“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.