Thursday, October 30, 2014

Save the Monarchs! (Part III)

It seems only right that my 100th blog post capture a momentous occasion...the emergence of my monarch butterflies!  Plus - what better way to celebrate Halloween than with some festive black and orange butterflies?

In my earlier posts, I logged my adventure of bringing three monarch caterpillars into my home to rear to adulthood.  As of last week, 10/23/14 (and my birthday!), all three of my monarch caterpillars had emerged from their chrysalis!

10/22/14 (Day 17) - The first butterfly hatches from his chrysalis.  Unfortunately, this happened while I was at work, so I did not witness him emerging from the chrysalis, his scrunched up wings, and the process of his wings drying and pumping blood to the wings to give them their full shape for flight.

How do I know it is a "him," you may ask?  It is really quite simple.  Male butterflies have black scent pouches on their hindwings.  The veins of their wings are also much thinner than that of their female counterparts.

Before releasing my grown up butterfly, I spent a few moments getting acquainted.  Their legs are really quite sticky, making it a bit tricky to remove him from my hand once he was latched on.

10/23/14 (Day 18) - My remaining two butterflies emerged the following day... and on my birthday!  What a sweet birthday present from nature!  One was a strong and energetic female (notice - no scent pouches on the hingwings and thicker veins).

The third butterfly was a male (hindwing scent pouches and thinner veins again).  He was the weakest of all three.  Unlike the other two, he didn't immediately try to fly away and his wings looked a little off kilter.  I kept him around in the habitat for an extra day, thinking he needed a little more time to dry his wings or something.  Unfortunately, I think he was just born not in the most tip-top shape.

It was then time to release my precious darlings into the wild.

They took a liking to the Gregg's Blue Mistflower.  Hopefully, they will stick around the garden until their migratory trip to Mexico.  I understand they usually stay within 200-300 yards of where they were born.

I'm so proud of my Monarch butterflies, and really hope that I gave them a better chance at life and at increasing the diminishing population of Monarchs in the country.  It was a fun (and pretty easy) process to rear the Monarchs, so I encourage you to try it as well if you find Monarch caterpillars in your garden... and assuming you have plenty of milkweed to share.  It is bittersweet to see them fly off and leave home, but hopefully they will return to the garden with future generations of Monarchs.  Every time I see one in the garden, I wonder if it was one of my "pet" monarchs.

For now, I'm left with an empty monarch chrysalis on a milkweed plant.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Birthday Bouquets

This last week I celebrated my 28th birthday.  I got to enjoy my birthday over several days with family and friends.  I also got to enjoy (and am still enjoying) some beautiful bouquets that my loved ones provided.

First was a warm bouquet of yellows, oranges, and peaches provided by my mommy dearest.  She actually sent it to the restaurant that my husband and I went to for my birthday dinner.  At first I just thought that all the tables had these amazing bouquets...then I realized it was just ours...and then I realized it was just for me from my mamma mia for me.  My mamma really knows how to make me feel special!

Next was a striking bouquet of gigantic red hot zinnias from my dear gardening friend, Melissa.  She even went the extra step and provided me some seeds from her amazing zinnias (and cosmos!) that I have been admiring on her Dirt and Wine gardening blog.  Thanks Mel!

Finally, my other friend, Edith, brought in this bouquet of miniature pumpkins.  At first, I didn't think it was real.  Upon further inspection, I saw it was a real plant.  I of course had to do some research to find out what this mysterious and mystical plant was.  Turns out that it is solanum integrifolium, a.k.a Pumpkin on a Stick, a.k.a Pumpkin Tree, a.k.a Mock Tomato.

What a fun and festive plant!  It is actually an ornamental eggplant.  Since eggplant grow so well here in Texas, I'm going to see if I can try to save some seeds from it and grow it in my garden next summer for a fun fall ornamental harvest.

Thanks to everyone for my b-day blooms and for making it a great birthday!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Save the Monarchs! (Part II)

A couple of weeks ago, I took in three Monarch caterpillars with the hopes of raising them to adulthood.  Here is a look at how they have been progressing under my care:

10/10/14 (Day5):  In the evening, I checked on my baby caterpillars and there wasn't too much movement.  I checked on them an hour later before I was about to go to bed and found one of the caterpillars started to form the "J" shape right before it starts to pupate!  You can even see his silk-mat.  They hang in this shape for about a day before they shed their skin for the last time as a caterpillar.  Unfortunately, I had to leave town mid-day the following day, so I did not get to witness the final skin shedding of the metamorphosis.

10/11/14 (Day 6):  I had to leave town and was going to be away for a few days.  I still had two caterpillars in their fifth instar and didn't want them to starve on old milkweed while I was away, so I bought a small potted milkweed plant at my local nursery and put that in the butterfly habitat, hoping it would be sufficient for any remaining munching my little guys would need to do.

10/13/14 (Day 8):  I returned from my weekend trip to find all three of my caterpillar babies in their chrysalises.  I was in awe of the beauty of the little green jewels, even encrusted with flecks of gold.

Chrysalis #1 - This was the same guy that was forming the "J" in the Day 5 picture above.  Crazy what a difference a couple of days makes!

Chrysalis #2:  This guys traveled up to the very top of the butterfly habitat to form his chrysalis.  You can see the flecks of gold, and even make out the faint pattern of the monarch wings.

Chrysalis #3:  Can you find him?  He is camouflaged quite nicely.  I'll give you a hint - look in the middle of the picture.  See him there?  Now, I just need to play the waiting game for about 10-14 days before my butterflies emerge!

10/21/14 (Day 16):  It has been at least 8 days since my monarchs formed their chrysalises.  I can tell that the chrysalises are becoming more translucent, so we are getting closer! You can make out the black and orange colors, and even the white spots on their wings! Probably just a few more days until they emerge!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2014

The weather is beautiful in Central Texas right now - highs in the mid 80s, lows in the upper 50s, and the garden is loving it.  I'm joining Carol of May Dreams Garden in showcasing my October blooms.

Pam's Pink Turk's Cap blooms happily in the shade tree garden.  I haven't yet seen any hummers around these, but from what I've read, the Turk's cap is one of the hummers favorites, so a hummer siting is inevitable one of these days.

The Shrimp Plant is also happy blooming in the shade tree garden.  These plants are so theatrical with their floral display - I love this very unique bloom!

The fall asters are thriving in this "cool" Texas weather.

Gregg's Blue Mistflower has made a resurgence after the Texas summer heat.  It will soon provide plenty of nectar for all the butterflies that will be hatching in the coming weeks.

Tropical milkweed shows off with its hot red and orange colors.  I'm still hoping I'll get another round of Monarch caterpillars this season that I can help raise to adulthood before they have to make their long journey to Mexico.

Currently my only dahlia variety in the garden (I desperately need to plant more next spring), this beauty add a late "summer" bloom to the garden.

It just wouldn't be fall without a few mums to brighten up the courtyard.

While I'm not a huge fan of annuals, I couldn't help myself from planting a few pansies for some color in the cold weather garden.  Every time I see pansies, I think of Alice in Wonderland.

And to round out my October blooms, I have my first decent blooming of the guara.  The deer have been nibbling down my plants all summer long, so this is the first time I've really been able to appreciate the flowers.

Make sure to stop by Carol's blog to see other October garden blooms from around the world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall Bulbs

Now is the time for planting fall bulbs!  Bulbs and rhizomes are some of my favorite things to plant for multiple reasons:

1.  High ROI (Return on Investment) - bulbs and rhizomes multiply pretty easily, so you can continue to spread them around your garden, or share them with a friend

2.  They make great cut flowers - they last a long time in the vase

3.  They are relatively easy to grow

4.  They come in such a variety of shapes and colors

This year, I'm planting some classics, along with some new varieties.

Here I have:
  • Allium 'Purple Sensation' (10 bulbs)
  • Daffodil 'Trumpet Mix' (47 bulbs)
  • Daffodil ' Replete' (12 bulbs)
  • Daffodil 'Unsurpassable' (25 bulbs)
  • Ranunculus 'Bright Mix' (25 bulbs)
  • Tulip 'Queen of the Night' (25 bulbs)
  • Hyacinth ' Shades of Purple' (28 bulbs)
  • Hyacinth 'Orientalis Mix' (6 bulbs)
  • Lycoris 'Radiata' (4 bulbs)
  • Lycoris ' Aurea' (2 bulbs)
I also ordered some more bulbs online that I couldn't find in the stores:

Here I have:

  • Astilbe Bridal Veil (2 clumps of rhizomes)
  • Astilbe Younique Carmine (1 clump of rhizomes)
  • Narcissus Erlicheer (10 bulbs)
  • Oxblood Lilies (6 bulbs)
  • Tulip Clusiana Lady Jane (10 bulbs)
  • Ranunculus Pastel Mix (10 rhizomes)
  • Ranunculus Rainbox Mix (10 rhizomes)
  • Ranunculus Picotee Mix (10 rhizomes)
  • Oxalis Iron Cross - Good Luck Plant (15 bulbs)

I was able to plant most everything directly into the ground.  However, the Dutch tulips and hyacinths required a bit more TLC.  They both need to be chilled in the crisper of the refrigerator (and away from fruit, like apples, that emits harmful gases) for 6-8 weeks before planting so that they get enough chill hours here in Texas.  I knew this about tulips, which is why I haven't planted any yet.  However, I was not aware this was the case for hyacinths as well.  Last fall I had planted quite a few which had no problem emerging this spring.  Maybe we happened to have a chillier winter than normal?

I really don't like the fact that I have to treat the tulips and hyacinths as annuals.  The only annuals I usually plant in my garden are self-seeding plants that last all spring and summer (like zinnias!).  I'm really all about the ROI of the plants (that's my finance background for ya!).  But, the tulips came with a bulb pack that I just couldn't pass up, so I'll be giving them a go this year.  I can't stand the idea of throwing the bulbs away next year, but I'm also not sure that I want to go through the hassle of storing them for months as well.  Maybe my family in the north with get lucky and I'll pass the bulbs off to them.  Or, I'll really enjoy the flowers that remind me of the Midwest and be willing to put up with the extra work for the beauties.  I'll just have to wait and see.

Additionally, I had an amaryllis and some paperwhite bulbs sitting around from last Christmas when I forced the bulbs inside.  I really should have planted the bulbs outside at that point so that they could store energy all summer long for the next bloom season.  But, at that point, I didn't have anywhere to plant them outside, so they remained inside, in their original pots.  

They should have probably been thrown away since they have been sitting around so long, but I thought I'd give them a shot, to see if they have anything left.  What does it hurt?  I'm not expecting anything this year, but maybe they will surprise me next year.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Minnesota Fall

I just got a little taste of the Midwest fall that I grew up loving.  My husband and I traveled to Minnesota this weekend to visit family and celebrate his grandpa's 90th birthday (quite the accomplishment!).  While it was a very short trip, I got to spend a little bit of time appreciating the nature of the north and colors of autumn.  The weather was beautiful - upper 50's during the day, with the cool crispness that comes with the changing seasons.

Trees in my mother-in-law's backyard getting ready for the winter cold.

Not just the trees display fall colors.  Here - sedum adds some burgundy color to nature's palette. 

Such beautiful colors!

We even spotted a few black squirrels (sciurus carolinensis), which I can't say I ever saw growing up, even though they are supposed to be relatively common in the Midwest.

Did I mention it was beautiful?

I especially loved the contrast of the white birch tree bark against the autumn leaves.

These are all views that I loved growing up in Wisconsin, but appreciate even more now that I'm living in Texas.  It is certainly nice getting back and getting a little dose of a true Midwest fall.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Save the Monarchs! (Part I)

A few days ago, I posted about how I had multiple monarch caterpillars feeding on my tropical milkweed.  I think I counted up to SEVEN monarch babies on my milkweed last Sunday.  I was so proud of my babies and how I was helping to re-establish the monarch population.  But then Monday came, and I only found two caterpillars.


Nature.  The circle of life. Doomsday for the monarchs.

Apparently the resident birds found the new monarch caterpillar buffet and were coming back for seconds.

It just so happens that same day, I found out that monarch caterpillars only have a 10% survival rate in the wild.  My mom also happened to read my blog post and told me to bring the caterpillars inside, IMMEDIATELY.

Here I was, proud that I had done my part to help the monarchs.  I of course thought that it was my part to just plant the milkweed host plants and let nature run its course.  I figured a couple caterpillars may be lost, but that overall, I would end up with a kaleidoscope of butterflies (yes, that is what a group of butterflies is called) by the end of the month.  Apparently, I was wrong.  It wasn't just enough to plant the host plants for the butterflies.  To help this endangered species, I needed to bring the caterpillars inside and foster them to adulthood if I wanted them to have any chance of survival.

So, I quickly ran out and collected the remaining caterpillars.  All two of them.  I searched online and found the basics I needed to make a habitat for them.  Here is what I ended up with:

  • Plastic container (I used a cereal tupperwear container)
  • Cheesecloth for a ventilating cover
  • At least one stick for each caterpillar
  • Fresh milkweed leaves
10/6/14 (DAY 1):  I placed the two little guys in their new habitat.  They didn't do much moving around the first day.

10/7/14 (DAY 2):  I found another caterpillar outside (YAY!) on the milkweed and brought him in.  The other caterpillars had eaten some of the previous day's milkweed, but I could tell the leaves were starting to dry out and the caterpillars were searching around the top of the container, as if looking for newer and fresher milkweed.  So, I gave it to them, this time, providing a full sprig of milkweed and wrapped the stem in some damp papertowel, to hopefully keep the leaves fresher, longer.  The babies seemed to like it.

10/8/14 (Day 3):  I received some supplies in the mail from my mom - a collapsible butterfly habitat that is large enough to raise many butterflies, as well as place a whole potted milkweed plant (if I wanted), as well as a butterfly book guide on how to rear butterflies.  My momma is soooo thoughtful!  These were actually hers, as she and my little sister raised some butterflies a couple of years ago.  Since it is starting to freeze in Wisconsin, she said she won't need these for awhile.

 I put some newspaper in the bottom to catch the frass (a.k.a caterpillar poop) and make cleanup easier.  You need to clean the frass out every couple of days, otherwise the caterpillars may eat some of it and get sick and die.  I don't want that.  I also put in some bigger sticks and some nice, fresh milkweed.

I think they like their new home!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Evil Lurking

My arch nemesis has arrived...the squash vine borer.  Dun dun DUN!

A couple of weeks ago, I planted a late planting of summer squash with the hopes that I could do some harvesting before the cold weather comes.  But more so, I was hoping that by doing such a late planting, that I wouldn't have to combat the squash vine borer that has wiped out my squash plants the last three spring seasons.

Apparently, no such luck.  I found THIS in my garden this week:  a female squash vine borer moth laying her eggs on my plants.  Oh, the nerve!  It was like she was just waiting for me to plant more squash so she could crush my hopes and dreams (am I being a little too dramatic?...well, I don't think so, and you wouldn't either if you've had to deal with this horrible pest).

Now the I go around and try to pick off every single itty bitty egg on my ~12 squash plants?  Do I let the eggs hatch and the larvae burrow into my vines, hoping that I can maybe cut them out later, like I did earlier this year, and hope in the meantime that I can harvest a few squash?

Well, I just couldn't stand the thought of losing all my squash again to this pest, so, I did end up going around all 12 plants, and checked around every leaf and stem, picking the little rusty red eggs off one by one.

Apparently, the moth preferred laying most of the eggs around the base of the stem, just below the soil level - nice and hidden.  So, I had to pull the soil back and scrape off the eggs.  During the whole process, I probably missed a couple eggs here and there, but that gives me a much lower chance of having to deal with the larvae later.  At least, I hope so.

One thing is for sure.  Next year, IF I try squash one last time, I'll give it the royal treatment by planting in a bed that I haven't planted squash in the last few years (otherwise the squash vine pupae that burrow into the ground may hatch and crush my dreams again), and cover with row covers.  If that doesn't work, then I should really just give up, which breaks my heart because I LOVE squash, and squash plants are usually such great producers!