Thanksgiving may just be once a year, but it’s never a bad time to start thinking about what to make for next year’s feast. That’s especially true when growing a Thanksgiving garden.
Some traditional holiday favorites just have to be: mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, roasted root vegetables, pumpkin pie… Other things are a little subtler, say the flavor that makes the gravy sing or the tasteful hint behind the stuffing’s stuff.
For a homegrown, whole-food, plant-based Thanksgiving feast, we have to think about what kind of food we might serve long before November. If we do, amazingly, in most climates in the US, it’s possible to grow a Thanksgiving garden that will fill the table with delicious delights. Not only will it be a healthy, organic meal, but how much better will feel—much more in the spirit of the holiday—to grow most of it right at home?
Potatoes take quite a while to grow, but it’s pretty easy to do. Though they like to get growing in cool temperatures, they can’t handle the frozen ground, so the best time to plant seed potatoes is just after the last frost. This will give them ample time to mature, which can take up to 100 days or more.
The potatoes will have been harvested long before Thanksgiving, but when properly cured and stored, they can keep for months. They’ll be just fine when it comes time for making some mash.
Sweet potatoes aren’t potatoes at all, they are a member of the morning glory family. Unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes grow from slips (little rooted seedlings) and not seed potatoes. The slips shouldn’t go in the ground until the ground is warm. After that, sweet potatoes are pretty darn good at looking after themselves.
Like potatoes, they’ll need a good three or four months to grow, and they will store for a long while if cured correctly.
Source: The Survival Gardening Channel with David The Good/YouTube
Pumpkin pie is a seasonal favorite, and that was long before the pumpkin pie spice craze took coffee shops by storm. Pumpkins are great fun to grow, and they provide so much food. A couple of pumpkin plants will have you in pies for the whole holiday season.
The trick with pumpkins is choosing the right kind (go with small, sweet varieties) and giving them a rich spot from which to grow and plenty of space to spread or climb. Plant them in early summer to harvest by early autumn. They’ll store for months.
Essentially, butternut squashes grow the same way pumpkins do. Butternut squash can be great as a main, particularly when stuffed. They can also be roasted and blended into a rich starter soup for the meal.
Some folks hate them, but if that’s the case, odds are they weren’t cooked well. Brussels sprouts were once pigeon-holed into being a sort of boiled miniature cabbages, but oh, they can be so much more. Brussels sprouts are great roasted, pan-sautéed, deep-fried, and so on.
They are worth attempting in the Thanksgiving garden. Like other brassicas, they do best in cool weather, particularly fall. However, this means they need to be sown in late summer to give them time to mature (at about three months). Give them lots of water and compost.
Turnips are wonderful roasted or thrown in as a complex flavor in mashed potatoes. They also produce delicious greens to include as a nutritious side dish. It’s best to sow turnips in late summer/early fall, around the same time as Brussels sprouts. They’ll mature in about two months.
Other greens can be planted at the same time as turnips, providing a delicious green mix. Try collards, kale, arugula, and robust lettuce. These can be used to make a Thanksgiving slaw or some cooked greens to break up the feast of starches.
Leeks and carrots make great companion plants, each one chasing off pests for the other. Plus, they occupy different spaces in the garden, with carrots being rooty and leeks being leafy. For bigger vegetables, they can be planted in the spring and left until the autumn.
Though they might not occupy the main course or even a side dish on the menu, they are fabulous to have around for seasoning vegetables, say in stuffing, gravy, roasted veg, and salads/slaws.
Lastly, all gardens benefit from fresh herbs growing in them, particularly the cold-tolerant perennials like sage, rosemary, and thyme that we tend to use in wintertime cookery. Parsley is another good cold-weather herb—plant it in late summer/early fall—to put in the mix.
Pretty much all culinary herbs are good at deterring pests and attracting pollinators, so they benefit the garden as well as the cooking.
And, that’s quite a Thanksgiving feast, isn’t it? It can all be grown in the average suburban backyard with space to spare.
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