“The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity”

George Carlin (American stand-up Comedian, Actor, Author. 1937-2008)

I wonder if butter has anything to do with the common name for the lepidoptera. Many of them have noticeable yellow coloring. Perhaps this reminded observers of the color of butter. Whatever the reason, they are part of the wildlife that I would like to help thrive with what's planted in my garden.

Butterfly gardening is the practice of planting specifically to attract these delicate, fluttering insects. I don't have the space to create that kind of specialty garden, but that's not necessarily needed. This may be especially true for me since my plot is only one of about 45 in a community garden. Many other gardeners' plants attract them. It's nice to remind myself that the variety of plants growing there isn't strictly a smorgasbord for undesirable pests.

Along with the butterflies, I see hawks, robins, a young rabbit (I'm sure there's more than one), ladybugs, earthworms -- your basic soup to nuts of garden creatures. Last week, I got a kick out of seeing goldfinches darting from my sunflowers to a neighboring plot.

By reading P Allen Smith's article about his butterfly garden, I discovered that ideally you want to choose plants that allow the larva a place to grow and the adult a place to feed on nectar. I am growing both parsley and fennel, plants that a variety of the larva prefer. Sweeeeeet!

For the adults, it's ideal to have flowers blooming all summer. I live in Pennsylvania so I decided to seek more information, something that would help me know whether or not I'm choosing plants suitable for local varieties. The web page of Butterfly Haven is filled with information on butterfly gardening in Pennsylvania. It's located in New Ringold, which is not far from where I spent my childhood. Maybe I'll get to visit it; if I do, I'll be sure to share any pictures here.

Butterflies enjoy nasturtiums.

My final concern is that I must learn about what the most common local butterflies, both larvae and adults, look like. In removing pests by hand, I don't want to mistake beneficial or neutral insects.

So, check out those sites and do some more searching.

Side note: when it comes to pest control, my goal is to do as little as possible. Why?

1: less labor for me.

2: other plot owners spray, so part of the pest population is already eliminated.

3: once I get rid of my pests, they may move in from other plots because I've eliminated the competition.

4: chemicals, even organic, can harm beneficial insects. In his presentation to a group of us at the community garden, a Penn State entomologist recommended using a pesticide geared toward the specific bug that plagues your crops. Thus, you get rid of the bug you don't want and reduce the chances of poisoning desirable inhabitants.

5: I want minimum interruption of what "nature" already does. For example, there's some benefit to allowing pests to eat a little of your crop; it keeps their population going and thus provides food for good bugs that you want to prey on them. This feeds a natural cycle.

I don't have an equation for calculating how much damage to allow. My only guidelines are these:

--if the plants survive and produce enough fruit for my use, I don't think I'll spray.

--the pests must not foster or transmit plant diseases; ex., the bacteria that causes wilt may travel with cucumber beetles.

While enjoying summer's garden bounty, take a mental inventory of visitors to your garden. Maybe you can encourage some to take off the chrysalis and stay a while.



There have been a lot of cases of food poisoning from fresh produce over the past few years. I've been glad that I grow my own vegetables in summer. In winter, I mostly use canned or frozen produce. I have always been concerned in winter about the greens I feed my guinea pigs; so far, none of us have been sick.

One can learn good gardening practices designed to avoid sickening yourself and anyone with whom you share your vegetables. This site has an article about what to do and not to do: garden food safety



If you like classical music at all, especially Chopin, you might enjoy this video someone made for Chopin's Nocturne. Chopin was Polish. I think he'd have liked this visual poem accompanying his work. Late in the video, I believe that the slim hands shown picking up something from the ground is meant to be Chopin.

Besides the beauty, the video reminds me of some neighbors. When I was growing up, we had some neigbors, an older couple, who came from Poland. I don't know how long they had been in the states, but they still had accents that made it difficult for me to understand their speech.

Very nice couple, too. I never learned their first names because as a kid, I respectfully referred to them as Mr. and Mrs. Punda. When she gardened, Mrs. Punda looked just like those women in the video: large, in a long skirt, head scarf, bending over to pick cabbages or whatever. In contrast, Mr. Punda was quite skinny.

Sometimes they'd invite me into their house to give me some produce from their garden. So I'd take it back with me. They were nice people.



In my last post, I wrote about some potential irritants and dangers to your skin. For me, this same source has sometimes provided relief.

In June, I picked strawberries at a local farm in shorts and a tank top. I know I have an allergy to the plants (thankfully not to the delicious fruit), but I endure the cold months bundled up in bulky clothes. I have no desire to spend more time in long pants and sleeves than necessary. As the cliche goes, I threw caution to the wind.

Innocent-looking little berry plant, isn't it?

After picking berries, I suffered from a rash on my arms and legs. I compare my allergic rashes (eczema) to a break out from poison ivy. It itches. I shouldn't scratch, but it's very hard no to do so! Scratching can make the patch of irritated skin expand, bleed, and at worst, become infected.

I know people who wear gloves, long sleeves or some cover when eczema flares up simply to keep from scratching. This works for some. For me, even mild chafing of the clothing on the rash will irritate it, as will fabric softener used for laundering.

My dermatologist has prescribed creams, but these corticosteroid ointments can only be used in one thin layer in each application, and once a rash is inflamed I have not experienced much relief by using them. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams have little benefit, and in fact at times have worsened it.

Aveeno makes a product that contains 100% colloidal oatmeal, and that has helped me. It's available over the counter. You sprinkle the powder in bathwater and soak. I suppose one could add a little fresh lavender or mint for the nice aroma, not to mention the extra relief that both may supply.

I kept in mind that this was an allergic reaction and while oral anti-histamines can be beneficial, they would take a while to work. Moisturizer has little benefit. In fact, inflamed patches are often warm to hot; moisturizer, in my opinion **, seals in the heat, and adds to the problem. Cool water rinses help me. A cool compress will also slow the inflammatory reaction.

When my strawberry plant allergy occurred in June, I took antihistamine, then rinsed and scrubbed under cool water for a little relief that didn't inflame it. I followed this with a "tea" compress: paper towels soaked in a cooled tea of lavender and chamomile from my garden. The tea should be cooled to room temperature; it doesn't need to be chilled. In fact, a little warmth may add in the absorption by your skin of the relief-inducing substances. As it cooled on my skin, so did the rash.

If you have never done this before, keep the mix of lavender and chamomile at a weak concentration, just in case you are allergic to either one. In fact, you may want to test it first on an area that is not already irritated. Even better, test it before you need it.

When I used it, I felt a little sting in broken areas and on the welts. Healing soon followed. I also kept some of the lavender with me in my bag or purse; when the rash flared, I got immediate relief by rubbing the lavender on the area.

"That's my story," as some say, "and I'm stickin' to it!"

For more information that includes cures from the kitchen, click on this link:

how stuff works: itching

** Keep in mind, this is not a substitute for medical evaluation. I recommend a visit to a dermatologist for persistent skin problems. In fact, anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun, such as a gardener, would be wise to to have their skin examined by a dermatologist yearly.

What is eczema?

Unless a resourceful inventor develops revolutionary technology for skin replacement, we get one skin for life. Even though new cells are made in the deepest layers (where you can't see), the outer "dead" layers of skin cells play a significant role in protection. So keeping it healthy is important. This includes not letting it become dry, irritated or overexposed to the sun, very hot shower or bath water, extremely cold air, and so on.

Besides aging the skin and causing burns that range from irritating to painful, solar radiation can cause skin cancer. It may also contribute to cataract formation.

Gardening, even on a cloudy day, can produce a sunburn, especially when one is unprotected. Don't overlook the value of including a wide-brimmed hat for protection. When tolerable, long sleeves and pants are a good idea. Coolibar.com sells some good sun-protective clothing, so you can dress a little more up-to-date than a traditional Chinese rice-paddy worker to tend your garden. My reversible bucket hat, which I purchased during the late-summer of 2007 clearance sale, gets worn daily. Besides the skin protection, it shades my eyes -- a definite plus for this migraine-prone person.

A full ounce of sun protection creme is recommended for each application to provide adequate coverage. The old saying about an ounce of prevention seems to apply here.

Many lotions designed for sun protection do an excellent job of moisturizing my skin, so I tend to wear them year-round. On my face, I use something with less oil to avoid blemishes that still happen even though I'm 40-something.

In midwinter, the aroma of exotic ingredients (coconut, cocoa butter, and others) is a welcome reminder of summer. Sun protection, or more precisely UV radiation blockage, is beneficial year-round. This includes the use of sunglasses. If you've ever stepped out of the midwinter darkness indoors into a sunny, snow-covered outdoors without protection for your eyes, you probably experienced snow blindness. When the sun reflects off snow, it's beautiful, but can be hard on the eyes. * Imagine the temporary blindness from a camera flash, but with pain, longer-lasting, and from a source much brighter than a flash bulb.

I'm usually itching to get into the garden. Getting outdoors relieves that, but can also generate a physical itch. "Don't scratch," is easy to say if you don't have a persistent itch from "hives" (a rash), inadequately moisturized skin, sunburn or any number of reasons. Like me, if you find that your skin is highly sensitive to plant materials and other triggers, I recommend seeing a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis. The doctor will probably (and should) provide recommendations on how to avoid aggravating your skin.

I choose not to give up gardening, hiking and other outdoor activities in the process of avoiding triggers of my eczema (skin rashes). Gloves, long sleeves and pants are a good barrier. Taking anti-histamine before exposure can help prevent the problem, although I only do this when conditions are really bad.

Gently washing any area that gets irritated as soon as possible after exposure helps. Sweating even irritates my skin if I don't shower or wipe it off soon enough.



If you find that your skin develops something unusual, such as the rash in the photo, a raised area or mole, an area that won't heal or other change in appearance, don't hesitate to get to your doctor, or preferably a dermatologist.


* Snow blindness is not referring to the phenomenon of being lost in a snowstorm because all is white. That's called a whiteout.


I'm sorry I haven't written an entry in a while. My plot in the community garden is going and so are the containers on my porch. Here's a tour in photos.

The rhubarb grew flower shoots. I removed them to redirect the plant's energy into the edible stems. It's best in cool weather.
The black speck in the middle is a gypsy moth caterpillar. The area was infested with them this spring. They prefer trees, but they will eat some other plants. They float on a thin web-like thread in air currents until they find a place to land. They have defoliated large areas of forest in the Northeast over the decades when their population is high. So, this year the borough did aerial spraying. Borough employees also wrapped burlap around tree trunks and folded it over to make a pocket, then secured it to the trunk. At night, the larvae crawl down the tree (I guess they feed on the leaves in the day and go into the ground at night). They are trapped in the burlap, which is removed each morning and the bugs are disposed of.

When the tulips were done, I captured what I take to be seeds on the plant. I had to hold the stem still because of the wind.

Portuluca: a groudcover with lovely, delicate flowers and a reputation for drought-tolerance; however, we have had a lot of rain, so they aren't growing really fast.

My first year growing potatoes here. Vigorous plants. Potato beetles thought they were wonderful, so they feasted, mated and grew their eggs on the leaves. I constantly picked them off -- the orange eggs, larvae (which are slimy and red with black spots), and the yellow and black adult beetles. I couldn't help but laugh when I thought that my first harvest was bugs.

Containers in midspring:

I may become known as the weird neighbor lady who wraps her plants in tin foil, but I stopped loosing so many seedlings to slugs, snails and cutworms after wrapping these collars around the plant base.

Cutworms are the larvae (young) form of flying adult insects. The worms live in the top inch or two of the soil; at night, they come out and climb the plants to get a meal. They may be best-known for their tomato plant destruction. However, they like my morning glory seedlings very, very much. Without the foil, the long green container toward the top of the photo would be nothing but stems. They have eaten my basil, lobelia and spinach, but thankfully have left my lettuce and cabbage alone.

I think I've heard a worm burp in the middle of the night. ;) But I have the last laugh. Here are two of my morning glory containers now! Maybe the nieghbor lady isn't so weird. :)

This is a 5-gallon container, although from this angle you might think it's a plate of greens with dirt. The plants are much bigger now. It contains lettuce, cabbage and fennel.

The people who rented a plot next to mine last year grew strawberries. A few plants crept into my plot and I won't complain.

My lilies have established themselves well. I can't wait until the pods open. I did not plant any sunflowers this year, but they came up anyway from seeds shed by previous plants. They're all over my plot; I've had to pull some out because they were shading items that need sun, like my pepper plants.

The flowers will be medium size (about 8") with burgundy, rust and dark orange leaves if they are like the parent plants.