Winter Sweetening

by: Lucia Kearney

I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous for the winter. I grew up in and around Philadelphia; it was a big deal if the temperature got down into the teens, let alone the single digits. We’d get snow, to be sure, but it would usually melt within the week. Honestly, I’ve never really developed a tolerance to cold; I spent an awful lot of time by the wood-burning stove in wintertime back home.

When I knew we were moving to Minnesota, my first farmer instinct was to check the USDA zone. I blanched when I saw it: zone 4, average extreme lows between -25 and -30. Last year, I spent the winter back in PA, but this winter I’ll be working on the farm all the way through. This year, I’ll have to learn how to use long underwear and coveralls and patch up my winter boots.

But there’s one thing about the cold that I know will bring me happiness as I learn to weather the Minnesota cold, a phenomenon known as winter sweetening. Have you ever wondered why we don’t grow spinach in the summertime? Sure, it’s prone to bolting in the summer heat (that is, the heat makes the plant kick into its end of life cycle, putting all its energy into making flowers and seeds, leaving leaves small and bitter), but the real reason is winter sweetness.