonight."

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