A lot of people are talking about saving monarch caterpillars! We met someone on a walk in the country looking under milkweed leaves for caterpillars so she could take them home and raise them.
My New Job is Saving Monarch Caterpillars
Last year I planted Common Milkweed or Asclepias Syriaca. This year I have about 5 plants. I have been hoping to have Monarch eggs in my garden for a long time and this year, lo and behold we have Monarch caterpillars. I didn’t realize though, that my job would be saving Monarch caterpillars! This is how it happened! It was a very exciting day when I saw my first baby caterpillar. And then there were lots of them. They were so tiny. See at the bottom of the picture and notice the sized compared to my thumb!
I wasn’t sure if we had enough milkweed to feed all of them. I have read about several peoples’ experiences when they run out of milkweed and still have a lot of hungry caterpillars. One person got more milkweed from a nursery which was a disaster because the milkweed had been sprayed and all the caterpillars died. Another person found that the caterpillars will eat pumpkin and cucumbers, but only very fresh cucumbers!
Something is Eating the Monarch Caterpillars
Having enough milkweed was not the problem. It turned out that something was eating the baby caterpillars. I was seeing less and less of them so I took two into the house to protect them. We have a lot of American Goldfinches in our garden and I think they were the culprits. Mostly Goldfinches eat seeds but they feed caterpillars to their young so possibly they ate the caterpillars. I talked to a naturalist and he said the birds probably didn’t eat them but probably insects ate them. Luckily I did bring two in the house. (Update Mid October–We ended up raising and releasing twelve Monarch butterflies!) We kept them in a large fish bowl and fed them fresh milkweed leaves everyday. They are voracious eaters. One night they ran out of milkweed and the next morning one caterpillar was missing. I knew from my story about the caterpillar on the sage plant that we might find him. Sure enough he was crawling around on the floor looking for more milkweed!
In the end we had plenty of milkweed. I could have saved a few more caterpillars. They both made a chrysalis and we are waiting for them to emerge. When they stopped eating completely we put a few sticks into the fish bowl so they could use them to hang from for the chrysalis. They often stop eating for periods of time, It seems like they sleep for a while and then they start eating again. When they are interested in making a chrysalis they start climbing up the sticks.
Each year I am faced with the question, “Why Are Squash Plants Dying.” You would think that I would get it by now. I have picked off lots of squash bug eggs and captured lots of squash bug babies and adolescents. I just grab the whole leaf that they are on, cut the stem and cram them into a plastic bag before they can escape.
Not Noticing Why Are Squash Plants Dying
This year I thought that I had “caught” enough squash bug babies and adolescents and removed enough squash bug eggs. But I have been busy, visiting family and being out of town. I got back and looked at my garden and my squash patch is worse than it has ever been. I should have paid more attention and looked for more eggs and removed them.
Shocked by the Amount of Squash Bugs
As I am looking over my garden I see a nightmare. A squash leaf with a ton of little squash bugs on it–on the upper side of the leaf–like they are sunning themselves and relaxing because this gardener wasn’t paying attention!! There were even more than in this picture. They were scattered in different groups. Usually they are all hiding under the leaves. The eggs are under the leaves and I always have to pick up the leaves and look underneath to find the culprits. It was interesting because the minute I snapped the picture they started scurrying fast. Running away to hide. Here is more info on Squash Bugs.
I have written about this previously with more information on how to handle this problem:
You might want to read about the squash that I grow Tahitian Melon Winter Squash. It is very prolific and easy to grow producing very large winter squash that work great in pumpkin pies and squash soup. Last year I grew enough to last the whole winter stored in the basement.
Squash Bugs Eggs
As much as these squash bugs are a problem I was admiring the beauty of their eggs. They are very symmetrical and set out in an orderly fashion. They look like little bronze gems reflecting the sun in a beautiful way. The eggs are so pretty and the bugs are so ugly and destructive. So no compassion when you find some eggs. Get them out of your garden and protect your squash!
Rudbeckia Triloba is a great flower to fill out your garden. It is easy to grow and tolerates drought well. I just wrote a post on how I introduced it to my garden. And how I tried to figure out what was that small yellow flower like Rudbeckia growing in my garden.
Rudbeckia Triloba Gets So Tall
Since I said that it is annoying when it gets so tall that it falls over when it rains, I wanted to do an experiment with it. I took a picture of a clump of it in my backyard that was a total volunteer. The lawn guys conveniently never weed whacked it. Then I cut back half of it and made a beautiful bouquet. I forgot to mention in my last post that Rudbeckia Triloba makes stunning bouquets. I will post later in about a month how it rejuvenated if it does. I took pictures so I will be able to compare before and after. And I used a small clump of flowers that were totally separate so it would be obvious how they grow back. If it grows back that is a perfect solution to when the plant leans over after the wind and rain. Just chop it off and make an amazing bouquet, put the rest in the compost pile and wait for it to re-bloom. I will let you know what happens!
The Rudbeckia Triloba is constantly producing new flowers from the axils so I fully expect that my experiment will work out well. It is a naturalizing self-seeder that branches out at the leaf axils. It originated on the Prairies of the United States so it is one of our native plants. It should be cut back after the first frost. I haven’t seen birds eating the seeds in the winter like I see Gold Finches eating the Purple Coneflower seeds.
The flowers tend to wilt after being in a bouquet for 2 days. Add a little sugar and vinegar to the water and they will perk back up. They are really beautiful and will add a lot of joy to any environment. The great thing is that they are so prolific that you can pick lots of them and have them in your house all the time. Enjoy!
If you are interested in buying some plants check out Prairie Moon Nursery.