If the snow we got just ahead of the New Year's Day freeze is any indication of the year forthcoming, 2011 might hold some luck.
This winter's temperatures thus far have been pretty mild. That all changed New Year's Eve when temps dropped below zero. Of all the New Years Eve parties I've been to, the one on our farm this year ranks as one of the coldest. The bottle of champagne sitting on the porch waiting to be opened at midnight even exploded from the subzero temps.
Such frigid temperatures may work well to keep the beer cold, but they certainly don't bode well for wheat.
According to K-State extensions agronomist Jim Shroyer, when the first inch of the soil's temperature is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours, the crown of the plant freezes and the root system shuts down. But with at least an inch of snow on the ground, the plant is protected and soil temperatures will remain above the critical level.
This time we lucked out. The first snow of the season arrived at the 11th hour and covered the ground with 2-3" right before temperatures plunged below zero. The snow cover also held in place all through the weekend as daytime temperatures peaked in the single digits.
While most of the snow has melted over the past couple of days, temperatures have also held at a fairly moderate level with nighttime lows in the upper teens for most of this week. That's just warm enough to keep the crown of the plant from freezing without any insulation from snow.
The forecast for our area is also calling for the more moderate temperatures to stay for the next few days. We'll keep our fingers crossed. Even better, we have a 50% chance of snow this weekend.
While this pending snow may not be a big one, we'll take anything we can get at this point because direct cold injury to the roots isn't the only source of winterkill. Under extreme dry conditions, plants may suffer from desiccation, which according to Shroyer is even a more common problem than frigid temperatures.We may have a long ways to go yet with this crop, but if New Years Day was any sign of things to come, we just might make it out of the woods alive.