Monday, June 19, 2017

In a Vase on Monday: A Milkweed Bouquet

I didn't intend to put together a bouquet today, although there are plenty of flowers in bloom out in the garden. All I was doing was feeding my monarchs.

Monarch egg on swamp milkweed.

Right now, I've got a dozen monarchs that I'm raising in the house. I found 11 eggs on various types of milkweed in my garden, and one teeny tiny caterpillar that had just hatched out that day. I don't usually raise them this early in the season, but when I saw the eggs and thought about all that could go wrong if I didn't, I just couldn't leave them out there.

Newly hatched!

We're well past that infant stage now, in fact, two of them are now chrysalides, as of Sunday afternoon. That means that the ten remaining caterpillars are eating voraciously and I'd better keep up with supplying milkweed, or else.

So that's what I was doing, going through my garden and cutting milkweed to bring in for them to eat. I decided I would cut four different kinds: common, swamp, butterfly weed, and whorled. The eggs were found on common, swamp and yet another kind I'm growing - poke milkweed. But hey, they'll eat any of it.

When I put the milkweed in water, in a little vase, and was ready to put it in the terrarium I use for raising them, I thought, "Wow, that's kind of a cool little arrangement." That's why you're looking at a photo of my monarchs' breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The wispy one is whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), the yellow-flowering one is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa 'Hello Yellow'), and the other narrow-leaved one is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  In this photo, it's difficult to tell the difference between the foliage of the latter two, but in real life, butterfly weed has rather hairy or fuzzy leaves, whereas swamp milkweed's leaves are smooth.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has been named Perennial Plant of the Year
for 2017 by the Perennial Plant Association. It's usually seen with orange blooms.
This one is 'Hello Yellow'.

All three milkweeds are native to Ohio and many other parts of the country. It's highly recommended that you grow what's native to your area and I give you all the information you need to make those good choices in my book, THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly.

It's appropriate that my bouquet is made of milkweed this week especially, since it's National Pollinator Week. And tomorrow, Tuesday, June 20th, I'll be a guest on Twitter's #plantchat, talking about monarchs and my new book. It starts at 2:00 Eastern, so be sure to join in!


* "In a Vase on Monday " is a blogging meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Book Review

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I'm sort of a bug nerd. I wear that moniker proudly, because insects are some of the most fascinating things ever to roam the earth. Once you start looking at them - really looking at them - you'll see what I mean.

They're bizarre, some of them. Endearing, others. They all have a reason for being here, and it's not to annoy you either. In fact, most of them are doing good things for us and you'd do well to give them the respect they deserve.
Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden won an
American Horticulture Society Award in 2015.

A good place to start to learn more about them and the role they play in our world, and specifically our gardens, is with Jessica Walliser's book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control. I know Jessica personally, a result of being a fellow garden writer and being with her at various gardening events. This girl knows her stuff.

I'm the sort of person who likes knowing all about something, right down to the obscure. Jessica's book satisfies that curiosity in me.

One of my favorite photos in the book is this one, of a lacewing egg.

So you think it's strange to want to attract bugs to your garden? While nature has some gruesome aspects to it, for the most part, it's a wonderful plan and Jessica shows us how we can help make it all work together for good.

Integrated pest management involves organic methods of controlling the insect population in our gardens by encouraging beneficial insects to take up residence there and keep the less desirable ones under control. Will it give you perfect plants with no insect damage? No, but there are ways to put nature to work for you.

Jessica gives us 19 beneficial insect profiles, 39 plant profiles for attracting them, and insectary garden plans to help get you started. She provides a couple of citizen science opportunities for you to participate in as well.

If you've been gardening for any length of time, you realize what a futile effort it is to try to keep them away, so why not try and attract the ones that will work for you? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It's really the best way.

Jessica Walliser co-hosts The Organic Gardeners on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has written four other gardening books, including her newest, which will be released later this year. Learn more about Jessica and her work at


Container Gardening Complete: Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces(October 1, 2017)

Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who's Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically

A Gardener's Notebook: Life With My Garden
(co-authored with Doug Oster)

Grow Organic: Over 250 Tips and Ideas for Growing Flowers, Veggies,  Lawns and More
(co-authored with Doug Oster)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pussytoes and American Ladies in the Butterfly Garden

You might think it's all about the monarchs here at Our Little Acre, and it is, for the most part, but monarchs aren't the only butterflies that call our yard home. For several years now, we've monitored the reproduction of both Eastern black swallowtails and American ladies.

I raised this Eastern black swallowtail butterfly from a caterpillar in my house.

The Eastern black swallowtails are all over the bronze fennel we grow, for most of the summer, laying eggs, chowing down, and becoming adult butterflies. I've also found them on my carrot tops and when I grow parsley and dill, they make use of those plants, too.

The other butterfly that we see lay eggs here is the American lady (Vanessa cardui). It's often confused with the painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other, especially when they're in flight.

If you can get close enough to see them with their wings open, the easiest way to tell the difference is to look for the presence of a tiny white spot on the upper wings. If it's there, you're looking at an American lady. If it's not, it's probably a painted lady. (I say probably, because apparently, now and then, American ladies are missing the dot, too.)  I've only ever seen American ladies here, although painted ladies are probably are probably present here as well.

In late April, I was doing some weeding in the garden and was witness to an American lady ovipositing (laying eggs) on my Antennaria plantaginifolia, more commonly known as pussytoes. I've grown this plant for years and unlike milkweed, I didn't plant it for the purpose of providing a host plant for butterflies. I just liked the name and the looks of the plant.

Antennaria is a bluish groundcover that throws up six-inch stems with small
clusters of flowers at the top. The flowers can be white or pink.

A female American lady butterfly laid eggs in the centers of two of the
fuzzy Antennaria leaves.

After the female lays an egg, a few days later, the tiny caterpillar will hatch out. It will use its spinneret to wrap itself up in a leaf with silk for protection when it isn't out and about, eating its host plant. This is usually the way you can know if there are caterpillars present, as they tend to only feed on cloudy days or at night.

Soon, you'll see larger caterpillars moving around on the leaves, still eating and preparing to pupate. I've never found a chrysalis in the garden, but they're masters at camouflaging them. Colors can vary from brown to green, according to their surroundings, and like the monarchs, they crawl away from their host plant to find a place to pupate.

Last year, I had Helichrysum petiolare 'Lemon Licorice' in my front flower boxes. American lady butterflies made use of that as a host plant too. Other plants they use include pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and some everlasting plants that are also known as cudweed (Gamochaeta spp.)

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