Home & Garden

Gardener’s almanac (July 27)

Caterpillars on the munch — Caterpillars are munching away on all kinds of plants, including ornamental sunflowers, echinacea and ornamental sweet potatoes, extension agent Bob Neier says. You can pick them off, or clip off a spot where they have eaten, but if they are devastating a plant, you can use the organic spinosad to kill them. Of course, if you have a good butterfly food source, you may well want to let it munch, for the sake of a future butterfly.

Blooming snake plant — Jon Jenson of Sedgwick wrote to tell me about his snake plant (aka mother-in-law’s tongue, aka Sansevieria trifasciata) blooming. “According to my research this may not happen again for another decade or two, so I feel fortunate,” Jon wrote. A little archives search here at The Eagle turned up a snake plant blooming at Botanica in the winter in 2007 — “for the first time in memory.” Here’s another valuable snake-plant fact: It’s one of the best for cleaning indoor air, according to NASA findings.

Tomato cracking — Even gardeners who do everything right can have some tomatoes that crack on the vine,Ward Upham of K-State says. Too much moisture at once causes more pressure inside the tomato than it can handle, and it cracks. Even watering and mulch help prevent cracking, but a lot of rain (anyone complaining?) could be the offender. The pressure inside the fruit is more than it can handle.

K-State has studied different varieties to see which are more resistant to cracking than others. “The difference seems to be pliability of skin rather than thickness — the more pliable the skin the more resistance to cracking,” Upham writes in the Horticulture 2013 newsletter from K-State.

“The old variety Jet Star has been the most crack resistant of any we have tested including the newer types. Unfortunately, Jet Star is an indeterminate variety that puts out rampant growth. Newer varieties with more controlled growth are often more attractive to gardeners. Mountain Spring, Mountain Pride, Mountain Fresh, Floralina and Sun Leaper are smaller-vined types that have shown good resistance to cracking.”

Plant a fall garden — Well, here we are at the end of July, unbelievably, and the words “fall garden” crop up. Cole crops such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can now either be seeded directly in the garden or started in pots for planting in the ground about mid-August, Upham says. Also plantable now: snap (green) beans, carrots, endive, beets.

Make it peachy — Who doesn’t love to pick a ripe peach off the tree and eat it still sun-warmed? But then there are the marauding birds to consider. And peaches picked before ripening also have a higher pectin content for jams and jellies, and firmer fruit may be desirable for canning, Upham says.

Peaches picked at a certain stage of unripeness will still ripen into a very good peach. Look first for the ground color of the peach, such as that around the stem, to turn from greenish to yellow. If it has, then see if the peach will easily separate from the branch if lifted and twisted. Only then should you pick a peach. Not all peaches will ripen on the tree at the same time; it may take three to five pickings to harvest them all, Upham says. Let the peaches ripen indoors at room temperature; once they’re ripe, you can refrigerate them.

Garden events

Tomato Day schedule — Tomato Day is from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Extension Center, 21st and Ridge Road. Here is the schedule of talks, demonstrations and a tour:

In the demonstration garden:

8 a.m.: composting demonstration

8:30 a.m.: tour of the demonstration garden

9:15 a.m.: tour of the shade trees on the grounds (meet indoors in the Meadowlark Room)

9:15 a.m.: growing tomatoes in heat and drought

10 a.m.: organic considerations for tomato gardening

10:30 a.m.: getting the garden ready for next year

11 a.m.: tomato pests and diseases

11:30 a.m.: making the most of your garden space

In the Sunflower Room:

8:30 a.m.: cooking with tomatoes

10:30 a.m.: the global tomato: from the basic to the exotic

Contest categories:

Largest tomato, ugliest tomato, best plate of three standard tomatoes, best plate of three Roma or plum tomatoes, best plate of six cherry or pear tomatoes, best cluster of grape tomatoes, best heirloom tomato specimen, best fresh salsa, best preserved salsa. Check rules and other details at tinyurl.com/TomatoDay2013. Entries will be accepted between 7 and 9:30 a.m.

Iris sale — The Wichita Area Iris Club is having its annual iris sale this weekend: Saturday at the Extension Center, 21st and Ridge Road, and Sunday at Botanica. The sale Saturday will be from 7 a.m. to noon in the Bison Room during Tomato Day. On Sunday the sale will be at Botanica from 1 to 4 p.m. Bearded iris, including newer varieties grown at Botanica, will be among the irises for sale. Admission is free.

Cannas and Continental sours — That’s the theme for this Tuesday’s Tuesdays on the Terrace at Botanica. The Jenny Wood Trio will perform, and drinks and dinner will be for sale, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The gardens are open until 8. Admission is $7, or $3 for Botanica members.

“My Summer at Botanica” — Laura Shoemaker, an intern gardener at Botanica this summer, will talk about her experiences in the gardens at a lunchtime lecture Wednesday at Botanica. It’s at 12:15 and is included in Botanica admission.