Do You Know Why Leafy Greens Can Survive a Frost?
On the farm at America’s Grow-A-Row, our fields are becoming full. After a long, cool, wet spring, the farm team (along with help of hundreds of volunteers) has been able to plant summer staples like tomatoes, peppers, and squash. Tree fruits in the orchard have begun to grow in size after a thorough thinning, and our corn is standing tall. We are all hoping that these sunny days and warmer weather are here to stay.
Even though the weather has been somewhat challenging thus far, there has been a silver lining. Cool-season crops, such as kale and collards, have been steadily growing throughout the rain and lower temperatures. Since most plants thrive in sunny, warm weather, you might wonder what makes leafy greens and spring vegetables well-adapted to cooler temperatures.
Unlike other crops, these plants are grown for their leaves instead of their seeds or their fruit (as is the case with corn and tomatoes). Most leafy greens are tender and have a high water content, which would appear to leave them vulnerable to frost and freezing temperatures. Amazingly, through a series of complex reactions, the onset of cold conditions triggers these plants to produce sugars. These sugars help to stabilize the cell membranes and prevent water inside the stems and leaves from freezing, expanding, and ultimately killing the plants. Moreover, the process leaves the greens much sweeter and more tender than they would be on a hot summer day.
Recently the silver (green) lining came to fruition as we began harvesting kale and collard greens. Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Women’s Basketball Team was one of the groups that joined us in the fields for a harvest of kale and collard greens. Box after box was filled with gorgeous, nutritious food thanks to their help and conditions favorable to the crop. In total, over 600 pounds of the greens were delivered to a local food pantry and a community organization in Jersey City. We’re glad to have produce we can harvest this early in our season, and we’re grateful for the help of our volunteers in doing so.
Growing leafy greens for donation is something relatively new to America’s Grow-A-Row. The reason for this is that food banks and food pantries don’t always have the ability to refrigerate large amounts of produce, especially varieties such as kale, which are prone to wilting. However, green vegetables provide an abundance of nutrients that aren’t always found in shelf-stable foods or other summer crops. It is important for us to provide a full range of produce and nutrition to the communities we serve, and having cool-season crops helps us bridge the gap between the quiet winter and the bountiful summer. All hail King Kale!