Why is it that plants you eat, like tomatoes and basil and squash, tend to be annuals, and plants that you can’t (or at least don’t) eat, like rhododendrons and azaleas and holly, tend to be perennials? Why can’t it be the other way around? Why are there no evergreen shrubs that fry up nicely, and complement either pork or chicken?
If there were, we wouldn’t have to bother with all this hoophouse nonsense. We’d just trek out in the middle of winter, shake the snow off the arborvitae, and clip some off for dinner.
But there aren’t, and so we bother with this hoophouse nonsense. And I have to say, seeing the catalogna, radish sprouts, and parsley, still alive while the temperatures drop into the teens and snow covers the hoophouse, is a little jarring. It violates the natural order of things, which is that you plant plants in your garden in the spring, watch them die in the fall, eat turnips and frozen peas all winter, and then plant plants again in the spring.
The hoophouse has given me a new appreciation for those plants. It’s not like one layer of plastic makes it hold at a steady 70; it’s not much warmer in there overnight than it is outside. But, despite sub-freezing temperatures, the catalogna survives. It droops a bit, but it survives. The plastic cover gives it just enough protection from the elements to give it a new – but probably short – lease on life.
Don’t get me wrong. Nothing in there is thriving. Nothing’s growing, nothing’s blooming, nothing’s spreading. But nothing is dying (except the pepper plant, and we expected that).
Plants, it seems, have a kind of antifreeze in the form of various proteins and sugars that lower their freezing point. Not only that, they also have the ability to move water out of their cells and into the spaces in between so that, when the water finally does turn to ice, it doesn’t rupture the cell walls. If water outside the cells freezes, the plants droop and then recover. If water inside the cells freezes, it’s inevitably fatal.
I don’t expect the catalogna, parsley, and radish sprouts to survive the winter (there’s also a very small rosemary and a moth-eaten sage, both still holding on). I assume that it will get cold enough to overwhelm the plants’ defense mechanisms and, some time in January, they will droop for the last time.
Then again, back in November, I thought they’d all be gone by now. Every day I walk into the hoophouse and find something still holding on, it’s a little green miracle.