Carrots and Black Swallowtail butterflies are very connected in a way that I never knew about. Late last summer, I learned why there is a good second reason to grow carrots (check out last post) besides just to harvest carrots. This happened totally in a serendipitous way. I was sitting on my porch where the planter is and a Black Swallowtail butterfly kept landing on the carrots leaves. He would land on one, stay a minute and then flit away and then come back and land on another. He kept doing this.
What is this about Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies??
When I examined a leaf, lo and behold there was a tiny butterfly egg on it. You can see the little white ball on the leaf! So I guess it was no “he” but a she and she was laying plenty of eggs!! Wow this was exciting!! I didn’t know that carrots were a host plant for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. Host plants include dill, celery, parsley, Queen Ann’s lace, wild carrot, anise and parsnips and I guess regular carrots though they weren’t listed in Wikipedia. So here we were with lots of Black Swallowtail eggs on our carrot plants. Hmm… Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies who would have imagined!! I knew about Monarchs and Milkweed which I had growing in another part of my garden but I didn’t know that carrots were a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies. What a wonderful way to find out!! Live and learn all the time!!
Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies Continued!
So I started keeping an eye on all these eggs that this butterfly laid. Small little black furry caterpillars emerged. They were so small at first, they were barely noticeable. Then they started eating the carrot foliage. It wasn’t so bad at first. But then there were a lot of them and they got bigger and bigger. There are different stages of caterpillars for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. At first they look totally different than what they end up being. Not like the Monarch caterpillar that maintains its same look throughout the caterpillar transformations. At first they are black and furry and then they end up being very smooth and colorful. There are pictures of all the instar larval stages at this link for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
I was starting to get a little upset because these caterpillars were just going to town on the carrot leaves. I could see that there would be none left. So you can see from the picture on the left that I was correct. Then I thought that they would probably grow back (which they eventually did). I fantasized about bringing some caterpillars in the house to protect them from predators but I didn’t know if I had enough carrot leaves to feed them. I also thought if I pick carrot leaves to feed them in the house the leaves would die quickly, they are rather delicate.Then they would have nothing to eat. Carrot leaves are not like milkweed leaves. Milkweed leaves last for a few days after you pick them. In the end it all worked out. The caterpillars had enough to eat. They all left when it was time to make their chrysalis. One caterpillar crawled up on our porch brick wall and made a chrysalis. It is still there.
I read that if they make a chrysalis in late summer they will overwinter and emerge in the spring. So I am waiting….. Here is a pic of the chrysalis. If you look very closely you can see the silk that is attaching it to the wall. I hope that I get to see this butterfly emerge.
So as you can see growing carrots was a great experience in more ways than one. We did harvest nice, fat carrots and we got lots of Black Swallowtail caterpillars to watch. It was a great learning adventure! I will definitely plant more carrots this year for us and the butterflies!!
Grow carrots this year! It is a great kid’s project for two different reasons. I would recommend growing them in a planter or a raised bed to get started. The reason is this, carrots love to grow in loose, crumbly soil as they grow their roots long into the ground. Of course, some carrots are short and stubby like the Chantenay carrot. These would have a better chance at growing well in heavy soil. So I recommend getting started with a planter if you are new to gardening. And I recommend the Chantenay carrot. It is sweet and grows nice and fat! Here is a picture of the carrot leaves so you can see how they look.
Grow Carrots in a Container
My planter is 16 inches square giving a growing area of 1.8 square feet. I have about 12 inches of potting soil in my planter. So the idea is not to grow a ton of carrots but to grow them for the learning experience.
I sprinkled the seeds on the soil and then covered them with a little bit of soil. Carrot seeds are really small so it is easy to plant a lot at a time. Don’t worry though because you can thin them out later. Carrots take a while to germinate 14-21 days. My father has a favorite trick when he plants carrots. He plants them with radishes. He plants both sets of seeds right into the soil in his garden. Radishes germinate and grow very quickly. He feels that the radishes mark where the carrots have been planted because they germinate so quickly. And as the radishes grow they loosen up the soil a little to make way for the carrots to grow. When you pull the radishes they leave space for the carrots to fill up. So try planting radishes in the planter along with the carrots. I worked on a volunteer project at an inner city elementary school. I could see the delight in the children’s faces when they pulled up radishes and got this beautiful red globe that they had planted from seed.
Make Sure You Thin the Carrots
When the carrots are about 4-5 inches high start thinning them out. You have to be brutal for this–rippping out young promising plants. If you don’t do it the carrots won’t grow properly and become fat. They won’t have enough room. You can put the discarded plants into your compost pile! Carrots need room to grow so you have to make sure they have the room. Carrots take a long time to mature–about 3 months. Here is picture of a carrot before I pulled it out. You can see that it looks nice and fat. More on Growing Carrots.
So I mentioned that to grow carrots is good for two different reasons. Check my next post on Carrots and the Black Swallowtail Butterfly to learn about the second reason!
Click on this picture to order seeds!
These bush leaves emerged in winter! We had several days that are just like spring in December–maybe a little warmer than the spring. We had temperatures in the mid seventies. This is all very strange. These leaves in the picture emerged at this time and have already been through a few nights with temperatures in the teens and so far they look fine. Lots of my daffodil bulbs are coming up. Some are 5-6 inches high but most are about 3 inches high. So far the leaves have not been damaged by the frosts. (Update May 2016: They were actually damaged. The frost killed the tips of the leaves and turned them brown. The daffodil flowers bloomed beautifully.) Last year we had temperatures at 0 degrees, The daffodils that were already growing only had a little damage right on the tips. They grew fine in the spring.
I am noticing that some buds are getting ready to bloom. Here is a picture of a bush near where I work and the buds are becoming very pronounced. Some have already bloomed into leaves as you can see in the picture above. I always worry when this happens. Is Spring going to arrive and all the buds are dead because they have been frozen??? They get tricked into growing because the weather is warm and then BAM! we have these very cold nights where they could totally freeze.
What Happens When Bush Leaves Emerged in Winter
I never know what happens to these buds and leaves. The truth is that we didn’t used to have such cold winters as last year. I don’t remember a winter when we had a lot of nights at 0 degrees. In fact, I don’t remember the temperature reaching such a low temperature. So now that I have pictures of these leaves and buds, I am going to watch them over the winter. I’ll be watching to see if they make it to spring alive and well. Then I will post what happens. Maybe these plants are programmed to survive these low temperatures even if they emerge too early. Here is the update for what happened to these leaves: Frost Kills New Leaves.
I have one more picture of an unusual occurrence. We were out walking December 28th and lo and behold, we see flowers blooming! We saw several chicory flowers that were beautiful but way out of season. It was really delightful to see this in December. Since then it has gotten very cold. I looked at the leaves in the picture above today. They are still fine. I will post again in the spring about how they survive.