Hello again fellow gardening enthusiasts! It appears that fall was late in arrival and winter might be with us earlier than usual. Who knows for sure??  

Regardless, we are well into our autumn crops. We harvested our first broccoli of the season at the end of October and the residents here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes in Poway CA, have been enjoying hundreds of lbs of beautiful lettuce. Looks like our first cut of Cheddar cauliflower will be this week. Asian stir fries have been added to our menus with the harvests of bok choy and the final cuts of zucchini and green beans. The tomatoes are almost entirely out. The bell peppers and cucumbers are no longer with us. Almost all of the winter crop rows in the fields are covered with frost cloth, which is the key to pest control. Snail bait is close at hand to be tossed at any signs of precipitation. That’s when those little gastropods come out of their hiding places and are susceptible to eradication.

I want to talk about one of our most productive and relished vegetables. LETTUCE!

We will easily harvest over a ton of lettuce for our family here this year. Salads are bountiful. We stick to highly nutritious varieties and generally harvest on the younger side to keep the flavor fresh and sweet. The greatest thing about how we grow lettuce is that it is the cheapest thing we grow and totally organic and pesticide free. Our children in our Seed to Table program along with our residents and special needs groups, do all of my seeding. It takes relatively no time to plant and harvest is a breeze. So let’s go through the steps.


Varieties- I purchase almost all of my lettuce seed from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I lean toward large headed varieties especially the Romaine types. The summer is the toughest time for us to grow lettuce, with September being the most difficult. The Romaine varieties do very well in fall, winter, spring and most of the summer. When there are long stretches of hot weather, even the bolt –resistant varieties struggle and need to be harvested at the “baby” stage. In the summer, you need to switch to other types of lettuce such as the leaf types and the summer crisp types, looking for heat tolerance-i.e. bolting and tipburn resistance. Let’s go through the different types of lettuce.

  1. Romaine/Cos Lettuce- These will form dense, often closed heads, sweet in flavor and crunchy in texture. The hearts are blanched and they can be spaced 10-12 inches apart for full -sized heads
  2. Leaf Lettuce- These will form open heads. Typical leaf varieties have broad leaves with somewhat curled margins. Oakleaf varieties have a lobed margin and the lollo varieties have broad leaves which are heavily curled on the margins. These can be spaced 8” part for full- sized heads.
  3. Butterhead Lettuce- These will form closed heads with a sweet buttery flavor and delicate texture. The hearts are blanched and can be spaced 8-10” apart for full -sized heads.
  4. Summer Crisp/Batavia Lettuce- These will form open heads that resemble a cross between leaf and iceberg lettuces. The flavor is similar to leaf types with a crunchier texture. These tend to be more heat tolerant than typical leaf lettuce. Space them 8-10” apart for full-sized heads.
  5. Iceberg Lettuce. These form closed heads resembling cabbage. They have a mild flavor and crunchy texture. These need to be spaced 12” apart for full -sized heads

I will focus on the varieties we use during our late and early seasons here in Poway CA. Romaine types are the key players, due to their high nutritional value.

  1. Jericho Romaine- This a blonde romaine for both baby leaf and full –sized heads. They produce tall, heavy heads that are bright light green with excellent eating quality. They are both heat and tipburn resistant. Harvest in 28 days for baby and 57 days for full size.
  2. Green Forest Romaine- This is one of the most attractive green romaine varieties for full-sized heads. They are early, tall, dark green and resistant to sclerotinia and corky root. It is a slow-bolting variety and is tolerant to tipburn. Little damage is incurred when harvesting due to the smooth ribs. Full-sized heads in 56 days.
  3. Coastal Star Romaine- This is another full-sized head variety that is heat tolerant and corky root resistant. The large heavy heads are dark green with a good, sweet flavor. Full-sized heads in 57 days.
  4. Red Rosie Romaine- This attractive, light red romaine for full size has an upright habit. The leaves are red more than half the way down then fade to green creating a unique “half and half” look. It is resistant to many races of Downy Mildew. Full heads in 56 days.
  5. Red Cash Romaine- Compared to other red romaine varieties, Red Cash has a more attractive color with denser heads. The slightly ruffled leaves are a dark red with a contrasting bright green base. It is resistant to many types of downy mildew and should be harvested just before the full-size head stage for maximum flavor. This will take about 50 days.


Most people sprinkle lettuce seeds in a row and later have to thin them to the desired spacing. I do not have the time for that task. Since we have a beautiful, heated greenhouse and plenty of children and residents in our many Intergenerational group activities, along with a few special needs groups, all of my seeding is done for me. They use seedling trays and Sunshine Seedling Mix #3 (available at any Grangetto’s Garden Center in San Diego Co.) Whenever possible, I acquire pelletized lettuce seed. This was a monumental break through when we switched to pelletized seed s due to the fact that some of our less manually dexterous helpers were able to manipulate placing the seeds in the seedling trays, one seed at a time. This results in a single gorgeous transplant that goes straight to the field. Pelletizing improves the shape, size and uniformity of the raw lettuce seeds for more accurate sowing by hand and machine. The pellets are made of inert materials which don’t harm the seeds or soil. As the pellets absorb water they dissolve, allowing immediate access to oxygen for fast uniform seedling emergence. Many pelletized lettuce seeds are primed to enhance germination, but this process can decrease the storage life of the seed. So purchase only what you can use in a season.

Almost all of the pelletized lettuce seed from Johnny’s costs only $3.95 for a packet of 250 seeds. That’s a lot of lettuce!


Transplanting in the field- After 3-4 weeks in the greenhouse, the seedlings are ready for planting. We have adopted a unique system here to transplant our lettuce starts. When we are planting our broccoli or cauliflower in a bed, we set them 18” apart on both sides of the drip tape in a zig-zag fashion. The broccoli seedlings are set about 3-4” from the tape on each side. Once they are all in the ground, we plant the lettuce starts in between each broccoli or cauliflower, in both rows down the bed. A 50ft bed will consist of 33 broccoli or cauliflower on both sides of the tape(66 total) along with a lettuce plant in between each one (66 total). The lettuce utilizes the same water regime and fertilization of the broccoli and cauliflower. This is all a freebie! We also incorporate this planting technique when growing bok choy , spinach and kale instead of lettuce.

Pest Control- Do to the fact that we cover these rows with a frost prevention white cloth, we tend to have no insect problems with our lettuce. The cloth adds a couple extra degrees of heat at night while allowing 85% of the sun’s rays in during the day. This barrier keeps most aphid and cabbage loopers from causing problems with the broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce. If there is an issue with aphids, insecticidal soaps or oils help tremendously. In the case of loopers, apply any BT worm control product. The biggest problem we see with the lettuce is damage from snails, slugs and earwigs. Before we cover up the beds right after planting, we apply Sluggo Plus which is an organic means to handle sow bugs, snails, slugs, cutworms and earwigs. This does a great job for us, but be ready to possibly hit them again after a rain. All these products can be found at Grangetto’s and the cloth at Watertech Ag Supply in Escondido. Just tell them you want the stuff Farmer Roy uses.

Fertilization- We do nothing to fertilize our lettuce or bok choy. When prepping the beds to plant the broccoli or cauliflower, we add worm castings, composted chicken manure, compost made on site and a preplant fertilizer like Dr Earth’s All Purpose 4-4-4. There is enough food there to carry you through the lettuce growing phase.


Harvest- After 3 or 4 weeks the lettuce should be ready to harvest when seeking full -sized heads. Pull the lettuce, cut the roots and rinse them off. That’s it!! Some people like to take leaves off to enjoy nightly but in our case, we pull them out entirely so the bed is now solely for the broccoli or cauliflower. This tells me to side dress with more 4-4-4 of apply fish emulsion or some other organic fertilizer to carry to the broccoli or cauliflower to harvest. They should be ready in about another month depending on the variety used.

The way I have explained, keeps us with a constant supply of beautiful heads of lettuce weekly and costs virtually nothing. Give it a try!

So get some lettuce seed and stagger your plantings and you will enjoy all the goodness of nutritious lettuce in your salads, wraps and sandwiches.


I welcome anyone to come and visit our organic fields and tour our facilities. Call or email me with questions or comments. Check out our website www.sunshinecare.com to learn more about what sets us apart from the competition and to stay abreast of our free monthly garden lectures on the 3rd Saturday of the month (except Dec.).

Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 858-472-6059

Good luck in your garden!

For more info, check our website www.sunshinecare.com or give me a call or email me.

Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care. (858) 472-6059 and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Roy Wilburn

Hello again fellow gardening enthusiasts and greetings from Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes, nestled in beautiful Poway, California.  Even though we are still in the winter season, the weather has been favorably mild this year.  Last month, we talked about pruning your roses and we even had a hands-on workshop to get local rose lovers a chance to learn by tending our roses.  We had a couple of Consulting Rosarians, from the San Diego Rose Society, share with us their knowledge on rose pruning and general care.  I’m feeling good, knowing that our 40 plus roses bushes are pruned correctly, fertilized with Dr. Earth Organic Rose Food and sprayed with liquid copper as a dormant spray.  I can already see the new blooms start to peek out, as they set forth to give our residents some beautiful flowers to enjoy in a couple of months.  In a similar fashion, all of our deciduous fruit trees are also pruned, fertilized and sprayed.  We will attack, in short order, our citrus trees once we finish the winter harvest.


As far as winter veggie production, we are still constantly harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy and romaine lettuce.  I shared some of our secrets on cole crop (cool season crop) production in our November and December blogs.  We will continue planting these crops through March, plus our spring goodies such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, green beans and eventually peppers.  Our greenhouse is packed with all these transplants.  Next month we will start talking about our spring vegetable production, but let me end our winter endeavors with a few unique crops related to the broccoli and cauliflower families.


At the end of last year, my friend Ramiro Lobo, a University of California Farm Advisor for San Diego County asked me if Sunshine Care would like to get involved with a project he was heading up in conjunction with Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing- The Original Ranch.  Hidden Valley has started a campaign and committed over 1 million dollars to schools and organizations across the U.S. Their goal is to help seed and grow a “Love for Veggies” in kids. We here at Sunshine Care are always excited about growing and eating our vegetables but we understand that kids might need a little more of a nudge. 


Ramiro knew that we are very active with local churches, schools and volunteer organizations within our organic fruit and vegetable production world.  On the first and third Thursdays of each month, we have a group of local children come to Sunshine Care and learned about the world of organics. We have a “Children’s Garden” on site and the youngsters handle all aspects of fruit and vegetable production.  We provide education so the kids learn to plant, weed, harvest and perform cultural practices. They play with worms, compost and eventually get to taste the produce they grew and take some to enjoy at home.  They work hard and it is a total joy to participate in the field with them.  After we are done in the field we go to the greenhouse where they bond with some of our residents, their “Grandmas and Grandpas”, and enjoy other activities with them such as seeding vegetable trays, watering plants in our greenhouse and releasing ladybugs to control possible aphid outbreaks. When we are done the residents are showered with Handshakes, High- Fives and the ever popular HUGS!  It’s a beautiful thing.


We agreed to get involved with the Hidden Valley project and the UC Cooperative Extension and called our project the “Great Veggie Adventure”.  The crops we are growing have a definite, different eye appeal, as far as veggies go.  They are meant to grab a kid’s attention. We are growing-


Veronica, a Romanesco lime-green spiraled cauliflower

Panther, another lime-green cauliflower, normal in shape

Graffiti, a purple- headed stunning cauliflower

Cheddar, a bright orange headed cauliflower

And a variety of colorful carrots and radishes.


Let’s go through these crops one by one.


Veronica Romanesco is actually a broccoli but referred to as a cauliflower.  Heads are pointed, spiraled pinnacles that are lime green in color.  For those of you that are a bit nerdish when it comes to math, the bud has an approximate, self-similar character.  The branching meristems form a logarithmic spiral.  In this sense the broccoli’s shape approximates a natural fractal.  Each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in yet another logarithmic spiral.  This self-similar pattern continues at several smaller levels.  Bottom line- IT IS WEIRD LOOKING AND DELICIOUS!!  Veronica is high in vitamins C and K, dietary fiber and carotenoids.  The heads have a milder flavor and are more creamy and nutty than conventional broccoli and cauliflower.


Panther, green cauliflower is easy to grow and produces a unique, tight lime-green head, 6”-7” wide, that holds well and tolerates cold weather stress.  They have a delicious mild flavor when cooked and a definite crowd pleaser and attention grabber when served fresh.


Graffiti, purple cauliflower is absolutely brilliant and stunning in color.  It tastes just like white cauliflower and it is a great colorful addition to your crudite platters.  It produces a true cauliflower head on large plants.  The purple color is caused by the presence of the antioxidant group, anthocyanin, which is also found in red cabbage and red wine.


Cheddar cauliflower is bright orange in color, like cheddar cheese.  The color indicates that the curd, or head, has elevated beta-carotene levels.  It is a medium –sized plant that produces smooth, domed heads.  This variety doesn’t require “blanching techniques” to obtain the deepest, orange color.  Cheddar cauliflower has 25 times the level of vitamin A over regular white cauliflower.


To grow these varieties requires exactly what most broccoli or cauliflower varieties need- soils rich in organic matter and well drained.  Refer to past blogs of October and November of last year on cool season crops, and grow them the same way.  To purchase seed, pull out your Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog and call them up.


Veronica seed is $5.95 and $7.95 per PKT of 100 seeds, depending if you want conventional or organic seed.


Panther seed will cost you $5.95 per PKT of 100 seeds.


Graffiti runs $7.95 per PKT of 100 seeds.


Cheddar cauliflower will set you back $12.95 per PKT of 100 seeds.


While you have your catalog out, look at all the varieties of colorful radishes and carrots.  Our kids love the Rainbow Carrot mix along with Atomic Red, Purple Haze and Deep Purple varieties.  As far as radishes, try the Red Meat, otherwise known as Watermelon Radish (50 days) and the Easter Egg multicolored variety (30 days).  These are no-brainers.  Work the soil, spread some seed, water and thin them out when about an inch tall according to the variety’s directions.  These are crops your children will get quick satisfaction growing and eating.


For those of you in the San Diego County area, I personally invite you to attend our February Garden Lecture on the 18th at 10:30 am, here at Sunshine Care.  We will be covering all the cool season and spring crops, we grow for our residents.  Our workshops are free and include refreshments, raffle prizes and end with a tour of our gardens and orchards.  So bring a friend and come on by.


Call me, Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture (858) 472-6059 or e-mail me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Lisa Lipsey, Director of Community Relations (858) 752-8197 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , for more info and to RSVP.If you can’t make it, we would be happy to show you around anytime at your convenience. Hope to hear from you soon!

About the Author
Farmer Roy
Since 2010, Farmer Roy Wilburn has been Sunshine Care’s Director of Horticulture. You can usually find Roy in one of the five organic gardens, producing high quality organic fruits and vegetables for the residents and those in need in the Poway area. Roy maintains Sunshine Care’s beautiful greenhouse, fruit tree orchards, Memorial Rose Garden and the landscaping of its 32-acre facility. Roy is a regular guest speaker about numerous horticultural topics.
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