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Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sweet Survival Tactics

OK, maybe not for the Zombie Apocalyse, Red Dawn or even solar flares, but plants have figured out many ingenious ways to survive.

There are becoming more and more "Super Weeds" that have developed resistance to herbicides, especially Monsanto's Round-Up or generically, glyphosate. One of the worst for large scale farming operations is Palmer Amaranth.  It has built up resistance by producing tens of thousands of seeds per plant, which increases the chance that one of its offspring will have some level of resistance.  Over time the more resistant plants survive to reproduce making tens of thousands of seeds with some resistance, and the chance for that much more resistance the next generation.

A more beneficial survival tactic, for us anyway and our gardens, is how some plants tolerate cold.  As plants grow they make carbohydrates by using the suns energy to combine water and carbon dioxide.  These carbohydrates are stored as starch in many of the plants we depend on for food; corn, wheat, potatoes, etc.  Starch can be dissolved in water by heating, think of water in the pot after boiling potatoes, but not in cold water.  This is where some plants have gone to Survival School.

Carrots are a great example.  As temperatures drop the carrot plant starts to convert some of the stored starch into sugar.  Sugar can dissolve easier in water, even cold water.  Think of making sweet teas or lemonade.  The dissolved sugar lowers the freezing point of the water in the plants tissues, and that's good news for the plant.  If the liquid in the cells freeze, the expanding ice crystals will cause the cells to burst.

This is why carrots are tastier after a couple frosts.  Unfortunately for the carrot, this survival technique has made it more likely to be eaten. 

You can store carrots right in the ground until you are ready to eat them.  You can enclose them in a hoop house or cover them with a thick layer of straw to keep the ground workable.  Once the ground starts to freeze you need to get them out or they will be stuck until Spring and in Iowa their internal antifreeze only protects them for so long.  You can store them in a root cellar for several months or in the fridge for several days or more.

Kale, parsnips and brussel sprouts are a few other vegetables that get sweeter when its cold.  Give them a try, even if you've not liked them before, you might be pleasantly surprised at the difference a couple dozen degrees colder can make.
Have a great week!

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