Asparagus Disaster Looms With Dangerously Low Temperatures

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LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) - A couple of local agro-tourism businesses were keeping a close watch on their crops and their bottom line as the mercury plummeted Thursday night.

"It's been a really lousy asparagus season. It started late because of the cold and wet weather, and now this, a possible frost or even freeze," said Julie Zoller, of Paola's Fire Lake Camp.

Zoller and her husband run a U-pick asparagus operation at Fire Lake Camp, just one of a number of agro-tourism-based activities the Zollers offer. While the other activities - farm dinners, picnics and weddings, among others, are going great, the asparagus season has been disappointing to say the least.

"We're going to mow the field, so there will be nothing above ground for the frost or freeze to kill. But, it will take several days for the field to regenerate, so we'll lose those days of picking," Zoller said.

At Pendleton's County Market in Lawrence, with 20 acres of asparagus, they've got a lot more invested and a lot more to lose.

"We get 18 tons of asparagus per acre on the field we pick during the season, and 13 tons an acre on the field visitors pick," Karen Pendleton said. "We already started five days late with the chilly weather back in March and April, and now, if we get a frost or freeze, we're going to lose another four or five days of picking."

This is the 34th year of running the farm for the Pendletons, and she said they've learned to roll with the punches Mother Nature doles out. Still, it's not going to be a fun night.

"We'll set the alarm for 3 a.m., and then we'll wake up about every hour on the hour after that. We're going to cover up some of the plants and flowers that are just getting started and bring some of the other more delicate things in, but they don't make a tarp big enough to cover 20 acres, so there's not much we can do about the asparagus," Pendleton said.

"If we get a freeze, we'll be offering free asparagus picking till noon. Asparagus is 80 percent water, so it'll just freeze. People can pick it, put it in a ziplock bag, and throw it in the freezer," Pendleton said.

If they get a frost instead of a freeze, which can occur up to 38 degrees, according to Pendleton, anything above ground will be killed. In either event, Pendleton said they'll be mowing the fields in the afternoon and waiting for the next batch of asparagus to pop through the surface in four or five days.

"The final day of picking will be Memorial Day for the general public, and we'll pick for a week after that, so we're almost finished," Pendleton said.

Almost finished with an asparagus season worth forgetting.


Posted by Greg Palmer