Ice-Bred Leafy Greens

April 26, 2007

I know the weather is just beginning to warm up for many and that winter gardening may be the furthest thing from your mind…

But I wanted to share a little information about a group of hardy varieties of leafy greens for those that are interested in tips on growing fall vegetable gardens.

New, Improved, Cold Resistant Greens

I was recently introduced to a gene line of ice-bred leafy greens that may be very useful to cold climate gardeners. These leafy greens are amazing in their ability to perform under bitterly cold growing conditions. They also offer a taste treat that is noticeably more robust and flavorful than your typical leafy green vegetables.

The term “ice-bred” may be unfamiliar to you, but it simply refers to the process through which the plants were bred and developed under extremely cold growing conditions and selected for their resistance and ability to perform in bitterly cold and unpleasant weather.

Unlike the “improved” hybrid and patented plant varieties that are commonly developed within the commercial seed industry, these hardy greens are stable, open pollinated, and suitable for producing and saving your own seed in the backyard garden setting.

Even Star Farm’s Originals

The gene lines that I am describing were developed by Brett Grohsgal of Even Star Organic Farm in Eastern Shore, Maryland. The seeds are being offered through Fedco Seeds, which currently carries an Ice-bred Arugula, Even Star Champion Collards, and a similarly developed variety of Land Race Tatsoi.

I had an opportunity to meet Brett and sample some of his freshly harvested greens in February at this year’s PASA Conference. Brett is also working on other promising gene lines but his cold hardy greens have been very successful and are being grown under conditions much harsher than those found in their home state of Maryland.

These aren’t wimpy plants and I’d bet that even Popeye would prefer these rugged greens over his usual mild mannered spinach. One bite will confirm that something is definitely different about these organic greens. I suspect that the stronger flavors and the plant’s ability to withstand extreme growing conditions is a good indication that they are also nutritional powerhouses.

Ice Bred Leafy Greens in the Garden

Being ice-bred doesn’t automatically mean that the plants will continue growing and producing new leaves throughout your winter. That all depends on how harsh your conditions are, but ice-bred varieties will likely outperform the standard commercial varieties that are usually planted in the home garden.

In southern or milder winter climates you should have no difficulty growing and harvesting these ice-bred varieties throughout the winter. In colder climates there may be periods when leaf production slows or the plants go dormant but you should still see better production deeper into the winter.

These plants are capable of shaking off heavy frost, snow, ice, and even freezes to provide harvestable greens when nothing else remains standing in the garden. If they do go dormant in your region it’s a likely bet that they will survive the winter and provide additional growth and continued harvests when temperatures begin to warm up towards springtime.

Ice-Bred Trials in Progress

I won’t trial these greens in my own garden until this coming fall but wanted to let you know about their availability in case you’d like to try them for yourself. I will probably start the seeds indoors in late summer and transplant them into the garden beds in mid to late September.

In addition I’ll sow a few seeds directly into the garden at various times to get a better feel for the season and conditions that they will grow best under in my growing region. I’ll post photos and updates on how well these cold hardy vegetables perform in the garden.

It will be interesting to see how far into the winter months I will be able to continue harvesting these arugulas, collards and tatsoi. It’s usually possible to grow leafy greens into December in my Zone 6 growing region so hopefully these hardier varieties will hold up well into the New Year.

If you decide to trial them yourself or have any prior experience growing these ice-bred varieties of greens please post a comment below to share your personal impressions and observations regarding the performance of these plants and their ability to grow under cold weather conditions.





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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Ewing April 28, 2007 at 9:16 am

This is intriguing, I live in Zone 3 so am always looking for ways to extend my growing season, while our winters are severe, these greens may work well in a greenhouse well into the late fall or even early winter.

Genie August 5, 2007 at 8:34 pm

Kenny, these sound fascinating! Fresh greens in late Fall and winter are one thing that I would love to be able to get out of my garden. This is quite intriguing. Thanks for the link and the heads-up about them!

Hope Owens August 14, 2007 at 7:41 pm

Could you provide me with a link to more information? I live in Zone 5 in Michigan. Thank you.

Kenny Point August 14, 2007 at 9:12 pm

Hope, I’m afraid these Ice-Bred greens are relatively new and there’s not much information posted about them on the Internet. Brett Grohsgal did publish a couple of excellent articles that might interest you in the August 2004 (Winter Crops part 1: Time to get ready for Winter) and September 2004 (Winter Crops part 2: Planting through Marketing) issues of “Growing for Market.” You may be able to obtain back issues of the articles at: http://www.growingformarket.com/articles.html#anchor2004.

Brett also presented a lecture on Winter Cropping at last year’s PASA conference. You can order an audio copy of the presentation at: http://www.pasafarming.org/conferences2007/PASA.conf.CDs.pdf (#414 Winter Cropping with and without Hoophouses).

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