Tag Archives: butterfly milkweed

Community garden: Highs and lows of 2018

I had two garden plots in 2018. A friend wanted to grow with me but backed out just before the start of the season. In the new smaller plot, I did mostly herbs (basil, dill, parsley), peppers, nasturtium, and flowers.  In the larger plot, I did the same along onions, garlic, a small strawberry bush my garden friend gave me, the lavender bush I planted in 2017 (I think), and the dill and calendula that self-seed every year.

I wanted a break (and to give the soil a break) from the more demanding fruit-bearing plants and to see what it would be like to just grow flowers, herbs and salad greens like a few of my fellow community gardeners. I didn’t miss dealing with tomato plants, but I did miss having zucchini. In the end, I think I prefer having a combination of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Highs

Corner store peppers

The heat and humidity (feeling like 40 degrees) during the summer really helped the peppers to do well.

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Plump jalapeños!

I don’t usually buy convenience store plants, opting instead for heirloom and organic plants from Urban Harvest, but my friend shared some hot pepper plants she bought on the Danforth and they did well!

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I think these are Thai chili peppers. They were really hot!

Rosemary

My rosemary has never grown as large as it did last year. It was so beautiful! Roasted some with a whole chicken (yum!).

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It was practically the length of my forearm. I took it inside in hopes of keeping it alive over the winter. 

Giant zinnias

My garden friend offered me some extra giant zinnias so I agreed to take them. They did great, blooming well into the fall.

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This was taken in October!

Lows

Green leafy veggies didn’t do very well last year, probably because of the extra heat and humidity (and I probably didn’t water enough). I planted kale, collard greens and a few salad mixes. Nasturtiums didn’t do well either. I also planted some corner store leeks from my friend that didn’t make it to adulthood (they like cooler temperatures and I planted them late).

As for thefts inherent in having a public garden space, some of my onions got taken as well as heads of flowers that had gone to seed.

Although I saw swallowtail caterpillar eggs for the first time in 2018 and I saw many caterpillars in the first instar, I didn’t see them progress beyond that stage.

Best new find

Butterfly milkweed

Although I have other flowers that attract butterflies (cornflower, zinnia, and the asters that I saved from the community garden in 2017), I decided butterfly milkweed might be a nice addition to the flower garden.

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Different stages of bloom

Although I don’t remember seeing butterflies swarming around them, I would grow them again (I harvested lots of seeds). The blooms are really pretty.

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Making seeds

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Caterpillar update

I’ve been hoping to follow my caterpillars through more life stages this year but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’ve only managed to catch them at egg and first instar stages.

Last month after I saw my caterpillars in first instar and then disappear altogether, I wondered if predators got them. And then I regretted planting so much dill. I thought it would go to waste, but instead it bolted in the heat. I was surprised to see that it still attracts swallowtails to lay their eggs. My small plot that once had 4 caterpillars now has at least 8, and my large plot has a few as well.

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Two caterpillars (and shed skin?) among dill flowers in my large plot

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Another caterpillar. Flowers will form into seeds soon.

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I lover the contrast between the tiny yellow flowers, green stems and black caterpilar (and my fingers and calendula in the background)

After planting all that butterfly weed, I still haven’t seen any butterflies on it. I check under leaves and along stems for evidence of caterpillars, no luck. I have seen a few bees on it so I guess it’s a good thing I planted it.

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I think this butterfly weed is a stunning. Look at those flowers!

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At least the spiders like them

I did manage to spot a swallowtail butterfly in the garden last week, hovering over red clover running rampant in the grass. I guess my milkweed can’t compete with it’s simple beauty. I suppose the important thing is that they have lots of food sources.

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You can spot the butterfly right in the centre of the photo. He wouldn’t let me get closer for a more flattering picture

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Do you want to see my caterpillars?!

I’m sure I’m not the only one at my community garden that’s been asked by passing admirers about the garden and how to get involved. This past week I’ve been able to offer more than my usual spiel: swallowtail caterpillars, in two life cycle stages!

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More swallowtail eggs in my main plot

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The 4 eggs in my new plot have hatched! Can you spot all 4 caterpillars?

Everyone that I’ve asked, “do you want to see my caterpillars?!”, has been eager to see them and seemed genuinely interested, peering closely at the eggs and caterpillars in wonder as I talked about their life cycle. One even confirmed that I had 4 caterpillars!

I was telling one of my fellow gardeners about the caterpillars and new eggs one evening when we were both watering our plots. I talked about the many plants I bought at Urban Harvest‘s 50% off sale that day, including butterfly milkweed. She told me about the butterfly bush she planted and how big it got. I assured her I bought the milkweed rather than the bush (the bush looked really big in the image that went with the plant).

As I showed her the eggs in my main plot, I started telling her about the New England aster I harvested last year, pointing to the patch at the back. Perhaps it was her surprised expression and comment about how quickly they’d grown in just a few weeks of planting that made me check online what they should look like (again). It looks like they are milkweed and not asters! It must be the seeds I planted last year that are coming up now.

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Butterfly milkweed I had mistaken for New England aster

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These look like they will become the many blossoms of the butterfly milkweed and not the simple blossom of the New England Aster

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New England aster from the community spaces. I noticed butterflies and bees going nuts over them last year so I saved some seeds

I took my dad past the community garden after Father’s Day lunch this weekend. He was less than impressed with the caterpillars. In fact, he went on about the caterpillars eating everything in my garden! Although I explained I planted dill specifically for my swallowtail caterpillars, images of all sorts of caterpillars taking over the garden set in when I started to think about the unexpected mass of butterfly milkweed in my main plot. And I bought more milkweed from Urban Harvest (albeit only two or three small plants)!

I should really come to my senses. The caterpillars will stick to what I planted for them (dill and milkweed) and I’ll get the bonus of beautiful visitors to help pollinate my other plants. Win win!

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