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The Milkweed Ecosystem

These are some pictures taken by one of our Master Gardeners, Lisa LaRue, back in mid-August. We always love our butterfly and pollinator bed because it is beautiful and beneficial to the environment of our garden. These pictures take a closer look at everything that is going on in that garden.

44625915202_b52652e825Of course, this is one of the things we are hoping to see when we plant milkweed in our garden. Lots of happy, monarch caterpillars munching their way through life.

43766023875_3ca52f18e3What many people planting milkweed don’t realize is that you can get a whole bunch of other insects as part of the bargain. It is very common – and completely normal – for milkweed to be just coated with bright orange aphids during the summer. They also will often get milkweed bugs (the black and orange bugs pictured). So…what to do? The thing is that you can’t spray anything without causing harm to the caterpillars you are trying to encourage. The good news is that the aphids and milkweed bugs are really not causing any harm to the milkweed, or anything else in the garden. By this point (a month later), the aphids are completely gone and no harm was done.

29737327267_965959af87_zThe other benefit of leaving those aphids where they are is that they provide a food source for hungry ladybugs. The hoards of aphids are a feast for ladybugs, and by letting the aphids stay on a plant that isn’t being hurt and that really doesn’t matter for anything other than looking nice and feeding caterpillars/butterflies, you are actually “farming” more ladybugs for the rest of your garden. This picture shows two ladybug pupa (the stage between the larvae and the adults) on the milkweed.

This is how ecological gardening is supposed to work, and a great example of how lots of diversity in your garden is beneficial. We certainly aren’t eating the milkweed, and if you were strictly focused on what you could harvest from the garden to eat, it would seem like a waste of space. But by growing something that benefits our beneficial insects, we now have a higher population of ladybugs in the garden for when there are aphids on something we DO want to eat.

43766024035_d54d486668_zThis has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but I wanted to show the swallowtail chrysalis just for fun. We have had a great time this fall finding all the places that both the swallowtail and monarch caterpillars go to make their chrysalis!

Friday PhotoEssay

I have so many great pictures from this week that I feel like I need to do two or three PhotoEssays. Or perhaps I should just plan to write a couple more posts for next week? That might be a plan…especially since I’ve been struggling to get something posted on Mondays this year.

Here’s the whole garden picture from this week, but from the other side of the garden today. The trellis and sweet potatoes are really impressive, but the tomatoes are equally crazy!

It is starting to feel a little bit like a tropical rainforest around here, and some of the plants are clearly thriving in this weather. Some of the begonias are just lush and this zucchini plant has HUGE leaves and flowers. (The white/silver you see on the leaves is just natural coloration for this variety, not powdery mildew.)

We had the hardest time getting the cucumber vine started on the trellis this spring when there wasn’t much moisture. After replanting multiple times, we finally had one seed germinate, and it is just now producing. It is one of the ‘Salt & Pepper’ Cucumbers that we had last year.

After having caterpillars munching on herbs for the last several weeks, it looks like we’re starting to see some butterflies!

We turned the soil in this bed again to keep working in the remnants of the crazy buckwheat. It looks much cleaner after that second turning.

I was busy roasting garlic yesterday so we could taste test it all next week, and I thought I’d take a picture of one of the elephant garlic bulbs and one of the larger regular garlic bulbs. Quite a difference! (In my opinion, the Elephant Garlic doesn’t taste very good roasted either. Maybe it just isn’t garlick-y enough?)

Hmm…this ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplant seems to be more purple than rose. I wonder if the color is an effect of the cooler night temperatures? It’s certainly pretty, and I’m sure there is no effect on the edibility. It’s just interesting that the colors are so much more vibrant all of a sudden. The ones I picked at the beginning of the week were almost white.

Have a great weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay – Monarch Butterfly Edition

The butterflies are enjoying the zinnias in the garden, so you’ll have to suffer through several butterfly pictures. Hopefully you won’t find it to be too torturous!

Butterfly 1

Butterfly 2

CaterpillarI know, I know. It’s a dirty trick…but hey…Butterfly caterpillar, butterfly…same difference, right? (Yes, I KNOW it’s not a monarch butterfly caterpillar. Just deal with it!)

ClashMr. Butterfly, you kind of clash with your zinnia of choice.

Pink Zinnia

CannasI’m SORRY! Geez…you’re so critical! It didn’t seem fair that the butterflies get all the press, when the cannas along the front of the garden are so stunning!

A special thank you to Monarch Z. Butterfly for graciously allowing this photo shoot.

Have a great weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay

It’s that time again! I’ve got some very cool pictures to share from the garden this week.

Black SwallowtailThis Black Swallowtail butterfly was enjoying the African Blue Basil earlier this week. I think it may have just come out of its chrysalis, because it didn’t fly away when I walked by. It also seemed to be exercising its wings, like butterflies do when they just “hatch.”

Black Swallowtail 2If anything, the butterfly is even more impressive from the other side.

Purple Bok ChoyThe Purple Bok Choy is looking really nice. It is almost the right size to start harvesting if you like “baby” Bok Choy. Otherwise, we’ll let it go for a few more weeks. I think we’ll have to harvest some “baby” choy so the rest still has room to grow!

Green TomatoesHere are the green tomatoes that we salvaged from the Family of 4 Garden before we pulled the tomatoes out. There were actually more tomatoes left on the plants than I thought there were. Oh well…the salad greens are already starting to grow!

Multi-Colored PepperHere is the ‘Early Sunsation’ Pepper that I picked last weekend. It was yellow with some green on the bottom third when I picked it. Now it is this beautiful gold blushed with green and red. It’s going in fajitas tonight! (My husband actually took this picture in our kitchen.)

Garlic Chives The garlic chives are blooming. The great thing about alliums (the onion family) is that pretty much the whole plant is edible. So if you like the flavor of garlic chives, but want something more decorative, the garlic chive blooms might be a good option. Of course, they give you some fall color in your garden too!

Green & RedThis beady-eyed green grasshopper is enjoying the red canna flowers just a little too much!

Have a great weekend!