Friday, January 31, 2014

“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” 
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Below is an article published by the U-T San Diego newspaper back in September about the Monarch Program farm in Vista, Calif. It was located in Encinitas, Calif., but has since moved to its new digs in Vista. I did visit the old site and found it quite fascinating.
I went and visited the new home of The Monarch Program back at the beginning of November to offer my volunteer services and check out the site. They were still in the building stages when visiting then. The large butterfly house is up (impressive!); the other structures will not be completed for a few months yet. By the looks of things, they won't near completion until sometime in mid spring is my guess. I'm looking forward to helping out in any way I can if The Monarch Program can use my services.
© Tom Merriman

View inside butterfly house with row-upon-row of Asclepias curassavica.

The next photos are snapshots I took inside their vivarium when it was located in Encinitas. It was quite small compared to the new one in Vista, but was so captivating and delightful. I have great hopes and expectations when I visit the new Vista vivarium this spring.

 Snapshot I took of a Monarch inside the vivarium.

 Pinning Monarch chrysalids on to cardboard strips for hanging in the vivarium.

Hung up inside, one can see new butterflies emerging.

Mourning Cloak chrysalis.

The Monarch Program set up a feeding station on a large plate atop a pedestal for the butterflies to feed on, as the vivarium was way too small to harbor enough flowering plants to sustain them all. It was filled with various slices of fruit, predominantly watermelon.

There were literally hundreds of individual butterflies of numerous species inside the butterfly house. They were very used to having people around, which made them quite tame and approachable. In fact, the Monarchs are so social that they landed on this little boy's hand, sucking off the watermelon juice that was stuck to it. My butterfly web site has a page devoted to planning a butterfly garden for the home. About half way down the text are several paragraphs related to setting up a feeding station in your own yard. I will certainly be setting up a few of them at my place.

Many grade school field trips were held at The Monarch Program in Encinitas, and many more will be planned for its new home in Vista. This is a delightful venue for young children to experience first hand and up close the miracles of nature and how alluring, beautiful and delicate are certain aspects of it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
-Wendell Berry

With this unseasonably warm (and dry) winter so far, the small plants I've purchased, and those started from seed to this point have almost been literally growing through the roof.

Plants I purchased back in December are already in need of potting up into larger containers. The seeds that were started right after Thanksgiving? I transferred them from 1 inch cells to 2-1/4 inch cells the end of December, and now they're outgrowing these cells! A tropical Passion Vine specie I purchased several months back in a 4 inch container was potted up into a 6 inch pot about a month ago. It's blooming in mid winter (!!!), I've already cut back close to a foot of growth on it, and will need to be potted up once again. Its bloom time is usually summer through fall. Normally at this time, this Passion Vine would be dormant, if not completely withered down to the ground from a hard frost.

What's a butterfly container garden gardener to do? Start planting.

With the copious amounts of potting soil needed to fill up all of the containers currently on hand, and those projected for purchase later, it would be prohibitively expensive buying sacks of the stuff at a local home improvement store or nursery shop. Instead, I found a topsoil yard in the area that sells bulk potting soil in smaller quantities. A large trash can full of it goes for $6.00 VS. a 2 cubic foot of packaged soil goes anywhere from $3.00 to $10.00+.

I bought several 20 gallon storage totes at Home Depot that I've commandeered for filling up with bulk potting soil. They charge me $2.00 per tote to fill. Each tote is roughly equivalent to about 2 cubic feet. It's a very good quality mix, but I've customized it by adding composted fir bark, peat, and perlite to the mix. This makes for a very light, moisture retentive, and fast draining soil. With the extra goodies added to the basic mix, my guess is that it costs me around $2.50 per 2 cubic feet for excellent potting soil custom made just the way I want it. I'm calling it Andy's Amazingly Awesome Astonishing Awe-inspiring Profundo Perfecto Potting Soil.

Not much, but it's a start.

More plants ready for containers.

All right: a head start! I really wasn't expecting to get to this point until mid February. At the moment, I'm potting up and placing them willy-nilly around the house until I get a better feel for how many pots total and how large they will all be. Once all plants are in their containers, I'll arrange them for height and size.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
- Maya Angelou

I just finished creating a PDF listing some of the more common Southern California butterflies one will encounter in a typical garden containing nectar plants. It contains photos and information about the butterflies, their caterpillars and the host plants they feed on, plus photos of their respective chrysalises.

One can download it here.

I came across this photo below of a butterfly garden when surfing for butterfly related information. I really like its large size and the way it is arranged; reminds me a little bit of a French Provincial cottage garden with its very lax and soft design.

The second batch of seeds have been planted in a seed tray and are sitting on the heating mat by my bedroom window. This batch contains Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed) and Echinops ritro ruthenicus (Globe Thistle).

Showy Milkweed is a Western U.S. native, also found growing in California. Aptly named, Showy Milkweed is probably one of the most beautiful bloomers of the milkweed family. Drought tolerant and easy to grow. Good choice as a Monarch butterfly host plant; has large leaves, making for lots of caterpillar food.

Globe Thistle is a native of Russia and parts of Eurasia. Its striking flower globes make interesting and long lasting cut flowers. It's a total chick magnet as the above photo attests, and also has the side benefit of attracting butterflies in copious amounts.

In the meantime, been collecting more pots. Can't have too many pots. Pots, pots, pots...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"It is if you first become a part of nature. You suppress your presence as a human being, stay very still, and convince yourself that you are a tree or grass or a flower. It takes time, but once the butterfly lets its guard down, you can become friends quite naturally."
-Haruki Murakami

Happy New Year! What a glorious way to start a year: a new garden with new plants!

The first batch of seeds I started back in November are for the most part doing well. They have been potted up from their little one inch cells into larger celled containers. The next batch of seed sprouting will commence the first half of January, 2014. By mid February I should have a goodly amount of plants to play with, utilizing the initial seed started plants, plus the ones I've been buying online and at local nurseries. The January starts (to be planted shortly) will be ready for containers by mid March.

A few things I've learned with the first batch of seeds:
  • I was a bit overenthusiastic and jumped the gun on starting the first batch too early. Or maybe not. It has been a lingering, higher than normal warm late fall and early winter so far. The little plants have been growing like crazy! I've relocated them outside to take advantage of the warmth and light. They are almost to the point where they'll outgrow the 2-1/4 inch peat pots I transplanted them into and the special clear plastic high domes I bought for them. If the outside temps were "normal", I doubt they'd be so large by now. We've only experienced two days of frost so far this season; winter hasn't really arrived yet and I have these tender seedlings with little room inside the house to stash them in during frost warnings. Where I live, it would behoove me to start plants no earlier than the beginning of January.
  • Initially start them in larger cells. The tiny cell tray inserts that came with the seed starting trays I purchased make it hard to eject the seedlings for potting up. Quite a few plants were lost to broken up roots while trying to wrangle them out of the flimsy plastic cells. It's better to start off with the 2-1/4 inch peat pots I used for potting up.
  • Don't use the Jiffy Pot seed starter soil. I liked it at first, as it holds moisture well, but as the seeds germinate and grow, it holds water too well, creating lots of algae growth on the soil's surface and increases the likelihood of pathogens. I'll be looking into some of the other available brands besides Jiffy's and Miracle-Gro, of which I've read poor online reviews.

 Made out of compressed peat, one can plant these cell and all directly in soil without damaging or disrupting delicate root balls. They disintegrate, allowing the roots to venture out. 32, 2-1/4 inch peat cells to a tray.

Special high dome for larger plant growth. (12/21/2013)

Plants are getting pretty big! (12/29/2013)

In the meantime as I'm watching my little guys grow, I've been scouring the Lowe's, Home Depots, and various local nurseries in the San Marcos/Escondido area for more containers. So far I've come up with three new pots at substantial savings! YAY!