This is the time of year when I retreat into air conditioning and watch the great outdoors from indoors. Monday afternoon an isolated thunderstorm popped up over our house, but waited until it floated over Shawnee proper before raining. Four raindrops fell where I stood. The next morning was foggy! The early sun was masked for a time by low clouds, but reappeared with a vengeance and summer was back.

This is the time of year when I retreat into air conditioning and watch the great outdoors from indoors. Monday afternoon an isolated thunderstorm popped up over our house, but waited until it floated over Shawnee proper before raining. Four raindrops fell where I stood. The next morning was foggy! The early sun was masked for a time by low clouds, but reappeared with a vengeance and summer was back.

Bagworms intrigue me. These guys have boom or bust cycles. There is a relationship between bagworms and redcedars in our area. The bagworm larvae voraciously eat redcedar needles. Sometimes the tree goes down. Depending on your perspective, this could be good or sad. In times of erratic weather episodes, stressed evergreens crash and give in to the demands of the future moths, but over time an equilibrium between the moth and the redcedar is attained. Nature’s check and balance system at work.

Not only are the bagworms busy, but fall webworms have also made their appearance. White ghosts covering branches of trees. Annoying, but tends not to hurt healthy trees. The webworms prefer persimmon trees, but can overdo it. Some small trees may become totally wrapped in the tough impermeable web and wind up with nary a leaf. This could lead to a potentially dangerous situation if someone like my dad was around. He took torches soaked in gasoline and….not a great idea if hot, dry or windy. The ten-year-old-boy biological control idea is better. Get a bucket of soapy water and a large stick. Push stick into the web, twirl and dunk everything on stick into the bucket. Or just wait them out, knowing fall is on the way.

Daily scouting is a good way to detect problems with your plants. I would be fired if I was a scout for a Wagon Train. Usually something terrible needs to catch my attention, as did the Poinsettia. Part of the plant had withered. Brown soft scale attack. The plant was pruned and scales on the stems and leaves were smashed as a scale deterrent or attractant for desirable predators. Could work.

The blackberry stems had curled around the cage wires in two places. The leaves were a deep green, but the unnatural angle indicated witches’ broom, a rosette fungus, had taken hold. Rotten luck. Remove infected canes. Done. Remove all wild blackberry bushes in vicinity. Really? No way. Osmocote granules, slow-release fertilizer, were scratched into the surface around the base. The plant was given a good drink and told to be strong. I can’t destroy the plant. It came from my mom’s house. It’s family.

“I have never met an apple I did not like” has been my motto for years until last Sunday. The apples at my neighbor’s house were laying on the ground untouched. She said we could have a few, but beware. The tree had sprouted from the roots of an ornamental crab apple which had been backed into by a car. The green apples were normal size and I figured they would be excellent cooking apples. I figured wrong.

The apples were bitter as an unripe persimmon without the pucker, not sour as a Granny Smith. Had the starch not been converted into sugar? Did they contain a super high level of sour malic acid? The apple flavor might improve with age as they develop on the tree, but at this stage they were ghastly. To the compost pile. Let the wildlife deal with them.

9 BILLION TONS OF PLASTIC WASTE END UP IN THE OCEAN EVERY YEAR, even from Oklahoma. Help our sea critters. Use your own reusable bags. Refuse single-use plastic bags. It’s that simple.

The 106th Tour de France ended last Sunday. Twenty-three days of men madly bicycling through the Pyrenees and Alps, ending at the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Over 2,200 miles. Twenty-two teams, 8 members each (176 men), competed in 21 timed stages. Each Tour stage was like a separate race, with its own winner, prize money and points for the top 15 riders. Each stage winner received $12,230. The cyclist with the quickest time from the start of the Tour wears the yellow jersey in the next stage. At the end of the Tour, the yellow jersey and $2.6 million was awarded to the cyclist with the fastest overall time from the beginning of the race. The green jersey went to the best sprinter and time trialist, the white jersey to the best rider under 26 years old and the red polka dot jersey to the rider with the most points from the mountain stages.

Six of the mountain climbs, each over 6,000 feet, were in stages 18-20. The 19th stage was wild. A heavy hailstorm pounded the French Alps, turning the mountains and roads dangerously white. Road crews did not have enough time to clear the way for the leaders and the race was cancelled early. Stage 20 the next day was shortened due to landslides and predicted storms. Stage 21 the riders arrived in Paris, did 8 laps on the Avenue of Champs-Elysees and the race was over.

The competitors have been busy analyzing their performances. Two strong favorites were unable to compete because of prior crashes. The 22 years old Columbian Bernal was the third youngest rider in history to win the yellow jersey and a lot of money. The French hero Alaphilippe dominated the Tour but lost it in the Alps. The Dutch and Australian teams were strong. Slovakian Peter Sagan won his 7th green jersey. Norwegians blamed their new energy drink for their sluggishness, thinking it caused their bodies to retain too much water. The Irishman mused he was feeling good, then the lights went out.

July 6th the 2019 Tour de France began in Brussels, Belgium; in 2020 Nice, France and 2021 Copenhagen, Denmark.

What does this bike race have to do with plants? Plenty. Europe has been in the grips of historic heat. As the bicyclists rode through the countryside, patchworks of fields, in production and fallow, surrounded each village. Trees lined the roads and edged the pastures. Soft wheat was being harvested, but grain harvest during the race had been halted in Oise, France. Large fires had burned hundreds of acres, injuring many firemen and killing one farmer during the record heatwave. Oise is the second largest grain-producing region in France. Corn, sunflowers, sugar beets, rapeseed, barley and soybeans are their summer crops. Vineyards hug the hillsides. Pictures show grape vines ‘blowtorched’ by the heatwave. Grapes ripen soon, but wine production is predicted to be 10% less than last year.

The (Tour de) Rogers Cycling Festival was held last weekend in northwest Arkansas. Once again in the Ozarks, my son and crew, with Rocco the water-loving Labrador, camped at Beaver Lake. Three days, eight different races, with O-Cedar as one of the sponsors. Winners were awarded the O-Cedar Easywring spin mop as part of the swag. Talk about cleaning up at a race.

Next year, the yellow jersey at the Tour de France!

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.