Why our vegetables didn’t freeze

Snow covered fields at 47th Avenue Farm

Boy, what a winter we’ve had – sub-freezing temperatures, deep blankets of snow, and ice, ice baby. So a lot of folks have been asking me: didn’t all our vegetables freeze?

The short answer: they didn’t, and the reason why is a combination of botany and our 20 years’ experience with cold winters.

Different vegetables respond to cold differently, and as you might imagine, that tracks with whether they’re summer or winter vegetables. So for example, cucumbers and tomatoes can freeze at 32 degrees, but veggies like carrots, kale, and beets can survive until at least 20 degrees. They do it by moving water outside their cells (so the cell itself doesn’t freeze), and by converting starches to sugars that are more resistant to freezing. (Learn more about it here.)

That’s why, paradoxically, veggies hardy enough to survive extreme cold taste sweeter. Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of especially delicious veggies for our shareholders this year!

Then, we increase the odds by planting the right varietals. For example, the leeks we grow may all look the same in your CSA basket, but we always plant at least two different varieties – one for late summer/fall harvest and one for… WINTER! They all look the same, but when the temperatures dip into the teens, you can really tell the difference. So if that happens, we’re covered.

Speaking of covered, before the rains begin in the fall, we routinely finish the season by hilling a few inches of dirt up around the shoulders of the beets and carrots – an extra blanket that acts as insulation and protects the root from freezing. We don’t bury everything, however, leaving as much of the greens above ground as we can so they continue to photosynthesize and mature.

Lastly, we keep an eye on the weather! In most seasons our veggies will be just fine outside in the elements, but when we see a deep freeze on the horizon, we’ll put at least a shares worth of certain crops into the cooler – ironically to keep them warm.

Of course, despite these precautions, we still had reschedule a pickup or two for safety reasons. But once the roads were safe again, thanks to these best practices and the natural “antifreeze” in many of our winter crops, we’ve been able to continue serving delicious vegetables to our shareholders through this frigid weather.

Let me know if you have any questions, and stay warm out there!