A few days before Thanksgiving, the thermometer on our back porch read two degrees at dawn, and I worried about my kitchen garden. When I pulled back the insulating row covers later that morning, I was relieved to see the greens a bit wilted, but still quite alive. I was counting on them for our Thanksgiving meal.
Last year, my husband and I began deliberately bringing Thanksgiving home, eating a meal of local foods as a way of returning the holiday to its roots as a celebration of the lands' bounty. This year's menu came mostly from our kitchen garden, including a salad of arugula and spinach picked hours before; baked butternut squash from last summer's sprawling vines; roasted fall beets in red, gold and pink-and-white stripes; wedges of Persimmon tomato, a heritage variety that ripens glowing orange with a mouth-awakening citrusy flavor, harvested in September to ripen inside; potatoes from a nearby farm with fresh rosemary from the bush just outside our kitchen door; and whole-wheat sourdough bread my husband bakes with organic flour from a Colorado mill.
Arugula in my winter garden photo: Susan J. Tweit
Our meal was free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and largely local. It's lovely to eat fresh food grown in a way that is healthy for us and the earth, but that's not the only reason we cultivate a year-round kitchen garden. There's a real joy in nurturing food from seed to table, in coming to know the community to which it belongs: The western terrestrial garter snake that hunts insect larvae from its burrow through a knot-hole in one raised bed; the swallowtail butterflies that flutter round and round the dill, stroking its fragrant leaves ecstatically before laying their eggs; the dizzying variety of native bees that pollinate the squash and tomato flowers; the iridescent shimmer as a Broad-tailed Hummingbird collects a bit of spider web; the family of Lesser Goldfinches that energetically eat each sugary aphid, one at a time.
When I take a bite of peppery arugula from our winter garden, I take the place I live into my body, ingesting minerals from our own soil and sugars made from the sunlight that also warms my skin. As I eat food nurtured with my own hands, I give thanks to the garden that allows me to belong to this land I love.
Suggested greens for the winter garden: arugula, kale, mustard, and spinach. I use floating row covers rated to protect to 26 degrees and double them for especially tender greens.