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Is winter over yet?

  • Linda Koehler/TIMES NEWS William "Bill" Altemose, 73, of Effort, says it's still too cold to repair the damage to his 100-year-old-plus barn roof on Mill Pond Road in Gilbert. The tin roof could not sustain the weight of the last heavy snowfall. The…
    Linda Koehler/TIMES NEWS William "Bill" Altemose, 73, of Effort, says it's still too cold to repair the damage to his 100-year-old-plus barn roof on Mill Pond Road in Gilbert. The tin roof could not sustain the weight of the last heavy snowfall. The barn houses cattle and hay. Fortunately Altemose lost neither with the damage. He plans to repair it in spring.
Published March 13. 2014 05:00PM

Farmers will not be sorry to see the last of snow and cold, bitter days.

"I've heard most farmers griping about the winter weather we've been having. For them it means more work. On top of all their daily regular routine farm chores, more snow means snowplowing, which is more work. In fact, every farmer I know says it's time for spring," said Andrew Frankenfield, a Penn State Extension agriculture educator.

The recent large snow accumulation added the extra headache of roofs collapsing.

"Every farmer knows another farmer who has had a roof collapse," Frankenfield said.

When there's snow, farmers can't perform field activities, such as hauling manure out to the fields.

Thawing creates a wet spring, which can also be a detriment to farmers.

Frankenfield added, "Some farmers plant some crops in early March, so I would say it won't be an early spring for farmers for their planting season."

Farmers' winter blues

Brothers Dean and Roger Hahn have owned Hahn's Cloverleaf Dairy Inc. in Palmerton for the past 45 years. Roger Hahn said, "I can't remember a winter this bad. Maybe 30 years ago. Our equipment and the feeding equipment to feed the cows freezes fast. Water in the barn froze even with an electric heater."

While the cows are in the barn because of all the snow cover, they tend to produce less milk.

"They can't eat enough to produce enough energy to stay warm and produce milk at the same time," Hahn said.

In addition to raising dairy cows and producing milk products for sale and for their own dairy store, they grow corn and hay.

"The snow doesn't affect our crops we grow," Hahn said, but he jokes that cold and snow does affect the farmers themselves, and not in a good way.

Shirley Murphy of Murphy Farms in Kresgeville said this winter has not been good for farmers. She helps her husband, Neal, and their son, Steve, on the family-owned farm.

One reason is the amount of snow that has accumulated on rooftops, causing damage, which the Murphy men were presently attempting to fix.

If the snow melts slowly, that would be OK, but heavy rain could cause the snow to melt faster, creating flooding and washing away the fertilizer that had been put down before winter.

On the upside, Murphy said that snow is good for winter grain. "It covers it and keeps it warm."

William Altemose, a farmer in Gilbert, grows corn, soybeans and hay, and said the snow keeps the ground moist, but it's not good for the buildings. Part of his barn collapsed, and it will be costly to replace.

Ups and downs of cold temperatures

Robert Schwartz, owner of Rolling Hills Farm in Saylorsburg, grows garlic.

"The snow helps protect the garlic. The cold weather puts a zest in the garlic," he said.

He plants the garlic around Columbus Day, about three to six weeks before the soil freezes. It lies dormant during the winter months and then he harvests in early June. The cloves must be planted deep enough to prevent freeze/thaw, which causes mold or white rot.

"I'm pretty confident that the snow helped. It's a great insulator and it's free irrigation. When the snow melts, it's like a dripping irrigation system," Schwartz said.

Too much rain would not be good for the garlic.

"The Poconos is a great area for growing garlic," he said.

Brothers and partners Drew and Dennis Yenser, owners of the 140-acre family tree farm in Lehighton, grow Douglas, Fraser, Canaan and Concolor firs, Norway Spruce, Colorado Blue Spruce and White Pine trees.

Drew Yenser said that "The more snow we have the more groundwater it will produce. If we can keep groundwater up, that's good for the summer months."

They are hoping the snow is over for the year. March and April snows are heavier, wet snows, which damage branches.

"Cold weather doesn't really affect our trees at all, only in the spring if we have a late frost which can damage the trees' buds," Yenser said.

Another downside of too much snow cover for a long period of time is, "The animals, like rabbits and deer, will browse on our trees more when they can't find food on ground level, causing damage to the trees," Yenser said.

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