Category Archives: Musings About Life and Other Nonsense

A Harrowing Birth

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20180914_181225Maybe more so for me than for the butterfly.

I noticed that the chrysalis was starting to turn clear on Saturday morning, but in my attempt to move it to the birthing enclosure, it fell off the string. Thank goodness I had insurance with a bunch of towels in the enclosure, so it dropped onto something soft, but I had to get it rehung before it attempted to emerge. As you can see, this baby hung itself by a single thread of silk. It was bound to drop, and better it had done so before emergence because if the butterfly fell on its way out, that could result in damaged wings and a doomed butterfly. I am sure this happens in nature all the time, but not this time, not on my watch.

Thank goodness for Elmer’s Glue (which I probably should have used in the first place.) I managed to rehang it with glue and a bit of napkin so that the knot in the dental floss was attached to something more stable. Then I paced around for an hour waiting for the glue to dry, all the while whispering to the butterfly to stay put for just a few minutes longer. They need to hang in order to inflate their wings, otherwise, they are done for and can’t fly. 20180915_122903

After an hour the glue was strong enough to rehang the chrysalis, which I did, and I gave it some fake flowers to hang onto just in case. By the time we got back from our shopping trip, it was out. They need to relax in the enclosure for at least 24 hours, then if it’s sunny, you can release them. I have a recipe for food should they need to stay inside past 24 hours. Though I did put some fresh-cut Buddleia in there just in case. Sunday was a lovely sunny day, the first we have had in months, so after a bit of warming in the sun, it’ll be ready to head out on its way into the great wide yonder.

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I had ALL THE FEELS. It’s such a joyous thing to watch, though a little bit sad as they fly away because you know you won’t ever see them again. The whole thing amazes me so. When they are caterpillars, they don’t travel far from their birth. They eat the same thing all day every day, until one day, they know it’s time to go to sleep for a bit, throwing their skin off like a dirty old shirt. Then in those 14 days asleep, they completely change everything about their entire body, their entire being. How do they know where Mexico is? How do they know how to get there? How do they know what to eat? They’ve only ever eaten very specific leaves.

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It’s inspiring when you think about it. The possibility for change. The possibility to become something better than you were.

This has been a learning process for me since my getting involved in this was mere happenstance. I am perfecting my techniques for future years though (not just for monarchs, but any caterpillar I find.) I also spent the day yesterday digging new beds for more milkweed and other host plants not to mention that I get to watch 5 more do this, one of them might emerge today, and I am sure I will be awestruck and in tears each and every time.

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Just When You Think You Can Relax…

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Mother nature can be pretty brutal. On Saturday, I awoke to find one of my monarch chrysalis had turned black. It had only been pupating for a week so that means the black death (NPV), which is a fairly nasty virus. Last year we lost a couple of caterpillars to it. It’s a naturally occurring virus that affects all caterpillars, so there really isn’t anything you can do about it aside from rinsing your milkweed in hydrogen peroxide and water before feeding.

Anyway, I had to remove it before it exploded all over the cage, along with disinfecting the cage, which means I had to move all the others as well.

As a first timer, I can say that it’s  nerve-wracking experience. I don’t think I took a breath until I had them all safety tied up. But I did it, without casualty thanks to many articles and several YouTube videos.

Then it started to rain. Then it got cold.

I was concerned since the habitat was in the garage. I wanted to bring them in, but the husband wasn’t thrilled with that idea. I did it anyway, at 5:30 in the morning so he couldn’t fight me about it. Then I went outside to check the waystation area we planted from seed in the fall. That area tends to flood a little bit (perfect for swamp milkweed but not for caterpillars on tiny plants.) Needless to say, I found 2 struggling caterpillars, so now they are inside as well.

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I am hoping the weather, the cold, and my moving them hasn’t traumatized them too much and that they survive. I have enough milkweed to feed them since they look like 4 or 5th instar already. Keep your fingers crossed that we don’t lose any more.

20180908_152739My hubs thinks I am a little caterpillar crazy ( I am. Look at all those cute little feet) but I only get this involved with the August/September eggs. Those are the last generation for the year and the generation that migrates to Mexico for the winter. They are also the ones most disadvantaged. The weather can turn any minute, as it did from 90 to 56 in 48 hours, and much of the milkweed is old, tired, moldy, and shitty tasting by this time of the year. When it’s going to seed, it ain’t worth eating. If they don’t have anything to eat, they starve. As a naturalist and an environmentalist, it’s something I can do. It may seem inconsequential, but the little things add up to big things when everyone does what they can.

And So, We Have Babies…

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Five actually, even though Miss Monarch laid about 10 eggs. One wandered off the other day and I thought I’d lost it to the wasps, but he reappeared this morning. The others are getting close to the change. Maybe another 8 days, so I wanted to make sure they were safe. I moved everyone to the enclosure and switched them over to native common milkweed because the leaves are bigger. 20180830_162049

One lady over at Monarch Watch calls them piggapillars, and now I know why. Apparently common milkweed tastes much better than the tropical stuff and has bigger leaves. They are mowing the shit down. I just collected a bag of leaves from the local park on Thursday and I am almost out, which means another trip to the park after work either today or tomorrow. (Getting your supply from a state park or nature preserve ensures that they have not been sprayed with poison of any kind.) It lasts about a week to ten days in the fridge, not that it’s going to last that long. If I had known it was caterpillar crack, I would have brought home a bigger bag.

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Resuscitating a Deeply Discharged Battery…

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I think this summer has been the most suck-assed summer on record for me. Rain, rain, and more drowning rain and gloom. When it wasn’t raining, it was oppressively hot and humid, which made gardening virtually impossible this summer. Lord knows I tried, but apparently jungle proportions were on order this year.

When I can’t be outside in my garden, I get heart-sick, and eventually, I get very cranky and depressed and run down. This past weekend, though, I got a small break. Two days of windows open, cool nights, breezy bliss. I haven’t had the windows open since May. Seriously.

I took those two days and put the DO NOT DISTURB sign out so that I might get some sun on my face and some dirt under my fingernails. I’m at my best when I am dirty.

Now I don’t really consider anything in my garden a weed (except for crabgrass) but things can get a bit unruly. In that case, thinning and pruning is necessary to prevent mold, plus it gives me an opportunity to get up close and personal with the flora and fauna. A late summer garden is a busy garden.

Anyone familiar with Monarch butterflies knows that up here in PA, it’s time for the 4th Generation to emerge and then migrate to Mexico. I watched this lovely lady lay about 10 eggs on my Tropical Milkweed. I may have to do some roadside recon/harvest because the native plants I seeded last year are too small to feed that many caterpillars.

Then I had to relocate a few little guys because I had to deal with an overgrown barberry. These bushes are a menace, so these two didn’t mind being moved to sunnier quarters. We aren’t supposed to like Chinese Mantids, but like other immigrants, they found their way to my garden through no choice of their own, and Eden is always open here.

But the best moment of the day came when I was giving the patio pots a bit of a reshuffle, snipping off dead leaves, etc. when I spotted a black swallowtail caterpillar on my parsley. I had taken pictures of some 1st instar babies earlier in the year. They moved on a long time ago, so these are the last of the season, and they will overwinter in the chrysalis stage, which is why they are some of the first butterflies you see in spring. Weird thing about this pic is that the pillar looked a bit off. I feared that it had gotten baculovirus, which liquefies caterpillars before they can change. It’s nasty, and rainy summers help spread it. I lost a few Monarch pillars last year.

I was wrong though in the most wonderful way possible. The little guy (or girl) was just molting. Not sure what the ant was doing, but he seemed to be annoying so I flicked him away. The best part was when it shook its little caterpillar butt to get the rest of the skin off. That is what makes gardening so rewarding, especially for naturalist gardeners like me. We enjoy being out there. We are plant people, but the greatest joy and sense of accomplishment comes from the fact that we are doing it for them. Habitat loss is a very serious thing. Every square inch you can give back to nature is a good thing because it all adds up. Nature won’t exist without our support, and we won’t exist without it.

This is my own personal gardening motto, though it really does apply to all things in life. As a writer, it’s my job to pay attention to the minutia, and this applies doubly so in that arena:

If you don’t pay attention to the little things, you will never understand the big things. — Cheryl Anne Gardner

Garden Days, Redux

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Can’t believe it’s August already. That said, there’s always something to do in the garden if you try hard enough, and no one’s ever accused me of not trying. I’m not in writing mode at the moment other than doing a little bit of fix-up writing, as I plan to re-launch The Kissing Room next year, its 15 year anniversary. It was my first, a reader favorite, and a novice effort, in my opinion, so I’ve always wanted to spruce it up but had other things on my plate at the time. Now I don’t, so I am slowly muddling through that. I also had a great dream the other morning that would make for a pretty awesome novella, but I just don’t have the energy to devote another two years of my life to writing and editing full time. I soooo can’t even. Even if I decide to ‘not even’ ever again, no one can call me a quitter when it comes to writing. I’ve got enough published words under my belt to feel like I accomplished something, and lately, I’d rather be picking my nose or staring into a rusty bucket than writing. I’d rather be in the garden, which seems to be the only place I can find any peace these days.

I had a little mini vacation, because those are the only vacations I get from the office it seems, but I can do a lot in 4 days. My big project this time was to attempt to give the frogs a proper dipping pool since I had to fill the stock tank in due to wildlife irritations. This one is a small 17 gallon thing. I don’t plan for plants other than duckweed, that way, no digging. I reserved the empty space in the stock tank for my pitcher plants that need a bigger, boggier home.

The few pond snails that hitchhiked in with the duckweed seem to like their new accommodations. So much so that they had a bunch of babies. I like snails, had a few as pets over the years, so I don’t mind. Gives the pond a bit of life since the frogs are scarce this year due to the constant rain.

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Nature: A Wonderful and Amazing Magic Show

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Last week, a swallowtail laid her eggs on our newly planted parsley.

The eggs hatched during the week and here are some pics of the 1st instar larvae. They seem to be enjoying the parsley and pooping a lot. I am not sure our tiny plant can sustain two caterpillars, so if need be, when they get bigger, I will move them to the wild parsley patch. We have several of those in the garden so they won’t be short of food.

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Not sure why one is bigger than the other since they were laid at the same time, unless they weren’t and the bigger one was there earlier and we just didn’t notice. Could be that the larger one is a week older than the other, even though neither is bigger than a grain of rice at this point. They are poopy little creatures too.

I hope they survive. Swallowtails are the longest lived because they don’t have a lot of predators. They are the most abundant butterfly we have in our garden, and it’s probably because of the parsley. We have a lot of parsley. It’s not a native, but has naturalized in our area and the flowers might be tiny, but they are quite beautiful against the purple leaves.

 

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Cryptotaenia japonica Atropurpurea from University of Vermont

 

 

Garden Days

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It would be nice if the rain let up. Last night we had at least 2 inches of rain. It was slow and steady and soaked us all night long. I did manage to get the last of my mulching done on Saturday, but it was shwetty and hot. I hate working in the humidity, but what can you do. We haven’t had many weekends without rain, and I’ve got to get things done, because Things are getting a bit wild out there. I’ve got 3 nests with just born babies in them and the other boxes already fledged, so we have baby birds all over the place. And flowers. I do have flowers.

The Monarch Waystation area looks a bit weedy, but it’s wildflowers and most of those are late bloomers. Lot of chicory that I can see so far, but I am hoping that some of the milkweed seed I put down in the fall will take. It’s a very wet area lately.

 

A Day in The Garden

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My husband and I were having breakfast on Saturday morning and he noticed that the Black Swallowtail butterflies were back. He wondered why, with all the flowers in bloom, that one was hovering around the Italian parsley we had just planted, so I said,

She not looking for flowers, she putting her butt all over it. Parsley is their host plant.

That would be true, which is why I let the Japanese parsley grow wild all over the garden. More butterflies, and who can complain about that. He didn’t believe me so I went out after she was done and took a proof of life picture. See the eggs?

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Guess we won’t be eating that parsley.

Seriously, the garden feels like a jungle this year. I have to eke out minutes in between rainstorms in order to get anything done, but even still, it’s sure looking pretty out there. I’ve been a botany and gardening aficionado since I was a kid. Both my parents could grow just about anything, and they themselves were self-taught master gardeners. After 20+ years at it, I think I can safely declare myself a master gardener as well. I have certainly mastered the art of learning from my gardening mistakes, and like my father always said: Anything that can be taught in a classroom can be self taught, and nothing will teach you better than reading and doing. No amount of book learning and certificates of achievement can prepare you for all the wild and wonderful variables that happen when you are actually in the garden. Some of those variables aren’t that wonderful though, like mud and fungus and flattened plants.

Even so, his words are true. Doing and Failing teaches you more in the end. You need a fair amount of book learning too, but even then, some things work and some things don’t. As I told a friend who said she sucked at some plants:

You don’t suck. It’s just that sometimes the environment and the plant just aren’t compatible, and knowing what something needs and creating exactly that microcosm for them is sometimes impossible. Arrogance leads us to think that we can control everything, and our small successes feed that arrogance, but inevitably, nature will knock us down a peg. Classes can’t teach you that.

Sorry for the hazy pics. But it’s always rainy and hazy here lately.

A Garden Reprieve

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I had a nice long holiday weekend/vacation thing recently so that I could take a break from bookish things and office workish things. That meant 5 days of garden things, which I love above all else when it comes to creative pursuits.

There was a lot of weeding and planting and trimming. We’ve had several of our nest box birdies already fledge their babies, and there’s more to come as we’ve got nests in use all over the garden.

We also toured the Hortulus Farm during the Garden Conservancy open day program. 114 acres, and most of the flora are things we have in our garden, albeit on a smaller scale. Growing up rural for a time, I have a thing for summer fields with swaths of native grasses and milkweed. What butterflies they must have come August, and the ponds … OMG, the ponds always make me jealous. I mean, they had black swans!

Speaking of ponds, I had to redo our frog toe-dipping pool this year. We had left it uncovered over the winter and the squirrels dug the shit out of it, and in the process, they destroyed all the bog plant roots, so we lost everything except a few sprouts of lizards tail. Replanting isn’t always a bad thing though because the calla lilies were lovely this year. It’s hard to see, but they are white with soft pink pitchers and yellow.

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I also put in some New Guinea impatiens and something that looks like petunias but isn’t. Most are annuals, but I am hoping to carry the Callas over winter by covering the pond this year with hay and a plastic tarp to keep the diggers out. I hope that works.

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We also stopped off at the local park so that I could collect duckweed for the pond. We had some severe flooding two days prior, so much of the duckweed and hornwort had washed up on land because the vernal frog and turtle pond is in a low area near the dam. It’s nice because I don’t have to get muddy. Now I just hope we get some frogs. We didn’t last year since it was so wet and overcast, they didn’t have to seek out supplemental water. Our pond was also in the shade last year due to an overgrown Redbud. We had that pruned, so now the pond is back in the full sun. Even if we don’t get frogs, we do get dragonflies and other neat little things, and it is quite tranquil to look at, with my little porcelain floating koi fish, which do not require feeding or care.

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416gDFs18wL._AC_US218_Aside from that, I am working on a review for this rescue book I am currently reading. It is wonderful, and even though it’s about dog rescue, the attitudes and lessons are applicable to all different kinds of animal rescue. I’ll post a full review as soon as I am finished the book, though I have shared some quotes and some thoughts on said quotes over at Goodreads.