Written by Chandra L. Mattingly
Thursday, September 04, 2014 10:06 AM
If the monarch caterpillars in our living room are any indication,
monarch butterflies' wintering population should be up this year.
Those who love the tropical insects' orange and black stained
glass appearance hope so. In a life cycle that stretches from Mexico to
Canada, these delicate creatures are dependent on just a few species of
plants. Unfortunately, large-scale farming, pesticide use and human
development have wiped out many stands of milkweed upon which monarchs'
winter (2013-2014) the wintering monarch population was the smallest
it's ever been since monitoring began, according to Monarch Watch.
Efforts even have begun to classify the species as endangered. In our
screened butterfly cage, only three monarchs hatched to be released.
This year we've already released over a dozen, mostly females.
Milkweeds used to be present along the fence rows and other waste
areas dividing and bordering farmers' fields. Some even grew among the
crops, as milkweeds are resistant to some pesticides. But stronger
pesticides can be used with genetically modified corn and soybeans, and
the milkweed occurrence has dropped as a result.
Drought in Texas and other areas hasn't helped, limiting availability
of food for caterpillars and adults. Each spring, the butterflies which
survive the winter begin to migrate north. As adults lay their eggs,
the resulting monarchs fly farther north, and produce another generation
which flies even farther. Eventually, as the days grow shorter and fall
approaches, instinct kicks in and the last generation flies south to
winter near Angangueo, Mexico.
But the initial butterflies heading north must have milkweeds or
honeyvine (Ameplamus albidus) plants upon which to lay their eggs, and
nectar-producing plants upon which to feed. The milky sap of milkweeds
makes monarchs resistant to predators, for it makes them poisonous to
most vertebrates, including birds.
Milkweeds (various asclepius species) are easy to identify, with
their upright growth habit, milky sap and hourglass-shaped flowers.
Honeyvine is more likely to be confused with other vines, yet in our
experience receives far more monarch eggs than ascepius species in our
At this time of year, mature honeyvine can be identified by the pods
hanging from the vines. The flowers occur in round white clusters, have a
strong sweet scent and could be called half-hourglasses in shape. Young
vines tend to be upright until they reach 6 inches or so, and are
stiffer than other vine species.
When weeding, PLEASE don't pull up any honeyvines without checking
for the white dots which are monarch eggs (smaller than the tip of a
pencil) or the striped monarch caterpillars. The monarch population
needs whatever help we can provide right now.
Monarch Watch sells milkweed plants as plugs, and provides free
milkweed plants to schools and non-profits - with plants available now
for fall planting. Some states have begun planting highway corridors
with milkweeds and other plants attractive to pollinators. (Perhaps we
could all suggest this to our state legislators!)
the Dearborn County Soil and Water Conservation District's Backyard
Conservation Program offers butterfly weed, an orange-flowered
asclepius, and a few other native plants each spring. The district may
begin a pollinator-seed program next spring; many of the same plants
feed honeybees as well as native pollinators and butterflies.
Folks (and teachers) who would like to raise monarchs can find
instructions for doing so on the Monarch Watch site: monarchwatch.org.
It takes about a month for an egg to result in a butterfly, and those
eggs laid now will become the butterflies that migrate south. Monarch
Watch also sells tags so you can tag your adult butterflies in hopes
they will be spotted in Mexico and you'll learn if they made the trip
Folks who would like honeyvine seeds may email me at email@example.com
with email addresses and/or phone numbers (or call me at 812-438-2011
if you don't have email) and I will contact them when the seeds ripen in
a few weeks.
enjoy the monarchs you see fluttering past; last year the sight here
was extremely rare. Let's hope it never becomes nonexistent.
Last Updated on Thursday, September 04, 2014 10:27 AM
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly
Thursday, August 14, 2014 9:48 AM
Which is better, to bite into an ear of sweet corn that went
straight from the garden into the boiling water, or to slice and
devour a sun-ripened red tomato?
Ah, summertime, when the garden is in full swing and the eating is
This week we're eating our first homegrown Silver Queen corn,
though a Rising Sun friend had mature corn over a month ago! He
managed to plant in just the right early window and got corn up
despite the cool spring weather.
We got our first Early Girl tomato July 3, and are absolutely
inundated with round red – and a few orange – globes. There's
nothing like a plateful of ripe tomatoes with cottage cheese – or
slices of an Orange Jubilee with chicken, swiss or mozzarella cheese,
salad dressing and homegrown oregano on sandwich bread.
I started more varieties of tomatoes this year than usual, though
Early Girls are my husband's favorite. The Tigerellas are a smaller,
slightly striped variety, which cracked consistently while we were
getting frequent rains. Now that the rains are more spaced out,
they're staying whole – and they do have a good flavor. I'm still
weighing in on my favorites, but the Big Boy and Abe Lincoln are way
ahead of the Super Tasty and Supersteak – though the latter has
decent flavor in its huge tomatoes should you want to grow them for
bragging rights. They're great for jumbo hamburgers, but a little
large for eating out of hand.
Sungold and my own saved-seed red cherry tomatoes are probably
what I eat most, simply because they're so productive. And a cherry
tomato is easy to pop into my mouth as a quick snack!
With all the rains, the green beans have produced like
gangbusters, finally slowing for this last picking. A second planting
is up and almost ready to bloom, but this first planting suddenly has
loads of buds and blooms coming so may not get pulled up after all.
And for once, the bean beetles have not overloaded the older plants.
We did lift onions and shallots this week, and I pondered how
appropriate is that verb as I gently tugged the round and elongated
globes from the ground. They'll lay out under the carport roof for
about a month to cure, though some will be sauteed and eaten much
sooner. I've taken to growing Utah Spanish and Red Long of Tropea
onions, the latter growing into tall red ovals. I start both those
and the Ambition red shallots from seed in early February.
In the emptied area we planted two varieties of broccoli
seedlings, Windsor and Nutribud, plus Snow Crown cauliflower and
savoy cabbage. And lettuce seeds. The brassica were started indoors
July 8 and should have time to mature, depending, always, on weather.
As usual, by the time I got done I was grubby and slick with
sweat. That's part of summertime, too, I guess, and as sensual in its
way as all the gustatory sensations!
Soon I'll plant beet, spinach, kale, collard and carrot seeds for
fall and overwintering crops, as well as garlic cloves for next
summer's harvest. This year's garlic, on trays in the garage, has
dried about long enough to be stored for winter. Maybe I'll get some
braided this year!
Meanwhile, the spring broccoli continues to send out side shoots,
the most recent of which got blanched for broccoli, bacon, and raisin
salad. We got our first large head of Gypsy broccoli June 29 from
seeds planted in late March, and our first cabbage head a few days
earlier from the same planting date.
This year and last I got a cabbage mix from Pineseed which
provides a variety of red and green cabbages, including early and
larger, later maturing plants. One of the heads that's ready now is
absolutely HUGE, though it doesn't look quite as big wearing the
cowboy hat my daughter suggested. I'd guess it weighs about 10 lb.,
Sunflowers line three sides of our big garden, and the chatter of
goldfinches is constant now. The seeds have no chance to mature for
winter birdseed! But the birds and the flowers are a delight, and I
take some of the heavy stalks indoors to enjoy. I make sure I grow
the kind that DO have pollen so they also are good for honeybees and
Other flower varieties make a walk through the backyard a
scentsational trip. The oriental lilies are done for the year, but
the moonflowers have started with their overwhelming fragrance, the
tea roses provide a lovely scent from time to time, and the
slightly-dusty scented phlox and sweet pink resurrection lilies are
blooming as well.
Black-eyed Susan, gaillardia and purple coneflowers vibrate with
color, and salvia, balloon flower and dragonhead provide shades of
blue and purple. And at the very back of the yard, the apiary is
abuzz as honeybees wing their way in and out of their hives with
loads of nectar and pollen.
Ah, summertime. A sensual experience in so many ways.
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly
Tuesday, July 08, 2014 4:10 PM
Is it too late to plant a garden?
Not at all! While it
might be harder to get cool-weather crops such as lettuce, spinach and
beets to germinate, there are other vegetables that will pop right out
of the ground and get to work.
And even the cool-temperature
crops may germinate if covered with a shade cloth and kept moist, or
started inside under lights for transplanting.
So, what should
you plant first? Sweet corn. I usually am able to get a late crop of
sweet corn, even full-season varieties such as Silver Queen, if I plant
it by July 15. You can soak the seeds overnight and water them in well
to get a quicker start.
Bush green beans planted now also have
enough time to mature, as do cucumbers. Even summer squash are likely
to produce some edibles, though it's probably too late for winter squash
Carrots will mature in what's left of the
summer but can be tricky to get up, especially in clay soils. Try
planting the seeds in broad rows, water, then cover the area with a wide
board. Check the area daily, keeping it moist, and remove the board as
soon as seeds germinate. Keep watering regularly until the little
carrots are well established.
Or you can try covering your
carrot seeds with a mixture of sand and soil to keep the ground from
crusting. Again, keep the area watered.
The same treatment
works with beets, but only if the soil is cool enough. Beet seeds won't
germinate well at higher temperatures. Yet if you can get them up, they
make a great late summer/fall crop.
Peas planted now may
produce come fall, and you can choose standard or snap peas. I've always
had better luck with the latter, especially as fall crops. Plan on some
sort of support; even so-called non-staking varieties do better with
light fence or string to keep the delicate vines off the ground.
potatoes can still be planted and will produce taters, though perhaps
not large ones. The difficulty with late potatoes is the hungry insects;
they never seem to go after the early potatoes as voraciously. There
are organic products that work on potato beetles, with limitations.
thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium which is effective with early larval
stages. Beauveria bassiana is effective against all larval and adult
stages, but doesn't work well in temperatures above 80 degrees F. Both
are organisms which occur naturally.
Cabbage and broccoli
seeds also can be planted directly in the garden for fall crops, but
should be watched for pests and nibbling bunnies. In our garden, which
essentially has been organic for decades, wasps and other predators
carry off the cabbage worms for the first half of the summer to feed
their young. Once those young are raised, we begin seeing cabbage worms
on the brassica.
At that point, you can squash the
caterpillars, pick them off and feed them to your chickens, or spray Bt
or rotenone. If you use rotenone or other pesticides, be sure to dust or
spray early in the morning or in the late evening, when honeybees and
other pollinators are less active.
Speaking of honeybees, my home hives are thriving, as frequent rains are keeping the white yard clover blooming.
took honey off in late June, a sweaty job I wrote about in advance in
an earlier blog, and ended up with about 360 lb. of honey from four
overwintered beehives (up to six hives at the moment with divisions.)
I did the heavy, clothes-drenching work of removing honey supers from
the hives, volunteers at Jim Orem's Spring Sling in Milan did most of
work involved in extracting: decapping the combs, loading and running
the extractor, unloading the extractor, and cleaning up cappings, etc.
here's thanks to Jim Orem, Brianna Johnson, Allison and Matt Knue,
Chris and Darrell Hosmer, and Donnie Flannery and his son Seth Flannery.
Others there when we were included Randy Salatin and daughters Mary and
Emma Salatin, Ted Cooley, Virginia Tidman, Jim Rector and Bert
Chandra L. Mattingly is a staff reporter for The
Journal-Press and The Dearborn County Register. In her spare time she
cultivates a large garden, and tends bees, chickens and horses.
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly
Friday, June 20, 2014 11:24 AM
Beelieve it or not, the sweetest part of beekeeping for most backyard beekeepers isn't the honey harvest.
It's seeing that their honeybees have survived another winter – especially when the winter was like this last one!
But folks who are interested in beekeeping as well as beginning
beekeepers can get a good idea of what honey harvesting is like
come Saturday, June 28. Jim Orem, a member of the Southeastern Indiana
Beekeepers Association, is offering his Milan area honey house and
his help that day for his Spring Sling.
Newbees and SIBA members who have honey to extract may use his
facilities that day, but must call or email him to set up a time:
812-571-0118 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
better, prospective beekeepers may come and discuss beekeeping and
learn how to extract honey by helping. Even folks who just are
interested in honeybees and honey are welcome to show up and learn
through experience how it's done.
The process will begin at 10 a.m. with honey off my hives, but
folks should call Jim ahead of time for directions and the best
time to show up.
Once again, this strain of honeybees I care for has produced a
heck of a lot of honey. In 2013, all three hives I had wintered
over, and I took off about 300 lb. of honey that June. This last
winter, thanks to divisions, I had four hives, all of which
wintered well. At this point, it looks as if they've produced just as
much and probably more than last spring.
So, for those wondering about how one “robs” the bees, here's
the process. Two days ahead of time, Thursday, I'll go through
the hives, set the honey supers to be taken above the hives' inner
covers, and place a bee escape in the inner cover hole. By the
following day most if not all the bees should have gone down into the
brood boxes of the hive, where they have additional honey stored
as well as pollen, and raise their young.
Because I'm not a weight lifter and value my back, I'll remove
about half the frames from each full super, keeping them covered,
and carry that much at a time to a shady spot in the yard. When I
have all the honey supers off the hives and in the shade, I'll use
a shop vacuum in reverse to blow any remaining honeybees off the
Then I'll put the bee-less honeycombs in a clean super, always
keeping the boxes covered. When I have a full box, I'll load it
into the back of our pickup truck.
all the honey is on the truck, I'll drive a few blocks away, then open
the lids to release any honeybees that might have slipped back
inside the supers. At that point, those bees are glad to get out of the
hot boxes and simply fly away, heading home.
After a couple of stops to repeat the process, if needed, I'll
park the truck in a closed warehouse to await our Saturday
morning trip to Jim's. There, we'll use a heated de-capping knife to
remove the caps from the honeycombs, which are built within wooden
frames. Then the frames will be put in an extractor and whirled to
sling out the honey – hence the event's name – and drained into
(And this year I'll remember the lids for the honey containers so I don't have to send the spouse back home to get them!)
all the empty supers will be returned to the hives for the bees to
clean out, or, if a nectar flow continues, to refill.
Last Updated on Monday, June 23, 2014 2:08 PM