Hi, gorgeous! —The weather continues to be unabatedly beautiful this October. Seize these days to do all sorts of outdoor chores (not so much a chore during a lovely fall) and be sure to check plants for water needs, as it's been a while since we've had rain. The lack of rain makes for ideal conditions for working soil, however (see below). Take advantage of the last few weekends of the farmers markets, and be sure to stop and smell the roses along the way.
In the demo garden — I always like to know what the master gardeners are up to in the demo garden at the Extension Center, and extension agent Rebecca McMahon reports that this week they pulled out some of the annual flowers that were past their prime, as well as about two-thirds of the tomato plants. They also sprayed another round of neem oil on the Asian greens that are fighting off flea beetles.
Tomato problems — When the master gardeners pulled many of their tomato plants this week (except the ones that are still producing), they found that some had swollen and contorted roots, signs of nematodes, Rebecca says. That may explain why some of the plants were not as productive and were less vigorous than they had hoped, she says. "We threw the infested plants in the Dumpster, because composting them would likely make the problem worse next year."
The last tomatoes —"Cold nights are increasing in frequency, hinting at frosts yet to come," Ward Upham of K-State says. "If you have tomatoes, you may have some that are approaching maturity. Leave them on the vine until mature or until a frost is forecast. Tomatoes will ripen off the vine but must have reached a certain phase of maturity called the 'mature green stage.' These tomatoes are mature enough to harvest though not yet red.
"Look for full-sized tomatoes with a white, star-shaped zone at the bottom end of the fruit. When harvesting fruit before a frost, separate tomatoes into three groups for storage: those that are mostly red, those that are just starting to turn, and those that are still green. Discard tomatoes with defects such as rots or breaks in the skin. Place the tomatoes on cardboard trays or cartons but use layers of newspaper to separate fruit if stacked. Occasionally a tomato may start to rot and leak juice. The newspaper will keep the juice from contacting nearby or underlying fruit. Store groups of tomatoes at as close to 55 degrees as possible until needed."
Work garden soil in the fall —"Fall is the preferred time to prepare garden soil for next spring's vegetable garden," Upham says. "Spring is often wet, making it difficult to work soil without forming clods that remain the rest of the season.
"Fall usually is drier, allowing more time to work the soil when it is at the correct soil moisture content. Even if you work soil wet in the fall and form clods, the freezing and thawing that takes place in the winter will break them down, leaving a mellow soil the following spring.
"Insects often hide in garden debris. If that debris is worked into the soil, insects will be less likely to survive the winter. Diseases are also less likely to overwinter if old plants are worked under. Also, the garden debris will increase the organic matter content of the soil.
"Working the debris into the soil is often easier if you mow the old vegetable plants several times to reduce the size of the debris.
"Fall is an excellent time to add organic matter. Not only are organic materials usually more available in the fall (leaves, rotten hay or silage, grass clippings), but fresher materials can be added in the fall than in the spring because there is more time for them to break down before planting. As a general rule, add 2 inches of organic material to the surface of the soil and till it in. Be careful not to overtill. You should end up with particles like Grape Nuts or larger.
"If you work your garden into the consistency of dust, you have destroyed the soil structure."
Daffodil sale — The Wichita Daffodil Club will be selling daffodil bulbs on Oct. 16 in the Fireside Room at Botanica, 701 Amidon. The sale will begin at 10 a.m. and run until 3 p.m. unless the bulbs sell out earlier. The club specializes in planting the newer show-quality varieties that are not available at the garden centers, and these are what you will find at the sale.
Bulbs are initially purchased from specialty growers and hybridizers and grown in members' gardens and are proven perennializers in our Kansas climate. Bulbs for landscape garden use and naturalizing will also be available.
Two of the varieties to be featured are a miniature yellow called Baby Boomer and a ruffled pink called Precocious, which is back by popular demand. "Everyone knows how bad the economy has been," Cathy Minkler of the club says.
"Bulbs are priced to give homeowners the best value for early perennial color in their gardens next spring."
Bustani Plant Farmer talk — Steve Owen, a former Oklahoma State professor who now owns Bustani Plant Farm in Stillwater, Okla., will present a program at the next meeting of the Wichita Daylily Club, at 7 p.m. Monday at Botanica. Owen specializes in native and rare plants. Visitors are welcome to attend the program.
Rose program — Rosarian Don Suderman will present a program on roses at 6:30 p.m. Monday at a meeting of the Derby Garden Club. There will also be a plant cutting exchange and election of officers. The public is welcome. The club meets at Valley State Bank at 330 E. Madison (north door, basement).
Wichita jungle talk — Pete Logsdon, horticulturist at the Sedgwick County Zoo, will give a talk at Botanica on Wednesday about how to create your own jungle in Kansas. He will talk about his experiences caring for tropical plants in the zoo's jungle. The lunchtime lecture will be from 12:15 to 1 p.m. It's included in Botanica admission. Truffles will sell lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for $7.
Bootanica — Botanica will have its fall festival for the whole family, called Bootanica, from 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 16. Activity centers will include the spider's lair, bug-a-BOO, the plant graveyard, the scarecrow trail, creepy creatures, the bat cave, spooky story-telling and pumpkin decorating. Costumes are optional. Admission is $7 a person; free for children under 2. For more information, call 316-264-0448 or go to the website botanica.org.