End of the season

Wanda Jean 10-6-15

Wanda Jean 10-6-15

Meet Wanda Jean.  She was named for my wife and was released in the garden this afternoon.

With her release, the 2015 season ends – with 22 butterflies released this year: 14 ladies and 8 gentlemen.  Not as good as 2012 – but much better than last year or 2013, and it leaves me hopeful that this beautiful creature will begin to rebound and grace us with their presence in summer fields and gardens in the future.

It’s my hope that, next year, life will allow me to present to them a much better garden than this year – more flowers.  My coneflower, daisies and black-eyed Susan’s were very thin this year and I was grateful for the presence of thistle, goldenrod and numerous other “weeds” to help with the nectar.





I can’t say that this was an honor for me, but I was asked by a friend from high school if – when I had two adults eclose, male and female – I could release them in honor of her son and his wife, Benjamin and Marilyn. Diane had to face that which we parents never want to face: the loss of a child.  Big hugs to you, Diane.

And so, now, the milkweed is yellowing with many stalks bare.  The pods are cracked and seeds and silk hang from them awaiting the autumn winds to carry them away.


 An Update

I love my job, but it’s been busy the past few weeks, so I’ve been neglecting the blog.

Hope 8/25/15 - M

Hope 8/25/15 – M

Chance 8/27/15 F

Chance 8/27/15 F

Faith 8/29/15 F

Faith 8/29/15 F

Promise 8/29/15 - F

Promise 8/29/15 – F

















But in the past few weeks I’ve had three more cats pupate, emerging from their beautiful homes late August: 1 male and 3 females, Hope, Chance, Faith and Promise.  How wonderful it was to find them hanging from their chrysalises, their bodies pumping fluid into the wings.  And to hold them again – to feel their little prickly feet on my fingers as they sought freedom.

How wonderful to watch them flutter free from my hand and rise in the breeze.

I had thought to save the male and at least one female and hope for a romance that might bring more eggs to the patch.  But the way I’ve been busy, I worried that I’d not be able to dedicate time to them each evening – particularly those evenings when I wasn’t getting home till 7pm or later.

And as of right now, I have 19 more chrysalises hanging – between the butterfly pen and three totes.  I was going to pop up my screened canopy outside and put them in it, but it was damaged and unusable.  I figure they will emerge about the middle of this week to the weekend.

I have one chrysalis I’m concerned about as it dropped while transferring it to the pen.  It missed all the padding I put down for just this reason and found the uncovered section of plywood at the base.  Some fluid leaked out – but I’m told that sometimes they recover, so I’m chancing it.

I also have four little ones – 2nd instars right now.  And I have one egg – which I fear might not be hatching.  I happened to find the eggs while gathering leaves for the others when they were still cats.

So it looks – so far – that I will be putting 27 adults to the wind this year.  After last year, I won’t complain.

Hope Flying Free 8/27/15

Hope Flying Free 8/27/15



 The First Chrysalis of the Season

Weaving the Silk

Weaving the Silk

The silk pad

The silk pad

The 'J' position

The ‘J’ position

About noontime yesterday (Saturday), I noticed that one of my 5th instar cats had climbed to the top of the tote it was in and was beginning to weave silk in preparation of pupating.  This is a very wide patch of silk that they weave – something like 40 cm² or more – so it takes some time to do it.  But just before bedtime last night (about midnight), I noticed it had woven the thicker silk pad to which it would attach its rear legs to hang from.  In the middle picture, that very white spot is the silk pad. This morning, at  7am, I came down stairs to feed Avery and found that it had J’d.







Weaving the Silk

Weaving the Silk

Late morning, early afternoon, I was out in the patch and came in to find that it had pupated.  Sadly I’d missed it.

But – I wasn’t going to complain.  The reason I was out in the patch was that Heather had spotted a pair of Monarchs in the yard and – sure enough – I found more eggs: 13 to be exact.  There might be more, but I had to take a break due to the heat (getting old sucks).

So – I am very elated now.  Later on, I’ll remove the chrysalis from the tote and place it in the butterfly pen so it won’t get bothered by the two 5th instars and 4th instar left in the tote.  Hopefully I’ll be able to sex it.

Nylon Leg slid over cover

Nylon Leg slid over cover

Gluing the nylon to Cover

Gluing the nylon to Cover

Cutting away the extra

Removing the extra hose

The result

The result

In the meantime – one issue I’ve been having over the years has been losing the smaller 1st and 2nd instar cats.  Sometimes it’s a matter of not seeing them on a leaf when I throw it away.  But other times they just seem to have disappeared.  In my smaller totes, I had cut a large hole for ventilation, over which I covered with netting taped to the edges.  But the netting I used had big holes – large enough for the smaller instars to climb right through.  I had thought of getting window screening to replace the netting, but then I was looking at my stash of old hosiery* and came up with another idea.

I cut the toe off of a leg of pantyhose, slid the leg over the cover, and then taped the ends to the cover so that it would all stay in place.  Then I ran a bead of super-glue over the nylons and around the ventilation hole so that the hose would adhere to the cover.  I then left the glue to dry for an hour.  When it was dry, I cut the excess hosiery off and had a more secure ventilation hole that will hold back the little ones.  You might notice in the picture of the result that I had to glue extra hose to a long run that occurred whilst sliding the hose over the cover.

So I am hoping that this will reduce the lost cat problem


*Yes, I stockpile used hosiery no matter how bad they are.  Spare hose has many uses – from a quick patch for a bad window screen, to holding a cup of aquarium charcoal in an aquarium filter.
UPDATE: By the time I had returned to edit and proof-read the draft for this writing, Heather had found another egg, and then I found four more – bringing the total of eggs to 18.  Momma Monarch is still flying about, so I might just find more.

 Shh! Little Ones About!

Little ones

Little ones

It is sad for me to say that – out of 11 eggs – I have only 4 little ones: (2) first instars, (1) second instar, and 1 fourth instar.  And despite having seen a pair mating last week, I have not found any more eggs.  But, I keep telling myself that at least I’m doing much better than last year.  And – hopefully – more will show up.

I spent today cutting back milkweed along my front walk to the house.  Near my garden pond, I had quite the patch of peppermint that is blooming.  It used to be that I’d hear a steady hum of bees gathering pollen and nectar from the flowers, but it is quite noticeable that there aren’t that many bees about, and none of them are honeybees.  It is very scary.



 It Thrills Me to Say……


Monarch Eggs 8-1-15

We Have Eggs!

Friday, my daughter, Heather, texted me to tell me she’d seen a Monarch fluttering about the sanctuary, and then spent a good several minutes following it before confirming it was female.  When I got home I checked the milkweed for any eggs, finding none.

But yesterday – Saturday – I checked the patch again and found one!  I was on my way to grocery shopping, so I didn’t get back out again till later in the day.  I started my fire pit for the evening and while doing so, spotted another Monarch that was flying too fast for me to chase and sex.  But it was flying milkweed to milkweed, which was a hopeful sign.  Heather, in the meantime, began checking all the younger milkweed.  She’s still new to this and, like most beginners, she had difficulty differentiating milkweed sap balls from eggs.  But soon she found an egg, and then two more – both on the same leaf.

I went back out to the area I’d found the first egg and was able to find 3 more, and we happened to spot the Monarch again – along with a second that was mating with her.  So it is very hopeful now that there will be more to come!


First cat of 2015

First cat of 2015

LOL – while writing this post, I happened to look at the picture of the eggs that I inserted in this post, and I realized that one of the eggs had hatched!  Click on the picture and look at the 3ird leaf part from the right.  He was busy munching on the leaf part after having devoured the egg shell.  So he has now been giving a fresh leaf to munch on.  I took a better picture to include.

I am very happy today 🙂


 First Monarch

First sighted Monarch 2015

First sighted Monarch 2015

While watering some plants yesterday, I happened to spy the first monarch of the season – fluttering about the scant growth of flowers I have this year.  I watched for awhile as it would fly to milkweed and I became hopeful it was  a female laying eggs.  I tried to get closer, but it wouldn’t let me get too close to see so I ran into the house for the camera.  I slipped in the telephoto lens and snapped off several pictures.

He was a male – you can just make out the scent sacks on this picture (the black dot just to the right of his abdomen).  That was a little disappointing, but it’s the beginning of the season – last year I didn’t see any till later in the summer.

I did report to Journey North.

I am disappointed with the lack of spring bloom this year.  Even dandelions – the mainstay of nectar plants – are rare in my yard this year.  My coreopsis population has shrunk tremendously and is just now blooming.  The daisies, coneflower and black-eyed Susan’s have also shrunk in population but haven’t bloomed yet.  I planted seeds for Zinnia and other flowers, but nothing appeared except two sunflowers.  So I’ll try again.

 The Milkweed is up!

milkweed 5-5-15

Milkweed 5/5/15

It’s May 5, 2015 and the milkweed is up!  I’ve been watching for it for a week now, but the weather was somewhat chilly.  However yesterday and today was nice – with temps into the near-80’s, and with some decent sunshine that warmed the soil.  Today, when I got home from work and took a look around the patch, this was what I found!

Now I need to get some decent fertilizer for the plants.  Oh but to smell their fragrance, hear the bees humming as they gather nectar from the flowers, and maybe even enjoy a pod or two for dinner ;).  But most of all – I so hope to see the Monarchs again soon – I so miss raising them!

I made sure to make an entry into Journey North.

– Billie

 The Migration Has Started

Monarch Population 2015 courtesy MonarchWatch.com

When I last wrote in January, I mentioned that the 2013/2014 populations in Mexico were sadly depressing.  The 2014/2015 numbers are hopeful, as can be seen here in a chart (thank you MonarchWatch.org for the chart).

In the middle of March, the Monarchs began their long trek northward to the US and Canada and – according to the plot of their migration at Journey North – they have made it into the southern heart of the US.

And just as the news of the population numbers being higher is encouraging, those of us who follow things Monarchy on social media are seeing a rising interest in the Monarch by many others.  One article from Wired Magazine focused on the idea many of us have always had: using our highway and utility right-of-ways as beds for our pollinators.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if you look at the amount of land that exists between the lanes of interstate highways, or on utility corridors, that’s a lot of milkweed and nectar flowers!

I’d like to mention a suggestion to those of you who are going to be planting soon: please try to grow your milkweed and nectar flowers from seed if at all possible.  If you plan to buy plants, buy only from places that do not use pesticides.  There is nothing sadder than to find out that the nice new coneflower plants that you bought from a local nursery is causing the death of your butterflies and bees.  Growing your own from seed is the best way to insure pesticide-free plants, and can also be very satisfying.

This time last year, I was doing a lot of traveling for my new job with CompuCom as an IT FST (IT Field Service Technician).  I typically left my home mid-Sunday afternoon for a hotel and didn’t get back home till Friday evening (or night when I had to travel through NYC).  I did this until early May when I took over a permanent route closer to home.  Unfortunately this traveling and other issues prevented me from being able to groom the garden for the season.  But this year, I’m correcting that.  I have 75 zinnia seeds started to be added to the garden and plan to directly-sow others after I’ve cleaned out the beds and the patch.

And I also plan to be back to this blog more often this year – hopefully with much chatter about more cats being raised.

Happy Easter and a Happy Spring, everybody!

 Happy 2015

I apologize for my long absence from this blog.  I will only say that the past 1-1/2 years were not the greatest for me.  As of now I have a job as a field service technician for an IT services company and I provide IT coverage for several stores in a major home-improvement chain.  Life appears to be going better for me and I will leave things at that.

I had thought that 2013 was a sad summer, with only 7 adult Monarch butterflies released.  but, the summer of 2014 was even more disheartening with none released.  Indeed, I saw only one or two adults fluttering about the garden for the entire season.  No eggs to be found, let alone cats.  In fact even the usual population of other garden beauties – Swallowtails, Fritillarys and Painted Ladies was small, not to mention bees.  As I’ve stated, I cover several home-improvement stores (10 in all), and I routinely made the rounds outside of the stores to visit milkweed growing about the stores.  Here, too, I found no eggs or larva.

Fortunately, getting out to the stores’ garden centers to check on the outside registers, I did have many  opportunities to talk to associates and customers about the Monarch and it’s plight, and I would get excited when some customers would step out of line and buy more flowers, just for the pollinators.

Monarchs Population Graph

Monarchs Population Graph

At the end of 2013, I left you with sad numbers about the Monarch population.  Unfortunately, those numbers did not get better, as the chart to the left – courtesy of Xerces Society – shows.  In fact the US Fish and Wildlife has been asked to review the Monarchs status for being added to the Endangered Species list.  If it happens, it may take several years before the decision is made and enacted.  We can’t wait.

So once again, as I have so many times, I ask you: what will you do to help?

This is a Google Sheets I created based upon the number of Monarch Way Stations in each state as per the amount of land in that state.  I am not a statistician, and I suck at math.  I know that this isn’t the best representation of fact, that having the actual size of each way station in square feet or acres would be better – and I’d love to see that data.  But look at your state and ask yourself a question:  Are you the owner/sponsor of a Monarch Way Station?  if you aren’t, why not become one?  if you are, are you encouraging others to do so?

I recognize that some people don’t like to get caught up in programs and organizations, and simply are growing a butterfly garden without bothering to register at Monarchwatch, and that’s good!  But please, drop me a note with what state you’re in and – if you don’t mind – the approximate size of your patch.  And understand that it isn’t just the milkweed that matters.  You may only have a 5′ x 5′ patch of milkweed, but if you also have a garden full of nectar-rich flowers, or simply a field full of white and red clover and dandelions, then that’s just as beneficial!

Spread the word, and Happy New Year.


 A Sad Ending

I apologize that I have let this go.  Real life has a tendency to rear it’s head and interfere with things.

Of the twelve eggs I had at the end of July, only 7 made it to pupation.  All were female and were released mid-August.  Sadly, except for one instance, they were the only monarchs I ever saw in the garden.  From their release to now, I have not seen another monarch, and I am not alone reporting this.

As I wrote in March, there is great concern for the monarch butterfly.  It is feared that the low population density found last year could be just as bad this coming winter – if not worse.  Chip Taylor, of Monarch Watch, explained the reasons for the decline in March which included loss of milkweed and unusual weather conditions that were adverse to the health of the adults.

This year was not much better.  While the monarchs are not yet endangered or threatened, the annual migration is considered a threatened phenomenon by IUCN.  After my experience this summer, I fully believe this and the idea of never seeing these beautiful creatures again scares me.

It’s time to get serious, everyone.   In Neenah, Wisconsin, a woman growing milkweed for monarchs was ordered to remove it.  Fortunately the town is rethinking their laws.  But there are many more in Wisconsin – and perhaps around the US and Canada – that still do have laws against milkweed.  Also, there are homeowners who look upon our milkweed patches with disdain, asking us why we grow such an invasive plant.  These people need to be educated.

There are very few people in this world who dislike butterflies, and many who equate their beautiful flights to peace and tranquility.  It is understandable that many have difficulty recognizing the link between a tall, “ugly”, “invasive” weed and the idyllic scene of a monarch fluttering up and down and back and forth in a meadow of wildflowers

That has to be changed.

We need to invite these neighbors into the milkweed patch and let them enjoy the scent of the blooming flower and the sight of bees, moths and butterflies getting nectar.  We need to Boil them a young, green milkweed pod and have them try it.  To invite them and their children, or grandchildren, to find eggs, caterpillars or chrysalis’ in the patch.  For those of us who raise monarchs, we need to take them into the house to show them, especially if we have a variety of eggs, instar’s, J’s and chrysalis as this makes it better for explaining the life cycle.

We should give chrysalis’ as gifts to our neighbors, especially those with young children.  Perhaps hung in a 1-quart mason jar decorated with ribbons or bows, with instructions on when the adult should emerge, the signs that it’s about to (blackening), and how the adult will hang from the chrysalis and why (expanding the wings).

We should give these chrysalis’ to the politicians in our towns or cities to encourage the horticulture of milkweed, or to remove ordinances that prohibit or limit it.

We should give the chrysalis’ to school teachers so that their students can watch and learn about them.

If we have a bunch of adults that have emerged, we should do like many monarch or butterfly festivals do: hold a tagging party with our neighbors and friends where they can each tag and release a butterfly.  And, later, they check online to see if their butterfly was ever spotted.

But the goal is to provide a reason for our neighbors, friends, politicians and businesses to grow milkweed: a gift that, in 10 to 15 days, can be experienced.  A beautiful, wondrous creature they can hold in their hand, if but for a fleeting moment, before it lifts in flight and flutters to a beautiful day.  A creature that will amaze children to the delight of parents and grandparents.

This may not be the best answer.  There will be those stubborn individuals who will just not be changed, but I think many more will, at the least, be accepting.

These are just the ideas from a depressed, introverted guy who has difficulty facing the real world each day.  I can only imagine what you extroverted, go-getters can think of!

Stay tuned as I hope – in a few weeks – to show you another thing you can do with milkweed for the upcoming holidays.