Gardens of the Cross Timbers: The breakfast of plant champions

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Skeletons of Collard greens

Did you feel the summer solstice arrive last Sunday, June 20 after a week of scorching temps? The longest day of the year. The sun’s track reached its highest most northern point. A cold front then came through on Monday with a few drops of rain and it became autumn! A few nights were downright chilly. Cool respite before plunging back into summer heat.

June 24 was Midsummer Day, half way between planting crops and harvest time. This date works well for Europe but I’m not sure how accurate for Oklahoma. The wheat harvest has already started in Oklahoma and is anticipated to end mid-July. Wheat to be grazed by cattle is planted late August. Tomatoes and peppers had a late start in many gardens this year, but are taking off in the June heat. Triggered by warm nights, they are producing blooms and setting fruit.

The temperatures are right at the edge of a good tomato fruit crop. The South American descendants spring into action when the nights are 60-75 degrees F, and days between 60 to 90 degrees F. Cherry tomatoes aren’t so picky, but the larger tomatoes can have attitude problems when the temps rise or fall past their comfort zones.

Breakfast for your plants? In the pepper world, 90-degree days may cause blossom drop. If you’re into brewing your own coffee, save the nitrogen-rich grounds and put around the pepper plants. The pepper leaves will respond by becoming greener. Coffee grounds somehow help protect the pepper leaves from sun scald. Be more careful if using the grounds as a soil amendment for tomatoes. They take only a little mixed in compost, less than peppers.

Eggshells or calcium carbonate are great for both peppers and tomatoes constantly watered day after day. Tomatoes are actually water sensitive. The calcium helps with cell formation and water regulation. Controls blossom end rot. Dry and finely crush several eggshells then gently dig into the soil around the plants (also helps soil drainage) or dissolve some calcium carbonate tablets in water and liberally sprinkle the soil.

Banana peels have 40% potassium as well as calcium and manganese. Strengthen your plants and help them flower. Bury chopped peels around the plants or make a banana peel fertilizer. Put one banana peel into a quart jar of water, seal and let stand one week. Water plants.

Meteorologically speaking, we already hit the first day of summer on June 1. In the weather arena, summer is June, July, August and September. I’ll vouch for most of June being summer, especially after Tulsa Tough weekend. Earlier this week was weird but wonderful.

While steeping in hot June heat staring at the pepper plant, six tomato plants, green beans and insect-chomped skeletonized collard greens, I had time to reflect about last weekend. Cutthroat competition aside, outdoor activities—so long having been put on hold—are bringing people back together. Every bike rider was accompanied by small or large contingencies supporting their person. Blankets spread out on grass, coolers full of icy cold beverages, the odor of grilled food or sunscreen permeated the air and kids ran amok. This was also Tulsa Tough. Dozens and dozens of tents lined the roads and sidewalks. Food trucks were tucked into parking lots. Restaurants and businesses were open and thriving. For three days Tulsa was immersed in a festival atmosphere.

Piccolo Booty

The Gran Fondos were advertised as ‘Party on Wheels.’ That’s advertising for you. Gran Fondo loosely translated means ‘Big Ride.’ The Gran Fondo was the 100-mile bicycle ride. The shorter Piccolo was 40 miles and the Medio 66 miles, with all rides to be completed by 5 p.m. on the day attempted. Two additional options were available to those gluttons for punishment. To earn the Double Tough Jersey, you not only had to finish the Saturday Gran Fondo by 5 p.m., but the Sunday Medio route by 2 p.m. ACE Jersey required you to complete the long Saturday Gran Fondo in under 5 hours (men) and 5 hours 40 mins (women). Tough.

Anyone in decent shape could ride the Fondos. All it took was money for registration, a cycling jersey, a bike in good condition, a helmet, a numbered BIB pinned on the jersey above waist on back, timing tag attached to bike seat post for roadside antennas to register riders as they passed the receivers along the course, emergency bike repair by one of eight mobile sag wagons (emergency support vehicles), medical help if necessary and the essential wristband which allowed the bicyclist food and drink at the three rest stops.

My chemist/professor husband decided to ride the Piccolo on Saturday. He pinned BIB #388 to the back of his jersey top. The jersey colors of Team RAD (Rosé All Day), chosen by geologist Ellie Norvell, were gray, pink and dark green. The pattern was designed by mural painter and Tulsa artist Josh Butts. Butts’ name was emblazoned across the upper rear of the deep green jersey spandex shorts. A real double Entendre!

The artist's signature!

The Octoberfest Rest Stop was a welcome respite, but not the hill beyond. At mile 32 my partner realized it was going to take some intestinal fortitude to keep going, but he did. Finished the Piccolo in 3.5 hours. For his efforts he received a big shiny ‘Tougher than Ever’ medal. Not bad for someone nearly 72 years old!

It’s been hot. The lone female turkey pecks at seeds, drinks water from the bird bath and cools off in her self-made turkey wallows scratched out around the patio. One afternoon she walked past the back door clucking loudly. I looked outside to see the tail of a black snake disappear around the corner. Turkeys also eat snakes. This lucky one escaped.

Raccoon Family at a distance

The Hosta wasn’t so lucky. While the throng of four baby raccoons climbed the tree to follow mom up to the bird feeder, one lost its grip and landed on the Hosta. The fuzzy baby was fine. The Hosta looks like a flat green pancake.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

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