Monday, September 29, 2008

Raising Butterflies

A few days ago Gail, from Clay and Limestone, asked if I could give the details about bringing the caterpillars inside. I am more than happy to share this information, especially if it encourages more people to have this awesome experience.

You can see the container I use in the picture above. It really isn't tall enough when using the fennel, but it still worked. I purchased this at Walmart, but they should be available at any pet store.

I collect the caterpillars as soon as I spot them, (usually the first instar). This year I even started with eggs. Whatever plant I find them on, (parsley or fennel), that is the plant I keep available for them to eat. This year they liked the fennel best, (I only spotted one caterpillar on the parsley all summer). I snip the plant with the caterpillar on it and bring it inside. I have a really small single stem vase that I use, (large openings can cause the caterpillars to drown if they fall in). I place the host plant with the caterpillar on it in the vase. Every couple of days I wash the vase, refill it with water and replenish the food. I place the stem with the caterpillar on it back into the vase. It doesn't take long for it to crawl to the fresh food. I usually take this opportunity to clean out the container too. Caterpillars are prolific poopers and they make quite a mess. Right about the time you think they are too messy and too much trouble is about the time they are getting ready to become a chrysalis, so don't give up, the worst part is almost over.

I had to leave the top of the container open a few times because the fennel was too tall, one day the caterpillar was very restless and I found it crawling on the microwave. I knew it was looking for something to attach to. I picked it up and placed it back on the fennel, closed the lid, and went outside to collect a few small twigs to place in the container. Within minutes it found its way to the stick. Usually I don't wait that long before placing twigs in the container. The caterpillars need something firm to attach too, usually it is a stick, however this year one of them attached to the top of the container.

This is the easy part. Once in the chrysalis stage there is nothing to do but wait for the butterfly to emerge. For me it usually takes anywhere from ten days to several weeks for this to happen. I try to keep the container in a place where I can check it often, (usually the kitchen). As soon as the butterfly emerges and the wings dry a bit, I take it outside and place it on a flower that is popular with the black swallowtails. Of course there is usually a photo session involved.

That is all there is to it. So easy to do and the experience is priceless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Magnificent Metamorphosis

For several years now I've planted parsley for the sole purpose of attracting the black swallowtail butterfly to my gardens. This year I added fennel which they seemed to prefer over the parsley.

I think the birds must be eating the caterpillars because I see them for a couple of days and then they are gone. It is alarming to me the odds these creatures face. I guess that is part of the reason I am in awe whenever I see a butterfly in my garden.

Each year I bring a few into the house to watch this amazing metamorphosis up close.

I was beginning to wonder if these two were going to emerge this summer.

It is so fascinating to me that the chrysalis can be different colors.

After they emerge from the chrysalis, I remove them from the container, get a few pictures, and let them go. Amazing!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

September Garden Blogger Bloom Day

The most beautiful flowers here at Robin's Nesting Place, during the month of September, are the ones adorned by the butterflies. This little beauty is on the lantana. I have several different colors of lantana but the pink has always been my favorite and is also the best performer for me.

As the blooms fade on the butterfly bush, the mums take over and dominate the show.

I can't remember if this cosmos is "Picotee" or "Candy Stripe" but I have really enjoyed it. I plan to collect the seeds and hopefully grow more of it next year.

This is one of the Blanketflower that was wintersown. It really hasn't done very well this year but hopefully next year it will be larger and have more blooms.

I have enjoyed the combination of Russian sage, lambs ear and dusty miller again this year. The carpet rose and the knockout roses are still blooming. As is the Russian sage. For some reason, the 'May Night' salvia has had a dismal year. Last year it was beautiful all summer long, this year they all looked as though they were diseased. I wonder if it is due to the wet spring we had.

I love this color of zinnia!

I have several groupings of zinnias around the back yard. Some did well and others were a flop. I need to do a zinnia post to remind myself of what not to sow next summer.

Several weeks ago the 'Purple Wave' petunias were looking pretty bad. I cut them all the way down to about an inch or two and they quickly grew back. I'll definitely grow these from seed again. There is nothing easier to grow from seed that gives a great display of color all spring and summer long than the wave petunia.

The front flower bed has filled out nicely with the impatiens. The coleus seeds from the front porch planters must have blown into the bed because now I have a lot of little coleus growing with the impatiens.

I have quite a few grasses and they are all in bloom right now. I have two of these near the kitchen window and I love when the sun is shining on them, the feathery plumes just glisten in the sunlight.

Here is the list of what is blooming:

Gerbera Daisies
Purple Wave Petunia
Verbena bonariensis
Carpet Rose
Knockout roses
Russian Sage
Anise Hyssop 'Golden Jubilee'
Black-eyed Susans
Blanket Flower
Butterfly bush

Hopefully things will settle down for me and I'll be on time for next months Garden Blogger Bloom Day, hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Late Summer Blooms, Bunnies and Bugs

It is definitely beginning to feel like autumn. The leaves are already beginning to turn on some of the maple trees.

It is so nice to have the windows open and the fresh air coming in. I love this time of year! The cosmos and zinnias are beautiful...

painted lady butterflies are all over the verbena.

Of course, not everything is wonderful; there are late summer pest too. Just like last year, the praying mantis are trying to catch the hummingbirds. I knocked this one off the feeder three times. Each time he climbed back into position, and would swipe at the hummingbirds while they drank. Thankfully they were quicker than the mantis.

I'm seeing a lot of grasshoppers too.

While watching the butterflies and hummingbirds, I saw this little rabbit next to the house in the butterfly garden. It was so small and so cute. I wish they weren't so destructive. I sure hope it doesn't take up residence here this winter and eat the rest of my burning bush. They feasted off them all winter and are still working on the smallest one. I definitely need to somehow cover them this winter.

I love zinnias...

especially close up! They are so interesting and beautiful!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Eating out of My Hands

I cleaned and refilled my three hummingbird feeders this morning. As I stepped on the patio with the third feeder I decided to stand there for a few minutes just to see if by chance a hummingbird would drink from the feeder as I held it. Sure enough, within seconds I had a brave hummingbird right in my face checking me out. I could feel the breeze on my face from the wings as it hovered a few inches away from my eyes. I guess I passed the test because it lit right on my feeder as I held it and drank the fresh nectar.

What a thrill! I had read that they would do this but had never been successful the few times before when I tried. I was so excited that I nearly cried with joy at this awesome pleasure.

I stayed on the patio and watched them for about an hour. They have obviously gotten used to me, because I was standing right in front of the smallest feeder and they still came.

Before I went back inside, I wanted to try one more time to see if I could get them to eat from my hands and this time I wanted to get a picture of it. I put the camera strap around my neck, flipped up the LCD screen so I could see, held out the feeder, and waited, trying not to move a muscle. They were zipping all around me fighting over their turf. I stood there breathless just knowing any second one of them would light on it, then my camera battery went dead. So frustrating.

Oh well, maybe tomorrow they will drink from me again and I can capture the moment with a picture.

I never tire of seeing these amazing creatures. They are so fascinating!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

It has been very hot and humid for the last few days. We finally received some much needed rain last evening, for that I am very thankful. There were just spotty showers in the area and we were the blessed recipients.

I was glad for the rain, but I was in the midst of a neighborhood project, and really wanted to finish it last night. I looked at the radar and it didn't look like much rain in the area. We had just started planting when the rain started back up. I thought it wouldn't last too long so we continued in spite of the downpour. My husband and I were completely soaked and our work came to a screeching halt when it began lightening.

I finished the project this morning in spite of the heat and humidity. I didn't think I would ever cool down when I came back inside. It has been a long time since I've overheated like that. I was just bound and determined to finish it today.

We did a complete overhaul of our neighborhood median. The three trees that were in the median had been dead for a while. Our entrance has lacked color and was never landscaped particularly well. It has been a fun project and so far the neighbors seem to be very pleased with the new look. Many have stopped on their way in or out of the neighborhood to express their gratitude, one neighbor even brought me a bottle of water on her way out today. It has taken a lot of my time and energy to do this project but it has been very rewarding.

Now I have just a few more things to do to the sides of the entrance and we will have more color and nicer look for a fraction of the cost to our homeowners. We had a bid for all three sections and the total was $5637.49. The median bid alone was $1800 and that didn't include the removal or replacement of the dead trees.

I've spent about $1000 on plants and soil amendments. I love buying plants and it was so much fun to shop the different nurseries in the area and spend someone else's money!

Once it's mulched I'll have to take some pictures of the project. I wish I had thought to get before and after shots.

Enough about the neighborhood project. Here at Robin's Nesting Place only the hardiest of plants are looking good. It has been so dry and hot that many of my plants are looking a little ragged. I have a lot of sunflower's blooming and the grasses look so pretty with their plumes.

We are so very thankful that New Orleans was spared the worst from Gustav. My husband's brother lives there and we feared that he might be displaced again. He lived with us for several months after Katrina. He has often talked about the stress of living around the aftermath of Katrina. It has taken so long to rebuild and a lot of people are just worn out and depressed. They sure don't need more to cope with. We hope he finds everything alright when he returns home.