Rime and reason
THIS year, the parsnips you serve up on Christmas Day will taste better than last year’s. So, too, will the carrots, Brussels sprouts and leeks. Why? The surprising answer is frost, which turns the starch in the vegetables into sugar. Recently, we have been blessed with several freezing nights—it was –7˚C in Hampshire last week, which, compared to the damp and mizzling warmth of last year, has been a boon to farmers.
Frost’s good work doesn’t stop there. Although fewer than 10% of the world’s plants are resistant to it, a good number of those make up the majority of our garden plants and all our native ones. Many of our fruit trees benefit from a period of cooling to enhance the following year’s fruiting.
Frost is a great cleanser—it breaks up the soil and acts as a purgative on slugs, rats, mice, viruses and garden pests such as aphids and whitefly. Critically, a prolonged bout may hold back the march of the diseases destroying our beloved ash and oak trees.
Of course, freezing weather creates extra jobs for the farmers and mortal danger for many of our songbirds, but it has a vital role to play in the overall health of our countryside. MH