Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

So I successfully kept 13 monarch caterpillars which turned into monarch butterflies. 
Monarch butterfly just after emergence.  The abdomen pulses and fills the wings with fluid.

I decided to try gulf fritillaries - one of which I accidentally smushed between the screen and edge of the tupperware container one day when I was changing the food for the remaining caterpillars (which included an additional 5 monarch caterpillars and another gulf fritillary).  The remaining fritillary went into chrysalis, which was fine and dandy, but the silk holder thingy isn't as copious as the monarch ones and so as I was trying to move it to the "hatching cage," it wouldn't stick to the pin and I had to tie it up with thread.  So we'll have to see if it works.

Then I started having problems with the monarch caterpillars; they did okay until it was time to pupate. The first one didn't form a proper chrysalis - it was fully chrysalized, but it was like it was only half formed.  The bottom half looked normal, but the top half, while chrysalized, looked just like a caterpillar encased in a green case.

The second caterpillar only half chrysalized.  The third decided to attach to the side of the tupperware instead of from the screen on top, so I've left it in place and moved the entire tupperware to the hatching cage (it may or may not make it to hatching - I've read that when they have a flat side in their chrysalis that it means the butterfly will likely be deformed).  The fourth, thankfully, formed a normal chrysalis on the screen (which I have since moved to the hatching cage with a straight pin).  The fifth, I put in a mini-hatching container made out of one of the large yogurt containers.  The hatching container is good for hatching, but the poor thing won't be able to fly in it, so I obviously have to pay attention and let the butterfly out shortly after it hatches.

I noticed that my fennel plant had a bunch of eastern black swallowtail caterpillars on it, so I decided to try them as well - now with those I'll have to add some sticks to the containers so they can attach properly since they end up at a 45 degree angle from whatever they attach to.

Swallowtails are cool because when the caterpillars are in the first 2 instars, they look like this:

By the 4th instar, they look like this (though admittedly the one in the foreground is more black than I'm used to seeing):

And of course, lest I think that I just suck at this, and the cats in the wild do better, here is a photo of a poor fritillary butterfly that didn't make it fully out of its chrysalis.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


As I've mentioned before, Bob at Draco Metal Works (and who also occasionally blogs at Gardening at Draco), is an awesome welder who makes some great stuff.  I have some of his other stuff - wall planters, pots, garden art, and some very basic trellises.  So it wasn't a surprise when I decided I needed some more decorative trellises that I called up Bob.  As with all my other "hey, I gotta a job for you" type projects, I just emailed Bob and told him that I needed triptych-style trellises to go by my front walk.  This is what he came up with:

I, in short, LOVE THEM.  I can't wait for the passionvine to recover and wend its way up the trellises.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

All Hail the Monarchs (round 4)

Hatching day!

And how does one tell that hatching is immanent? The chrysalises look like this:

7 of the monarchs hatched on Sunday between 9 am and 2 pm.  Another 2 emerged within a few hours after that.  In the picture below, you can tell that the butterfly in the background has just recently emerged because its wings are all scrunched up, after another 15 minutes or so, the wings were completely unfurled and it looked like the one in the foreground.  Because the weather was not ideal for butterfly release, I pushed the release to Monday...and then it was pouring on Monday so I had to wait until Tuesday.  Of course, the problem with keeping butterflies for a few days is that they do need to eat - they won't need food the first 24 hours or so, but after that, you should place a sponge soaked in sugar water in the cage (I used hummingbird mix ratios - 1 part sugar, 4 parts water).  Tuesday morning was bright, and a bit chilly, but all in all a good day for butterfly release.  I managed to reach into the cage and pull out the cup (which still has 5 chrysalises on it), and the sponge and then walked outside with the covered cage.

I pulled off the top with a flourish.  And the butterflies just sat there.  Hunh.  I guess it was early, and still a little chilly.  So I waited, and carefully picked up some of them and put them on the zexmenia flowers.  Most hung out for a little bit before flying up to sun themselves on the red tipped photinia.  An hour or so later, they were all flitting about the yard.

Be well my little monarch friends, be sure to mate lots and lay lots of eggs.  Bring those butterflies back!

Update: Shawn mowed the lawn this evening (Wednesday - and just after I released another 3 butterflies) and told me that he's pretty sure he mowed over a monarch butterfly.  sigh.  I save them, he kills them.  Wonderfu.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bloom Day October 2014

There are lots of plants blooming right now...some of which I take for granted because they bloom relatively consistently (zexmenia), or I've gotten used to them blooming around now (gomphrena, Gregg's mistflower)...  Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for getting me to at least occasionally to look at the blooming plants and appreciate them.

Anyway, what I've taken pictures of this month:
Fall Aster with Gomphrena
A rose bush from one of my friends, Andrea from when she moved to West Virginia.  I just found the little tag buried in the pot yesterday, but I don't remember what it's called...something that basically means that the flowers change colors as they mature, or that the plant had 2 different roses grafted to it so it blooms in two different colors...I'm not sure.  Research is needed.
Caldwell Pink heirloom rose.  With some Big Muhly seed heads.  Such a hardy little rose this.

Cosmos and Giant Petunia.  The Petunia may be Carolina Petunia (if the plants at the Key West Botanic Garden are any indication...which they may have also been mislabeled, so I guess I'll never know).  Again, I suppose more research is in order...unless any of you out there are petunia experts.

And of course, since it's so rare to have my roses blooming, I went ahead and cut them off and brought them in the house (besides, it's also the only way I'll have flowers in the house).
My new garden gnome keeps watch over the roses.

From a different angle

Looking up at the Caldwell pinks.

October 2014 Wide Angles

Damn.  Only 16 days I suppose that means that you should be looking for Bloom Pics around the 1st, and Foliage pics on the 2nd.  Anyway, thanks to Heather at Xericstyle for hosting.

The Front yard as a whole:

The Rose Bed...which should probably just be called the Zexmenia bed...except that I'm going to pull out some of the larger plants and put a Firecracker Bush out here, too...

The Hell Strip.  I'm currently loving the Fall Aster...which I completely forgot that I had planted.

Walking up to the front door.  The passionvine was starting to wind it's way up the trellises, but then the gulf fritillaries ate off all the leaves (it happens twice a year).  Oh! I 'saved' some fritillary caterpillars when I was cleaning up passionvine around the yard (because damn that plant spreads by runners), so I will have to do a post about them.  Also, the Gregg's mistflower and the artemisia are starting to really fade in this area...I think they're just getting too much shade from the pistache.

Around the side to the gate...where the Turk's Cap has gone crazy.

From the Rain Barrel:

From the back door:

From the other side of the deck (by the bedroom window)
The white flowers in the foreground are unscented plumeria
I tried to get a picture of the garden...but the cosmos are crazy again.  So really it's just more like a cosmo photobomb.  I have since pulled out the Purple Cherokee tomato plant because a tomato horn worm ate off all the leaves.  And I really should probably pull out the eggplants, and maybe some of the peppers so I can start the fall garden.  It's just so tough when I have no idea how long I have until the plants won't produce anything anyway (I know the average frost date is like December 6, with a likely first frost date of November 15, so I should probably look into what I could conceivably get from the current plants [tomato, pepper, and eggplant]).
5' tall cosmos.  Because they're on steroids or something.

And the world photo can be found here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

All Hail the Monarchs (Round 3)

Based on what you, the readers, wanted, I have done more monarch posts.

So, when we last left off, I had created the "chrysalis cage."  All those caterpillars started to pupate, but then so did the remaining ' their 'definitely not big enough for them to actually get out of their chrysalis' cages. Most of the caterpillars I caught while they were starting to make their little silk mats to hang from, and rather than stress them out by moving them after they had gotten their little minds in the mood by making their mats, I left them to chrysalise (not a real word) on the screen.  I probably could have moved them at the 'just starting to create a silk mat' stage, but you definitely do not move them once they've hit the 'hanging out in J' stage.

Of course, letting them go to chrysalis in their little cages meant was that I would have to transfer the chrysalises to the pupating cage before they actually hatched.  After having 12 caterpillars go into chrysalis without me seeing it, I finally caught the last one in mid-change:

Of course, you can't really see it all that well in a still photo, but it was really weird because it still all pulses and everything until it completely wiggles out of it's old skin.  It will take about another 24 hours for the shell to harden completely before I could move it into the chrysalis cage.  It should also be noted that in order to get this photo, my husband had to hold the screen up while I took a photo with my phone.  We whispered the entire time because that's obviously what one does when watching a caterpillar begin its pupating phase - you whisper.  The best part was while we're taking this photo, Shawn even whispered, "why are we whispering?"

So a few days after the last cat began to pupate, I started Operation: Move Chrysalis.

You can kinda see the extent of the silk mats in the photo above - they go out just a scosh past the width of the chrysalis.  So the trick in moving them is to get the mat detached from the screen without dropping the chrysalises on the table.  Surprisingly a pretty easy task when you have the correct tools (i.e. a straight pin). Of course, since I needed two hands to do the process, I didn't get a photo of it, but I basically just took the pin and pried at the silk which is surprisingly strong, and sticky, so all I had to do was press the silk together around the pin after I got the chrysalis off the screen.  After getting the chrysalis off the screen, I stuck the pin in a branch I put in an old Thundercloud Subs cup with a rock in it for balance.

Pictures don't do the chrysalises justice - the yellow is actually sparkly gold, and the green is a consistent clear green color.

I then moved the cup into the chrysalis cage, so all my pupating butterflies are together.  It's a little tight (especially for 13 chrysalises, and the resultant 13 butterflies); but hopefully not all the chrysalises will hatch at the same time - though I suppose they could since monarchs pupate from between 10 to 14 days.

Stay tuned; next time we talk about monarchs it will be hatching day.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Support your Independent Nursery Month: Barton Springs Nursery

Welcome to October: Support your Independent Nursery Month.  Pam at Digging started SIN Month a few years ago to show all the benefits of going to an independently owned garden center as opposed to a big-box store.  Some years there are even drawings and give-aways.  I'm not sure what's on the agenda for this year (as to whether there are any give-aways or not), but I figured I'd go ahead and start blogging about the local garden centers in case you're new to town and want to get a start on fall planting.

I, personally, like going to the big box stores in order to ask them for things I know they won't Milkweed.  Milkweed is quickly becoming the most sought after butterfly plant, and big box stores just don't carry it.  A HUGE oversight on their part.  But if you keep going in and asking for it, in theory, they'll eventually carry it.  Of course, I think it would help if the Grow Green folks added a "Butterfly Host Plants" section to their guide since I know the big box stores by my house hand out that guide, and try to carry a decent selection of the plants in that guide.  And I'm sure I have an inside track on this since I WORK WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE GUIDE.'d think that I'd have brilliant ideas like this more frequently, but alas and alack, I do not.  [10 minutes later] Okay, I checked the guide, they do have "Mexican milkweed" as a recommended plant for the Austin area.  But I still think they should have a little section on Butterfly host plants (much like they have a section on rain gardens).

Back to the issue at hand:
But you know who DOES carry milkweed?  Your independent garden center.

They also have things right now like strawberries.  Which you should plant now, not in January.

They also have garlic because now's the time to plant.

Anyhow, the garden center I'm highlighting this week is Barton Springs Nursery.  BSN (as those of us in the Biz call it) is a quick jog from my office - I work at Barton Springs and Riverside.  BSN is located on Bee Caves west of Walsh Tarlton and is usually quick and easy to get to (unless you're dealing with ACL I'm really glad I decided to go there today at lunch instead of tomorrow at lunch).  The Wild Birds Unlimited which used to be in the shopping center at Walsh Tarlton recently (like earlier this year) moved to the building adjacent to BSN, so now you can get all your plant and bird needs met with one trip.

Of course, I forgot that this is SIN Month, so I didn't take any photos while I was there...but I've highlighted them before (also no photos...damn).

Anyhow, my goal for today was to find more milkweed plants.  My "Hairy Balls" plant I had through the spring and summer died and while I did just plant some plants in that area, I figure having additional milkweed isn't a bad thing*.  Especially since I'm currently raising monarch caterpillars in the house and they eat a crap-ton of leaves.  I found 4" pots and gallon-sized pots.  Since I was looking for more leaves over more plants, I went with the gallon sized.  Because it is a garden center which is in the business of trying to sell plants, they pick all the caterpillars off of their "for sale" plants and put them on their plants they have in the back which aren't for sale.  Unfortunately, they had too many caterpillars and not enough plants, as in their plants were completely denuded, so they had 5th instar monarch caterpillars free to a good home.  And that is how, even though I specifically got the plants to feed the ones I already had at home, I ended up with 3 more caterpillars to add to my menagerie.

*(aside: you have no idea how worried I was when I typed in "hairy balls plant" in the Google machine)

Thursday, October 9, 2014


It's always great when you wake up to this:

And then I started assessing the damage...

So, my new blue bonsai planter which was full of succulents is totally smashed...but I also had a green pot and one of my owl pots that my cousin made.

Thankfully, my owl pot was unscathed.

And the green pot is unscathed, but the agave needed some help.

The only clue I have as to what happened comes from this:

From the Feather Atlas, this is likely a screech owl feather.  Now then, a screech owl probably isn't big enough to knock over the little table, but a cat trying to go for the owl might be.

Monday, October 6, 2014

All Hail the Monarchs (round 2)

2nd, 3rd and 4th; or 3rd, 4th, and 5th Monarch Instars

So this last Saturday I went outside to do my normal garden walk about (mostly to check on the veggies to see if they needed water), and I came across a caterpillar on the milkweed.  So I went and grabbed my phone to research whether it was a Monarch caterpillar or a Queen caterpillar.  2 sets of antennae looking things...Monarch!  huzzah!  and then I noticed another one, and another one and so on and so forth and I'm sure at some point I went from ecstatic to forlorn and defeated because the survival rate of monarchs in the wild in caterpillar stage is about 10% (per the presentation from Chuck at the Monarch Appreciation dealie at Zilker in mid-September).  And so I decided I needed to help the caterpillars.  But I didn't really know how - it looked like, based on MonarchWatch's website that I could make a caterpillar container out of Ziploc tupperware and an old screen I use to keep cats from digging in my garden after planting seeds.  I fashioned 5 containers of monarchs, 2 per container, and balanced the screen on top; then I found another later in the day, and two more the following day.  In the end I had 13 caterpillars, mostly all at the same stage, but with 2 at least one instar behind.

My containers are set up thusly:
  1. 1 tupperware-ish container approximately 3" deep.
  2. 1 wetted paper towel lightly squeezed
  3. 1 milkweed leaf per caterpillar in container
  4. 2 caterpillars per container, maximum of 3
  5. Ventilated covers (I just use an old window screen and cover all of the containers at once...this requires that all the containers are the same height in order to work, naturally)

Put the wet paper towel in the bottom - I open it up to cover the entire bottom so it catches all the catpoop.  Lay leaves on top.  Insert caterpillars. Replace the paper towel every day, replace leaves and add more leaves as needed.  The first day or so I got away with adding one leaf per caterpillar per day.  Around Monday morning I noticed that some of the containers were empty of food (I added fresh leaves Sunday night), so then I started adding one leaf per cat in the morning and one in the evening.  By Tuesday I was adding 2 leaves per cat twice a day.  Today (Thursday), I'm up to 3 leaves per cat twice a day.  But of course, most of them are in 5th instar stage so they should be pupating soon.

Pupating.  Crap.  Forgot about pupating.  Pupating in a tiny little not-super-deep container probably isn't the best.  This meant that I needed to come up with some way to allow the caterpillars to pupate and have space for emergence (enough space to allow them to hang upside down to get fluid into their wings and flap their wings about).  So I went to the good ol' Walmart (because I figured by Sunday that there was no way for me to find one of those fancy zippered butterfly cages in time for the pupating stage), and started looking for some of those screen food covers.  I didn't find any.  But I did find a 13" cube pop-up laundry baskets.  I then used some tulle and duct tape to fashion a top to the container, which attaches with clothes pins and safety pins.  Wednesday night I moved three of the tuperwares into it since those caterpillars are in 5th instar which means they should be pupating soon.

Of course, after going through this hassle, I found that I could have put my plethora of old yogurt containers to good use.  Oh well, maybe I'll do that for the next few caterpillars that are reaching the 5th instar stage to see which way works better.

Friday, October 3, 2014

All Hail the Monarchs

So a few weekends ago, I went to the Monarch Appreciation day at Zilker Botanical Gardens.  While I was there, I talked a bunch with the Austin chapter of Native Plant Society of Texas, I listened to two presentations about the plight of the Monarch butterflies (Monarch Waystations by Chuck Patterson, and Wildlife Austin Habitat Challenge for Pollinators by Meredith Gray), and I purchased plants with the proceeds going toward the the Monarch Watch and Xerces Society.  I also wandered around the various demonstration stuffs they had, such as this giant Monarch Bike:

The plants I purchased are Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Mealy Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea), Shrimp Plant (Justica brandegeeana), Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), Firebush (Hamelia patens), and Boneset (Ageratina wrightii/Eupatorium serotinem - as far as my research shows, these are the same plant?).  Or at least I THINK these are all the plants I bought because it was rainy when I bought them all and I put the plants outside on the deck after I got home so of course all the name stickers washed off. 

I any case, I planted the sage and the honeysuckle, and I have to find a place for the firebush since it's the normal sized one, not the "nana" variety.  The boneset and the shrimp plant will go over in the shady part of the yard, I just don't know precisely where...This is precisely why I have a plan.  But you can see how good I am about following plans...