Hello again fellow gardening enthusiasts. I’m Roy Wilburn , Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care Assisted Living Homes in lovely Poway, California.
We are a 32-acre, community with ranch-style homes for our 86 residents with memory care needs.
I oversee our showcase greenhouse, memorial rose garden, fruit tree orchards, five organic gardens, composting sites and vermiculture operation. Getting my hands dirty in the gardens and producing quality organic fruits and vegetables, is my passion. I welcome all visitors to experience what we have to offer here at Sunshine Care.
The weather finally took a normal turn at the start of the month. Temperatures are in the 60’s during the day and 30’s at night. We also experienced our first light frost this week. I was looking for an excuse to yank out the last bit of zucchini and getting nipped by the frost was all I needed to prep some more beds for cool season crops. Our chef said the harvest of over 1,700 lbs of zucchini this year was ENOUGH! Cucumbers, green beans, bell peppers and butternut squash have all left us for the year. We still have a few tomatoes, but their days are numbered. We are also starting to get citrus off the trees. Plenty of oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and Oro Blancos (a cross between a grapefruit and a low-acid pomello—my favorite!) They are being enjoyed by the residents and staff. The deciduous fruit trees have dropped their leaves and we will get out there this week for the annual winter pruning.
Over the last two months, in this blog, I have touched on our most abundant fall and winter crops, these being lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, which we have cut over 300 lbs so far through November. The head size and flavor has been fantastic.
Well let’s talk about a small role player for this time of year. I’m talking about Chinese Cabbage. We grow basically two types, bok choy and Napa cabbage. There are two groups of these Chinese leaf vegetables. Bok choy is from the chinensis group and Napa cabbage is a variety from the pekinensis family. Both are related to our Western cabbage but actually more closely related to the common turnip. They are indigenous to China, duh, and have been around for 1,500 years.
Pekinensis varieties such as the Napa, have broad green leaves with white petioles. The compact heads are a formation of the tightly wrapped leaves.
Chinensis varieties like bok choy, don’t form heads but are a cluster of smooth dark leaf blades, similar to celery. There are many spellings for the same veggie ( bok choy, pak choi, bok choi and pak choy).
Besides being tasty and nutritious, Chinese cabbage is very easy to grow and produces quickly. They are very high in folic acid, Vitamin A, as well as C, K and B6. They also contain glucosinolates, which have been reported to prevent cancer in small doses. You can enjoy it raw or as I prefer, stir-fried in my wok.
Bok choy and Napa cabbage thrive in the cooler days of fall and early spring in full sun. When temperatures get above 75 degrees and the days are longer, there can be issues with bolting*. We start both in the greenhouse and have been very successful. Many people say they should be sowed, then thinned in the field. Personally, I don’t understand why. It seems more labor intensive that way and our beds just look more impressive due to a better plant population and uniformity. Maybe our greenhouse has just spoiled me.
The preparation of the beds is very important. It’s a relatively quick crop, especially the bok choy which you can harvest at the 6” baby stage. Putting in the extra effort to create fluffy, deep and well-drained soil will pay off. We incorporate the usual products- worm castings, Dr Earth’s 4-4-4 All- purpose organic fertilizer, EZ Green composted chicken manure and lots of our compost that we make on site. The compost is very important, due to the fact that both cabbages have high water content. Maintaining a constant level of moisture is critical and the compost will help retain soil moisture and ward off bacterial rot. Since you are basically growing leaves and not an edible flower or root, the EZ green, being high in nitrogen, is a good thing. All you need to do is maybe side-dress a few weeks after transplanting to insure rapid growth. We give them a shot of worm tea sometimes. Slow growth can lead to bolting*. Generally, everything we throw into the rototilled bed will carry the crop to harvest.
We keep both crops covered with Agrofabric Pro19 floating row cover to keep aphids, beetles and cabbage worms from munching on the tender leaves. Tossing some Sluggo-Plus on the bed after transplanting, should hold off threats from cutworm, snails and slugs.
PRETTY EASY, HUH?
Acquiring seed for both is easy also. Just pull out your Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog and order-
Joi Choi- This Pac Choi grows large and fast (45-50 days). Dark green leaves and juicy white stalks give this variety a pleasing mild flavor with a hint of mustard. Harvest the head at 12-15 inches in height. It seems to be tolerant to heat and cold, so it is slow to bolt. Transplant at 10-12 inches. There are 250 seeds in a packet, for only $3.45.
Bilko- This is a full size Napa Chinese cabbage for organic production (54 days). The leaves are a darker green than most other varieties and the heads are slightly larger, up to 20” tall. It is widely adaptable. The slow-bolting heads have a delicious, mild and sweet taste. It has resistance to club root, fusarium yellows and black speck. Transplant at 12-18 inch spacings. There are 100 seeds to a packet for $3.95.
Talk to you soon,
*Bolting is when the plant starts to form and shoot-off flowers so it doesn’t form beautiful heads or root well. This happens during times of stress, particularly at high temperatures that our cool season crops don’t like.