It’s Caterpillar Time!

by Sandy Swegel

Protect our friends. So many butterflies in our area have laid their eggs and their baby caterpillars are getting big and fat and chewing up plants. Be sure you know who your friends are before you squash any of them! You’ll love having the butterflies.

Swallowtail caterpillars
I found these this week, not on the dozens of dill plants I planted for them but on a leftover parsley from last year. Next year, more parsley.

Monarch caterpillars
Also yellow stripey…they look a little more serious. I’m watching for these now. Quite a few eggs on the milkweed plants I let take over part of the back garden…so I’m hoping

Painted lady caterpillar
I almost never see these although I see lots of the butterflies. Skinny little black prickly caterpillars. Their host is the Malva family like thistles or hollyhocks.

Cabbage looper
Well, this is one you’re probably seeing a lot of right now. Cute little white moths fluttering everywhere. Bright green little loopers inching along devouring your cabbages. If you want cabbages, you have to treat these as pests.

 

 

Photocredit:
lagbchbutterflies.weebly.com
www.monarch-butterfly.com
wildones.org

 

No Neonics: Three Easy Ways to Help

by Sandy Swegel

Just a moment to be serious now. Spring has arrived and stores are filling with bedding plants and seeds. At the same time, homeowners are noticing all the weeds in yards and some still go out to buy weed killer.

There are three easy quick things you can do that make a difference to help protect bees and yourself from the “neonic” pesticides.

Learn One Name
Imidacloprid
That’s the neonic most likely in retail products. If you’re an overachiever, the other names are Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran. These are ingredients in weed killers, especially products marked Bayer or with names like Systemic or Max. Just check your labels and don’t buy these.

Watch For the Label
Customer pressure led Home Depot and Lowe’s last year to agree to put labels on all plants treated with neonics. The label is deceptive….makes it sound like neonics are better…but watch for the label.

Ask Your Retailer
There’s no government regulation (Alas!) that says neonics have to be labeled. The best thing you can do is ask at the garden center if the plants you are buying have been treated with neonics. If they don’t know…then you can probably assume the plants have been sprayed. The treatments can last up to two months in your garden…making your pretty flowers potentially lethal to bees that land on them.

Every time you ask a garden center employee or a grower if their plants have been treated with neonics, you are educating them. That’s what we are after. Nobody really wants to harm bees or the environment. Two years ago when I asked a major grower here in the Denver area if they used neonics, the owner looked at me like I was some crazy Boulder liberal. Which of course I am. He said, “Bah humbug, there’s no way to grow plants without neonics.” But last week, his greenhouse (Welby) had an open house in which they proudly said that most of their plants were grown without neonics and they were continuing to work on how to get neonic-free.

Oh, and of course there’s a fourth thing to do to help the bees. Grow your own plants from good non-pesticide treated, non-GMO, often organic, often heirloom, always neonic-free seeds like ours!
For lots of info on neonics in consumer products, you can read this pdf put out by Xerces.
http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/NeonicsInYourGarden.pdf

Photo Credit
http://ecowatch.com/2015/02/10/global-ban-bee-killing-neonics/

 

 

Saving the Monarch—one yard at a time

by Sandy Swegel

Native plant advocate Doug Tallamy tells a wonderful story about how the Atala butterfly was saved from the brink of extinction.

“…the Atala butterfly was thought to be extinct in the 1970s. Then landscapers started placing the insect’s food source, a native plant called the coontie, around houses – not to help the butterfly – but because the plant was attractive in home landscapes. The result – a butterfly thought to be extinct found the suburban plants and today appears to be on the rebound.”

 

The greatest challenge for the monarch butterfly has been the loss of habitat across all of its migratory path. The monarch only feeds and lays eggs on one kind of plant: milkweed. Milkweed is considered a weed by Big Ag, and large farming operations have done their best to kill all the weeds including milkweed. Highway departments also have helped eliminate habitat as they found it was cheaper to pour weedkiller on roadsides rather than mow.

It’s difficult for us as individuals to change Big Ag, or highway departments or to stop deforestation in the Mexican winter habitat monarch. But the story of the Atala butterfly suggests that the monarch can be brought back from its hurdle toward extinction. And we, in individual suburban and city yards, can do something. We can plant native milkweed, a beautiful flowering plant, in our own gardens. Our hope will be that the monarch will figure out that the milkweeds are now in a new place…our individual yards…rather than along highways and farms.

For the last couple of years, I’ve lived in the city where my yard has space for maybe two milkweed plants if I smoosh them together. It seems like a pretty tiny impact I can make. It’s hard to buy milkweed plants in garden centers, so I have to grow from seed. What I’m doing this year is germinating the entire packet of seeds in little pots. After I plant my two plants, I’ll give the other baby plants to as many of my neighbors as I can and ask them to grow the plants. With any luck, our entire block (or two) will have milkweeds growing that will be beacons to overflying monarchs. It might be hard for the monarchs to see one or two plants in my yard….but I think they’ll notice a whole neighborhood worth of milkweed.

Habitat restoration on a grand scale is a great idea. But I feel powerless as an individual to accomplish that. But in the meantime, maybe we can offer new habitat in our collective yards. I can grow out a packet of seeds and change my neighborhood.

Another quote from Tallamy:
If half of the American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20 million acre national park – nine times bigger than Yellowstone, or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah National Park.

If you have more space in your yard, Tallamy tells about a great experiment in Delaware where researches planted Common Milkweed in a naturalistic planting in a 15′ x 15′ plot. That plot produced 150 monarchs in one season.

Let’s create this new hidden monarch habitat in our yards. Whether you have two square feet like me or space for a 15′ x 15′ plot, you can help save monarchs from extinction. One yard, one packet of seeds, one plant at a time, we can provide food and a place to raise baby monarchs.

Photo Credit:

http://www.butterflyfunfacts.com/atala.php

 

Early Spring Flowers for Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

Hungry pollinators are starting to wake up. Well, maybe not this week in Colorado if they are smart. We still have a foot of old snow on the ground, but the sun will come out later this week and I expect to see the first crocuses poke out from the melting snow.

The first warm days of Spring bring out lots of our pollinator friends. In a long winter like this, honey supplies are running short and honeybees are eager for fresh food. Wild bees and bumblebees who don’t have honey stores are very hungry. Ladybugs that woke up a few weeks ago and have been eating aphid eggs in the leaf litter are eager for some sweet nectar or pollen. Everybody’s hungry and are flocking to the first flowers to gather nectar and protein. They need to build up their own strength and to provide food for Spring babies.

 

You can spot some of the first pollinators of the season if you look closely at the first Spring bulbs. Plan to plant more of these in your garden if you want to attract more pollinators. You can lure pollinators to your yard by having the first flowers. Then they’ll stay for the rest of the season if you have flowers in bloom all year.

 

Some of the easiest spring flowers to grow are:
Crocus
Snowdrops
Grape hyacinths
Daffodils
Tulips, especially native tulips.

Little bulbs like snowdrops and grape hyacinths re-seed themselves and naturalize a good-sized patch. If you don’t have these in your own yard, it’s easy dig up a few bulbs from a friend’s overgrown patch and transplant into your own garden. They don’t mind the transplanting too much and will bloom as usual…attracting more pollinators to your yard.

So bend down close to those little crocus flowers to see our pollinator friends. Bring a camera. The bees get groggy from gorging on pollen and are often moving pretty slowly, so it’s easy to get a good picture.

 

Photo credits:
Mason bee on crocus: http://www.earthtimes.org/scitech/saving-bees-new-pesticide/2612/

Bee on tulip: http://matthewwills.com/tag/honey-bees/

Bee on muscari and fly on snowdrop: http://urbanpollinators.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/more-early-spring-flowers-for.html

To make your pollinator garden click here!

comp

 

 

 

Stalking the Wild Monarch

by Sandy Swegel

It’s Show and Tell time.
It’s time to take the kids or some curious adults outside and prove your superior knowledge of the ways of nature and introduce them to butterfly eggs.  It’s been a good milkweed year in the wild this year. Lots of spring rains followed by warm days have made the perfect home for milkweed plants.  Milkweeds are growing in my garden and along roadsides and ditches.  If milkweed plants are fully grown…mine are in tight bud about to bloom…you can walk up to almost any plant and look under the leaves and find little tiny white monarch butterfly eggs.

Milkweed plants, Asclepias, as you probably know are the ONLY host plant for the monarch butterfly.  The butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of the leaves. The eggs hatch hungry little larvae that chew up the leaves.

The larvae get big and fat and eventually form pupae, also on the underneath side of a milkweed plant.

Finally, “ta-da” a monarch butterfly emerges.

I have two favorite kinds of milkweed plants in my garden.  The “showy milkweed” Asclepias speciosa with the big pink seed head you’ve seen in fields, and “Butterfly weed” Asclepias tuberosa which is my favorite because it’s bright orange and looks good in the dry August garden next to the Black-eyed Susans.  It also makes a great picture to see a Monarch butterfly on one of the orange flowers.

Monarchs are happy to choose either of these two “milkweeds” or any of the other more than 100 different species of milkweeds around the world. So you can pick the flower you like and grow it in your own garden. Grow it and the monarchs WILL come.  I’ve had good luck with fall or winter direct sowing of the seeds that easily grow into blooming plants the next year.  After that, they reseed themselves gently.

Video links
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=9Q2eORu1hP8

http://www1.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?title=Monarch_butterfly_laying_eggs_on_milkweed&video_id=51640

And, just in case there are any monarch butterflies out there that don’t know how to do this, here is an instructable!

http://www.instructables.com/id/Monarch-Butterflies-Egg-to-Butterfly/

 

 

 

Pollinator Week 2014

Seven years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of this week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, etc.

Often overlooked or misunderstood, pollinators are in fact responsible for one out of every three bites of food that we eat. In the U.S. bees alone undertake the astounding task of pollinating over $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. Beginning in 2006, pollinators started to decline rapidly in numbers.

BBB Seed Company (Boulder, CO), The Colorado State Beekeepers Association, Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association, Boulder County Beekeepers Association & 16 garden centers/stores from Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver & Colorado Springs are teaming up to celebrate National Pollinator Week! We will have a Pollinator Table set up at all 16 locations during Pollinator Week June 16-22nd with pollinator literature, brochures, pollinator wildflower mixes and more. On Saturday, June 21st from 10am-2pm, some of the garden centers listed below will have a beekeeper there to answer any questions adults & children may have about pollinators, planting for pollinators, protecting pollinators, etc! Come help us Celebrate, Honor & Protect our Precious Pollinators!

So visit your local nursery or garden center during Pollinator Week, pick up some seeds or flowering plants and learn about the vital role of bees and other pollinators!

Locations in Larimer County include:

• Fort Collins Nursery, Fort Collins
• Bath Garden Center, Fort Collins
• Gardens on Spring Creek, Fort Collins
• JAX Ranch & Home, Fort Collins
• JAX, Loveland

Locations in Boulder County include:
• Flower Bin, Longmont
• JAX, Lafayette
• McGuckin Hardware, Boulder
• Harlequin’s Gardens, Boulder
• Sturtz & Copeland, Boulder

Locations in the Denver area include:
• Country Fair Garden Center- Colorado Blvd

• Nick’s Garden Center & Farm Market
• Tagawa Gardens

Locations in Colorado Springs include:
• Phelan Gardens
• Rick’s Garden Center

 

Make Your Own Mud Puddle

by Sandy Swegel

I’m always in search of how to do things more easily and efficiently in the garden. Once again today I was at the garden center eavesdropping and heard a typical customer question: ”What should I plant to get pollinators to my yard?” The answer the garden center owner gave surprised me.  I was expecting a list of bright colorful flowers that were good sources of nectar and some host-specific plants for butterflies. Instead, I heard the best and simplest answer to this common question: “There are lots of good plants to use,  but the most important thing you can do is provide a good source of water.” He then elaborated that it couldn’t just be a birdbath or water fountain…it needed to be shallow and ideally have the minerals pollinators crave.

So the quick and easy way to get LOTS of pollinators to your yard is to make mud puddles.  Or if you’re a bit tidier, a water sand bath.

Any way to get small puddles of water will work. You’ve seen this when flying insects gather around a dripping spigot, or when there’s a ledge in your water feature that water flows slowly over. In nature, pollinators gather along the edges of streams and lakes.

To mimic nature, take a plant saucer and fill it half with sand and fill with water to just over the sand.  The sand is the source of minerals and gives an easy surface to rest upon.  Bees especially will drown in deeper water.  To make it extra nice, sprinkle compost over the sand to add extra nutrients.  If you’re out in the country, a nice flat cow patty will do the trick…Put it in a big round plant saucer and add water.

If you’re in a very dry climate like me, the water evaporates much too quickly in hot weather.  The customer I was eavesdropping on at the garden center had a burst of inspiration: “I’ll put one of my drip lines in it so when I water the plants, the “puddle” will get water.”

A less elegant solution is to take a one-gallon water bottle and put a pinhole in the bottom and place it on some bare soil. Fill the bottle and water will drip out slowly keeping a mud puddle going.

I’ve put out an attractive saucer with sand, and a water bottle over bare dirt to see which works better. So far, the plain wet dirt is winning when they’ve got a choice. Now, why do I suspect they’d probably like the wet cow patty the best.

 

 

Pollinator mixes

Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower seed mixes

 

Butterfly Love

by Sandy Swegel

 

I have friends who are serious eco-tourists.  They were the first people I knew to swim with dolphins.  Then they starting swimming or boating with whales, petting them and picking lice off whales. This year the trip de rigeur was down to Mexico where you can be surrounded by tens of thousands of flying monarch butterflies.  We mere humans don’t have wings, but down in the monarch migration zones, it’s almost like having wings. My friends were awed and literally touched by clouds of fluttering butterflies.  They appreciate and LOVE butterflies in a new way now.

 

The best thing about butterfly love? Or bee love or whale love?  It’s going to be what saves species.  When I was a kid, studying butterflies involved using straight pins to pin dead butterflies to styrofoam blocks.  Kids now go to nature camps or butterfly pavillions or good schools and become so aware of what magical creatures butterflies are that children become society’s butterfly protectors.  Last summer a friend wasn’t watching where she was going and was going to accidentally stomp on a butterfly as she was tromping in the garden.  One of the kids playing nearby wailed “Stop! Watch out! There’s a butterfly!”

 

So, find some ways to experience butterflies up close.  In Denver, we’re lucky to have a Butterfly Pavillion.  Almost as intense is a 3-D IMAX movie, “Flight of the Butterflies” now showing around the country.  Saving species, or saving the world is really pretty easy when the first step is learning to love our earthly companions.   The kids will explain it to you.

Photo credit and link:  http://www.flightofthebutterflies.com/home/

http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/

 

 

 

 

 

A Wild Thicket

by Sandy Swegel

When it comes to our gardens, we Americans are of a divided heart. Deep in our ancestral memories are the manicured gardens of Europe.  We swoon over the groomed roses and delphiniums of England, We admire the orderliness of rows of Tuscan poplars. We see the almost mathematical grid of Versailles echoed in Jefferson’s Monticello. We use raised beds to confine our vegetables just as the medieval cloister gardens were enclosed.

 

 At the same time, we Americans are a frontier people, dazzled by the wildness and grandeur of raw untamed nature.  Grassy plains and dense woodlands and mountains majesty tug at our hearts even as we tend our suburban plots.

 

To fill the needs of our wild nature souls, I think it’s always good to have a wild area in our yard. One that manages to thrive only on what nature provides and provides a haven for small wildlife.  Generally, there is some place in your yard that already refuses to be tamed. Someplace wild plums keep sprouting and sumacs come unbidden.   This is the area to encourage in your yard – your secret garden, if you’d like – or just the area you see from your kitchen window reminding you that beneath the dishes and chores and children and jobs, you have a wild spirit too.

 My favorite thicket started with the wild plums that kept coming back. Over time, a couple of chokecherries worked their way in, and the patch of lemon balm appeared all on its own.  Birds planted wild roses. Squirrels brought in nuts. I decided to play along with nature and seeded an unruly pollinators’ hedge filled with the nectar and pollen-rich flowering plants that bees and butterflies crave. I let the wild queen anne’s lace have some space in the back and I didn’t pull the dandelions. I did plant one of those tall dark purple butterfly bushes for structure and I seeded a buffer zone of grasses and wildflowers to create a neutral zone of sorts between “The Lawn” and “The Thicket.” 

 I don’t really “garden” the thicket but over time I’ve planted some naturalizing crocus and daffodils and a handful of seeds a decade ago that keep the spring display stunning.  About the only care I give the area is water during really dry spells and a birdbath of water because butterflies and birds and bees need something to drink.

 I am proudest of my tended garden…the showy beds of vegetables and annual flowers, the elegant stretches of roses and flowering shrubs and tulips in Spring. But deep down, it is my thicket that I love the most.

 

Save the Monarch Butterfly!

by Sandy Swegel

The big nature news this week was an article in the New York Times that 2013 is the first year anyone remembers that the monarchs didn’t appear in the central forests of Mexico for the Day of the Dead. It’s part of the cultural tradition there that the annual migration of monarchs to their winter home in the mountains of Mexico represents the souls of the dead.  Last year scientists were worried when only 60 million monarchs came back to Mexico, but this year a paltry 3 million struggled in weeks late.

A primary cause of the monarch’s disappearance is the destruction of milkweed in the Midwest, the monarch’s only food. Native habitat in which milkweed thrives has been destroyed as prairie turns to endless mono-crops of Roundup-drenched fields of corn.  There are other factors such as massive deforestation in Mexico and the transition of prairie land to suburbia. But no milkweed means the monarch starves.

It’s interesting that the New York Times has been a big supporter of the monarch.  This was the third article in the last year in which they have featured the decline of the monarch. They have seen the writing on the wall.

What can you do?  Keep up the usual things you do opposing GMO crops that rely on Roundup to wipe out all native “weeds.”  There’s political action work to reduce the corn subsidies that make Roundup profitable.  But as a gardener, you can plant some milkweed and other native plants that will feed the many native pollinators in dramatic decline.  The monarch might be the prettiest most dramatic victim of our prairie destruction, but there are many others.  Gardeners understand the delicate web of life that depends on native habitat.  Tell your friends.

New York Times on the Monarch: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/sunday-review/the-year-the-monarch-didnt-appear.html?_r=0http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/opinion/sunday/monarchs-fight-for-their-lives.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/science/earth/monarch-migration-plunges-to-lowest-level-in-decades.html

Photo Credit:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/science/12butterfly.html?pagewanted=all