Milkweed and Monarchs

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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:

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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!

Pesky Pests!

This week has been trying in my garden.  Although I have been harvesting plenty of green beans, my yellow crookneck squash are still happily producing, some cherry tomatoes are rolling in and my pumpkins are continuing to fatten, I’m up against an army of persistent pests.  I’m feeling less than fond of my current foes: rabbits, rats, white butterfly eggs and grasshoppers.  Oh AND hornworms.  They have all ascended into my garden, set to one mode: eat and destroy.  I’ve caught 2 rats that were eating my figs straight off the tree and plucking cherry tomatoes (red and green) from my 2 precious tomato plants.  I wasn’t sure who the culprit was, but one night of a trap and my hunch was confirmed.  I’m definitely not fond of having to “extinguish” an animal, even a rat…but a gardener has to do what a gardner has to do.  Thank goodness my understanding husband has helped in the process.

This morning I went out to check on my seedlings and gasped in horror at the absence of my broccoli, red cabbage, beet and lettuce seedlings.  Nearly EVERYTHING I sowed in late August has been mowed to the ground.  You know what they say, “What do you do when you fall off the horse?  You get back on!”  I thought it was another rat, but had the idea it could be a rabbit…I’ve seen one a few months back in the front yard.  I really hoped it wasn’t a rabbit because that’s a whole lot different than a rat.  This evening as I stepped out to the backyard, I saw a glimpse of the scurrying cottontail.  “Darn it!!”  What was left of my broccoli is now completed mowed.  I’ve temporarily got 2 foot high chicken wire fencing around both veggie plots in hopes of saving what’s left of my snap peas, carrots and beets.  I expected it to be somewhat of an eye sore, but it’s not so bad.  It’s better than no veggies!!  Boy, this veggie garden is really testing my gumption!  I’m starting to wonder how much I really want this.  And I do really want it!  It’s been so time consuming lately with tending to seedlings and now pesky pests.

Later that day the rabbit returned and finished the job.

By the light of the full moon my husband put up poultry netting (24″ high) to save what little is left of my seedlings (carrots, a few beets and all of my snap peas).  I’ve read that rabbits can make their way under this, so this weekend we’ll have to dig and put it a few inches under the soil.  The fencing should be 24″ high, as that’s how high rabbits have been known to jump!

The smaller of the 2 veggie plots. I already re-sowed lettuce and broccoli here.

After the pumpkins are done in October (the rabbits don't seem to be interested in them), this will be extended around the entire 52 square feet of this bed.

The other pest that I learned about a few days ago after I saw small yellow eggs on the underside of my broccoli and red cabbage seedlings (that are now sitting in the rabbit’s stomach) is the white butterfly worm.  Those cute white butterflies that bring a smile to your face as you garden love to lay their caterpillar eggs in the above mentioned places.  They take 5-7 days to hatch and then make quick work of the seedling.  Keep an eye out and smoosh those eggs!

Moths continue to lay hornworm eggs on my cherry tomato plants.  I try my best to find most of them, but they are so gosh darn small and have the best color camouflage known to the bug world.  I’ve read about BT (Bacillis Thuringiensis), which is a live bacteria that is deadly to all types of caterpillars and nothing else.  I believe it qualifies as organic as well.  It is widely available in garden centers and nurseries.  Once sprayed on the leaves it takes a few days to see results.  It must be reapplied after heavy rains and methodically every 2 weeks as long as hornworms are present.  I haven’t gone down this route yet, as I’m keeping the population to a minimum with hand picking.  However I can see come next summer when I have more tomato plants, you may see a post about BT.  Speaking of next summer’s tomatoes, I’ve made a garden pledge to grow only heirlooms.  I’m so excited!

On a happy note, I recently bought two heirloom tomato plants at a local nursery that specifically do well in the cold season (I’ve heard these do well in the heat, full sun or even part shade – versatile!).  My new babies are “Stupice”, pronounced “Stoo-Peech-Kah”.  This little red tomato is from Czechoslovakia and has won awards for it’s tangy flavor.  It is supposed to be a wonderful early tomato and best of all, they have disease-resistant, potato-leaf foliage.  They’ve been in the garden for about 2 weeks and so far NO hornworm eggs or hornworms!  I’m thinking this may be due to the potato leaves.  Hooray!