Why you should care
Because sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong, and our taste-buds deserve better.
Want to super-charge your veggies with sweetness or make your kale and parsnips less bitter (or, perhaps, palatable in the first place)? There’s a secret farmers and serious backyard tenders know: Despite all the fears of the cold, frost may be your friend.
The temperature in Fahrenheit when frost bites. Colder, and you’re toying with a hard freeze.
First, a science class refresher: Frost occurs when the temperature dips below freezing and the moisture in the air freezes, clinging to the plant life and the ground.
Right now, gardeners (and farmers) have already planned their spring and summer bounties, plotted out their beds and started growing their seedlings. But just as we start drooling over the prospect of those killer juicy heirloom tomatoes, it’s worth noting that some veggies actually embrace the cold. Not all, of course. Frost can slay plant cells that lead to the luscious tomato’s demise. But other plants, such as those in the cabbage family (like Brussels sprouts and bok choy) employ a sugar defense.
Yep, a fresh infusion of sugar is all your veggies need to snuggle up against the winter and grow themselves tasty.
And if you don’t trust us, trust the horticulturists: ”Sugar works like an antifreeze,” says Thomas Bjorkman, an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University. ”So when it’s getting colder, and they’re getting ready for winter when they’re dormant, they’re building up the sugar levels helps prevent them from freezing.”
The plants survive and your taste buds profit.
(Note: A very sudden drop in temperature could still harm plants like broccoli and cauliflower.)
Plus, fun fact: Lettuce and spinach, for instance, sprout flowers (known as bolting) to reproduce, says farmer Julie Clemons, owner of Raven Hill Farm in Canaan, NH. When they bolt, many plants turn bitter as a protection against would-be predators.
The plant triggers are as varied as our own love lives—stress, daylight, temperature, all have a say in the reproductive mix. But plants tend not to bolt in the cold.
So if you, like many an amateur and professional horticulturist, have plotted growth calendars and started tending your beds, perhaps it’s time to consider the cold an ally. Embracing the frost extends the growing season, so you can enjoy fresh-from-the-garden delicacies longer.
Who knows, maybe radical things will happen when you embrace the frost—your kids might just eat their veggies.
This OZY encore was originally published April 2, 2014.