For Release January 12, 1999

We Need The Cold

by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent

I am often verbally abused by friends, family and local citizens because I like cold weather. This is not to say that I don’t get cold or that I enjoy being cold. When it’s 5 degrees and there’s a 20 below wind chill I can get pretty darn cold too! What I really should be saying, when I say that I like cold weather, is that we NEED cold weather.

We live in the central Great Plains. This is an area that has evolved with changing seasons. We have four seasons every year. Granted, it sometimes feels like two major seasons of about six months in length and two minor seasons about two days long each. But if you really evaluate the data we do have four seasons. Cold weather, at times brutally cold weather, is to be expected and when we don’t have winters with cold weather we can have other problems.

The first thing that a lot of you summer lovers are going to say is, "Look at Texas and Florida and California. They don’t have cold weather and they get along just fine!" Yes, and they don’t live in the central Great Plains. And if you want Fire Ants, Africanized Honey Bees and Kudzu we can get rid of winter.

The natural world around us is dictated by the weather. The plants that we grow here have to be able to survive 20 below zero and 110 above zero. They have to tolerate a year with 50+ (1993) inches of rain, and a year with less than 20 inches of rain (1988). And if the absolute extremes don’t kill those plants, then they also have to survive temperature swings of over 80 degrees in 72 hours (Jan 31 - Feb 2, 1989). The weather can be brutal, it can be savage, but we need it!

Kansas is not known as a big fruit producing state. In fact it is a real challenge to try to grow a home orchard in Kansas that actually produces fruit. Our rapidly changing weather is the big problem. But many fruit trees, especially peaches, require a certain amount of cold weather (it is referred to as chilling) before they’ll flower and set fruit. Many of our wonderful spring flowering bulbs, tulips, daffodils, etc., must have a winter cold treatment before they’ll bloom. If you go to Florida, southern Texas and southern California you won’t see the spring flowering bulbs that you do here in the Great Plains.

Kansas does grow wheat though. We grow winter wheat and lots of it. We don’t grow spring wheat because the weather normally turns hot and dry too soon and the seeds shrivel in the head. So we grow winter wheat (hard red, soft red and hard white). These varieties of wheat need a cold treatment, in wheat it is called vernalization, to stimulate them to switch from vegetative growth to reproductive growth..

Cold weather also helps keep a lot of weedy plants or potential weedy plants from being a problem, or as big of a problem. If you’ve ever seen Kudzu vine in the south, you know that it is a weed that can make musk thistle and bindweed look tame. We don’t have it around here because it simply won’t survive the cold weather. Many of our insects and plant diseases are kept in check by cold weather. And the best thing to hope for is a winter with lots of temperature swings. It may be hard on us and hard on livestock, but it’s also death on hibernating insects.

We also need cold weather for the soils. Freezing and thawing (along with wetting and drying) move the ground and help reduce problems from the soil compaction that comes with too much activity on wet soil.

Cold weather may be despised by many people, but it is an absolute necessity for the natural world in Kansas. Layer on the clothing, button up your coat, pull the stocking cap down snug and think about all that we wouldn’t have without the winter!


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