Wednesday, September 18, 2013

[Green Thumb] Why Greens Taste Best in Winter

Hey Everybody! Hope your week is going well. I'm excited to present you with the first official installment of the Green Thumb series...

Hello blog-readers, -writers, -collectors, and basically anyone else I missed...maybe you're just bored or sick like I've been. Either way, I think I've got something for you today that I'd bet you didn't know. We'll call this Green Thumb Fact #1.

We're going into fall...I say that somewhat presumptuously, because here in Austin it's still mid- to upper-90s every day. Most of the country, though, has transitioned into cool season planting which means all sorts of leafy greens, root veggies, and dark green veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. These crops are grown during the coldest months of the year for a few reasons...
1- More popular fruiting veggies like peppers, melons, and tomatoes can't withstand the cold temperatures.
2- Although greens can be grown in most areas even during the warmer months, they typically require more water to sustain themselves - a commodity which is increasingly rare during the summer months.
3- (The reason I'm writing...) Greens, the healthiest of all veggies, taste best when grown in cold weather.

If you're like me, you probably heard people say things like that until you simply accepted it, but unlike me, you may not have searched out the reason why...did that make sense? Anyway, greens taste best when grown in cold weather, plain and simple. Kale, being the hardiest (and healthiest) of the leafy greens, can actually withstand temperatures of -10 degrees! I grew up in Iowa, and not even I can (or want to) withstand that kind of cold. Blech!!

Regardless I'm sure plenty of you have seen perfectly healthy kale or chard or spinach plants in the summer, though, so why is it that kale tastes best when it's been dug out from under a foot of snow? The answer? Because a large part of the composition of almost every leafy green or root crop is starch, and just as starch that's ironed into a shirt stiffens said shirt, so too does the sun stiffen the leaves of dark green crops during warmer months. Cold weather, on the other hand, breaks down those starches into sugars, and come on guys...let's be honest. Who doesn't like sugar? I certainly do...just ask Joy! :p

So armed with that knowledge, the next time someone you know - maybe friend, family member, or the produce vendor at your local grocery store - says greens taste better when they're harvested in the winter, ask them why. I'll betcha most of them can't, and won't you look smaht when you can enlighten them! ;)

What's your favorite winter veggie?
What questions do you have about gardening?

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