The Amazing Flight of the Monarch Butterfly

The Amazing Flight of the Monarch Butterfly

Humans are a fickle bunch, and try as I might, they are hard to figure.  Say one thing, mean another.  Say one thing, find out it wasn’t true.  Commit to one thing, then change courses.  Not saying I’m any different, but the dependability of nature (well maybe not weather) is something that brings me a lot of comfort.  Cycles that repeat;  you sort of come to depend on them.  Geese come south, geese go north.  Jenny wrens nesting in the same clay pots they used the year before.  My mother in law’s daffodils emerging in late February, as they have been since she planted 30+ years ago.  Even the sturgeon have decided the river is clean enough to make a comeback.  We brought them to the brink of extinction, then we decided to bring them back.  See what I mean?  Fickle.

Well there is one cycle that is truly a wonder:  the migration of the monarch.  Their life cycle is equally awe inspiring but let’s focus on this trip!  There are so many wondrous aspects of this flight, described as ‘epic’, so let’s start with this:

The monarch migration is the longest known insect migration on earth.

Chew on this:  a monarch can leave Nova Scotia, Canada and travel to the mountains west of Mexico City, which works out to somewhere around 3,000 miles.  A butterfly, mind you.  Miracle? (more…)

Is Chamomile a Weed?

Chamomile a weed? One person’s weed is another person’s herb!

While on a trip to Prairie Canada, I was surprised to find find common chamomile blooming among the prairie plants. After first spotting this familiar herb, I began seeing it along the road shoulder, in fields of peas and beans, and even in the lawn where I was staying. From my host, I learned that on the prairie farmers consider chamomile a noxious weed and work hard trying to eliminate it from their crops fields.  This is a good example for comparing a desirable herb plant from a weed. And as the description for weeds explains; it all depends on where a plant is growing! So even though chamomile is a weed is some places, it is a welcome herb in my garden. I have plenty of other plants on my own weed list!

How To Create a Hummingbird Haven

 

Hummingbirds love sweet,tubular-shaped flowers like those of the Bee Balm herb plant.

We absolutely LOVE watching hummingbirds dart through our gardens on a warm Summer evening. Attracting hummingbirds to your garden is a wonderful way to enjoy seeing these fast-flying little birds’ aerial antics up close, and will provide you with hours of entertainment from Spring until Fall. Also a very beneficial garden companion, hummingbirds will eat bugs and help increase pollination in your garden be flitting from bloom to bloom.

Hummingbirds do not have a sense of smell, and are instead attracted to brightly colored (usually red), trumpet or tube shaped flowers which their long beaks are specially designed to drink from. Because hummingbirds fly so fast (up to 30 miles per hour!), they spend most of their time foraging to keep their energy levels high. Their need for fuel is so high that hummingbirds may drink up to eight times their body weight in nectar in a day!

Make sure to plant these hummingbird friendly herbs and flowers to make your garden a great place for hummingbirds to feed:

We also have a variety of hanging and staked feeders that are specially designed to attract hummingbirds. Made from recycled glass, the colors change from a lovely orange and yellow color to a vibrant flame red that hummingbirds are drawn to. Click here to view our video and watch the hummingbirds swarm these lovely, hand crafted feeders.

Other tips for creating a hummingbird haven in your yard:

  • Place hummingbird feeders near your garden to attract hummingbirds to your plants.
  • Place the feeders at different heights throughout your yard and garden, as some species prefer different feeding patterns. Placing feeders in different parts of your yard will help keep territorial males from dominating all of the nectar.
  • Make sure to keep your feeders clean and full of fresh nectar to ensure that the hummingbirds don’t get sick. Cleaning  the sugary substance from the feeder’s holes may also help prevent attracting bees or wasps, as they may convene to find leftovers.
  • Make sure to offer a good, clean water source for the hummingbirds to drink and bathe in, such as a bird bath which is shallow enough for them to play in.
  • Add strings that run the length of your garden, above your plants to give hummers something to perch and rest on while flitting from flower to flower.

 

 

 

How To Build A Better Butterfly Garden

 

Butterfly gardening can be a wonderful way to experience wildlife in your garden, encourage pollination, and it takes very little maintenance, giving you more time to enjoy the beauty of watching butterflies flock to your plants. This is also a great way to give back to your local ecosystem, as many natural habitats for butterflies and other pollinators have been destroyed by urban development and human interference. We always let about half of our test garden go wild in the summer, in addition to the many flowering shrubs and trees throughout the yard, to give butterflies a safe place to feed and lay their eggs.

In planning your butterfly garden, make sure to plant plenty of host plants and feeder plants. Host plants are specific herbs, flowers and other plants, that mature butterflies lay their eggs on because they create a safe haven for their young who will also feed on these plants once they become caterpillars. Be aware that these plants will be the sole food source for caterpillars, so it will be pretty heavily snacked upon. Because these may look rather ragged by the time the caterpillars are done munching on them, you may want to add these to the back of your garden, but still close to feeder plants so that the caterpillars are able to find them easily in their next stage of life. Some common host plants include Fennel, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Dill, Broccoli, Sunflowers, and Asclepias (also known as Milkweed).

Feeder plants are nectar rich plants that adult butterflies will feed on throughout the season. These will also attract other helpful pollinators to your garden like honeybees and hummingbirds! Feeder plants tend to be fragrant and brightly colored, and you may be surprised to find that you already have many in your garden already. Some common varieties from our garden include Lantanas, Buddleias (also known as “Butterfly Bushes”), Joe Pye Weed, Bee Balm (Bergamot), Garlic Chives, and Oregano.

For a great video where we discuss plants for your butterfly garden and give you some tips from our experience in designing gardens for butterflies, check out our Butterfly Gardening Video.

  • Remember to plant your perennial butterfly plants toward the back of your garden and your annuals toward the front, for easy seasonal replacing.
  • Don’t forget to incorporate herbs into your butterfly garden! Many herbs are perennial and will provide you with a safe haven for caterpillars and beautiful blooms when they flower. You can also use them in many other ways!
  • Choose an area that is protected by the wind, as butterflies are delicate and don’t want to fight strong breezes to feed.
  • Provide a water source, such as a birdbath or a shallow bucket filled with water with sand in the bottom.
  • Avoid using pesticides on your plants as these will harm the butterflies and their young.

February Is For The Birds…Literally!

 

February is National Bird Feeding Month, and though we’ve had a fairly mild winter, here in zone 7, our feathered friends still need your attention. No matter where you reside, the birds in your area could use a helping hand during these cold, dreary months where weather may be harsh or unpredictable and food can be scarce. Here are a few tips to ensure that your bird buddies are well fed and warm until springtime arrives:

Water Through The Winter. Birds need a fresh source of water, so make sure to break and remove any ice that may accumulate in your bird baths, and replenish the water regularly. Our Bamboo themed Mini Oriental Bird Bath makes the perfect compact addition to your garden and gives birds plenty of fresh water to drink and play!

Cleaning is Key. Routinely clean debris from bird baths and old seed from bird feeders to prevent fungus and disease from developing and making the birds sick.

Home Tweet Home. Give your birds plenty of dry, protected places to nest for the winter. Hang birdhouses in areas that are out of the wind and weather to provide a great winter home for birds that don’t migrate. Looking for a cozy country-inspired home for your birds? Our Red Wooden Birdhouse compliments your country garden with a rustic look to give your birds the best place to nest year round!

Treats For Tweets. I have vivid memories of my mother placing halves of too-far gone oranges, apples and pears; mushy bananas, dried nuts and other edible compost out along the snow covered railings of our porch, for the mockingbirds. Songbirds LOVE fruit! Giving your birds additional nutrition keeps their diet balanced while giving them something new to instigate, while giving you a great natural show to watch from indoors.

Feed the Flock. Don’t forget to regularly refill your bird feeders and inspect them for winter damage. Replace cracked or broken feeders as needed with new ones.Our Glass Bamboo Feeder is made of thick, hand-blown  glass and brass so it’s sturdy enough to withstand winter’s worst!

Out Smart the Squirrels. Other critters may be competing for food sources during this time of the year. Try to hang your feeders in areas that squirrels can’t get to, or attach guards or cages to keep them from stealing all of your birdseed.

Select The Right Seed. Suet cakes are a great “hodge podge” of high calorie seeds that come in different varieties to attract specific types of winter birds. Peanuts and Nyger seeds are other high calorie nuts and seeds that will ensure your birds stay plump and warm this winter.

 

Playing A Game Of Chicken, With A Turkey

 

On her way home, our Marketing Director, Caroline, encountered a pretty tough bird. It’s a good thing it didn’t have a flock, or this might have gotten ugly…

 

There’s one house on the way to the farm, that I always slow to a crawl when I past. The Raniers. In the mornings, their motley crew of dogs, comprised of two labs, one black and one yellow; a stout little beagle, and a bug eyed chihuahua bask in the warm sun in the middle of the one lane country road, or explore the ditches and field adjoining the road’s worn pavement. They’ve become kind of like friends, as I pass them each morning and think “good dogs” to myself and while struggling to get that last drop of coffee out of my travel mug.

The afternoons are a bit of a different story. Replacing my familiar furry friends is a flock of nervous barnyard fowl, ranging from roosters to chickens in various and sundry breeds, and a wild turkey. Yes, I said wild. Apparently, Jamie and Lori, the owners of this tiny ranch, raised this turkey from an egg their son Hunter found. The turkey has grown to assimilate to its  much smaller family of chickens without even noticing that its giant stature makes it so different.

On my way home, like any other day, I slowed as I approached the birds while they meandered across the road, scratching and pecking in the dirt that surrounds the blacktop. The only thing different about this encounter was that the turkey stood firmly in the middle of the road, refusing to budge. As I nudged my car closer, it began walking toward me, never breaking its defiant gaze. I finally put the car in park when I realized that I wasn’t going to win this game of “chicken” (pun intended), and stared back. It looked at me as if to say “this is my turf” without caring in the least that I was in a Jeep, and that it was outweighed and out horse powered. I jumped out and shooed it out of the road, and to my surprise as it slightly side stepped my path, it pecked at me! I jumped into my car and looked in the rear view as I began to pull away: the turkey was there. As if from some nightmarish Hitchcock movie, I was now being stalked mercilessly…by an evil turkey. I sped up, and he sped up. It wasn’t until I’d hit almost 25 MPH that he gave up his chase for an easier pursuit.

I got a good laugh from my friends when I told them about my day and my face off with the ornery bird, and still cautiously drive past the Ranier’s in the afternoon, always looking back for fear of that crazy turkey!