Category Archives: Insects

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:

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


Raising More Monarchs This Year:

As much as I want to complain about the heat and heavy rain, the garden seems to enjoy it.  The lawn that I haven’t invaded with extended garden yet is lush green.  Vegetables and flowers are growing profusely.  Except for tomatoes, the heirloom types don’t do well at all.  And insects, they follow their food in.

We are happy to see more Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this year.  They are not just visiting the flowers, they also mating, laying eggs and producing a new generation in our garden.

A male Monarch on Garden Phlox

This one taking nectar from Zinnia

This female really loves Lantana. She traveled from flower to flower for almost 30 minutes

And then……


I keep checking underneath Milkweed leaves for their eggs and caterpillars.  I found some eggs but it’s hard to look for caterpillars especially when they are small.  They are very good at hiding.  But, I did find some….

Probably hatched a day or two ago, with a hole on the leaf that he chewed off

A full grown Monarch caterpillar. It’s as beautiful as it’s metamorphosed version

Seeing them in all stages in our garden makes us happy to be contributing to slowing down their possible extinction.  Hopefully they can make it safely back to Mexico for their winter hibernation.



World Bee Day

Time To Recognize Our Little Friends

The United Nation has designated May 20 as World Bee Day and this year is the first observance of this day.  I’m so happy that the importance of these little pollinators is finally and officially recognized globally.  Hopefully it will bring a change in the rules and regulations to help make the environment safer for them, protecting them.  You can read more about World Bee Day here.

We keep a couple of honeybee hives in our garden but we don’t just put up hives for our honeybees.  We also put some structures up for native bees as well.  There is a good variety of native bees in our garden and they are avid pollinators, especially Bumblebees.  Some are an annoyance like Carpenter bees which love to drill holes in our patio beams to put their larvae in.

In honor of the World Bee Day, here are some of the little, hardworking friends in our garden.

Two native bees working together on Echinacea

Bumblebee on Borage

Sweat bee on Echinacea

Wool Carder bee on Thai basil

Bee on Goldenrod. I’m not sure what it is. It’s too hairy to be our common Bumble bee.

Mason bee on Yarrow

Bees on Onion flower. I think the one on the left is a young Bumble bee.

Cuckoo bee on Dill

A male Carpenter bee on Butterfly bush. Male has white marking on the face.

Honeybee on Common Milkweed

More information about bees:

  • Bees in your backyard: A guide to North America’s Bees by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril, ISBN 978-0691-160771
  • Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich, ISBN 978-0691-161358
  • Bumblebees: Behaviour, ecology, and conservation by Dave Goulson, ISBN 978-0199-553075
  • Bumble bees of North America by Paul Williams, Robbin Thorp, Leif Richardson & Sheila Colla, ISBN 978-0691-152226
  • Mason Bee Revolution: How the hardest working bee can save the world one backyard at a time by Dave Hunter & Jill Lightner, ISBN 978-1594-859632
  • Our Native Bees: North America’s endangered pollinators and the fight to save them by Paige Embry, ISBN 978-1604-697698
  • Bees of the world by Charles D. Michener, ISBN 978-0801-885730.  This is more like a text book.

Spring At Last

Some Colors In The Garden

I see the spring light at the end of the tunnel, a little dim but still a cheerful light of hope.  Snow still covers the majority of the garden but in the bare specks there are colors.  Crocuses in the front yard bloomed nicely this year.  Last year they became deer food.  At least deer left the bulbs alone so they came up with a variety of colors.  We planted a lot of crocuses in the previous two autumns to provide early spring food for our honeybees.  Many of them became food for squirrels, chipmunks, deer and rabbits but the survivors continue to come up in spring before disappearing underground again.

This deep purple crocus was planted by a squirrel. It’s in the middle of the iris plot by the garage. I know I didn’t put it there.

Light purple crocus in the front yard

Pale yellow with beige coloration under the petals

Deep yellow with brown stripes under petals


Our back yard is still covered with snow but it’s melting fast with high daytime temperatures.  Some tulips and daffodils braved the cold pushing themselves up above it.

Daffodil pushing up through the snow

A clump of tulips I rescued years ago enjoying the cold spring

And, look at the busy girls.  Yes, we call them girls because the worker bees are all female and they’re like our children.  The weather is warm enough for them to go out foraging and most of them came back with baskets full of pollen.  They’ve also taken in water from the birdbaths.

The majority of honeybees that flew back in carried big loads of pollen. I’ll have to check on them this weekend to see if I have to give them more sugar or not. It’s still too cold to feed them syrup.

Spring is here after all.  Thank you Mother Nature for giving us a break from the Nor’easter in the last few weeks.

Happy Halloween

From Garden Spiders

Spiders can evoke nightmares and cause many people to pause or scream.  For us, they are friends.  We have plenty of them in the garden and some in the house which we don’t mind as long as they stay in the corners.  I should point out that they keep the house flies in check for us.  The webs they create always fascinate me especially when there is dew on them.

I don’t have to waste words extolling their natural beauty…

Who knew a deadly trap could be this beautiful

A crystal necklace

Even a deer fence looks nice with the web on it

Crystal monkey bridge

More spiderwebs and dew at Amazingseasons

Happy Halloween to one and all


More Of Them This Year

The population of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) has been dwindling down to a point of concern that they may be heading toward extinction.  With a small patch of garden, we try our best to help them by letting the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) grow.  It’s the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat.

Common Milkweed flowers

A male Monarch soaking up morning sunlight in early July

I didn’t grow the first milkweed.  It came to our garden around three or four years ago.  The seeds are airborne but I had not seen any milkweed around our area then, but I may have overlooked it.  Though it falls in the ‘weed’ category, I let the first one grow anyway.  Then I fell in love with its fragrance.  The first lone milkweed has grown into a large patch now and we try to keep them confined to one spot.  They can be pretty invasive; every spring I have to pull out the ones that sprouted in the middle of the lawn or flower plots.  We also let them grow in the spots that are out of the way so as not to over-crowd the other plants.

Aside from enjoying its fragrant and beautiful flowers, it’s also host to a variety of insects both friend and foe of the garden.  This year we are seeing more Monarchs so we have started to monitor them more closely.  It has taken us a few years to be registered on their homing GPS as one of their destinations.  I guess they decided that our garden is a reliable food source for their caterpillars and young adults so they lay eggs.  We were so happy and excited close to the point of obsession.  We checked on them everyday!

Laying egg under the Milkweed leaf

A fresh laid egg

A day or two old caterpillar, just the same size as a grain of rice

Munching on Milkweed leaf

A little bit older, pale green color bands changed to bright yellow

A full grown caterpillar

Only a few of them survived.  I don’t know who might eat them.  Most likely wasps have taken them for the future youngsters in their burrows.  But a few are better than none.  Hopefully the ones that were born in our garden survive the long flight to Sierra Madre, Mexico, and the winter to tell the next generation where our garden is.

A female Monarch enjoy nectar from Maximilion sunflower

View more Monarch photos at Amazingseasons

Yellow Winter Butterfly

The Guest Who Came To Breakfast

I came out to make coffee in the kitchen this morning and found an unexpected guest resting on the kitchen sink.  I can’t really say ‘unexpected’ since I expected him to show up sometime in the near future but not this morning.  He has been lounging in his chrysalis next to our kitchen sink for the last couple of months, a totally different outfit.  This morning he came out fully dressed in bright yellow and just sat there staring at me.  I have no idea how long he had been there, in his new outfit.  Here he is…

Resting on our kitchen sink
Resting on our kitchen sink

I found him a couple of months ago when I picked some Swiss chard from our cold frame.  I didn’t want to put him in with the stuff to be  composted because I know that he’ll transform to a butterfly one day.  I set the Swiss chard stalk by the sink where it dried out and shrunk.  Every time I had to do something at the sink, I checked on him.

I didn’t expect him to come out this morning but it’s a great thing to wake up to.  Really made our morning.  I have no idea whether he is  a Sulfur or a Cabbage butterfly.  It didn’t matter what he is, I offered him  breakfast anyway.  I dropped some sugar syrup that I made for our honeybees for him and left him alone.  I came back a few minutes later and found he had moved to it.

Try sugar syrup
Try sugar syrup

Closer look
Closer look

And, his old cloth that he discarded

An empty chrysalis he left behind
An empty chrysalis he left behind

I went out to the garden for a while to do some pruning and to feed our honeybees and when I came back in, he was nowhere to be found .  He didn’t show up for dinner either.


Fooled By Nature

Spring Already?

Tomorrow, December 22 will be the official first day of winter but Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.  Day time temperature will be over 50° F for the next few days and night time will not be much lower than that.  In fact, in this area Christmas Eve is predicted to be 70° F during the day.

The sad part of this unseasonably warm winter is that plants and animals are fooled by it.  They base their life cycles on the seasonal temperature changes.  When it’s cold they hibernate or go dormant in order to conserve energy when food is hard to find.  But when it’s too warm bears will come out from hibernation.  Cherry trees will bloom in Brooklyn.  Our honeybees came out looking for food too.  Luckily they are domesticated so we feed them.  But what happens to the wild honeybees?  There are no flowers for then to get nectar or pollen from.

Aside from our bees, plants in our garden are also fooled by this weather.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' is budding
Clematis ‘Crystal Fountain’ is budding


Tree peony
Tree peony

I don’t know what this winter will turn out to be.  If the ‘rural legend’ of Wooly Bear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia isabella) hits the mark most of the time, this winter should be a warm winter.   According to the text in ‘Caterpillars of Eastern North America‘ by David L. Wagner, the legend says the width of the orange band can be used to predict the severity of the upcoming winter; the narrower the band, the colder the winter.

This Wooly Bear on my glove told me the winter will be pretty warm, see how wide the orange band is.  But maybe he was just stretching.

I found this Wooly Bear caterpillar in our garden this autumn. Cute little guy.
I found this Wooly Bear caterpillar in our garden this autumn. Cute little guy.

Last Resource

Ode to a Honeybee In Late Autumn

We are having a warm autumn this year.  The daytime temperature is still hovering above 50° F on most days but drops back to slightly above 30° F at night.  We had frost for a couple of days early on in the season which killed off most of the garden.  So there is not much left for the bees.

Honeybees being honeybees, they still come out looking for food when the temperature is above 50° F and to relieve themselves as well.  We had fed them in mid-October but now we still worry that their food storage may not be enough for a winter that has not yet come.  Since they spend more energy flying around instead of semi-hybernating in the hive during this time of year, they probably have gone through more of their storage than usual.  So we are putting sugar syrup out on warm days.   They know exactly where the feeder is and zoom right to it.   They still go for any flowers they find blooming at this time of year: Alyssum, Chinese broccoli, Broccoli raab and…Saffron.

Alyssum, despite being tiny and low to the ground, they weather a light frost quite well. They smell like honey too.
Alyssum, despite being tiny and low to the ground, they weather a light frost quite well. They smell like honey too.

I let some broccoli raab flower and it turned out to be a good thing.
I let some broccoli raab flower and it turned out to be a good thing.

Honeybee collecting pollen from saffron flower
Honeybee collecting pollen from saffron flower

I should have grown more saffron but I always start small with any newbies.  If it fails I haven’t wasted much.  My fellow blogger suggested that I may be able to leave them outside since they are hardy to zone 6.  I will leave one pot out as an experiment.  If they are like other crocuses that bloom in spring (which I grow in the ground) they should be fine.  Then I can have plenty of saffron for tea and cooking, and plenty of food for honeybees in late autumn.

This girl didn't even wait for the Chinese broccoli to open fully
This girl didn’t even wait for the Chinese broccoli to open fully

They also go for the water at the heated birdbath
They also go for the water at the heated birdbath


Busy Little Lady

Anywhere I look in the garden I see buds on stems and branches.  New shoots sprout up from soft cold ground.  Some leaves start to unfurl and early flowering plants and trees are blossoming.  A new colorful season has started, a new life cycle.

Spring is always a busy time of year for me.  I have started to do a little clean up.  The soil is warm and still moist enough to start feeding the trees and roses and mulching should keep it from freezing if the temperature drops for a night or two.  Cleaning, feeding, pruning, transplanting and sowing new annuals will take much of my time in early spring.  Then comes a time to sit back and enjoy it all in late spring and summer.

While I was doing the clean up, I found a few Lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) hiding in the base of plants so I put back the dry leaves and left them alone.  A couple of them were out on the half unfurled rose leaves, helping me clean up small pests that I couldn’t see.  Their population seems to increase every year which I don’t mind at all.

A friend who gardens asked me if she should buy a ladybug package for her garden.  I told her ‘no’.  There is no point since no one can keep beneficial insects locked up in their garden.  I told her to improve her garden condition, forego pesticides and chemical fertilizer.  Once there is plenty of food and shelter, they will come to stay.

This lady beetle helping me cleaning up Rosa Rugosa 'Hansa'
This lady beetle helping me cleaning up Rosa Rugosa ‘Hansa’

Below are variety of Lady beetle from last year.

Bright orange with plenty of spots
Bright orange with plenty of spots

This one with dark yellow and a hint of orange
This one with dark yellow and a hint of orange

This one hardly has any spots.
This one hardly has any spots.

Another orange with a hint of red.
Another orange with a hint of red.

Before they become these cute looking beetles, they are in shape and form below.  If you see them crawling on leaves, don’t kill them.  Both lady beetle adults and larvae will help you get rid of aphids.  Ok, the larvae are not cute but they make up for looks in doing a great job.

Ladybug larva on rose leaf
Ladybug larva on rose leaf

After enough eating garden pests, they pupate.
After enough eating garden pests, they pupate.

I’m glad they are in our garden one generation after another.  Thank you for helping me keep the pests in check.