Month: May 2019

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Caterpillars Are Baby Butterflies

May 23, 2019 | Gardening, Orchard | No Comments

Caterpillars Are Baby Butterflies - Rural Dreams

This spring, I have been working hard to put in a large-ish bee and butterfly garden, to give the pollenators a little oasis in our big sea of surrounding commercial crop fields, which are heavily sprayed. I’m sure I’m not the only one doing this – there has been a lot of media attention on pollenators, recently. However, at the same time, I am seeing a ton of posts on social media of people looking for ways to get rid of caterpillars on their plants and trees. I think people are forgetting something important: caterpillars are baby butterflies!

My pollenator garden is going to have caterpillars – that is part of the point! If you are planting milkweed, its job is to feed the caterpillars of Monarch butterflies. Let me repeat that sentence:

Milkweed’s job is to feed caterpillars.

Caterpillars.

Without caterpillars, there are no butterflies.

I get that tent caterpillars, especially, are a pain in the butt. They eat all the leaves off the trees, and infestations can be ugly. However, the leaves will grow back, and the trees aren’t even really damaged, and those caterpillars (and the moths they turn into) feed birds such as blue jays and chickadees, and all sorts of other wildlife, including frogs, squirrels, and, apparently, even bears!

tent caterpillars on a tree
Image by NoMercy from Pixabay

Caterpillars can also do quite a number on your garden. Around here, the little green caterpillars of the Small White Butterfly decimate brassica crops, including commercial canola, and any cabbage I have ever tried growing. It’s not exactly fun picking them out of your home-grown broccoli, either. Once again, though, the adult moths feed birds such as sparrows and goldfinches, which we really enjoy seeing around our acreage.

At the same time, anything you spray or dust to kill the tent caterpillars or cabbage worms, from commercial pesticides to Bacillus thuringiensis will also kill other caterpillars, including the caterpillars that turn into monarch butterflies, as well as some of my other favorites, like the Mourning Cloak and the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. Some of the commercial pesticides are also really hard on bird and amphibian populations. In the same way that roses come with thorns, butterflies come from caterpillars, and if you want to have one, you are stuck dealing with the other.

A monarch butterfly on a flower
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Honestly, for us, the ‘dealing with’ isn’t a horrible hardship anyhow. We sometimes pick caterpillars off vegetable plants and fruit trees, but we generally leave them alone when they are feeding on the native chokecherries or decorative plants. Although we’ve had no luck with covering our brassicas (thanks to kids and puppies), I know that lots of people have been very successful with that tactic, and it is not detrimental to any of the other caterpillars and butterflies that may be in and around your garden. With the pollenator gardens, we are purposely planting favored plants, and there is a good chance they will gravitate to those, instead of ending up on our vegetables. Or maybe not, but we’re still okay with that, because we love butterflies.

Now, repeat after me, one more time: Caterpillars Are Baby Butterflies!

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Caterpillars Are Baby Butterflies - Rural Dreams Blog

By Jess
Tired of expensive celery? Try growing lovage!

I’ve read a few news stories lately that lament the price of celery, which has more than doubled in some places, recently. My town has definitely been hit by the expensive celery bug, which can be a nuisance when we go to make soup stock!

On the bright side, our lovage plant is up, now, so we don’t actually have to buy celery, at least for the rest of the summer. Probably the fall and winter, too, if I get organized enough to dry some later, when the plant is bigger.

What is lovage, you ask?

Lovage is a large perennial herb that is hardy to at least zone 3. Wikipedia says it can grow as large as 8 feet tall, though I doubt it would reach that here, in our short season. All parts of the plant have uses, either in cooking or medicinally; the leaves, in particular, have a strong, sharp celery flavor that is spectacular in broths and soups.

a lovage leaf to illustrate groing lovage

So, if you’re not willing to pay for expensive celery, consider growing lovage!

We started our lovage plant from seed last spring, and it was easy enough to do. I started it in a peat pot a few weeks before last frost, and planted it our later in the spring, once all danger of frost had passed. Once established, the plant can take some cold weather, but the seedlings seem to need a little pampering to really get going. It’s a little late to start seeds, though I’d imagine if you started them in the house and planted them out before midsummer, the plant would probably still have enough time to get established before winter. I have seen lovage available at greenhouses from time to time, as well.

lovage leaves in the spring

Our lovage is planted in full sun, though I’ve read that they can handle part shade. We put ours in a corner of the vegetable garden, in good soil, which it seems to appreciate. We watered it regularly through last summer, but we haven’t watered it at all so far this spring, and it has been really dry; the plant shot up about a week ago, despite the dry conditions, and looks unperturbed with the heat and dry weather. Based on our experience so far, growing lovage is very easy, and it doesn’t seem to need a huge amount of care, nor does it appear to have significant problems with pests.

We have mostly just used lovage as a replacement for celery, but a little goes a long way; a couple of sprigs will flavor a large pot of soup. For the more adventurous, you can find some interesting lovage recipes here.

Tired of expensive celery?  Try growing lovage! - Rural Dreams

By Jess
a stack of spaghetti squash - Rural Dreamsfrom our food storage

Yay! It’s May!

We’re creeping up on one of my favorite parts of the year – planting! We have a couple zillion fruit trees, grape vines, and perennial flowers either on their way or waiting in my seed starting trays, and I can’t wait to get them into the ground.

Meanwhile, on the food storage front, our root cellar veggies are mostly done. We still have potatoes that are firm and not sprouting, but they are bitter, and not tasty. There are a couple of little onions, which will likely still be good for another month, but we have essentially run out, and resorted to buying onions from the store. We also have a couple of maxima squash left (!), which I’m torn between roasting up before they rot and leaving alone to see how long they’ll hold out…either way, we’ll definitely be saving seeds from those ones!

Then there’s the spaghetti squash. That stuff is food storage magic. Still firm and tasty, after sitting on our kitchen counter since we harvested it in September. Now that the other squash is basically done, we’re instituting a roster of spaghetti squash meals – enchalada stuffed squash, spaghetti squash with feta and cream cheese, and squash with meat sauce are going to be in heavy rotation until it’s too hot to use the oven. Yum.

Spaghetti Squash - Food storage magic! - Rural Dreams

I’m expanding the food storage report to also talk about fresh foods that are in season month by month. For us right now, that’s a very limited selection…basically, just eggs, chives, and the early asparagus, for now.

The dandelions aren’t even up yet (we’re zone 2, maybe 3, and it’s still well below freezing at night), but we have a patch of chives and asparagus plants that are planted right up against the foundation of the house. Because the heat from the basement bleeds out into the soil, things planted there come up weeks earlier than anywhere else…meaning we’ve got lovely chive patches just in time for the beginning of the spring egg glut.

A basket of eggs - a seasonal spring food

Did you know that eggs are naturally a seasonal food? In the dark of winter, most hens will hardly lay anything at all, unless you have heat and artificial light in your coop. In December and January, we’re lucky to get a few eggs a day from our 25 (or so) hens – or none at all, if the hens are molting. Once the daylight hours go over 12 or 13 hours a day, though, the chickens kick it into high gear. Even though most of the hens in our flock are at least 2-3 years old, we’re still getting more eggs than we can really eat – we’re getting around a dozen eggs a day right now, and this will increase as it warms up and the days get really long.

The asparagus in the patch by the house was actually up about 5 or 6 inches, and I was eagerly eyeing them up, but it didn’t occur to me to harvest them before we had a couple of nights with -10 Celsius temperatures, so what was up is now a limp, rotting mess. There’s more coming up already, though, so it’ll only be a few days before I have my first taste of asparagus, likely served as a side to scrambled eggs with chives. I can hardly wait!

Asparagus growing out of the ground - seasonal spring food

By Jess