Hello fellow gardening enthusiasts!! Welcome to the busiest and most action -packed time of the year for us,
in our five organic vegetable gardens, two fruit orchards, greenhouse and rose garden here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes. We are an 86 bed facility spanning 32 acres which lay nestled in the Green Mountains of beautiful Poway California.
After experiencing a very hot summer, we were greeted with an unseasonably cold winter. Even though all of our rows in the garden were covered with floating row covers, Mother Nature had an effect on the crops in the ground in January and February. Frost was everywhere!
Generally in our blog, we pick a certain organic product that our residents enjoy at meal time, and go into detail on how we get it to grow to its maximum potential. This time I would like to recap things we learned from our Fall/ Winter crops, both good and bad, and how we are getting ready to attack the Spring/ Summer crops. The cold weather enlightened us on a few issues and hopefully we have learned to adjust for next year. That’s all part of the irony and experience of toiling in the garden. Unfortunately you learn things that will take you up to a year to try to rectify.
Let’s start with our Memorial Rose Garden. We did all of our annual pruning during the dormant season in early January. We did this simultaneously with our dormant season pruning of our deciduous fruit trees in the two orchards. I’d have to say, even though the stretches of early morning frosts that attacked our early tomatoes, cucurbits and cole crops negatively—our roses are coming along beautifully! We did a moderate pruning on most of the roses , hit them with a copper dormant spray and gave them a shot of Gro-Power 5-3-1 and Ada Perry’s Magic Formula fertilizers . They are really starting to form plenty of buds that will give some gorgeous roses for our residents. Everyone loves roses!
After pruning back the deciduous fruit trees, we basically did the same thing - hit them with a slug of fertilizer, Gro- Power Flower and Bloom 3-12-12 and also treated preventatively for disease with Liqui-Cop (a copper based dormant spray). They are blooming like crazy and I will soon have to really be on my game with the thinning process to obtain big, sweet juicy fruit. I put this in the blog when the time comes.
Now let’s get to my true passion- the world of organic veggies.
Starting the first day of September, we transplanted our broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, lettuce and kale.
Every week we plant up to a hundred feet of some combination of the previously mentioned veggies. If you go through The Mulches archives, we discuss at great length some tricks to maximize production as well as size and flavor. Let’s go through these five big players one by one with some observations from the fall and winter plantings.
Broccoli - We grew mainly three varieties- Arcadia and Marathon from seed purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and also Packman from Harris Seed Co. Packman is easily a week or two earlier to harvest and the September and October plantings gave us excellent size. The weather is still warm and the skies sunny. This variety obviously likes the warmer times of fall and winter. Our November, December and first two weeks of January yielded much smaller sizes of Packman heads. Even though the size of the heads were also smaller during these plantings with the previous two varieties, the reduction in size was much less pronounced.
So here is the game plan for the end of this year. I will plant from mid August through October with both Marathon and mostly Packman. I will harvest huge heads of both at different times and I will eliminate Arcadia. Marathon to very similar to Arcadia. Even though it takes a few more days to harvest, the plant is smaller and gives a slightly bigger head. I like compact plants. They tell you when they need more food and respond quicker. All November and December broccoli plantings will be Marathon and at the start of the year I will go back to Packman. In January, the days are getting longer and when it comes time to form heads in late February, the days will gradually become warmer. I feel Marathon is a true winter variety and Packman needs some heat to maximize its yield potential.
Cauliflower - We grow Snow Crown and Candid Charm for their beautiful, large white heads. The Cheddar variety gives us a big nutritious head that is orange in color. In the Children’s Garden we grow Graffiti, a stunning purple variety. We also grow Veronica, a spiraled lime- green headed variety that is the talk of the table.
In general, the cauliflower diminished in size during that grey period of transplanting in November and December, but nowhere near as pronounced as Packman Broccoli for example. For every 2 rows of broccoli, we grow a row of cauliflower. Cauliflower heads are much heavier, thus explaining why more broccoli goes into the ground. We will change nothing as far as transplant dates of cauliflower next year. You can get these varieties from Johnny’s except Candid Charm which you can purchase from Territorial Seed Company.
Lettuce - We grow successfully both green and red romaine lettuce all fall, winter and spring , harvesting between 25 -40 lbs a week. We place transplants between all the cauliflower and broccoli and harvest it about a month sooner. After harvest, the broccoli and cauliflower have more room to grow and give us larger heads.
One thing we changed this year was to use pelletized seed for easy seeding in the greenhouse with our kids, special –needs groups and residents. It is far easier to manipulate pelletized lettuce seed and when growing after transplanting we get one, large head . We have eliminated clumps of transplants resulting from tiny,hard- to- handle seeds. With one transplant per site and the use of Sluggo Plus, we don’t harvest heads with surprise guests hiding in the mass, such as snails, slugs and earwigs. We end up with one dense, clean head of romaine. Coastal Star, Green Forest and Red Cash are all varieties from Johnny’s and they come pelleted if you ask.
Bok Choy - We grow this crop, just like our lettuce, between broccoli and cauliflower transplants. It grows faster than lettuce and forms heavy, beautiful heads for your oriental dishes. We use Joi Choi seed from Johnny’s and it is extremely easy to grow. A real- no brainer!
Kale - This is a new member to our kitchen this year. It is highly nutritious, tasty and easy to grow. It is definitely the “in” veggie these days. I am in love with the Toscano, an Italian heirloom type. It is also called Lacinato or “dinosaur” kale. It is unique in leaf type: extra-dark green, noncurled but heavily blistered(savoyed). Very rich, tender and tolerant to hot and cold conditions. Johnny’s also carries this type of kale. Give it a try!
Now for the spring/summer veggies. These are definitely more dynamic and productive. I’ll lay out what varieties and types we grow and why- then ask me at the end of the year to see if I had it right. Please go through the archives of The Mulch, where I have gone into detail on how to grow these crops organically and hopefully with much success.
Tomatoes - This is the star in everyone’s warm season garden. We basically grow the determinate types, which give you a more concentrated set and stay below 5 ft tall. All are staked with tomato twine and planted in rows 18” between plants. I like Celebrity and BHN 1021 because of their disease resistances- ESPECIALLY Nematode resistance. We also grow the “San Diego” indeterminate variety and Mariana roma type. Again, these are staked, strung and planted at 18” between plants. They also boast many disease resistances, but most importantly resistance against nematodes. I tried to have more production this year earlier, by planting at the first of February but got frost damage a multiple of times. I replanted and put my last “early” tomatoes in on March 5th. You’ll have to go to a Home and Garden Store like Grangetto’s in our area for the San Diego variety. You can find seed of the others at Johnny’s.
Sungold and BHN 968 or great flavored gold and red cherry typesand again available through Johnny’s.
Squash - Stick with powdery mildew resistant varies such as Dunja and Spineless Perfection for zucchini types and Golden Glory and Soleil for yellow summer squash varieties. Plant 18” apart in your rows.
Cucumbers - Again, stick with powdery mildew resistant varieties such as the highly productive Corinto from Johnny’s or Fountain from Territorial Seed Co. You can’t go wrong with either of these winners. Plant at 12”spacings.
Peppers - Big Bertha will give you probably the largest bell pepper you have ever seen and is beautiful when left to go to red. Keep it pumped up with nitrogen to ensure sufficient foliage, to get it to the red stage without a major threat of sunscalding. We plant at 12” on both sides of the drip tape this packing in of plants helps to shade the fruit.
Bush Green Beans - Again, stick with the powdery mildew resistant varieties such as Provider from Johnny’s. We plant at 4” spacings on both sides of the tape to maximize harvest.
We will be trying to grow cantaloupes and honeydews also this year. I’ll let you know how that goes. Hopefully I have enough bees in the area and the aphids don’t become too much of a menace.
February and March are the greatest months to plant your veggies because the list is endless. You can go both ways- cool season and warm season. From broccoli to zucchini, the bounty will flood your kitchen.
We also host a monthly garden lecture on the third Saturday of the month here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes. This month I will be going into greater depth on what we have discussed today, along with the successes and failures in the past in our gardens and our attendees’ gardens. Should be enlightening! We offer refreshments, prizes and a trip through the campus. Check us out on our website www.sunshinecare.com and set up a tour or RSVP for one of our workshops.
Hope to hear from you and - Happy Gardening!!
Please contact me, if you have any questions or would like to tour our gardens.
Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care- 12695 Monte Vista Rd, Poway CA 92064