One-Block Feast: Fall Gardening Guide

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“The One-Block Feast” by Margo True and the staff of Sunset Magazine is for readers nationwide who believe that dinner starts with earth, the sea, and a few animals. Take local eating to the next level with this cooking and gardening guide, complete with DIY food projects.
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Check out Sunset Magazine's fall garden plan and how their efforts to eat only what they grow takes local eating to the next level.
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Sunset Magazine's fall garden plan includes the following: 6. parsley, 7. chives, 8. rosemary, 9. radicchio, 10. tomatoes, 11. cippolini onions, 12. swiss chard, 13. sage, 14. thyme, 15. oregano, 16. butternut squash, 17. lemon tree.
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Like all winter squashes, butternuts have a hard rind and a firm, dryish flesh.
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The best site for peppers is in full sun with fertile, well-drained soil.
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Grown mostly for its edible seed, quinoa has an unusually high protein content — 16 to 23 percent — and contains all eight essential amino acids.
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Quinoa is ready to harvest in September or so, when it looks dry, starts to flop over, and the seeds barely dent when you push into them with your fingernail.
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Remove the seeds from the stems.
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Cooks prefer this annual fennel (Foeniculum vulgare azoricum) over the perennial common fennel (F. vulgare) for its larger, thicker leafstalk bases.
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Common sage is a kitchen garden essential.
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Winnowing is the fun part of harvesting quinoa. Rub the quinoa seeds in your hands in front of a fan to remove the seeds from the rest of the particulate matter.
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These stunning purple leaves are sharp and spicy.
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Grow this form of beet (Swiss chard) for its leaves and stalks rather than its roots.

Based on the James-Beard-Award-winning One-Block Diet, The One-Block Feast (Ten Speed Press, 2011) is the ultimate guide to eating local. Complete with seasonal garden plans, menus, 100 recipes and 15 food projects, this guide explains how to raise and produce everything needed for totally made-from-scratch meals, all from your own backyard. The following excerpt is taken from “The Fall Garden.”

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The One-Block Feast.

As with our summertime garden, most of the crops we planted for our fall menu thrive in a spot that gets full sun for at least 6 hours per day. Some plants, such as beans and winter squashes, are easily started from seed. Others, like peppers and tomatoes, fare better when started from nursery transplants. Use our fall garden guide as a tool to help you lay out your vegetables this fall.

Growing Beans

Best Site: Full sun and well-drained soil.

Planting and Care: Sow seeds as soon as the soil is warm. Heavy seed leaves must push through the soil, so be sure the soil is reasonably loose and open.

For vining types: Insert poles 1 to 2 feet apart in rows, and sow seeds 1 inch deep and 1 to 3 inches apart. Or, sow along a sunny wall, fence, or trellis and train vines on a web of light string supported by wire or heavy twine.

For bush types: Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 1 to 3 inches apart, allowing 2 to 3 feet between rows. With both types, moisten the soil thoroughly before planting, then do not water again until the seedlings have merged. Keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Fertilize after the plants are in active growth and again when the pods start to form, working a 5-10-10 fertilizer into the soil along the row.

Bean ‘Cannellini’

Most beans are frost-sensitive heat lovers, easy to grow from seed. Gardeners can choose from many types, but ‘Cannellini’ is one of our favorites. A mainstay in Italian cuisine, this pearly white bean, a cousin to the kidney bean, cooks up rich and meaty. It’s wonderful in soups and stews, or all by itself with just a little olive oil and fresh herbs. The beans grow on bush plants to 26 inches tall.

Days to Harvest: 85 days from seed.

How to Harvest: Pick pods in the green “wax” stage to use fresh, and at the dried stage for shelling and storage. For dried beans (which was how we used them), let the pods completely dry out on the bush through October, then pick and shell.

Seed Source: Gourmet Seeds

Bean, Flageolet

This pretty little kidney-shaped, bush-type, pale green bean comes from southern France, where it is traditionally served with lamb. We used it for a creamy bean dip and in a vegetarian shepherd’s pie.

Days to Harvest: 90 days from seed.

How to Harvest: Pick these shelling beans in fall after the pods have matured and the leaves have dried and dropped off. For dried beans (which was how we used them), let the pods completely dry out on the bush through October, then pick and shell.

Seed Source: Seed Savers Exchange

Bean ‘Scarlet Emperor’

A stunner in the garden, this vine grows to 8 to 10 feet tall. Its scarlet-orange flowers give way to velvety green pods that turn plump and juicy as they grow to 8 inches long. The beans themselves are large, like big limas, and a shocking lipstick pink color that quickly darkens to purple.

Days to Harvest: 75 days from seed.

How to Harvest: To eat fresh, harvest when beans are fully formed and starting to pull away from the pod (you’ll see the bulge of the developing bean through the shell) but before pods start to change color and the beans inside start to rattle when you shake them.

Remove the beans from the pods and seal them in plastic bags to store in the refrigerator for 10 to 14 days (you can also freeze them for longer storage).

For dried beans (which was how we used them), let the pods completely dry out on the bush through October, then pick and shell.

Seed Source: Territorial Seed Company

Butternut Squash

Like all winter squashes, butternuts have a hard rind and a firm, dryish flesh. They are excellent for baking and store well, too. The plant pumps out delicious fruits on a tall vine, and it was by far our most successful fall crop. We loved how pretty it looked, rambling up a sturdy metal arbor over a gravel path, with most of the fruits dangling downward like piñatas.

Best Site: Full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Give the vine plenty of room to sprawl, unless you are training it up a trellis or arbor, as we did.

Days to Harvest: 75 to 80 days from seed.

Planting and Care: When soil temperatures warm to about 50°F, sow seeds directly in the ground 1 inch deep, spacing them 2 to 4 feet apart in rows. Or plant seeds on mounds or hills of soil about 8 to 12 inches across and 4 to 6 feet apart, spacing seeds on each hill 4 inches apart. Once plants reach 4 inches tall, thin to 3 seedlings per hill. Water at planting time, then every 2 or 3 days until seeds germinate. As the plants grow, give the roots plenty of water, but keep the leaves dry to avoid mildew. Feed the plant regularly by working a complete fertilizer into the soil around the mounds or along rows.

How to Harvest: Allow a squash to ripen on the vine until it has thoroughly hardened, then cut it from the vine with 1 inch of stem attached.

Seed Source: Burpee


We picked the last of our summer garden poblanos and serranos for our October feast.

Fennel, Florence or Finocchio

Cooks prefer this annual fennel Foeniculum vulgare azoricum over the perennial common fennel (F. vulgare) for its larger, thicker leafstalk bases. These bulbous bases, which have a celerylike crunch and a sweet, light anise flavor, can be steamed, sautéed, baked, grilled, simmered in soups and stews, or eaten raw. The feathery leaves resemble those of dill, but have a coarser texture, and make good garnishes and seasonings. The seeds are a staple “spice” in our pantry.

Best Site: Full sun and well-drained soil rich in organic matter.

Days to Harvest: 90 to 100 frost-free days from seed.

Planting and Care: Sow seeds directly in the ground, 1/4 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Thin seedlings to 1 foot apart. Keep the soil moist until the first leaves appear. As they grow, water the plants regularly, but don’t overwater. To make the bulb more tender, sweeter, and extra white, try “blanching” it: When the bulb is about the size of an egg, pile up compost around it.

How to Harvest: Snip off fronds as you need them.

Cut whole stalks by slicing them off where they join the bulb. As for the bulb itself, wait for it to gain some girth: at least 3 inches end to end and a couple of inches wide (ours were most flavorful at about 5 inches wide). Then harvest by slicing horizontally through the bulb just above the root line. This leaves the base of the bulb behind, from which new sprouts will often shoot. Or, pull up the bulb, roots and all.

Even though Florence fennel is grown for its bulb rather than its seeds, you can still harvest seeds from it to use in cooking. They are less plump than seeds from common fennel, but they are still very flavorful, especially when fresh. To harvest the seeds, wait until the plant sends up its giant flower stalks (they can grow up to 6 feet tall) and then blossoms, sometime in fall. The flower clusters will eventually produce pale green seeds. When they are plump and swollen, cut the stalk from the plant (the seeds won’t fall off), rinse off the aphids if you have them, and let the clusters dry on paper towel–lined baking sheets inside at room temperature, uncovered, until the seeds are completely hard (4 to 5 days; bite into one to check). Each large cluster will yield about 1 teaspoon seeds, so just one plant will yield around 1/4 cup fennel seed. Store in a tightly closed glass jar; for maximum freshness, keep in the fridge.

Seed Source: Burpee

Onion, Cipollini

These 2- to 3-inch, flattish bulbing onions are Italian heirlooms—so special they are usually listed in their own class in catalogs. They come in red, straw yellow, and white and have a mild, sweet fl avor. You’ll need patience to grow them, though; to form bulbs, they need long days (typical of northerly climates from Bakersfield, California, north to Alaska), and they take more than 4 months to mature.

We think they are worth the wait. We used them to make a melt-in-your-mouth cocktail pickle and also added them to a rich bean ragoût.

Best Site: Full sun and warm, fast-draining soil that has been amended with compost.

Days to Harvest: About 105 days from seed.

Planting and Care: We planted sets as soon as the ground warmed up. Plant seeds a bit later in spring (March or April), 1/2 inch deep in rows 18 inches apart, then thin seedlings to 2 or 3 inches apart. Water regularly to keep soil moist just below the surface.

How to Harvest: Pull up the onions in late summer after the tops have died down, then store them in a cool, dry place.

Seed/Seedling/Set Source: Gourmet Seed International; Territorial Seed; Northwest Seed & Pet

Peppers ‘Carmen’ and ‘Mariachi’

‘Carmen’ An early-maturing Italian sweet pepper, ‘Carmen’ has horn-shaped, 6-inch-long fruits that taste great whether grilled or sautéed. As they mature from green to red, they get even sweeter. That’s when they are best sliced fresh for salads. The plants grow to 28 inches tall.

‘Mariachi’ These cone-shaped beauties deliver a blast of color and a hint of heat—spicy but only mildly hot. They change from creamy yellow to bright red all summer on plants 18 to 24 inches tall. The plants produce 4-inch fruits well into fall (although you can start harvesting them in the summer).

Best Site: Full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.

Days to Harvest: 65 days for ‘Mariachi’ to 75 days for ‘Carmen’ from seed.

Planting and Care: Sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Plant seedlings only after the soil is warm in spring (peppers are heat lovers).

Place the seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. One or two plants in a container (at least 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep) are plenty. Let the soil dry out between waterings, and cut back on water as the peppers mature to concentrate their flavor.

How to Harvest: Harvest at the red or green stage. Snip off pods with scissors or pruners.

Seed/Seedling/Set Source: ‘Carmen’, Tomato Growers Supply Co., ‘Mariachi’, Burpee. Check your local nursery for seedlings of these varieties.

Pineapple Guava

The hardiest of subtropical fruits, pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana), also called feijoa, blooms in late spring or early summer. Showy, inch-wide white flowers with big tufts of red stamens are edible, too—crisp, succulent, and sweet: Toss them into fruit salads or use them to top cakes and cupcakes. The oval, gray-green fruits that follow have dense, sweet, slightly grainy flesh that tastes a bit like pineapple. They grow on evergreen, multistemmed shrubs (10 to 15 feet tall and wide).

Best Site: Full sun and well-drained soil.

Days to Harvest: Fruits are ready to harvest 4 to 5 1/2 months after flowering in warm climates, 5 to 7 months after bloom in cooler areas. Plants can take 2 to 3 years to bear fruit.

Planting and Care: Set out nursery plants (gallon size or larger) in spring if you are in the mildest climates of California, Arizona, or Hawaii; give them room to spread and water regularly to start. Once established, pineapple guava needs only occasional watering, although fruiting is best with deep regular waterings. Feed lightly with a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 once every 2 months during the spring and summer growing season. The plant can take almost any amount of training (in late spring) to shape it as an espalier, screen, hedge, or small tree.

How to Harvest: To harvest lots of fruits at a time, wait until the first ones drop, then spread a tarp underneath the tree and give the trunk a shake.

Repeat every few days. Or, gently squeeze a fruit to see whether it is ripe. If it gives to the touch, pick by hand. Ripe pineapple guavas, which are green (sometimes with a red blush) when mature, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month and frozen for up to a year.

Plant Sources: Look for plants in garden centers, or ask your nursery to order it for you from a wholesaler such as Monrovia Nursery.

Quinoa ‘Faro’

Grown mostly for its edible seed, quinoa (say it: “keen-wa”) has an unusually high protein content—16 to 23 percent— and contains all eight essential amino acids. We grew ‘Faro’, a variety bred to thrive at sea level, and loved its statuesque height (nearly 5 feet) and its big, heavy, golden orange seedheads. Having gotten so little from our summer planting of wheat and barley, we wondered how much this next grain experiment would yield. But we’re always willing to grow anything once. After threshing and winnowing, which was a pain but not nearly as bad as threshing the wheat and barley, we were rewarded with about 15 quarts of quinoa from just a couple of tablespoons of seed.

Best Site: Full sun and loose, well-drained soil.

Days to Harvest: 100 to 110 days from seed.

Planting and Care: Sow seeds in midspring when soil is warm (at least 65°F) by scattering them over soil that’s been raked smooth, then watered lightly with a hose. Cover them lightly with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. (We raised 54 plants in a 4-by-8-foot raised bed.) Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate and the first two or three leaves appear, then let them get super-thirsty. You want to give them just 10 to 12 inches of water for the entire season.

How to Harvest: The crop is ready in September or so, when it looks dry, starts to flop over, and the seeds barely dent when you push into them with a fingernail.

Cut off the seedheads, lay them flat indoors, and let them dry completely (including stems and leaves) until the stalks are brittle. This takes about 2 weeks. Next, roughly remove the seeds from the stems—that’s the threshing part—and then comes the “fun” part: winnowing to separate the seeds from the rest of the particulate matter. It’s a messy process, best done outdoors. Set up a small fan and put a tray in front of it to catch the seeds. Then rub the quinoa between your hands in front of the fan.

The heavier seeds drop onto the tray, while the featherlight chaff blows away.

How to Rinse for Cooking: Quinoa seeds are coated with a bitter, soapy substance called saponin, which has to be rinsed off before cooking. (Store-bought quinoa is prerinsed, but still benefits from a dunk in water.) Because our sea-level quinoa was a particularly bitter variety, we were extra-thorough when it came to cleaning. We soaked the seeds for a few hours in warm water, changing the water often. Then we rinsed them several times, rubbing the grains between our fingers, until the water was no longer cloudy. We did big batches at once and thoroughly dried the seeds on kitchen towels before storing them in airtight containers in the freezer.

Seed Source: Seeds of Change

Radicchio ‘Palla Rossa Ashalim’

The radicchio we grew is really a red-leaved Italian chicory (Cichorium intybus) that forms a lettucelike head. The stunning purple-red leaves with bright white veins taste sharp and spicy, with a hint of bitterness that adds a pleasing bite to mixed salads. Radicchio is a bit trickier to grow than lettuce: It takes slightly longer to mature, doesn’t tolerate heavy frost (mild frost is fine, and gives it a wonderfully sweet flavor), and needs to be monitored, much like cabbage, to determine when to harvest.

Best Site: Full sun and compost-rich, well-drained soil.

Days to Harvest: 65 days from seed.

Planting and Care: Plant in midspring or early summer for a fall harvest; in mild winter climates, plant in fall for a winter harvest. Sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in rows spaced 18 inches apart, then thin seedlings to about 12 inches apart. Protect from frosts with floating row covers. Keep soil evenly moist during the growing season, and apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer after growth starts.

How to Harvest: When the heads start feeling firm to the touch, slice them from above the crowns with a sharp knife, then peel away the outer leaves to reveal the white-veined leaves inside. (If enough time remains before a frost, the crowns may resprout and develop second heads.) Heads are past their prime for harvest when they turn hard and their leaves turn tough and bitter.

Seed Source: Botanical Interests


Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is a kitchen garden essential—one we would never be without. You can use its soft, aromatic gray-green leaves fresh or dried to flavor everything from soups, stews, and egg dishes to vegetables and vinegar. A small perennial subshrub (1 to 3 feet tall), it comes in many forms; our current test-garden favorites include ‘Icterina’, whose leaves are edged with yellow, and ‘Tricolor’, whose new leaves are flushed with purple.

Best Site: Grow it in full sun in cool climates, afternoon shade in hot climates, in a spot with loose, welldrained soil.

Days to Harvest: Any time after the plants have filled out.

Planting and Care: Set out plants from nursery containers with the crown (the thickened area at the stem base) slightly above the surrounding soil.

Space several at 12- to 24-inch intervals in garden beds (they make pretty edgings). Or, grow a single plant in a 16-inch-wide container. Water once a week or so (more in hot, windy weather) for the first year, then taper off to occasional irrigations (once a month during the warm season if leaves look droopy). Apply a granular 10-10-10 fertilizer once a year in spring when new growth begins.

How to Harvest: Pick leaves as needed.

Seed Source: Mountain Valley Growers

Swiss chard

Grow this form of beet for its leaves and stalks rather than its roots. It’s one of the easiest vegetables you can grow, and you can harvest leaves all summer (and, in mild climates, into fall and even spring, depending on when you plant). We grew both green-and-white chard and ‘Bright Lights’—with leaves ranging from green to burgundy and stalks in various shades of yellow, orange, pink, purple, and red.

Best Site: Full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.

Days to Harvest: About 60 days from seed.

Planting and Care: Sow the big, tan, crinkly seeds 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart in spaded soil any time from spring to early summer. Gardeners in mild winter climates (like us) can plant it in the late summer to early fall for harvest starting in the late fall through winter. As seedlings appear, thin them to 12 inches apart. Keep the soil evenly moist. Feed with a 10-10-10 fertilizer after plants are established and again 6 weeks later.

How to Harvest: When the plants are 12 to 18 inches tall, begin cutting the outer leaves, keeping the core of the plant intact to continue growing.

Seed Source: Nichols Garden Nursery; Renee’s Garden; and Territorial Seed International.


At this point in the year, our summer garden was still producing ‘Sungold’, ‘Sweet Million’, and ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes.

More seasonal gardening plans:

One-Block Feast: Spring Garden Plan
One-Block Feast: Guide to Winter Garden Vegetables

Reprinted with permission from The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food from Yard to Table by Margo True & the staff of Sunset Magazine, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Buy this book from our store: The One-Block Feast.