Monarchs – Back in St. Louis


I’ve finally had a female Monarch sighting in my garden and she was laying eggs. I saw about a dozen eggs laid, but there were probably more. If you look close at one picture, you will see all the aphids and white flies on the milkweed. I’m pretty sure they don’t have any impact on the larvae.

Instead of spreading my plants out, I put all my milkweed into one area to try and entice the Monarchs into my back yard. Most of the plants are tropical milkweed, but I also have incarnata and tuberosa.



Filed under Milkweed, Monarch, Monarchs

Mid-July Rejuvenation


By July 15th, many of my plants have gone to seed and are done blooming. Most people would just let these plants keep growing and just taking up garden space. I choose to cut most of these down to the ground. The advantage is that they will come back and re-bloom and look very nice for a late summer season. Now this is not true for every plant, but for many I grow it is true. Maltese Cross, Salvia, Dianthus, Veronica and others will all give me a 2nd and sometimes a 3rd bloom. You can give them an extra boost of fertilizer, Miracle Gro or compost if you think they need it.

Some plants which don’t re-bloom, like Penstemon, I cut off the seed stalks so that I can get more sun onto the remaining plants.

Any plants that are diseased or don’t appear to be doing well are dug up and pitched.

I also use this time to fill-in with plants that I may have dug up from other spots.

You can also plant some annuals, like Zinnia, to fill-in some of these areas.

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Hummingbird Moth


One of the infrequent visitors to our garden is the Hummingbird Moth. I’ve seen it on lantana and today it was nectaring on butterfly bush. It’s one of the few moths that will come out during the day.

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Programs for Pre-Schoolers

I was able to watch a program at the Butterfly House and came away with a few ideas.

  • Start with kids introducing themselves – name and age
  • Put color pictures in plastic sleeves to show kids
  • Parts of a butterfly.
  • Read book – Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  • Read the book -Are You a Butterfly” – Judy Allen
  • Song -
  • Have kids color – packets of paper with cardboard, crayons, and picture.
  • Plant seeds.
  • Bring in eggs, cats, and plants to show and tell.

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Dr Lincoln Brower’s Program at UMSL


I was glad to be one of the few people who was able to attend Dr. Brower’s program at UMSL this year. Below are the basics from his speech/program.


He has done sixty years of research into Monarch butterflies.
This is part of a book if he ever publishes it.
There are at least 157 species of monarch-like butterflies.
Milkweed produces latex when it is damaged and is part of the plants defense mechanism.
There are at least 108 species of milkweed in north America.
Milkweed was known as far back as 1629.
Milkweed has pharmalogical properties.
Asclepias is a North American plant,but it got to Syria over 400 years ago.
It was then found in Syria and given the name Asclepias syriaca.

Monarchs fly more than 2000 miles south, spend 5 months in Mexico and then fly another 1000 miles north.
The monarch migration evolved as the milkweed evolved in North America.

Beak marks are found on Monarchs back in the 1700′s
Viceroy is similarly marked to gain the protection of the Monarch.
In tests, birds reject the Viceroy, just as much as the Monarch.
Birds in the test never ate a Monarch, but just on the basis of taste.

Toxic compounds are also bitter.
Cardenoloids were discovered in milkweed and are similar to digitoxin.
Birds were tested with bread and digitoxin solutions and they rejected pieces with higher solutions.

Raised 3000 monarch eggs and larvae on cabbage to find one that survived through the 4th instar,then switched it to milkweed. From that one,they bred many more which solely ate cabbage.

They raised more cabbage fed monarchs and fed them to birds who would teqr off the wings abnd eat the body. They then gave them monarchs raised on milkweed.
In 5 minutes the birds looked ill and in 12 minutes they were vomiting.
That’s how he became known as Brower’s Barfing Bluejays.
A month later, if you offered the same Bluejay a Monarch, it would just look at the Monarch and wretch.
They then raised monarchs on different species of milkweed to see how toxic they were.
They dried and ground the caterpillars and put them into capsule form.
They then force-fed the Bluejays.
No bluejays were killed in this process.
Each species had a different level of poison.
In one test of fall migrant Monarchs in Mass, some Monarchs had almost no toxins, while otheer hd a lot of toxins.
So some monarchs could be eaten by birds without bad effects.
Dr. Browers testing showed that a very small number of toxic Monarchs protected the entire population.
He found that you could fingerprint a Monarch to a particular Asclepias species.
Most Monarchs in Mexico have eaten Syriaca.
1975 was when Monarch over-wintering sites were discovered in Mexico.
One site he visited in Mexico was 3 hectare and had approximately 150 million butterflies.
There are two species of birds who are eating Monarchs in Mexico.
They would eat from 3500 to 35,000 butterflies/day.
There’s a 6.8 day cycle in the predation.
It suggests that birds eat a lot, get sick and then don’t eat much at all until the toxins are flushed from their system.
How can the birds eat so many of these chemically defended butterflies?
In their testing the states, 40% of monarchs are emetic?? (toxic.
but by the time they get to Mexico, only 10% are emetic.
So as they age and fly south, they lose a lot of those toxins.
Also the Orioles were stripping the Monarch abdomens and
92% of Monarchs in Mexico had syriaca patterns.
Monarchs generally lay one or two eggs on a milkweed plant.
In about 3 days the caterpillars hatch out.
They eat down their egg shell.
then they start eating the leaf an this is a very dangerous time for the caterpillars.
They can get stuck in the latex and die.
The final instar cats will bite through the petiole and will stop the flow of latex.
Then it can go to the leaf and eat it with much less latex.
Dr Brower also did the same thing to some of his milkweed and he found that it did not reduce the water content of the leaf.
He did some experiments with Monarch eggs with leaves that had been notched to stop the latex versus unnotched leaves  and he found that :
1.On the control leaves which had not been cut, there were only 28% alive.
2. On the leaves where the leaves had been cut, 56% survival.
How do Monarchs build up enough energy not only to fly to Mexico, but also survive in Mexico an fly back?
By the time they get to Mexico they have a huge lipid supply.
During the fall migration – Sept 23 to October in Mass, Kansas and Florida, the average fat content was about 25 milligrams.
But by the time they got into Texas and Mexico, their fat content had gone up by 500%.
In Oct. 2011, they had one of the driest periods in Texas. and there were almost no flowers for food.
In a migrating Monarch normally, they have 71 mgs of lipids
and when they collected Monarchs in the fall of 2011, the lipids were slightly more than half in Texas.
In Mexico the average lipid count is 128 miligrams.
In 2011, they predicted that the fat count would be below normal, but some how the average was normal.
Two possibilities are that all the Monarchs with low lipids died, or
more likely there were fields in Northern Mexico  where the butterflies were able to make up that loss.
California monarchs are having a hard time also. It could have to do with the drought and loss of milkweed habitat.
Monarchs have cardenolides in their eggs and all their instars into the chrysalis.
The birds learn to avoid the caterpillars very quickly.
Viceroy are probably bitter tasting but not EMETIC (vomit causing).




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Raising a Tiger

tiger-larva-2nd-instarThis first picture is a 2nd larvae I just found this morning.

For the first time, I’ve had a chance to raise an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. This caterpillar was found on my Hop Tree after I saw a Tiger laying eggs there. It’s getting larger in my enclosed cage and is doing well on Hop Tree leaves. It’s interesting that it is motionless during the day and must thus feed at night. In the early instars it looks like a Giant ST, but changes to all green later.

Having eyebrows is a fun touch on its false eyes.
Below is a comparison of the Tiger and Giant Swallowtail larvae together.



Filed under Caterpillars, Host Plant

Saint Louis Composting Visit


I visited Saint Louis Composting with my Meramec Grounds Management Class.  Roy was our leader. Here are my notes

Composting is done mainly in Belleville’s unit.

Takes 180 days to make mulch from bags to finished product.

Black Gold is all compost – includes food products. I could use this for mulch.

From bags to compost, it loses  2/3 of it’s volume.

They turn it every ten days

Leaf mulch are just chopped up leaves – use for perennials – not composted.

Black Forest – mulch and compost – what I like for a mulch.

Colorized mulch is their biggest seller for commercial sites

Forest fines – double ground mulch with compost added.

Mo Bot Garden Compost is Black Gold compost – note the bagged product is much more expensive than the bulk.

Soil dome – dry soil plus Black Gold- 6% compost

Compost can combust.

They get material from all over STL. 5 areas
Belleville is 5 times larger 110 acres

Dyed mulch …..
Mulch is made of ground up logs
Dye is the same toxicity as table sugar and is environmentally safe
The advantage is that the color lasts for a longer time
Color is safe.
It’s probably the biggest volume of material they make
Don’t spread 48 hours before a rain or it may bleed,

Compost weighs 1150 pounds per square yard
Dye they use is Colorbiotics.

Rain Garden mix - Very sandy..60% or greater sand - Less than 10% clay

Green rooftop mix…
Has hatite (not sure on spelling) light weigh aggregate + sand + compost
Hatite is a rock which is heated and expanded and has a lot of micro pore space.

IDEA …..could I use hatite instead of charcoal?

There is no soil in this product
Has high porosity
Mercy hospital has a huge courtyard in between the buildings which has this material. They may call it their healing or meditation garden.

They do a lot of growing mixes.

They make the mix for Missouri Wildflowers

They also take in food waste from grocery stores restaurants and produce row
Get 550 tons per week that they add to the compost.
Started 4 years ago.
Brought up to 155-160 degrees
He says this is just a small amount of what is generated. He estimates this is less than 1% of the actual waste.
USDA says we waste 30-40% of the food produced.
They don’t take meat – only vegetables and a little dairy plus bread products

Problem with dog waste in plastic bags that people put in yard waste. Plastic doesn’t decompose!

They water their compost to help the process.
Turn the rows every ten days

Top dressing a lawn
Core aerate seed etc. Then spread compost over the top.
They have a machine to do this for large lawns
They make a finer compost than the black gold.
It’s the same only smaller size particles.
It’s calledField and Turf Enhancer.
Roy has a guy who applies this …maybe I can get his name
Try this next year.
Synthetic Fertilizer are basically salts and if you keep adding salts to the soil,you’re beginning to kill off the microbial action.

Study at Harvard – added compost to lawn?
When you get the organic matter in the 5-10% range,then the microbes will take nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil. This is the same as adding 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

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