As fall arrives, many of the garden plants are dying down and with that the insects that have been feeding on them. However, we have been fortunate (or cursed) that this fall we have had a ton of caterpillars feeding on the garden greens. The worst example of this has been in a small test garden of greens I created for one of my classes at Ann’s Place. I was showing my clients how to make a winter garden in a window box. I planted the seeds in late August and by the time of the class, they had become large and ready for harvest.
A group of green and white caterpillars, unfortunately, beat me to the punch and within a few nights cleared out all the leaves leaving only stems and the remnants of kale, arugula, chard and other cold weather crops. Another addition to the compost heap.
Last week Juana dragged me over to her kitchen-herb garden to show me her latest visitors: swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Apparently lots of eggs had been deposited on her parsley weeks earlier and now over a dozen yellow, black and white stripped pre-butterflies were resting on her parsley. And also munching away. The first day she spotted them she thought they were cute though their cuteness was tested as the leaves on her herbs steadily disappeared. Within a few days there was nothing left save bare stalks and a lone caterpillar that was munching the last of the stems.
We had mixed feelings about this invasion. We were happy that our yard was welcoming to butterflies but sad that any parsley to dry for the winter was gone. This year has been a rich one for butterflies with them feeding on the zinnias, butterfly bushes, hydrangea, and all the other flowers they feed on in our garden. It never occurred to us that we would become a nursery for their children.
We have kept our eyes open for chrysalises but have yet to find any. These swallowtails will not hatch this year but winter over in their cocoons waiting for the warmth of Spring.
At Ann’s Place, I have been fortunate to help shepherd a new generation of monarch butterflies into the world. This summer, batches of milkweed found a new home at Ann’s Place. Many of the clients (and staff) had no idea of what this gangly plant was; a few staffers wanted it pulled as it covered up the main sign and they thought it a weed. That was not going to occur on my watch so they stayed.
And we were all rewarded in the last few weeks by the hatching of many monarch caterpillars at Ann’s Place. They were chewing up the milkweed while adults feasted on nearby sunflowers. As I showed clients and staff the new hatchlings, they were enthralled at the beauty and delicate nature of these creatures. It is hard to believe that these caterpillars will become butterflies in a few weeks that travel down to Mexico to winter over. No one wanted the milkweed gone now.