Hello again fellow gardening enthusiasts!

The weather has been great so far this month to get those last cool season crops in the ground such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce. If you haven’t done so- GET PLANTING!

March is the perfect month to get a jump on your spring/summer warm season crops as well. Our residents here at Sunshine Care, Assisted Living Homes, nestled in the Green Mountains of beautiful Poway, CA, will soon be dining on a wide variety of fruits and veggies until the first signs of frost at the end of the year. We will pump out, literally, tons of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and bush beans to be devoured by all.


I wanted to talk about the star of the warm season crops this month- tomatoes, but decided to wait until next month so we can discuss the cultural practices and pests you will be facing in the tomato world. So let’s get into some other heavy-hitters that should be in your garden. Cucurbits! Zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers are ideal warm season crops. They grow fast and produce large numbers quickly as the weather warms up. They are all very easy to grow as well.

As I have preached, the factors that I feel are the most important when selecting varieties to grow of anything-all crops, are Earliness and Disease Resistance. Earliness is really no big deal in the world of squashes and cucumbers. Pumpkins, melons and winter squashes are the cucurbits that require more growing time until harvest. Disease resistances are less available with these crops also. We will discuss these in detail, later this spring. Enough yakkety-yak. Let’s get into these tasty treats.

All cucurbits are notorious for getting powdery mildew. When the humidity and temperatures are right- look out! Roses, cucurbits, grapes, tomatoes, beans and especially squash are a favorite host of many genus and species of powdery mildew. You first will notice little circular patches of mycelial formation (fungal fruiting structures that produce the spores) on an occasional leaf. The next day, complete coverage of the leaves. Then the stems and fruit.

To combat this, you spray and spray. Then you pull leaves but to no avail. Your only prayer is a change in the weather. Here is the biggest tip. SELECT VARIETIES WITH POWDERY MILDEW RESISTANCE. (If you see a PM on a seed packet, it is resistant to Powdery Mildew.)You will still be confronted with the problem but it will much easier to manage.

Another technique you will find helpful when growing squash is to occasionally pull off a leaf when harvesting. Take notice, as you pick a fruit of zucchini or summer squash, there are likely leaves below where you just harvested that fruit. Those leaves are definitely less important to the overall production of further fruit. Take them off and dispose of them far away. A good rule of thumb is- Pick a fruit, Pull a leaf.

Your final options for disease control are now to spray and cross your fingers for a change in the weather. We didn’t have much of powdery mildew problem last year, except with our pumpkins. This was either due to disease resistance and our overall weather conditions were milder. But the previous year when I was just pulling varieties blindly of the shelf and with the hotter summer- PM was rampant!

Serenade is a fine powdery mildew control product. The active ingredient in Serenade is a certain strain of Bacilus Subtilis, a bacteria. It is safe and organically approved. Bi-Carb Old Fashioned Fungicide is another product available for PM control. This is a spin off on bicarbonate of soda but is Potassium Bicarbonate and also organically approved. Some people swear by old family recipes such as milk or good ol’ Arm and Hammer Baking Soda.

Here are two home-made recipes for Powdery Mildew control.


Recipe 1:

1 gallon of water

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon dishwashing liquid such as Cascade

Mix well and apply in the early morning


Recipe 2:

1 part milk

9 parts water

Again mix well and apply early in the morning

Time to discuss varieties, so pull out that Johnny’s Selected Seeds Catalog.


Dunja- Powdery Mildew resistant as well as Zucchini Mosaic Virus, Watermelon Mosaic Virus and Papaya Ringspot Virus resistance. It is a high yielder of dark green straight zucchinis. It replaced Dundoo for the added resistances but if you can find Dundoo from another seed company- try it. Packets contain 30 seeds for $3.95.

Spineless Perfection- Powdery Mildew resistant along with Watermelon and Zucchini Mosaic Virus resistance. Another open plant habit with attractive medium- green, straight fruit. High yielding. Packets contain 30 seeds for $3.45.


Golden Glory- Powdery Mildew resistant along with Watermelon and Zucchini Mosaic Virus resistance. Medium-dark yellow straight fruits with an open plant habit. High yielding. Packets of 30 seeds go for $3.45.

If you notice, all these varieties have an open plant habit which means sparse leaf formation. So having less leaves and pulling off one leaf every time you pull a fruit, aids with air circulation and thus helps control powdery mildew.

Another yellow squash variety that performed well for us last year was Soleil. We harvested this variety all through spring, summer and fall last year with nary a PM threat. Search on-line and you might find this one from Thompson and Morgan Seed Co. Plant it at $3.99/ 20 seeds in a packet.


Johnny’s has four American Slicing Cucumber varieties with PM resistance. General Lee, Olympian and Marketmore are all workhorses and will yield beautiful fruit. My favorite of the lot is Corinto. The fruit was absolutely gorgeous for us last year and it is the earliest of the varieties. The seed is pricier at $14.95 a packet of 30 seeds while the others are $3.95 and $3.45 per packet of 30 seeds. Try them all and make a decision for further plantings.

We start our seedlings in the greenhouse and in 2-3 weeks they are in the garden. Don’t let them linger around- get’em in the ground. We plant the zucchini and yellow squashes at 18” and the cucumbers at 12”. Both are planted in a line, an inch or two from the drip tape on fluffy beds incorporated with worm castings, compost and Dr. Earth’s 4-4-4.


If you ever notice that some of your first fruits from these cucurbits have a moist rotted tip by the flower end (we call this snotty nose), add calcium when you see the first flowers. This will keep the nose clean and hard. You can find calcium products at your local home and garden dealer. We don’t seem to have this calcium deficiency problem and I attribute the success to our composting program. We collect lots of egg shells from our residents’ homes and the kitchen, then it’s straight to the compost bins.

You will probably find yourself with more zucchini than you can possibly eat or want to eat at one time. Squash freezes well. Shred them up and place them in muffins tins and freeze. Put them in plastic zip locks and pull them out occasionally and toss them in your soups or marinara sauces. You can also slice them up and blanch the squash for a couple minutes. Drain, cool and bag them up and toss them in the freezer.

So whether you stir-fry, bake, deep-fry, sauté, grill, shred them for salads, stuff them or make zucchini breads or muffins- ENJOY YOUR SQUASH BOUNTY.

Don’t forget to eat the flowers also. Stuffed or pan fried in batter with olive oil is a treat.

My Sicilian grandmother couldn’t keep these on a plate for a second.

Cucumbers don’t freeze that well so fresh is the way to go!

Get planting and don’t forget at Sunshine Care we offer free gardening classes open to the public on the 3rd Saturday of every month at 10:30 am. Food, refreshments and door prizes abound with expert speakers in their fields. Afterwards, tour our gardens and the greenhouse.


Click on our website www.sunshinecare.com or call me anytime for more info or a personal tour.

Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care, Assisted Living Homes in Poway CA. (858) 472-6059 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Happy gardening!!

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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