This has been a disappointing year for Poppies in the Automatic Garden. Even after multiple sowing, no Poppies emerged. Did the seeds rots or did ants steal them? I just don’t know. Luckily, I have a great post from the past to remind me of what could have been.
Take a look at A Good Poppy Crop.
I spotted this Monarch caterpillar crawling on a large clay pot. It was far from the Butterfly Weed, so I thought I would keep an eye on it.
The caterpillar climbed up to the rim and attached itself. Look closely for the nearly invisible thread.
For some reason that did not seem right, so the caterpillar dropped to the ground.
It crawled around for quite awhile and headed up a stick for a better view.
Finally, it settled for this plastic net that is protecting a plant. And yes, I did spend quite a long time watching this caterpillar crawl around. It is their habit to leave the plant they feed on and form a chrysalis elsewhere and are usually hard to find.
And in no time the caterpillar was in its chrysalis. Sadly, I missed the process and when I checked hours later, it was done.
About the time it should have hatched, a beautiful Monarch Butterfly was hanging on a nearby brick wall drying its wings and the chrysalis was gone.
And the circle of life begins again with a female Monarch depositing her eggs. I like to think it was the same one that hatched, but there is no way to tell. She checked out all the plants and made sure the eggs were laid only on Butterfly Weed.
Apparently other Monarchs had stopped by and on the same day, I found a tiny caterpillar barely a half of an inch long starting on its journey.
This year has already started well for the butterfly population in my area and many more have been stopping by than in past few years.
One never knows when it could happen. The day could start out innocent enough with a stroll about the gardens. A turn around the corner and then you see her. The stalker.
Carefully and slowly you try to back away. But you have been spotted.
Your gait becomes faster, but the stalker keeps pace.
The only thing left to do is run to the safety of your home and slam the door tight as the stalker looks on.
And now the back story. This rabbit was a frequent visitor to the garden and had disappeared for about 6 months. I assumed she had moved on to a new home or her final destination. Somehow she is back. Yes, I admit that I feed the rabbits then complain about them eating my flowers. This particular one is extremely friendly and comes up to me for food. Unfortunately, she thinks the food ejects from my feet, so closed toed shoes are a must. In the past, the rabbit would wait on the porch for me to feed her. It will be interesting to see if she remembers that trick.
The sky was a perfect blue.
And a perfectly blue visitor came to feed. This beautiful bird is an Indigo Bunting and surprisingly, it is really black. The diffraction of light through its feathers make it look blue.
Through the years, other Indigo Buntings have come through the garden around the same time, probably from their winter home in Mexico. Some may nest near this area. An interesting fact about the bird is that their numbers have actually increased due to lumbering and energy line tree cutting. The Buntings enjoy wooded areas next to open fields.
There has been much concern about the dwindling numbers of Monarch Butterflies. An organization called Monarch Watch has been encouraging everyone to plant Milkweed, also know as Butterfly Weed.
I have been planting Butterfly Weed all over the yard. Unfortunately, a beetle has shown up the last few years and has eaten almost all the plants I grew. This year I am trying to collect the bugs daily for disposal, as any kind of spraying will also kill the Monarchs.
I was pleased to find many very fat and healthy Monarch Caterpillars on the Butterfly Weed. This one is eyeing his competition.
My main purpose for planting Butterfly Weed is to feed caterpillars. The plants tend to look pretty bad after awhile. Interestingly, the plants contain a chemical called cardiac glycoside that cause birds to vomit. By eating the leaves, the caterpillars are protected from birds.
I find that rabbits and deer also avoid the plant. The most common Butterfly Weed grown here is Asclepias tuberosa, which is tropical/Mexican Butterfly Weed.
The plants produce seed pods filled with seeds attached to fluffy floss that allows them to drift in the wind to a new location.
I recently found out that Milkweed floss had an important role in World War II. School children from all over the country were sent out to collect the seed pods to make life vests for Navy sailors. Milkweed in the northern U.S. is much larger than the ones that grow in the South and were found growing in fields and along the roads. The seeds were removed and the floss was used to stuff the vests.
I find it hard to imagine that these vest would stay afloat for long, but I guess that is what they had back then. While researching, I also found an article with instructions for making a down-like coat using the Milkweed floss for the insulation. As it turns out, this “weed” is not only necessary for Monarchs, but humans have also found uses for it.
I was quite surprised to spot this little one as I was walking down the driveway. A car just used it and luckily the little turtle was close to the grass.
It is a Red Eared Slider and probably made his way from the nearby lake. Mother turtles lay eggs and they are left on their own to hatch and feed themselves. Turtles can carry salmonella, so I put on some gloves to handle it.
The turtle has very interesting markings and patterns. Red Eared Sliders can live as long as 30 years. After observing and photographing him for awhile, I walked him to a wet area near the lake where I hope he will live a good long life.
The last time I was away from home, I came back to a killing freeze. Most of the plants had to be cut back. In this climate, many plants usually stay green for the winter. The Automatic Garden looked hopeless. I spent many hours cleaning up, reevaluating and moving plants around. I walked the garden several times a day checking on the plants’ progress and watching them grow inch by inch.
Recently, I had another trip and this time I came back to a much happier reunion. While I was away, it rained and the days heated up. The Automatic Garden did its job and not only filled in, but put out blooms.
The faithful perennials of Black and Blue Salvia and Shrimp Plant came back bigger and better.
Butterfly Weed wasted no time and quickly bloomed, allowing a passing Monarch to leave her eggs for the next generation.
I had seeded a few annuals, along side the reliable garden staples, for some early color. Spring is an anticipated a time of renewal and the Automatic Garden did not disappoint.