Gardening in the winter is like trying to get a cactus to hug you – it’s prickly and cold, but with a little love (and some warm gloves), anything is possible.
Did you know that certain crops, like kale and cabbage, turn sweeter after frost? Did you know many other vegetables get better when grown for winter harvest? Root vegetables, brassicas, and other leafy greens are usually planted in spring for summer harvest, but what a lot of people don’t know is their flavors improve if they’re exposed to cold weather at maturity.
Root vegetables, like brassicas, and other leafy greens want to develop in cold weather. They have a built-in defense mechanism that not only keeps them from dying in winter but makes them sweeter and more delicious.
When the temperatures drop in winter, root crops convert some of their starches into sugars. This keeps the water in their cells from freezing. It acts the same way as putting salt on a road to keep it from icing over. Nature is amazing huh?
Most plants die after a freeze because the water in their cells turns to ice, but the plants we are discussing end up with just really cold water in their cells, and some extra sugar. Nature’s antifreeze, gotta love it.
For example, cold weather has a positive impact on the cabbage family. It increases the sugar content and triggers the release of “antifreeze proteins” in the plants, providing freeze tolerance while also enhancing their flavor.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, zone 8a/8b, our winters are usually pretty mild, with a couple of snow storms a year( if we are lucky). Mostly I just need a good mulch around my winter crops and they do great. But if you have more consistent colder temperatures, consider covering your winter crops under a low tunnel, and using some medium to heavyweight frost cover. Just remember we want them to get cold, so only use the cover for temps lower than 20°F or under.
Here is a list of the vegetables that benefit from a nice winter hug.
- Brussels sprouts
- Mustard greens
So why, you ask, am I telling you this? Well, knowledge is power! Maybe it’s time to try something new. Don’t be afraid of a little frost and snow! It makes those carrots a little sweeter, and maybe this might be what you need to enjoy those turnips and beets more.