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Springtime freezing temperatures set East Tennessee farmers back weeks

MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - With freeze warnings in April, it's been an unconventional springtime in East Tennessee. 

These temperatures mean a delay for local farmers in planting processes because many crops don't like the cold. 

Albert Coning says he's been farming since he was born. He runs a family farm in Maryville. He says even just one day with low temperatures and a wind chill could mean failure for his crops. 

"Cabbage and broccoli, these kind of things are a cold crop type of plant. They were designed to grow in the cold. When they get real hot, they don't do very well. Tomatoes are the other way, they're designed to be a warm weather plant," said Coning. 

Coning prepares for the unexpected temperature drop by using green houses to prepare his plants before putting them in the ground. He says by growing the plants a few inches instead of planting them directly in the ground as seedlings, gives him a "jump on the market." 

"When it's cold and wet like this, it's pretty comfortable in that house. You can get that done and ready to go outside when it does warm up," said Coning. 

He uses the greenhouses to maintain suitable temperatures, but even so, it's mid-April and the green houses are still full of plants. Coning says buyers aren't looking to begin gardens, so he's not selling as many as he usually does around this time of year. 

"The ground is wet, the ground cold. Nobody buying anything. Normally, if you had plants like this to sell, they'd been gone a week or two ago," said Coning. 

In order to combat the cold, Coning uses "hot caps" which are paper tops that cover individual plants once they are in the ground. He says crops, like watermelons, can be covered if colder temperatures or winds are in the forecast. Even these tools are temporary fixes. 

The "hot caps" can only stay on plants for a few days, week maximum, because they block sunlight. 

In the meantime, Coning has to wait. He says he's a few weeks behind -- and hopes he won't have to wait much longer to plant what he's already prepared in green houses. 

The Coning Family Farm also has a market where Coning sells his produce, he says he hopes to be open by the end of May. 


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