Backyard Gardener: Be careful of heat stress

Hello Mid-Ohio Valley farmers and gardeners! I hope everyone enjoyed their July 4th holiday, celebrating America’s Freedom. A big Thank You goes out to all of our veterans who have served in the military. This week is a good time for late plantings of half runner beans and squash.

If your sweet corn is a foot high or taller it may be time for a side dressing of nitrogen to boost yields. Research suggests that more than 90 percent of nitrogen uptake will occur after corn is more than knee-high. This is largely because corn has a fibrous root system, which develops substantially more lateral growth than tap-rooted crops, such as cotton or soybeans.

For our livestock farmers, there is still time to plant warm season summer annual forages such as sorghum sudangrass, which have great potential and value for livestock feed. They can provide a plentiful supply of high-quality forage for grazing or for hay production. Recent research has introduced sorghum-sudan grasses with the Brown-MidRib gene. These hybrids are much more digestible for livestock. Warm season grasses will handle the summer heat better and be more productive. Hay inventories in the U.S. are very low so hay prices may be high this fall and winter

This week in addition to crop and vegetable production I want to discuss heat stress. Farming and gardening activities involve working outside during the hot summer months. Hard work and warming temperatures can lead to dangerous health conditions. Heat stress is a rise in body temperature due to muscle exertion or a warm working environment. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke occur when the body is unable to cool and maintain a normal body temperature.

As the body temperature increases, the heart rate and the blood pressure also rise. These conditions pose an even greater risk for individuals with existing heart conditions, high blood pressure and obesity. A body temperature increase of just two degrees can affect mental functioning, and a five degree increase can result in serious illness or death.

The mildest form of heat-related illness are heat cramps. Symptoms include heavy sweating, fatigue, thirst and muscle cramps. Prompt treatment usually prevents heat cramps from progressing to heat exhaustion. Treatment includes drinking fluids or sports drinks which contain electrolytes (such as Gatorade), move into cooler temperatures such as an air-conditioned or shaded place, and resting.

Be aware that during hot weather, heat stress may be an underlying cause of other conditions, including heart attack. Heat exhaustion may occur after several days of heat exposure without enough fluid replacement. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include the following: below normal body temperature, moist, clammy skin, weakness and muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting and fainting.

First aid treatment for heat exhaustion includes: moving the victim to a cool place, letting the victim rest and lying down with the legs elevated 8 to 12 inches. Apply cold packs or wet towels and fan the victim. Give the victim cold water or electrolyte replacement drinks such as Gatorade. Seek medical attention after 30 minutes if the victim has not improved. If the victim is unconscious, seek medical attention immediately.

Heat stroke occurs when the body loses its ability to regulate temperature, which may reach 104 degrees or more. I believe many of us do not realize sunburn can also lead to heat stress. Make sure you wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Sunburn reduces the skin’s ability to release excess heat so it becomes more susceptible to heat-related illness.

Anyone working in the heat should drink water every 15 minutes, even if not thirsty. A rule of thumb is to drink about four cups of water per hour when the heat index is moderate. Water temperature should be 50-60 degrees. While flavored water is OK, avoid beverages that dehydrate such as sugary sodas, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol.

Remember to be careful during the heat of summer. Take breaks frequently and rest in shade to cool down, especially if there is no air movement. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, light-colored clothing, and sunglasses. Wear loosefitting, lightweight clothing which allows your body to cool properly. Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day. Schedule exercise or physical labor for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening.

Many of us overlook the fact we need to get acclimated to the hot weather. It may take up to two weeks for the body to get used to the heat. Limit time spent working or exercising in heat until you’re conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness.

Please take extra precautions with certain medications. Be on the lookout for heat-related problems if you take medications that can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat. Never leave anyone in a parked car. This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in children. When parked in the sun, the temperature in your car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes.

Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency and keep an eye on family members or co-workers. Remember to take it easy in the heat, your body needs to get used to it. Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension Office 304-424-1960 or e-mail me at jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu with questions. Good Luck and Happy Gardening!