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. “The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”