Raising Monarch butterflies

We had a very productive last summer. We raised and released 48 Monarch butterflies. We took in 50 eggs but only 48 made it to butterflies. The whole process was much more time consuming than beekeeping. To prevent disease, we changed Milkweed leaves and cleaned the nursery tanks daily. Once the last butterfly fluffed it wings out in the garden, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction kicked in. Even if just one butterfly made it through the winter to produce a new generation is better than none.

We started with bringing in Monarch eggs. Searching under Common Milkweed leaves for them and cutting them off the plant.

A cream colored egg is the size of a pinhead
I cut leaves to small pieces, with the egg attached. Put them together in a small plastic container and covered it with a clear lid with a few holes in it. I checked daily for caterpillar hatchlings
Egg that’s just about to hatch will have a darker color at the tip of the egg

We only bring the egg in because the caterpillar stage may have some parasitic insect egg injected in them. Some wasps are known for this.

I transport a newly hatched caterpillar to a nursery tank. It’s very tiny.

At the caterpillar stage, a caterpillar will eat until it reach a point that it needs to molt. It will stop eating and not move until it molts. Then it will resume eating again until it grows big, ready for the chrysalis stage.

Some of the caterpillars we raised. I preferred cutting a branch than an individual leaf; much easier to manage.

Once a caterpillar is ready to pupate, it will walk around looking for a place to attached itself and turn to chrysalis. Most of our caterpillars attached themselves to the top screen cover but some attached under leaves. One escape artist managed to squeeze out from the tank, walked up the bay window and attached itself to the window sill near the ceiling.

Once they find a place, they spin a silk anchor patch, attach themselves and hang down in a ‘J’ shape hanging there for a day before turning into a chrysalis.

A ‘J’ shape before it molt again
First chrysalis stage is in green. It will stay at the chrysalis stage for around 11-14 days before it becomes a butterfly.
24 hours before it become a butterfly, the chrysalis turns blue gray
Then turns quite dark, almost black.
Then translucent just before the butterfly emerges
Top screen in one of our tanks
Various stages of transformation.
Hatched and ready to be transported outside. Wings will typically take a couple hours to dry enough to use.
Transported outside on a plant under the roof so they are protected from wind, rain and birds. They can fly off at their own pace, after their wings stiffen up enough to use.

Hopefully some of their children will come by this summer and we can help them raise their young again.

We also put together a short video of the whole process Enjoy here: https://youtu.be/HP3hu4m93nQ

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin…William Shakespeare

New Year, New Chapter

My annual ritual- watching the New Year’s 1st sunrise. Sitting in the dark, waiting for the first rays of the sun to breach the horizon gives me a sense of renewal and hope. My own spiritual practice, not associate with any religions. Now, I also capture its image too. Here is January 1st, 2020 sunrise.

January 1st sunrise, 7:29 AM EST
January 1st morning, 8:01 AM. The sun disappeared behind the clouds

The Resilient Bluebird

A Bluebird family had a hard time this year. They had tried to nest in the garden since April but the House sparrow chased them out of the first nest box even though they had finished building their nest. Then they picked another nest box on the other side of the garden. She, female is the one who does the nest building, finished the nest and laid two eggs. I think a Woodpecker raided the eggs. Then they moved to a third nest box twenty feet away. She laid five eggs in that one. Again, some bird took four of the eggs. I suspected a Red-bellied woodpecker this time because they like poking their face in the nest boxes. They can easily pick the eggs without destroying the nest. The Bluebirds abandoned the last egg.

At this point I though we had lost them completely this year. But they are determined to raise their family in our garden. They moved to a nest box on the opposite side of the garden. She built a nest in a hurry, laid four eggs and four chicks hatched!!!

Four beautiful blue eggs
The first three chicks
Ten days later, all four chicks developed hard feathers
Two chicks waiting for their parents to come back with food

We are so happy that we are able to help raise another generation of Eastern Bluebird. They still feed their chicks but I’ve seen only two of them. Hopefully the other two are old enough to be on their own.

Chicks with Dad

After the battle they went through, I’m sure they are tired. But we are hoping they will sire another brood in our yard this summer. The bluebirds, swallows and wrens are family by our standards, although I’m sure they don’t quite see it that way.

Wrens

This year we have a surplus of Wren families. Both types of Wren, Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) and House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), decided to raise their families in the garden. House Wren is the one who always raise their young here while the Carolina Wren stays with us during the winter then goes back to the wooded areas in late spring. But this year the Carolina Wren stayed and produced two broods with us so far.

The Carolina Wren started their first brood in early May and the chicks fledged some time in early June. They built a nest right in a slot under our patio roof. We let them; they are small enough not to make a mess.

Mom is keeping the eggs warm
Three chicks fledged in early June

Then to my surprise, they started the second brood right in the same nest. This time four chicks. They are still small and mom and dad are doing a daily feeding relay.

Cute little chicks. The fourth one is on the left, probably sleeping or couldn’t compete with the tree siblings

At the same time two pairs of House Wren settled on each end of the property. They built their nests with sticks and lined it with softer materials. Many times they built the nest all the way up to the opening of the box so I can’t get a glimpse of the chicks tucked in deep. I can only tell by the sound of the chicks and the parents flying in and out with food.

Feeding time
The second family
This nest has a little room I can put my iPhone in. It seems to have four chicks

In the middle of these two House Wren families raising their young, one of the Wrens started to build a nest in a new box. I don’t know if it’s from one of the pairs or a newcomer.

House Wren starting a new nest

It’s early in the season still, we may have a Wren symphony by August.

Repotting Kaffir Lime

The only way to grow Kaffir lime in a cold climate is in a pot, either forever staying inside the house or moving it in and out when the weather permits. In a warmer climate, when Kaffir lime is grown in the ground, it’s a mid-size tree that can grow to 25 feet high and 6 feet wide. But it can adapt to live in a pot. One of mine, over 20 years old, has to be pruned twice each year to a manageable size (around 6′ tall) that I can put it back in our basement.

This is what the two older kaffir looked like a year ago in June, after a month outside the basement. The right one is around ten years older than the left.

Annual pruning is an easy task. Getting poked here and there with very sharp thorns is expected. Feeding it well after a good annual haircut will keep it healthy. But, what’s more important than pruning is repotting.

Kaffir lime can be root-bound pretty fast since it’s a small tree being kept in a pot. It will not be happy having its feet bound for years… imagine Chinese foot binding. I repot mine every couple of years. The smaller ones is easy to do but the larger ones give me a back ache for a few days.

How to repot:

First, do not water the Kaffir lime for a couple of days. The potting soil should be on the dry side so it will be much easier to loosen the roots. Grab the main trunk and pull the whole plant out.

Kaffir lime, root bound at the bottom

I just pull my smaller one, picture on top, out of its pot. This is only two years in this pot but the roots are already packed at the bottom. Though the soil is pretty dry, the roots still hold it in a pot shape.

Next, shake the soil off the roots. You can do it with your hands or use a trowel. Make sure not to damage the main root-the larger ones. Use a clean, sharp clipper to trim off the finer roots.

After the fine roots were trimmed, the larger roots closer to the trunk are still intact

If you want it to grow bigger, you can put it in a larger pot with new soil. I keep my smaller ones in the same pot for five years then give them a little more room with a slightly larger pot. The twenty-plus year old, I put back in the same pot since that is the largest size I can manage without hurting myself. Both of the larger ones are still happy in their pots.

My oldest Kaffir lime lost a lot of its leaves last winter from infestation of scales and mites. Cleaned up, it’s fine now and sprouting new leaves on every branches.
New deep purplish colored leaves on every branch. I was forgiven for my negligence

I put a couple of inches of new soil at the bottom, mixed with organic fertilizer, placed the Kaffir lime in, then added soil mixed with fertilizer around and on top. Use a small trowel to probe the area between the plant and the pot to make sure that new soil fills any air pockets. Water deeply. I water it and let it sit on a tray so the soil can absorb excess water back later on.

Use a clean clipper to trim damaged and dry branches. I prune it down to a desirable size and cut branches that rub against one another only after it starts to bud new leaves. I think root pruning is traumatizing enough so I wait for it to settle and get used to a new space first. But that’s just me.

That’s it. The Kaffir lime should be very happy for a few years before the leaves start to get smaller and take longer to sprout new leaves. That’s when it’s telling you that it needs to stretch it feet.

Late Spring

Spending time in the last couple of months on family affairs exhausted me both physically and mentally and didn’t leave much time left for anything else. I retreated to Instagram @petalsandwingsimages as my outlet since I didn’t have to spend time correcting images on PhotoShop. Now, as the dust settled, I’m back.

With plenty of rain in early spring, the garden has grown pretty fast and the flowers have responded well, especially the irises. I don’t water irises regularly like the other plants so with plenty of rain they bloom in abundance.

‘Before the Storm’ aside from a beautiful, rich color, they’re also fragrant
‘Dangerous Mood’ This one also fragrant
‘Florentine Silk’ It looks pretty much like its namesake
‘Immortality’, pure white and fragrant
‘Mariposa Skies’, has a slight fragrance and re-blooms
‘Mother Earth’, She smells nice and will be back in October
‘Phoebe’s Frolic’, aside from a beautiful color, it’s also fragrant and still blooming
‘Vigilante’, has an interesting combination of maroon and gold. Also fragrant
‘War Chief’, has a maroon, red color with a gold beard

All these irises either re-bloom or are fragrant or both. With good weather, I should see most of their flowers again in October.

Backyard Nature Lover's Experience