Some crops thrive despite freezing weather conditions

By: 

News Reporter

The temperature in Texas can vary from a sunny 70 degrees to a chilly 30 during one week in the winter, which could both hinder and benefit crops, according to local farmers.

In the past week, lows in the region have ranged from 43 degrees to 26 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Highs in the area have ranged from 31 degrees to 72 degrees in the same amount of time.

Despite the cold, farmers are continuing to utilize various methods that yield fresh crops for Texas residents. Local farmers have developed their favorite methods to combat the cold.

“We plant according to the season,” said Eric Telford, a San Marcos farmer. “There are some plants that can tolerate cold weather such as the kale family.”

Telford, who has been growing for more than 30 years, is a vendor at the San Marcos Farmers Market. There are some “tricks of the trade” that have been helping plants grow for generations, he said.  

The planting technique is called companion planting, Telford said.

“The Native Americans who started it would plant peas or beans, squash and corn,” Telford said. “It was called ‘the three sisters.’ Each plant contributed to one another.”

Peas or beans provided nitrogen for the soil, squash leaves provided shade and corn was used as the primary food source, Telford said.

Telford said he uses a similar method of planting for cold weather by combining kale, carrots and beets in a system he calls “the cold three sisters.”

However, some farmers grow what they want and leave the weather up to chance.

Chest Rockwell, one of the founders of Brothers in Agriculture (BIA) based out of Dale, Texas, said they cover their plants in a method called “low tunneling.”

“We cover it with plastic and keep the plants from touching the ground,” Rockwell said. “When you cover it, you’re using the Earth’s heat to keep it from freezing. It’s been a real pain lately though because of the bipolar weather.”

A favorite among the BIA members is the Acephala group of vegetables, which contains cabbage, broccoli and collard greens, Rockwell said.

“The very best plant we have in the cold is collard greens,” Rockwell said. “We cannot kill them.”

Johnson’s Backyard Garden showed off an array of vegetables at a recent New Braunfels Farm to Market. Amy Gallo, one of Johnson’s growers, said they continue to have a steady supply despite the recent freeze.

“Everything we do is seasonal,” Gallo said. “We grow everything ourselves in East Austin. So right now, because of the cold weather, we’re getting lots of roots and greens in, but not as many tomatoes or cucumbers.”

A freeze is not necessarily a negative thing, Gallo said. Some vegetables thrive during the cold weather, she said.

“A lot of the root crops are fine and might’ve benefited from the freeze because when roots get cold, they release all the sugar in them,” Gallo said. “So things like our carrots and beets are sweeter and better tasting.”

Johnson’s Backyard Garden has its own growing methods. To save plants during a deep freeze, growers turn on sprinklers, because constantly spraying water on the plants helps keep their temperature at or just above freezing. This is because as water freezes, heat is released as it changes state.