“…as if she laid an asteroid.”

That’s part of a Mark Twain quote; here it is in its entirety – “Noise proves nothing.  Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.”   Well, excuse me, Mr. Twain, but if you’d just produced the world’s most perfect food, packaged within such a beautiful case, you’d be cackling, too!

This post is just a shameless offering of gratitude for the wonderful gifts my hens give every day.   Having a regular and affordable supply of organically produced eggs was one of the main reasons I started my adventure with chickens one year ago.

Theoretically, a hen can lay an egg every 25 hours, so in optimum conditions, my flock should be good for 5-6 a day. Optimum conditions don’t occur every day.  Here in North Carolina, our summers get really hot and humid, and the hens feel the effects just like we do and production drops a bit when the temps approach 100.

Egg laying is also directly related to day length, so in the fall, production drops significantly.  Adding light in the coop to extend daylight to sixteen hours has helped, but I added light after they’d already slowed down, so it has taken weeks to get back up to more normal production and it’s still not quite there.  This coming fall, the light’s going on October 1st!

Here’s the haul from one day last August, our biggest egg day so far, labeled with the hen’s breed – eight hens laid nine eggs, most unusual – Since only one of my hens lays the light blue/green eggs, I knew who was working overtime!  Here, I think Sweet Thing is telling me not to get used to it – They’re beautiful, with hard shells, tall, plump, orange yokes, and they look pretty fabulous in a pan.  These were still warm from the nest when I cracked them open this morning…

Here’s a typical dozen from my gang -

and here’s one of my favorite meals, with some Cherokee Purple tomatoes from the garden and homemade hash browns – The taste is better, brighter, and richer than the factory eggs from the grocery store.  I want to make sure that whatever my hens are producing, be it eggs, or manure for compost, is as pure and nutrient-rich as possible, so I’m careful what they eat.  I use soy-free, organic feed from a farm in the area.

The girls seem to love it, and I feel really good about the eggs we’re eating at my house these days.

This type of feed is getting more and more available – it’s now being carried in our local hardware store!  Here’s the label –

Of course, they also get veggie scraps from the kitchen and anything left in the garden.  They particularly enjoy special treats like pasta, oatmeal, and apples, too.  Good stuff in, great eggs come out!

Over the holidays, I was baking quite a bit and needed extra eggs so I bought a dozen large eggs at the grocery store for a few recipes.   I hated to do it but it was a good opportunity to be reminded of the difference, even just in appearance and size.  Here’s how the eggs from my girls, on the left, look in comparison to the ones from the store… Not too shabby, eh? Not all eggs come out perfect, though.  I’ll never forget the first time I grabbed one of these, with the shell only partially formed.  It looked normal; the indentations you see were from my fingers grabbing it.  It must have been a welcome relief for the hen, but was a shock to me!  I had to do some research!  Sometimes, particularly with a young hen, new to laying, this will happen.  If it happens regularly, something’s wrong with the diet or health of the hen, but usually, it ain’t nothin’ but a thang. Sometimes, again with a young hen, an egg will be quite small, but that’s rare, too – I’d always liked eggs, but had grown a bit weary of them.  Now, I’ve fallen completely in love with them again – AND – study after study is coming to the same conclusion – that there is no evidence of a significant correlation between the cholesterol in eggs and an increased risk of strokes and coronary heart disease.  The lecithin in eggs actually serves to reduce cholesterol levels.

Eggs are full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and most of the fat found in eggs is unsaturated.

Couple that with their versatility – what other equally nutritious food can be enjoyed on its own or as an ingredient in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert recipes?

Okay, now I’m just teasing you – go eat some organically and mindfully produced eggs by whatever mode of transport you choose!

 

Posted in Chickens, Cholesterol, compost, Eggs, Feed, Garden, Mark Twain, Nutrition | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Magic of Sheet Mulch

If you could do something now to save yourself a lot of garden toil in the spring, would you be interested?  I know; it’s getting cold out and the holidays are approaching.  Who wants to think about preparing a garden for next year? Bear with me.  This is very cool and comparatively easy.

If you’ve ever wanted to convert lawn (or weeds) to garden bed, this article is for you. Depending on size, it can be done in an hour or a day.  Then you ignore it for months while magic happens underground.  Come Spring, you’ll have dark, rich, fabulous soil just waiting for your favorite plants.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy digging in the hard clay soil we are blessed with here in North Carolina.  Tilling is not necessary and not good for the soil structure, either.  You’ll need compost anyway, to mix in and nourish the soil, so you may as well skip the digging and the tilling and let this method do all the hard work for you!  If I can find a way around hard labor, I’m all over it.  That’s why I was so excited, albeit a little skeptical, when I first heard about sheet mulching, but I’ve done it myself several times and it works – I promise!  Also sometimes called lasagna gardening or sheet composting, sheet mulching is a technique used in permaculture and sustainable agriculture.

Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand:

  • A stack of newspaper – non-glossy pages – or cardboard sheets or disassembled boxes – enough to cover the area you’ve chosen to a thickness of a quarter inch, allowing for generous overlapping.
  • Compost or manure – bulk, bagged or partially decomposed organic matter of your own making.
  • Mulch – your choice, but sufficient to cover the area to a thickness of three inches at least.  I like triple shredded, hardwood mulch.

I took a series of photos this year to show the evolution of the process in a client’s garden. In our situation, due to scheduling challenges (translation: my clients travel and have lots more fun than should be legal!), we started in May instead of in the fall.  I was confident we’d have the same success, but I’m glad to have had the opportunity to prove it.  Here’s where we began:

On the day before the sheet mulching, water the area well unless there’s been a good rain recently.

On Sheet Mulch day, here are the steps:

  • Clip short whatever is growing there and leave it in place.  The clipping keeps things neat and level but most importantly, the clippings are a good first meal for the organisms that are going to do all the work for you ever the next few months.
  • Cover the area with newspapers and/or cardboard. This will block sun and prevent germination of weed seeds. You’ll definitely want to wet this layer to keep things in place – believe me, the sight of your sheet mulch materials gliding down the street on a breeze will be very discouraging.

  • Spread the compost/manure/organic matter 3-6 inches thick. This step is very forgiving; spread it as level as you can but don’t obsess. Wet this layer thoroughly.

  • Next, cover with at least three inches of mulch. This will make your work area attractive, but mulch is much more than just a pretty face. It’s great insulation; it conserves water and is an effective weed block which gives you a second layer of protection against weed germination.

That’s it; you are free to go!  Water your new mulched area through the next few months if precipitation is lacking. The organisms need water to do their best work. Within three or four months, the foundation you’ve laid will have transformed itself into the most fertile, earthworm rich garden soil you’ve ever used – and you made that happen without using even one chemical and without the need for ibuprofen, to boot.  Pat yourself on the back for that – it’s not a small thing – feel good about it!

When planting time comes, you’ll be ready.  All you’ll need is the plants, and putting them in the ground will be as easy as potting a house plant. Speaking of feeling good about something – wait until you watch your garden grow!  Your plants will do well the first season but they and the soil will continue to improve as long as you add organic matter  once or twice a year.  My practice is to add compost in the spring, mulch in the fall.

I’ll be posting more photos to show how this garden grows; we’re just getting it planted now and have been delighted with the easy digging and the quality of the soil.  I’ve only seen a few pieces of the cardboard around the edges and they were barely recognizable – lots of wonderful decomposition has taken place under the surface.   Weeds?  What weeds?

Stay tuned for more from this garden!

Posted in digging, earthworms, Garden, Lasagna gardening, mulch, permaculture, Sheet Composting, Sheet Mulch, Sheet Mulching, soil structure, sustainable agriculture, tilling, Weeds | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Grasses, Please – Hold the Mower!

“In the laying out of lawns and artistic gardens, a few of the many beautiful hardy grasses should not be overlooked.  Their stateliness, tropic luxuriance, and soft colors harmoniously punctuate the prevailing green, while their graceful, sinuous yielding to every wind gives animation to gardened landscapes too apt to look “fixed.”  - from the Spring 1909 Catalog, Storrs and Harrison Company, Painesville, Ohio

That’s what was said about ornamental grasses a century ago, before many of our homes were built.  They knew what we have come to embrace in recent years – that grasses are an inordinately useful group of plants that can enhance any type of landscape – from the most formal to cottage gardens to contemporary and minimalist spaces.  In fact, there is no garden style in which grasses can’t be a successful feature.

Grasses are remarkably easy to please, come in many sizes and colors, provide year-round interest, and add engaging texture and movement to the landscape.

While all plants can engage us visually, and some catch our attention with a delicious scent, grasses move with the breeze and create sound as well.

Grasses generally tolerate less than perfect conditions – variations in soil acidity, sand or clay content, and many are tolerant of wind and salt.  There are grasses for sun and for shade.

Most prefer little fertilizer and are drought tolerant, although there are others who don’t mind moist soils.  Overall, grasses aren’t bothered by pests or diseases and most are deer resistant.

Grasses can form a hedge, provide screening and help define garden spaces.  They can give the garden vertical interest and mix very well with other perennials.

Smaller grasses can be used as edging or borders along paths, in the front or back of your perennial bed and are charming in rock gardens.

Grasses bloom, generally in late summer and fall, providing interest when other plants are beginning to decline.  The gold, burgundy, rose and russet tones of the flower spikes pick up the autumn hues in the trees.

Many grasses persist into the winter, tall and golden in the sun, frosted with snow or simply standing among the bare trees and evergreens while your other perennials hibernate underground.  Grasses provide shelter for wildlife in the winter, too.

Care of ornamental grasses is very simple.  Water them well the first season.  After that, most are remarkably tolerant of drought.  In late winter/early spring, trim  your grasses down to a few inches above ground before new growth appears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the latest movements in landscape design is replacing lawn with meadow garden, which mixes grasses with wildflowers and perennials – there is some beautiful work being done in that area, particularly on larger properties, but aspects of that approach can be used very effectively in smaller, urban gardens.   No matter your garden situation, there are grasses for you.

If you already know and love grasses, you are a fortunate gardener; if you’ve never had the pleasure, you are in for a treat!

 

 


Posted in Garden, Ornamental grasses, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Sometimes a girl’s just gotta have a big blue pot…

I’ve wanted one for years; I’ve always said…….someday.  I have some screwy conflicts in my head about money sometimes – I can be very decisive about a really large purchase, but agonize over something for $50.  Well, this beautiful blue pot was originally more than $50, but it was on sale for 30% off so, someday was here!

A couple of weeks earlier, I found the coolest little lemon tree and since it won’t survive outside during the winter here in Zone 7b, I needed to plant it in a container that I can bring in the house.  I was originally thinking I’d get a Meyer lemon, but I found a Pink Eureka that I just fell in love with – it’s got variegated leaves, fragrant pink/white blooms, and the rind of the lemon is striped green and cream until it matures and turns yellow.  Inside, the flesh is a light pink.  Pink lemonade for everyone!  Doesn’t it sound fabulous?  Here’s a link to what looks like all you ever wanted to know about growing lemons.   So, the plan was coming together.   The lemon tree was still relatively small, so to jazz things up a bit, I added some other plants.    As the lemon grows, I’ll just remove the others.   So, I put a piece of screen over the hole in the bottom of the pot to prevent leakage of soil.  Then I added a good bit of Perlite to lighten the soil to prevent compaction – I want good drainage.   The soil I use is just an organic container mix I get locally.

I fertilized with worm castings from my worm bin.  Then, the plants.  The lemon goes in the center since eventually it will be the only inhabitant in the pot.   Then, I added a sun coleus, bee balm, agastache, a pink petunia, a cute little Oxalix I found at a garden open house, and a hardy Plumbago.   All these plants have something pinkish going on and I thought they would look good with the lemon tree foliage and flowers, and the pot.  A couple of weeks later, I also added a Veronica ‘Aztec Gold’ which provided some great color contrast, but it died while I was on vacation.

Do you mulch your containers?  I do.  It provides the same benefits in a container as it does in a garden bed, specifically conserving moisture, which is very important in a container.  It also blocks weeds and looks good.  The lemon tree needs acid, so I also added some pine needles.  Pine needles are a great mulch for blueberries, too, for the same reason.

What do you think?  I’ve got my blue pot after all these years.  It makes me happy.

How about you?  Is there a blue pot, or something else you’ve been wanting to gift yourself and it just seems too extravagant?

Don’t discount the value of a happy heart – you and everyone around you will benefit from it – treat yourself!

Posted in Blue Pot, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Container garden, Eureka Lemon, Fruit Trees, Garden, Hardy Plumbago, Lemon tree, Pink Eureka, Sun Coleus | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Yummy Peach Preserves

Do you love peaches?  Doesn’t everybody?  Today I’m going to show you how I make peach preserves.  It’s easy and they are insanely delicious!

I’ve had a very busy summer, but one thing I was determined to accomplish was canning a batch of peach preserves.  Fortunately, I was able to make that happen last week.  This is my second year of canning and my third batch of peach preserves.   They were the first thing I ever canned, and I think a good one to start with – a little time consuming in a mostly passive way, but so rewarding.   I researched basic canning techniques and safety considerations – it’s important to know the reasons for the steps taken in the canning process and here is a link to a website I found to be very thorough and clear.  I also  watched a YouTube video a friend made.  I’d tasted her peach preserves and wanted the same delicious result.  My first batch last year turned out really well, even received my son’s enthusiastic approval, so I figured I’d make a larger batch.  That didn’t turn out as well, since I let them overcook, so I’ve been looking forward to redeeming myself ever since.

I planted a peach tree last year but it’ll be at least another year or two before it produces any fruit to speak of, so I bought my peaches at our state Farmer’s Market.  I got a peck (about 30 good-sized peaches).

They weren’t all ripe yet, so they spent a few days with the tomatoes I had ripening in the dining room.

Once the peaches are ripe, they need to be peeled and cut up.  The easiest way to peel them is to blanch them first, for 30 seconds in boiling water, then move them into a bowl of ice water for another 30 seconds.  The skins will just slide off if the peach is ripe enough, so don’t hurry the ripening, wait an extra day or two if you’re in doubt.   Process the batch in stages if there is much variation in ripening time.  Once the skin is off, slice the peach in half, remove the pit and chop into small pieces.  Once they’re cut, add sugar – the quantity is really up to you, but use a good bit for best results.  It also aids in the prevention of bacterial growth.  I use 3/4 cup sugar for every two cups of peaches, and I think that’s conservative – you can go 1:2 and have a great result, too, in fact that’s closer to what I did last year.  You’ll notice in the video that my friend uses 1:1 for hers.

Mix the sugar and peaches well, cover, and let sit overnight.   Next day, slowly simmer the mixture in an uncovered saucepan until it thickens.  Don’t ignore it! Stir frequently and don’t burn it – you know your stove; on mine the best setting is a notch below medium.   It’ll take a few hours.  There’s no pectin in this recipe, so simmering reduces it (removes water) to a good consistency for preserves.  The hot mixture will be a bit more runny than the preserves will be in a jar at room temperature, so stop cooking just a little before it’s just right.

While your peaches are reducing, start a big pot of water boiling.  Be sure there is sufficient water to cover the jars you’re going to use with a couple of inches to spare.

Meanwhile, once that water begins to boil, sterilize jars, lids, and bands.  Follow the instructions on the video for filling the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace……..

Clean the rims of the jars with a moistened clean towel to ensure a good seal and apply the lids.  Screw on the rings, but don’t over-tighten.  Using jar tongs, lower jars upright into boiling water and allow them to boil for 20 minutes.

Then pull out the jars and place them on a cooling rack or towel.   You’ll notice, in the video, that my friend puts the jars upside down to cool.  Some people do this to help with sealing.  I don’t, and have never had a jar that didn’t seal – yet.  Very shortly, you should hear a series of pops, one for each jar you’ve processed.  This sound means the seal is secure.  Allow the jars to sit undisturbed for 24 hours.  Check the seals at this point.  You should not be able to push the lid in with finger pressure.  If you can, either apply a new lid and ring and reprocess or store the jar, as is, in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.

Next and final step – tighten the lids and pack your pantry!

I completely understand if you take a short break for some tea and toast with peach preserves at this point.  It’s even delicious by the spoonful right out of the jar!

The longer I garden, the more I learn, and care about the food I eat.  The more I care about it, the more I want to preserve, and not waste, the food that I grow.   I’ll tell you about more of my preserving ventures in future posts – it’s a lot of fun learning different methods of making that good food last!

“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.”   – Alice Walker

 

Posted in Canning, Canning Jars, Canning Lids and Rings, Fruit Trees, Jar Tongs, Peach Preserves, Peaches, Water Bath Processing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Perfect First Fruit Tree

One evening, when I was five years old, I ate an entire package of Fig Newtons.  The result was entirely predictable and I never ate another one or anything containing figs until more than forty years later.  As childhood traumas go, that was a mild one, and I’m very glad I decided to give figs another chance – they’re quite tasty!

As a gardener, I’m very smitten with my fig tree, Ficus carica, ‘Brown Turkey’. I like everything about it – its architecture, the color, size, and shape of the leaves, and the fruit, which has become one of my favorite garden snacks.  I’ve heard people complain that the birds get all the figs before they can.  I find if I keep a well stocked feeder nearby, the birds leave a lot of fruit for me.  Besides, any plant that attracts wildlife into my garden is more than OK in my book.  Wildlife plays a large part in my enjoyment of my garden.

Ficus carica does well in hardiness zones 7-10, so they’re very popular in the South.  In colder climates, it can be kept in a pot and stored in a garage for the winter.  Figs prefer full sun and will produce two crops, one in the spring on last year’s wood, and another in late summer/early fall on new wood.  They tolerate pruning very well.   Drought tolerant once established, they require very little care.  They are also deer resistant.  I’ve never fertilized mine, although I do topdress my garden with compost in early spring and mulch it in the fall.  That seems to be enough for a respectable yield.

I’ve located my fig near my pond and it provides some nice shade there.

I like it in the winter because of the structure and the thick branches.  This photo from last December also reminds me of how fast it grows – it’s at least twice this big now…….

My Brown Turkey Fig was my first fruit tree – a great choice for a gardener new to fruit growing.   I  planted it in the fall, two years ago, so this is its second full season.  Last year I planted a peach tree, Prunus persica, so I’ll be looking for some fruit from that one in the next year or two.

I love growing my own food.  To me, veggies are the serious food; fruit is the dessert, the reward!

“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.”
— Elizabeth David   (An Omelette and a Glass of Wine)

Posted in Bird Feeders, Birds, Ficus carica, Fig Tree, Figs, Fruit Trees, Garden, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Beauty Bides Its Time

Plants are amazing survivors, this I know, but I witnessed something in my yard that really surprised me.

Last year, in January, I had to have a large oak tree removed because of its condition.  It shaded at least half of my 1/3 acre lot, so the increased sunlight after it was gone was significant.  I couldn’t move hostas fast enough; some are still in the line of fire. About four months after the tree came down, I noticed a row of Cannas coming up in the side yard, in an area that had been a lawn gone to weeds as long as I’d been here.  I’d mow it mid-summer when the growth got wild and then again in September.  There were no Cannas visible.   Since I’d never bought or planted a Canna myself, and I’ve lived here since 1987, I knew that someone put it in the ground more than 24 years ago.

My imagination explored the possibilities.  My house was built in 1949.   So, I have to wonder, who was President when they were planted?  Harry Truman?  JFK?  Reagan?  Were the Beatles still together?   Had they even been discovered yet?   Were girls wearing poodle skirts?  Was the Civil Rights Act in effect?  Were we still in Viet Nam?

Just think of it – rhizomes, sitting underground, hidden, waiting, just biding their time…..until there was sun shining on the earth above them.  Then, up comes a shoot, and another, and another.  Into the light they reach, destined to grow into the tall, lush, and exuberant beauties they have become.

If I had been inclined to plant Canna in my garden, I suspect I would have chosen one of the more flamboyant varieties with boldly striped foliage, but many plants as well as “art” pieces in my garden are there more because of what they mean to me than whether they are what’s hot or what’s cool.  Gardens are personal and there’s nothing more meaningful, and consequently beautiful, than living a life surrounded by things that evoke memories and feelings or that remind us of lessons learned and battles fought.  For that reason, this simple Canna will always be my favorite.

How many times do we see this in our lives – a talent, a gift, a life unnoticed, in the shadows?   Is there something or someone casting a shadow over your hopes and dreams?  Is there a talent you’ve kept hidden out of fear or insecurity? If you leave it covered, you’ll have what you’ve always had – a buried dream.   Bring it out into the light and follow where it leads you.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Posted in Canna, Dreams, Fear, Garden, Rhizomes, Thoreau | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

My Neighbor’s Lilies

My next door neighbor’s house is up for sale and she’s moved to Texas to begin her new life and new marriage.  I wish her well.  This morning during my stroll through my side garden, I caught a glimpse, through the fence, of Annie’s lilies in bloom.  They’re in a spot where no one can really see them unless they’re in or near the front of her house. I grabbed my camera and went over there to catch some shots and here are a few of them. Another neighbor was out walking his dog and stopped to see what I was up to.   He shared my admiration of the beautiful, hidden blooms, and mentioned that he carries a shovel in his truck and when he’s out in the country and passes an abandoned farmhouse or field with some beauties blooming, he has been known to “rescue” one or two, leaving most of them there, of course. I continued snapping pictures and asked him to define “abandoned”.  He said it depends on the quality of the merchandise. I guess I’ll just enjoy my neighbor’s lilies through my fence and my lens.  I have scruples after all! Of course, they may need to be divided in the fall…….

Posted in Garden, Lilies, Lily | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Is Your Garden Listed in the Butterfly Travel Guide?

It could be, with very little work or expense – just some basic ingredients and you’ll be on your way!

I’m a big fan of wildlife in the garden, both as a gardener and as a designer; in fact, in my mind it’s similar to the difference between a photograph and a movie.   As a gardener, my heart sings in the knowledge that I’ve created a hospitable environment for some lovely and important creatures who live at least part of their lives within my garden.

As a designer, I know that a garden full of wildlife is a healthy garden and that is a gift I want to share with all my clients, for the benefit of their plants, and their own quality of life.  We don’t need to cordon off a section of our property for wildlife, or leave a large section “natural”  and then have other areas for ourselves.  We can share with them the abundant life and beauty in a garden we can be proud to show off.

Butterflies need three things – just like the rest of us – food, water and shelter.   For food, they need nectar plants and fortunately, many of our favorites are favorites of theirs, among them:

  • Echinacea (coneflowers)
  • Asters
  • Asclepias (butterfly weed)
  • Eupatorium (Joe-Pye weed)
  • Monarda (Bee balm)
  • Buddleia (butterfly bush)
  • Coreopsis
  • Solidago (goldenrod)
  • Salvias
  • Pentas
  • Lantana
  • Marigolds
  • Achillea (yarrow)
  • Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
  • Lilac
  • Sedum
  • Verbena
  • Nasturtiums
  • Zinnias

In fact, it would be easier to list the plants that won’t be popular in your butterfly garden!  Use flowers with strong colors like orange, yellow, and purple.   Be sure never to use pesticides in your garden.  They don’t just kill undesirable bugs; they kill them all.  If you have a pest problem, it would be far better to attract a natural predator than to use chemicals.  Ladybugs eat aphids, for example, and will not damage your plants or endanger desired insects.

The butterflies in your area may be different than the ones in mine.  Get a field guide and learn about the species that are common where you live.

Plant your plants in drifts (a few to several) rather than using single plants whenever possible – this makes them easier to see by nearsighted butterflies.  Make an effort to have something in bloom from Spring through Fall.  It won’t be long before you’ve got several enchanting butterfly species visiting your garden and asking to have their pictures taken.

Another source of food for butterflies is overripe fruit, the funkier the better, either fallen from your own fruit trees and shrubs or provided on a feeder – a favorite menu item is banana.  You can buy a feeder at a garden center or you can easily construct your own.  The best feeder will be a flat surface, fairly low to the ground (as long as it’s safe from other animals), and in the sun for a portion of the day.  It may be easiest to suspend it – a little harder for the competition (and ants) to get to.  Just place the fruit right on it.  You shouldn’t have long to wait.  It’ll be a great place for a photo shoot, so put it somewhere convenient for picture taking.  Other fruits butterflies enjoy include peaches, oranges and watermelon.

Manure is attractive to butterflies.  You may see butterflies snacking on dog poo; don’t be alarmed, it’s just their need for salt and minerals.

Water can be provided by leaving a low lying area that naturally holds moisture.  You can forget to fix that leaky outdoor faucet.  The butterflies will appreciate it.  You can also provide a shallow dish of water with stones in it so they can drink while resting on secure footing. You can bury a bucket to the rim, fill it with sand and gravel and add water as necessary.   A mud puddle also works just fine.  Just provide shells or rocks for them to stand on.

Butterflies need warmth and sunshine, as well as protection from wind.

Leave an area in your garden undeveloped, or a little unkempt.  It’s better for wildlife if you’re not a neat freak in the garden.  Most gardeners that I know have a place that would fit the bill for wildlife to find shelter.  Butterflies hide under leaves in the rain.   Plants of varying heights and textures will give them lots of choices for shelter and reproduction.

Butterflies lay eggs on plants that will house and feed the caterpillar (butterfly larva) once it hatches and as long as it is in the larval stage.  For example, the Black Swallowtail butterfly lays its egg in the foliage of members of the carrot family, like the dill, carrot, parsley, or fennel plant.  Providing host plants for the larval stage of your desired butterfly is what really makes your garden a butterfly garden.

Once the caterpillar emerges, it’s already on the plant on which will feed. During the time that the caterpillar is feeding, the fennel will be picked clean, but it will grow back quickly, and it’s a perennial that will come back bigger every year for several years.  The caterpillar will go through 5 instar phases in which it will molt and replace it’s skin with a larger one to accommodate its increasing size.  The last molting produces a chrysalis rather than new caterpillar skin.  Within the chrysalis, the adult butterfly will form.

This work will continue for 10-14 days. When it’s ready, the new butterfly begins to move and opens the chrysalis.  Over a relatively short period of time, it wriggles and stretches until it’s free.  It will hang upside down until fluids are pumped into its wings and it is ready to fly.  Then the beauty we’ve been waiting for begins.

So, give yourself the gift of a butterfly garden – if you will provide for their needs, they really will come.  Pay attention to who’s visiting, learn their names and see how you can make life richer for them.  They will reward you one hundred fold with beauty, fascination, and entertainment.  Get out in your garden and experience the creatures that share it with you.   Feel good about your contribution to the quality of their lives, and your own.

 

Posted in Butterflies, Coneflowers, Garden, Nasturtium, pesticide, Photography, Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', Wildlife | 10 Comments

RIP Buffy

This is Buffy. She was the third hen in my flock of seven and she came with another Buff Orpington, who earned the name Pushy and a Dominique, Ripley.   That’s Buffy, on the right.

She was always checking out what everyone else was up to.

She laid her eggs where she wanted to.

Buffy was our alpha hen; a leader in the best sense of the word.    She warned of hawks, was a bit aloof, and she didn’t pick on others much, even though she could have.

Thank you, Buffy, for your eggs, your friendship, and all the fun!    We’ll miss you.

Posted in Chickens | Tagged | 6 Comments