29 August 2018

coleus same and different

Took a bunch of cuttings from coleus 'gay delight' and 'watermelon'.
Look how similar the 'gay delight' from indoor pot has grown, compared to the autumn lime/orange one-
These plants are from the same parent- ones on the left have been growing outside since spring, on the right, it's been indoors all season. So different!
I planted them out. The bright 'exhibition mix' one is so vivid, it looks flourescent. Slugs like it too much.
The smaller white-centered one does better, but I don't really care for how the leaves twist at the ends. I know it's a decorative feature, but looks odd to me.

I have tomatoes

Finally. They are tasty, but the squirrel thinks so too. I keep catching him trying to steal, and found one half-eaten off the vine.

28 August 2018

caterpillars eat squash

Pictures from earlier post were yesterday, these are from today. In the morning I saw immediately the milkweed is almost completely barren. The caterpillars have been chewing off the ends of stems, and nearly eaten the two longitudinal zucchini slices I'd given them. They even ate through the skin.
 I tied on two more. A lot more caterpillars are eating it now.
I removed their competition, the tussock moth caterpillar. My youngest wants to try and raise it in the mesh bug house we have.
Later in the day I brought the caterpillars butternut squash, not wanting them to be limited to one food source. A few started to feed on that, as well.
But quite a few were wandering- crawling around in the vinca or the grass. Were they searching for more milkweed? getting moisture from the dew? Looking for a good spot to pupate? I don't know.
One crawled up the retaining wall and wandered around there for a while.
At first I picked them up and moved them back, but I don't know if handling them is harmful. And if they have a reason for wandering off, I should leave them alone.
I was dismayed later in the day to count only thirteen caterpillars, half are gone. I hope they found safe places to build their chrysalis, but it's also possible they got eaten. One of the bigger brown skinks was lurking in the vinca (looked fat and healthy). There's also a large preying mantis hanging out on our porch (my stepson thought it was a "freaky stick insect"). I haven't seen a mantis since this one, so glad it's around (maybe the same individual, grown bigger)- but I think both are predators that will eat monarch caterpillars.
The mantis is bold, too. I tried to get a close photo of its face, and it leaped straight onto the camera, threatening me!

caterpillars eat zucchini

Day before yesterday I saw the one milkweed plant was almost completely eaten. I tried giving them cucumber, they ignored it. I gave them zucchini, they started to chow down.
Not the best for their health, maybe (it's a big unknown if it has long-term detriments) and from what I've read, you can only do this for 5th instar- when they are a few days from pupating. Better than starving right now.

I found a very small one- first or second instar, not sure. I doubt this little one will survive- no leaves left. (They have to eat milkweed when young).
Little one next to a big one:
What I guess is a 4th instar, above the stem, 5th instar below.
I now spend some time just sitting watching the caterpillars, (as well as sitting watching my fishes). They are so busy, busy munching. Every now and then one will trundle up a stem to its tip, wave its head around as if searching, trundle back down. Or make its way to the base of milkweed stem at ground level, and back up another. They freeze completely, as if playing 'statues', when I jostle the stem. Stay absolutely motionless, in whatever position they were in, for quite a few minutes (I didn't time) until all seems clear, and then they move around again.

I think I saw some vying for position on the stems, or around the food, as well. One caterpillar would approach another on a leaf or zucchini slice, and the caterpillar already eating would swing its head around and shove at the approaching one until it moved off. I saw some jerking their heads repeatedly at each other, as if having an argument. And they are kind of fastidious, too. I figured it's better to tie the zucchini on vertically, so their waste drops off easily onto the ground. They tend to lift their rears in the air when voiding, probably to make it fall free. Once I saw a caterpillar do this and the frass didn't fall off. The caterpillar swung its head around to its rear, nudged the frass until it fell, turned right back to eating again.

27 August 2018

some flowers

first of all the tithonia, glowing bright
the wall is little this year, but I'm still glad I planted it.
better photos of turtlhead, from two different angles
pink cosmos over rue- with a skipper butterfly
one little dahlia
my clematis is blooming again! (they're not overly large this time)
black-and-blue salvia has really filled in its space
here's its dusky flags
and blue flowers
I'm fairly pleased with the marigolds this year- they look a lot healthier kept in pots
Echinacea is looking worn-out and sad- rudbeckia a bit better
the young plants sure have grown up thick
I made a little bouquet with sensitive fern, liriope blossoms, hosta flowers and turtlehead

26 August 2018

if you plant it, they will come!

I was out cleaning up the garden today. I have a lot more photos for another post- but right now just wanted to show what made me so happy. I found more than fifteen good-sized monarch caterpillars on my single milkweed plant!
I worried right away they'd run out of food soon- the plant is looking pretty worn out and shabby already. In fact, I'd come out to wipe aphids off- a few days ago I noticed the stems were thick with orange-yellow aphids up and down. But today I found hardly any aphids- probably thanks to this sycamore assassin bug.
I went and did some reading on monarch caterpillars. Apparently it's not enough to just plant milkweed for them to eat.
The caterpillars have a surprising amount of natural predators- only five percent make it to adulthood. Lots of people raise them indoors. According to some pictures I studied online, mine are probably already at the 4th or 5th instar.
They have a slightly fake appearance, in my opinion. Like a kid took a bunch of flattened yellow, white and black disks of clay, lined them up all up and squished them together.
I also found one of those very hairy caterpillars on the milkweed. Tussock moth? Probably a food competitor, but I didn't  flick it off. I like the moths, too.
According to online sources, I could in a pinch, feed the monarch caterpillars things like squash and cucumber. Today I pulled up all my withered cucumber vines, and found one more big yellowed oversize cuke on the end. Maybe I should have sliced it for the caterpillars, instead of tossing it in the compost!