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Published: Monday, 10/31/2005

Frost kills tomatoes, flowers in area

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Widespread weekend frosts killed most of the tomato plants and late summer flowers in northwest Ohio gardens, marking the end of a growing season that was substantially longer than usual.

The growing season, which is the stretch between the last spring day when the temperature fell to 32 degrees and the first fall day it hits freezing, was 22 days longer than average, according to Ray Burkholder, a longtime National Weather Service observer in Pandora in southern Putnam County.

His area was hit with a patchy frost Thursday, ending the growing season there at 177 days. He marked its beginning on May 4.

Most of the rest of northwest Ohio got freezing temperatures Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service's Cleveland office. The few exceptions were along Lake Erie.

Typically, the first frost comes between Oct. 5-15. One out of about every 10 years, it occurs in late September, according to the weather service.

The earliest frost ever recorded by Mr. Burkholder, who has been collecting weather data for 56 years in his area, was on Sept. 13, 1964. The latest was on Nov. 4, 1971.

An extremely early frost can be devastating for farmers and terribly disappointing to gardeners.

Denis Yoakum, who raises 80 acres of tomatoes, remembered a Sept. 22 frost that killed plants that were still producing on his northwestern Seneca County farm.

This year he quit picking tomatoes a few weeks ago. Quality suffers in October and migrant workers are ready to move on. But if the hurricanes had hit big tomato-growing regions in the South - wiping out supplies and skyrocketing prices - he likely would have kept picking until frost.

Occasionally, however, some farmers are eager for a frost long before it comes.

Buckwheat, a somewhat uncommon crop locally that is used in flour, is hard to harvest before frost. But if the frost is very late, sometimes the buckwheat seeds fall off the stalks before they can be easily harvested.

Farmers with lots of weeds in their soybeans are often eager for frost too. When a freeze kills the weeds, harvesters are less likely to become clogged.



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