Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Last Season wrap up

Happy New year to you all! It occurred to me that I forgot to write a wrap-up post at the end of Butterfly Season. Here is an overview of the whole season:
First let me explain that 2013 was a dismal year, I only released 50 monarchs and that was about all that I found too (eggs). So when planning time came around for 2014, I had high hopes that it would be better. It just had to be better. 
My goal was to release 300  butterflies in 2014. So I planned for more milkweed, especially tropical. I learned too late in 2013 that towards the middle of summer the monarchs like to find new sprouts of mw to lay eggs on. Not only did I plan to do that but I started out with more. All planted in 2 gallon and 3 gallon pots that I could pick up and check. I planned a new bed (really and older one that was in need of something new) With the help of one of the nephews, we expanded the bed under my last remaining Rose of Sharon tree. A surprisingly fab plant for hummingbirds, I have seen the occasional butterfly on there too. In that expanded bed, I planted 3 different blazing star (Liatris) species, the native ones. The reason for the multiple Liatris planting is that butterflies Love Liatris. The only problem is that they all bloom only a couple of weeks. However, the natives all bloom at differ times during the summer. So if I plant the cultivar Liatris 'Kobold' along with all of these natives, I would have about a nine week bloom instead of just two! I also planted Asclepias tuberosa, lots of it. I replanted another native area of my garden and expanded it because  the winter last year was epic in killing my plants. 

I started collecting eggs and caterpillars (cats.) on June 1st, exactly 2 weeks after my guru did. That is how it happens every year. It is a weird thing. I collected a lot of eggs and cats. at work last summer and my crew last year were kind enough to humor my caterpillar craziness. I could not leave any of our sites before I quickly  looked for eggs. They even found one chrysalis! They were very excited and I was so proud that they really got it. That butterfly hatched the night before Fourth of July and I brought it to our special event and released it . 

Speaking of work, I have been at the park dist for almost 9 years and I started planting butterfly beds from the start. My focus is on pollinator and critter friendly with a 60% native - 40% non native mix. Last winter I registered the two largest beds as monarch waystations  http://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/ .  These are landscapes devoted to butterflies with monarch specifically being targeted. These beds have 3-5 different kinds of milkweed in them and many nectar plants. In the fall a volunteer and I expanded another bed using the cardboard/ mulch method. That will be our third waystation. One of the other waystations is adopted by a small, but devoted team of volunteers who are Master Gardeners. They did such a great job last year! 
By the end of the summer I had collected 1171 eggs and cats. Sounds impressive, huh?
Well let me tell you that the season ended better than it started. I decided that I would raise all the cats. indoors this year, partly because of all the rain and the temps were low at night. 

My bonehead move was bringing plants in for the cats. to feed on. I had a bacterial outbreak and lost hundreds of cats. I was devastated.  
The problem with bringing whole plants indoors is bacterial cross contamination. Cats. were eating the plants, pooping on the soil and crawling through the soil. Disaster. Once I removed the plants, sterilized every surface and brought cuttings in, things ran more smoothly with less caterpillar death. Cleaning the hatching boxes and aquariums everyday is a must. By the end of the season, I was wondering if I would have my 300 butterflies to release. I had less than, 100 by Aug. Then I started planting new seedlings of mw. 

When Labor Day gets near, usually I take a little time off work. I would normally be looking forward to releasing a lot of butterflies for the migration. As I planned my days and thought Butterfly Season was over, I was at work cleaning up a couple of beds near one of the waystations. I had, at the last minute in June, planted several dozen trop. mw plants to fill in some space. I suddenly saw a monarch and pointed her out to my worker (not a nature lover per se) he admired her and humored me.  I then noticed she was laying eggs! Awesome! Maybe I can get to my 300 butterfly goal! Over three days I collected a whopping 368 eggs and cats from that one bed. I think over that whole week it was the same female. At the end of the season I had released 442 healthy monarchs, most for the migration. 

The migration butterflies begin hatching around Labor Day and after. They will fly the 2500 miles to central Mexico where they will spend the winter in semi dormancy. In March the monarchs mate and star the journey to Texas where they will lay their eggs then die. It takes three generations to get to Chicago and beyond.  In the summer breeding grounds they will have 2 more generations and the last generation hatching around Labor Day is called the Super generation, the migratory generation. More on milkweed species in the next post.

The Liatris species I planted are starred but there are other natives that I will try to add.
*Liastris aspera button or  rough blazing star
*Liatris ligulistis meadow blazing star
Liatris punctata dotted blazing star
*Liastris pychnostacha prairie blazing star
Liatris spicata dense blazing starLiatris scariosa Northern blazing star


  1. I am optimistic that your 2015 season will be better than '13. Best of luck to you this year! I also home you see lots of bees in addition to monarchs. I like to pet bees, not sure how common that is. Ha ha

  2. Thanks Brad, I too love petting my bumbles :) Good Luck this season!