Tag Archives: gardening

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.

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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.

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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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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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4 weeks before last frost

As we cross the 4 week mark, snow flurries are flying past our window. Yet, hopeful and patient for Spring weather, we start cucumber and melon seeds indoors. They go directly under the heat lamp to maintain the necessary warm soil germination temperature, and will be monitoring them closely to make sure the soil stays moist.

We have planted Organic Heirloom Straight Eight Cucumbers and Homemade Pickle from Peaceful Valley. The former – to eat, the latter – to pickle. We are also trying out the fun looking Lemon Cucumbers this year 🙂

We have also received and planted a set of Fort Laramie ever-bearing strawberries from Peaceful Valley as well. 25 organic plants for $4.99 – great value! They went into our self-made cedar planter for indoor and outdoor use.

A word on the strawberry container – we have contemplated making the fancy multi-level strawberry container that look fun and seem to be so popular, yet after numerous calculations, we have come to the conclusion that they do not add sufficient space for the amount of effort and material they require, so we went with a basic, rectangle shape. The strawberries from last year seem to be doing very well in them.

 

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