Tag Archives: garden

Pests to Pets: Swallowtail Butterfly Farm

It is a widely known (I hope) fact that Monarch Butterflies are in danger due to Milkweed annihilation. Letting Milkweed grow is a wonderful conscious step to remedy this problem. Milkweed makes pretty flowers and usually grows away from the garden in a flower bed or in a field as a weed.

Swallowtail butterfly, on the other hand, unlike the Monarch, feeds on the plants we actually cultivate in the garden: dill, parsley, carrots, rue etc. This is a significant difference, because this makes the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar a garden pest. And even though most gardeners know that butterflies are beneficial pollinators, as well as pretty to look at, dealing with their caterpillar damage may be frustrating. The problem worsens due to the fact that gardeners often do not identify the caterpillars correctly and simply destroy them.


Swallowtail butterflies start as little, individually laid pearl-shaped eggs, which turn into little spiky brown-black caterpillars with one white stripe, resembling bird droppings. The caterpillars shed their skin a few times and are most often seen in a green/black striped garb with yellow dots. They have little orange horns that pop out when threatened, which release a very stinky odor. In a few weeks of feeding, the caterpillars make a cocoon and in a few more weeks – butterflies emerge.


We have been raising Swallowtail butterflies for a few years now and release dozens of them out into the wild. We would like to encourage people to think Pet, not Pest. You can have your dill and let the butterfly caterpillars eat it too!

The easiest solution is to plant some extra dill/parsley away from the garden or on the side and let the caterpillars feed on their own patch. This will protect your main crop, but won’t protect the caterpillars, which often vanish in our garden due to high population of wild birds… So to save both, your garden plants and the caterpillars, a caterpillar farm is the answer. It is so incredibly easy to make and is fun, educational and beneficial to your garden!

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Transplanting onions

We have a very late start this spring, with frosts well into April! However, its time for first transplants of the year – our onions.

We are growing two heirloom types: Stuttgarter and Cortland. These are short-day varieties well suited for Northern gardeners, with pungent flavor and are THE BEST winter keepers. I will be planting around 200 onions to see whether this can satisfy our yearly demand. We have started the seedlings back in January, about 12 weeks before planned transplant. We seeded them in batches, roughly 50 per re-purposed square container in a soiless mixture of peat, perlite and vermiculite.

We prefer seedlings over onion sets because seeds are cheaper than sets and there is greater variety to select from. Also, seedlings, as well as direct seeding, produces onions that are better keepers than the ones grown from sets. However, we do prefer to start seeds indoors as opposed to direct seeding, because it ensures an earlier start, plus provides more control over the amount and the quality of the seedlings.

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Late winter and spring surprises

Our gardening this year was started by us trying to find our garden. Under of three feet of snow. Its a first for us.

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Another surprise this spring was finding a hidden nest of duck eggs in one of our planters under the tarp cover on our porch. We still have no idea how they snuck it in there and managed to continue laying for weeks without us noticing! Its never boring here with the critters. 🙂


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New Year, New Garden

It’s a new year, new garden and a new attempt to keep the updates regular. Let’s make this happen.

So, you know the feeling. That feeling that creeps up on you in the middle of dead winter – its time to start my seedlings! So despite the 3 foot-deep snow outside and the negative degrees (Fahrenheit!) – thanks Pennsylvania winter! – you dig out your gardening tools, connect the grow lights and try to breath light into the cold, gloomy garage or whichever room is going to serve as a greenhouse for the next few months.

And then – and then you get excited. Excited because you know that spring is coming and this time its going to be better than ever. Because this time you have the added experience of the last year, the information from all those articles you read and a brand, grand new plan.

So, middle of January, onion seeds can go in, a few weeks later (beginning of February) its your cabbage family: broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts; tomatoes, peppers, maybe a few basils or other herbs you may wish to start early. And now you are all set – to watch the snow melt outside (it will, I promise) as your seedlings grow inside.

I make my own grow mix from equal parts of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. Moisten the mixture in a bucket for at least a day and put in small containers into the makeshift green house we made inside.


For the green house we used an industrial shelving unit form Lowe’s ($70-80), to which we retrofitted T5 grow lights (best price I found is here: http://www.thelashop.com/fluorescent-grow-light/) and covered the sides with mylar space blankets to reflect the light in all direction and keep it warm and moist. So far we love this setup – plus the shelving may be used for many other things once there are no seedlings!

The only problem I have been having with my seedlings (second year now) are thrips. They may be in the peat that I am using or literally coming from thin air, but just can’t quite figure out how to get rid of them for good.
I am currently trying neem oil spray on the seedling leaves and top of the soil (1 tsp per 2 cups water) we will see how it works. If anyone has any suggestions – let me know about your experiences!

We also are growing lettuce and spinach in our cedar container along with the seedlings and already harvested a decent amount for dinner! Such a treat in the middle of dead winter.

What and when are you starting for your grow season? Let me know!


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In the garden: June

It’s amazing to realize its been a month since i took you on a visual tour around the garden! I personally survey it every morning and afternoon and am amazed at all the changed that happen on daily basis to all the plants. Nature is truly a marvelous thing.

Peas came in well this year, with the first batch being done and second ripening close behind. And not counting all the wonderful greens (lettuce, kale, spinach, parsley, dill, mustard greens and radishes) the next exciting big thing we are looking forward to are the potatoes, which have been now twice hilled (or in our case, “filled”) and are starting to flower.

We have also been overwhelmed by the chamomile flowers and are having an impossible time keeping up. Our house is filled with drying chamomile!
Its seeded freely from last year and in most placed i left it to grow, because its called “garden’s physician”, making all plants that grow next to it healthy 🙂 And as an added bonus, ladybugs love it – might be because aphids do to! – but ladybugs in the garden means less aphids and less potato bugs. So yes to chamomile all the way!

Lettuce in the shade of second year carrots getting ready to flower.



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Trellising peas

Peas are, no doubt, the highlight vegetable of the month – the first to bloom and bear fruit in the garden!

As we live on a windy hill, we prefer short/bush type varieties and still like to provide additional support for our peas, especially once they start bearing pods.

In the past we used chicken wire but were unhappy with the results, plus it did not look attractive. We considered using nylon netting this year, but the cost plus the plastic aspect of it made us wish for a better solution.

In the future, my goal would be to provide natural growing support for plants needing it via complimentary sturdy plants, but until we figure out that plan, we decided to go with a rustic approach this year. (Click here to see how our trellising worked out when the peas got to be fully grown)


We gathered deadfall stick and branches from nearby forest, making sure they were clean of fungus and bugs and constructed teepees and trellising with jute. Now we have a very organic and mostly free trellising landscape, which can easily go into the compost or the fire pit once done!

Also, this is a fun project for kids to help drape the jute netting for the peas to climb on.


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Garden Map

When planning your garden out, i find, it is incredibly helpful to have two things: garden map and planting schedule to go with the map.
When approaching the task of garden mapping, a few things must be considered:

1. Crop rotation. Never plant the same type of plant in the same location consecutively – always allow for at least two grow seasons between repeated plantings – this is the first and vital step to preventing repeated disease and pest problems.

2. Bio-diversity. Mixing up your plants ensures less pest and disease problems, as well as provides a richer soil makeup, as differet plants work the soil differently. Patches work better for this purpose than rows. This also makes your garden look more natural!

3. Compatibility planting. When going for the bio-diversity, it’s a great idea to take compatibly planting into account and ensure that plants that grow best together are planted next to each other and plants that do not – far away (3 feet at least). There are many charts available for usage and reference.

4. Light/Drainage preferences. Make sure you know the best location for your plants in the garden, in regards to the amount of light and amount of drainage they prefer. Consider hills and raised beds for plants that require better drainage, planting behind taller plants for plants that need shadowing and/or row covers, etc.

5. Layering and space utilization. It is also a great idea to grow plants that can provide layered structure on the root, as well as, above ground level – alternating deep and shallow rooted plants – as well as taller and shorter –  this utilizes the READ MORE… >

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2 weeks before last frost

At two weeks before last frost we should be doing second plantings of lettuce and spinach, yet, with the colder weather and lack of rain we have been having, we have seen no sprouting as of yet, so we have postponed second plantings for another week.

The only seed planting we will be doing this weekend is the first sunflowers. They can be staggered every 5-6 weeks to ensure maximum resiliency to pests and continuos bloom and yield. We will planting Renee’d Garden Heirloom Titan this year. Also, we are planning to cover crop the area of the garden that will not be getting used for the next 1-2 months.

We will be cutting up potatoes, dividing up the eyes  – to let them dry up  for about a week before planting (this is ton ensure that the cut heals and there is less chance of rotting int he ground). Cutting into pieces containing 2-3 eyes, about 1-2 ounces each, and storing them in a dark, cool place until the time is right – currently planning to plant them in 17/18th of April.

You can also “green” the potatoes by placing them at room temperature and indirect sunlight for the eyes to sprout. However, if the sprouts get too long (more than 1-2″) they might be difficult to handle and break off during planting.

We got 7 lb Organic Yukon Gold and 3 lb Organic Red Desiree potatoes from Peaceful Valley . In good conditions, 1 lb of potatoes shoud yield 10 lbs, so the plan is to get 100 lbs out of our 10 lb planted. Desiree would have to be eaten first, and Yukon Gold, being a great winter keeper, kept over winter.

We also have plans to transplant our berry bushes into their outdoor containers, since they have had adequate time to adjust after shipping and can be moved outside, given the weather stays mild and does not revert to freezing.

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3 weeks before last frost

It is 3 weeks before last frost here and, once again, we were fortunate to have 2 days of wonderful weather, followed by a rainy day, which was perfect for planting all our cold season veggies outside.

What went into the garden:
Heirloom Rohrer Seed Brand: Little Marvel Peas, Romaine Lettuce, Butterhead Lettuce, Kohlrabi, Dwarf Kale, Beets, Arugula and Endive.
Also: Burpee Short ‘N’Sweet Carrots, Botanical Interested Speckled Lettuce , Peaceful Valley Organic Cortland Onions and Renee’s Garden Spinach.
Poppies, Borage, Yarrow and Butterfly Bush were put in also for beauty and to attract beneficial pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, to the garden when the time comes.

Peas were paired with carrots and endive, kale – with spinach and some mustard greens, kohlrabi – with chamomile (cabbage family members LOVE aromatic herbs) and lettuces with arugula were planted next to onions to protect them from caterpillars and cutworms.

We have been hand digging the ground with a shovel, to ensure maximum survival of the worms, least disturbance, yet maximum efficiency and hands-on approach to gardening. All the seeds are hand placed in the ground and covered with soil and straw.

We have tested our soil this year at Penn State and got positive results, stating we were not lacking anything in the soil. Which is great news!  The testing process was very easy and cheap – only $9 – i would highly recommend everyone to test their garden soil and get recommendations from them.

Indoor, the sprouts are looking great. Cucumbers have germinated under the warm lights and the rest of the baby plants are looking good too.

We have received our organic planting potatoes from Peaceful Valley and our organic berry bushes from Rolling River Nursery – now they are waiting warmer weather to go to live outside!

I am happy with the garden progress so far! And looking forward to seeing sprouts in the garden soon, making the garden come to life!


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5 weeks before last frost

At this time, most of the first round of planting seeds have been started in their containers.

The latest additions were the Rohrer Seeds Heirloom Long Island Brussel Sprouts and Tall Utah Celery, both of which are new plants for us, so we are yet to find out how we like growing and eating them!

Most of the plants from a couple of weeks ago are doing well and have nice looking sprouts. I will be thinning them out in the next few weeks to select the strongest seedlings.

Also, since we had a few days of lovely spring weather, i have managed to squeeze in a few first garden plantings: first round of peas, mixed with their complimentary carrots and some stuttgarter onion seeds (in a different location, as peas do not like onions and garlic). Stuttgarter onions are some of the best keepers and i am planning to save them over winter. I have planted two rows, about 100 onions so far and am planning to add another 50-100 more, estimating 2-3 onions usage per week throughout the year. I am planning to add some onion sets (baby onion bulbs from the previous year) to the planted seeds, they need to be planted in April and will provide a nice back up to the planted seeds. They have a faster turnaround, but less likely to keep well, so they will need to be used first.

Onion seeds are better started in the fall, which we had not done, so we will see how this turns out. Garlic, on the other hand, that we DID plant last fall is coming up beautifully. It is also our own heirloom garlic we have saved form the previous year – it was pretty much the only vegetable we managed to grow enough to last us the whole year, along with frozen green beans. I am planning to improve the quantity of stored veggies dramatically this year.



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