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Gardeners' almanac

Promises, promises — After a false start toward cooler weather, better days appear to be headed our way starting Monday. Here's hoping.

Plant — A fall garden looks more doable after this weekend's hot forecast. Plant lettuce, kale, spinach, turnips, radishes, beets.

Apple picking — Nearly mature apples can ripen off the tree, but you don't want to pick too early, Ward Upham of K-State says. Here are his guides for helping to decide when to pick apples:

* Color change: As apples mature, the skin color in areas of the stem and the calyx basin at the bottom of the apple turns from an immature green to a light-yellow color. Some apples will develop a red skin color before they are ripe, so that is not a reliable indication of maturity.

* Flavor: Sample slices of a few apples and see if they have a sweet flavor. If they are not ready to harvest, they will taste starchy or immature. If apples have already fallen and taste a bit starchy, store them for a while to see if they become sweeter.

* Flesh color: As apples mature and starches change to sugars, the flesh changes from very light green to white. When you cut a thin slice and hold it up to the light you can see the difference.

* Days from bloom: The number of days from bloom is a reliable guide for general maturity time, but weather will influence it too. Some kinds of apples and approximate days from bloom to maturity: Jonathan, 135; Delicious, 145; Golden Delicious, 145; and Winesap, 155 days.

* Seed color: The seeds of most apples change from light green to brown as the fruit ripens. This indicator should be combined with other changes since it is not absolute.

Harvesting winter squash — Hot weather, drought and the poor condition of the vines have led to early maturity of some winter squash, Upham says. You can tell when to pick it by the color and rind toughness, he says.

Butternut squash changes from light beige to deep tan as it matures. Acorn is a deep green color but has a ground spot that changes from yellow to orange when ripe. Gray or orange is the mature color for hubbard, Upham says.

A hard, tough rind is another sign of mature winter squash. Check this by trying to puncture the rind with your thumbnail or fingernail. If the nail easily penetrates the skin, the squash is not yet mature. The stem should also be dry enough that excessive water doesn't drip from it, Upham says.

Winter squash should be stored cool with elevated humidity. Ideal conditions are 55 to 60 degrees and 50 to 70 percent relative humidity. Under such conditions, acorn squash will usually last about five to eight weeks, butternuts two to three months and hubbards five to six months, Upham says.

Sunflower State sesquicentennial talk — Evelyn Neier will be at Botanica on Wednesday to give highlights of Kansas' 1961 centennial celebration, show her collection of centennial memorabilia and talk about how Kansas became known as the Sunflower State. The lunchtime lecture, at 12:15, is included in Botanica admission. Syl's Catering will serve lunch for $7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Daylily sale — The annual daylily sale by the Wichita Daylily Club Sale is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Botanica. (Note that the date is given incorrectly in Botanica's Cultivate newsletter and on its website.)

Hibiscus and Hurricanes — Botanica is timely with the theme for this next week's Tuesdays on the Terrace. The Mudbugs will perform, and cocktails and other beverages will be for sale from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on the terrace. The gardens will be open until 8 p.m. The happening is included in Botanica admission or membership.