Emerging Monarchs

As a follow up to my previous post, I should have posted these photos in mid April when I took them, but alas here they are!  This first photo shows a monarch about 1 hour before emerging.  The chrysalis is completely see through at this point!  Also in the second photo notice the curled wings before the dry out.  This was taken a few minutes after emerging.  The fourth photo is pretty cool in it’s own right because those two monarchs literally emerged within minutes of each other!


And just when I thought our monarch adventure was done for the season, we now have 14 new caterpillars within the last week.  That month in between gave the milkweeds just enough time to replenish to give life all over again.


One Milkweed to 38 Monarch Caterpillars

The ONLY plant that monarch caterpillars can eat is milkweed.  There are many varieties, so it’s best to buy the ones that are native to your area if you’re interested in helping the monarch butterflies reproduce.  It’s kind of like a science experiment in your yard.  I have learned things about these amazing creatures through seeing them live through their life cycle that I never knew before.  And it started with one plant.

Sure these little guys will start off tiny and within a matter of days double their size over and over.  In the process they will systematically eat every single leaf and flower off your milkweed.  But it’s okay.  Because milkweeds are built for this.  They will grow back.  And then a monarch or two will lay eggs on it again and it’ll get mowed again and it will again grow back.

So when my daughter and I counted 38 baby caterpillars on our ONE milkweed about a week ago, I knew they would run out of feasting material fast.  So I went to the nursery and bought 3 more plants.  Then 2 days later I bought 6 more.  And they were finally happy and fat and had had their fill of the buffet.  Whew!  It was then that I got worried.  They were lethargic and many had curled up.  I calmed my concerns with a quick internet search informing me that they do this before getting ready for their next stage in the chrysalis.

And then they started disappearing.  They were off to find their magic place to make their final transformation into a butterfly.  I managed to find 4 of them in a nearby tall bush called “pink breath of heaven”.  When they attach themselves to wherever they have chosen and form their “J” as my daughter likes to call it, they are C O M P L E T E L Y still.  Take a glimpse at the 3rd and 4th pictures below.  That’s the same caterpillar before and after the chrysalis.  And the time in between taking those shots today?  2 hours.  That’s it.  You can youtube a video of a time lapse of this process if you’re interested.  Pretty amazing.  Now we wait!



Chrysalis Found


I was thrilled to stumble across this chrysalis, which is the first one I’ve ever seen in my own yard.  I showed my daughter and husband and was quite impressed that I could see the butterfly’s wings through the beautiful chrysalis.  Do you see it?  The gold edging and dots are also most elegant.  The caterpillar traveled approximately 40 feet from the milkweed plant to this location (on the back of a worn metal patio chair).  It seems that butterflies migrate even as caterpillars!

Milkweed and Monarchs


A few mornings ago I saw this beauty while out on my morning walk around the yard on our recently acquired milkweed plant.  These plants are havens for butterflies and also support their lifecycle.  I felt fortunate to have caught it on camera when I did.  I presume it was laying an egg or two since yesterday these 2 were found cruising around the same plant:



This last photo is sort of a “Where’s Waldo” of caterpillars. It’s exciting seeing these caterpillars grow so fast on the milkweed.  My mom told me that when they’re big enough, they leave the plant to find a safe place to make their chrysalis.  I was relieved to hear this because last week’s large caterpillar seemed to have disappeared and I was worried about a bird having eaten it for a snack! (By the way, my mom gets all the credit for inspiring me to buy a milkweed plant.  She has many in her front yard and even though she doesn’t care for the twiggy look it has after the caterpillars have eaten it all up, she knows the plant will grow back to feed a whole new crop of future monarchs.)  Seeing the butterfly’s life cycle in action is also a wonderful science lesson for kiddos.  Do butterflies in your neck of the woods a favor and get a milkweed plant!

Visiting the Alpaca Hacienda

My recent visit to an Alpaca ranch in Temecula, CA really caught me by surprise.  I’m not sure that I’d even seen an alpaca before in the flesh so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Kinda like a llama, maybe?

The Alpaca Hacienda is home to about 60 alpacas, most of which are there as boarded animals and let’s just say they’re all living high on the hog.  The owner used to be an elementary school teacher and when contemplating a career switch, decided to raise alpacas (well of course!).  She told us that her husband saw the idea in a Costco magazine, of all places.  Their hacienda is atop a hill with beautiful views, their personal home, and large divided sections of land where the alpacas are separated usually by age or gender.  Each alpaca is unique in color, type of fiber (that’s alpaca talk for fur) and personality.  They’re a cousin to llamas and are a bit smaller.  I didn’t expect them to but they really stole my heart!

securedownload_4 Here’s my daughter feeding her new BFF, Moon Shadow, who really took a liking to her (nothing to do with the food I’m sure) and followed her most of the morning.

Now, I imagine you may be wondering if they spit, and they can, but they never did at us, only to each other if they were getting vexed about not getting a fair share of food.

securedownload_5They are so amazing!  And incredibly soft.  They were originally brought to the US from South America in the 1980’s and in the decade or so that they were brought in, they were meticulously recorded and catalogued.  To this day the genealogy lines are maintained and recorded.

securedownload_6We were lucky to have arrived only a few days after these two were born.  After a year inside the womb, they essentially come out looking like this and within an a few hours are walking!

securedownload_2The Alpaca Hacienda is an amazing home for these animals and the owner happily gives tours by appointment.  To boot, there is a boutique on the grounds with anything you can imagine made from the fiber of her alpacas.  My daughter picked out a bunny!





Fancy Fencing for Feathered Friends

The 18″ high fencing we’d been using to keep our 4 chickens in their designated 300 square foot area had been falling short for quite some time.  The Silkies had figured out how to squeeze through and Henrietta could just give a little hop and just roam free all through the yard, which is not a good thing.  I decided I’d had enough of chasing chickens around the yard when I came home from the store, so I did a little research and found this blog post from Sunny Simple Life and knew it was just what I had in mind.  Something nice looking, blends well with the garden and is functional.

Before (morning dirt bath under the Double Delight Nectarine):




I purchased it at Lowe’s and it took about 2 hours to install with metal posts that hammer into the ground.  The fencing slides onto the posts and then links together to the panel next to it.  In order to still have access into their space, we left one panel un-linked, sawed off the metal post at the bottom of the panel to prevent drag and then turned around the next panel and continued along.



I love the leaf design.  Now I know the chickens aren’t causing mischief in the rest of the yard, which makes me an even happier chicken owner.

And a couple fun veggies:

White heirloom cuke

White heirloom cuke

My first butternut squash!

My first butternut squash!

A Rose Named Dolores

If I had to pick just one plant from my garden to take with me, it wouldn’t be one of my fruit trees or any type of edible whatsoever.  It would be a potted rose on my patio.  I’ve had this miniature rose since the early 1990’s.  Before that it belonged to my grandmother who first acquired it in the early 80’s.  The rose lived on her picturesque deck in La Jolla, CA looking west to the ocean.  It was a small, old home perched on top of a bluff.  Along with the view, one of the other memorable, fantastic qualities of her house was it’s sprawling old wooden deck.  Being on the side of a hill, this deck was the main garden.



The rose is sitting in a terracotta pot on the deck just to the right of the bench under the red bougainvillea.

My grandmother’s thumbs were bright green and her favorite plants to grow were roses.  To her, the beauty of a rose was unsurpassed.  And with so many varieties and scents, the possibilities were endless and enthralling.  She would spend hours pouring over rose catalogues and show me her favorites that she’d like to have one day.  When I’d spend the weekend at her house, we’d wake up in the morning and, coffee in her hand, we would take an early walk around the deck “to say hi” to the roses and see how they’d changed from the day before.  I soon realized that although a day doesn’t seem to be enough time to see a plant change, if you looked close enough, many things could happen in 24 hours.  I grew to appreciate patience and to feel joy over the little things.  And of course she also taught me how to prune roses, which helps me think of her every January when I use her knowledge in my own garden some 25 years later.

Today the hillside that once cradled her home is now covered in overpriced condominiums with fancy cars dotting the drive ways.  To me, that’s not it’s true identity, since it lives on in my memory as it was when I was a child.  It’ll always represent the special part of the earth where I spent many weekends of my childhood spending time with one fantastic lady.

The rose as it lives today, about ready for it's spring bloom.

The rose as it lives today, about ready for it’s spring bloom.

So, this is why, this rose is my most prized and loved garden inhabitant.  I don’t even remember the name of this rose, nor do I care to remember.  To me, it’s just, Dolores.  It’s my grandmother, both unassuming and radiant, delicate and also filled with little thorns.  I would have never known that a rose could live for 30 years in a pot and still it remains, some years battling rust and disease, and other years blooming more profusely than I can ever remember.  It lives on in my yard as it did on her deck so many years ago.  And although my daughter never had the chance to meet Dolores, my daughter can still smell and pick and admire the same blooms that my grandmother and I carefully studied each morning together during my weekend stays on her wooden deck overlooking the sea.


Spring Garden Firsts

I took my normal walk around the backyard taking photos, as is my M.O., and realized only after looking at them on my computer this morning that each photo represented a first in my garden.  This is the first time I’ve seen my Eva’s Pride peach tree produce fruit:


And the first time I’ve seen the Double Delight nectarine I bought in January leaf out and bloom:


And seen the flower up-close:


And the first time I’ve seen the Thompson Red Seedless grape do this:


Last year it had just started to produce fruit clusters but before they had a chance to fully form something happened and they either fell off or were eaten by something.

And the first time I’ve seen my favorite specimen (Red Baron peach) blooming against the backdrop of my favorite backyard retreat after being completed last summer:


Thankful for firsts.

January in Bloom

Sequoia Strawberry flower.

Sequoia Strawberry flower.

I planted a dozen Sequoia strawberry plants about a week ago.  It’s a June bearing variety that does well in California and is one of the earliest Spring crops where safe from frost.  June bearers generally produce a single large crop in spring to early summer and are prolific producers for 3 to 4 weeks.  Plus, they are root knot nematode resistant, which works well with my RKN soil.

Eva's Pride peach is already about to bloom!

Eva’s Pride peach is already about to bloom!

We’ve had little rain this winter and unseasonably warm weather during the day, which has encouraged this already early bloomer to be on the verge of something that I’ve never had before in the garden.  A blooming fruit tree is January.  That feels like a garden miracle!

Another view of Eva's Pride.  I've never tasted this peach as this is my first Spring with her after rescuing her from a small pot from a previous place of employment, but I've read that it has a "zing."

Another view of Eva’s Pride. I’ve never tasted this peach, as this is my first Spring with her after rescuing her from a small pot from a previous place of employment, but I’ve read that it has a “zing.”  Can’t wait!

Even my grapevine seems to be early this year.

Even my grapevine seems to be early this year.  But I’m not complaining!

Royal Lee Cherry budding in groups.  My two cherries seem to be the only ones to bud in groups, which makes sense since cherries form in clusters!

Royal Lee Cherry budding in groups. My two cherries seem to be the only fruit trees in my backyard orchard to bud in groups, which makes sense since cherries form in clusters!

Even though cherries aren’t supposed to fruit until at least year three, and I’m just my second Spring, I’m still crossing my fingers for maybe just a few cherries, or even one lone straggler.  Yes, that would be just fine with me!

More Fruit, Please

I’ve been making daily phone calls to my favorite local nursery in anticipation of the arrival of their annual amazing, prolific and Southern California chosen bare root fruit trees. I had to pull out a meek palm in the backyard that always had bug problems, which happened to be behind a picturesque bench, screaming for a fruit tree to grace it’s sweet shadows over it from the summer sun.

I went yesterday with the purpose to buy a Double Delight Nectarine. This will be my second Double Delight since unfortunately the first was planted in what I now know to be one of the barren wastelands in the front yard.  When it did practically nothing for almost two years, I attempted to transplant it, which didn’t turn out so well. When I arrived at Green Thumb Nursery yesterday they were still setting up all of the trees in temporary soil, which was probably a good thing for my wallet and my husband because I only got to see the apple, cherry, almond and nectarine trees. Had all the varieties been poised for sale, who knows what damage I could have done. I do have a Snow Queen nectarine planted January 2013, but she has white flesh, so I had to get a yellow flesh nectarine. I mean come on, it’s obvious, right? When digging the hole we punctured a sprinkler line, but I now have my Double Delight in the ground. I like having a second chance, which the garden allows so many of. And boy is she pretty.

(Photos to come in Spring when it’s not just a stick in the ground.)