Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lessons Learned: Spring 2012

Spring weather arrived in February to my garden. With such an early start to Spring I felt rushed and behind on all my gardening chores. Now, this didn't mean that we got 4 months of a gorgeous spring. No sirree, summer rushed in early too with 90 F (32 C) temperatures in early May. Not my favorite temperatures to garden in, especially when there is big work to do like digging holes and laying mulch. I have a sneaky feeling it is going to be one hot and humid summer. With this post, I am taking a look back at what my garden taught me this past season by participating in Lessons Learned meme hosted by PlantPostings.

Lesson #1: Don't think you can outsmart Mother Nature

In early March the new raised beds in the kitchen garden were completed. I planted some cool season vegetables (carrots, radishes, cabbage, onions and lettuce) thinking I could get a late harvest before the heat set in. WRONG! With the mild winter the heat set in early. Watering the beds regularly didn't seems to help. The lettuce and onions didn't do much of anything. A few of the radishes matured but most of them bolted. The  cabbage was on its way but then the cabbage butterflies arrived. These butterflies are considered a bit of a pest since they feed on anything in the Brassicaceae family which includes cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, Brussels sprouts and turnips. Some research also shows that its presence may be linked to the decline of the Mustard White butterfly. Next year we will need to build a screen cover for these plants to prevent the butterflies from laying their eggs here. I was really looking forward to some fresh, homemade slaw.



Lesson #2: Make sure there is enough food for the caterpillars I am trying to attract to my garden

There have been a record number of caterpillars this spring. We have had three broods of black swallowtail caterpillars on the fennel and parsley. One brood was a surprising 20 caterpillars on one plant (see post here). They made quick work of the fennel and moved on to the parsley that has seen better days.


There were already some first and second instar caterpillars on this plant so there was some serious competition. I think I saw a little fighting going on...at least some head bobbing.


Horror...we need more plants. But wait, we have some spindly carrots in the raised bed next to the herb bed and sure enough the caterpillars found them. Well, at least the carrots were good for something! But I ran out and got a few more parsley and fennel plants anyway.


Lesson #3: Be mindful of where you step

In the spring there is a lot of wildlife making their way around the garden. We found several caterpillars (buckeye, black swallowtail, variegated fritillary)  in the paths searching the garden for a place to pupate. We wouldn't want to step on them!

While on a plant rescue at a local nature preserve we came across this buck moth caterpillar. This caterpillar will sting...those spines discharge poison that will result in a small hemorrhage on the skin.



As the weather warms the snakes began to move around. Although harmless, the rat snakes can give your heart a little jump if you run into one unexpectedly.


Lesson #4: Know the wildlife in your area

One evening my husband was working in his workshop when a snake came out from underneath the saw table. My husband encouraged it to go outside but the snake curled up and raised its head as if it were preparing to strike. My husband wasn't sure what type of snake it was so for the sake of safety he killed it. Later we did some research to properly id the snake and think it was a type of rat snake (nonvenomous). But see how different it looks from the black rat snake in the photo above.


Properly identifying the smaller critters is also important. To know if it is a pest or beneficial insect is critical in deciding how to handle them. Like this bug that I found on a milkweed plant which I still haven't successfully identified. As I am not sure if it is a beneficial or pest I left it alone.


Lesson #5: Annuals are an important filler during those lull times.

My garden is mostly perennials with some biennial plants. This spring many of these plants bloomed ahead of schedule while others bloomed at their regular time leaving a lull in blooms. So, this year, more than ever annuals filled an important gap not only as a food source for pollinators but also visual interest in the garden. I placed pots throughout the garden with annuals and a few perennials to fill in these breaks.


I am learning all the time.
The tombstone will be my diploma.
~Eartha Kitt



Join me next week when I join Gardens Eye View for a look forward at summer with Seasonal Celebrations.

21 comments:

  1. Great quote from Eartha Kitt. The early blooming of flowers and early spring has been a mixed blessing for many gardeners.

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  2. I love how you have butterfly host plants in your garden. I also like seeing all that life in your garden.

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  3. What an impressive number of caterpillars you have! I planted some fennel and parsley this year, but still haven't seen anything on them - shoo yours over my way!

    I hear you about the weird weather. I honestly haven't felt much like being outside lately. It's already too hot!

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  4. I plant lots and lots of parsley for the Black Swallowtail, so we have some for us. I don't think I have seen as many as 20 on a plant, but sometimes there are a lot of them. I like snakes, but I can be caught off guard just as anyone. I know in our area we need only worry about copperheads, but I still won't kill them...just can't...

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  5. Love the caterpillars and feeding them of course, but can sure live without the rest.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  6. I like your lessons 1 and 3. You really cannot out smart Mother Nature and you get no choice in the matter either working with her. Watching where you step is really good advice. You never know what is underfoot.

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  7. It is so true that you should pay attention to the little creatures in the garden...love all the cat photos...Michelle

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  8. We had a black snake (rat snake) in the street, then found a huge shed skin along my rocks by the driveway. Think it was from the rat snake.
    That spiny black cat is nasty looking!!

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  9. I wish I could give you all the volunteer fennel plants as I've had to start removing them. Just yesterday I was surprised not to see but one swallowtail all spring, then behold a came about a cat on the the fennel. Fantastic.

    I noticed a few environmental mutations from our early spring and high temperatures. Many fall blooms arriving such as Autumn Joy Sedum, Fall Asters, Black and Blue Salvias, and I swear it looks like goldenrods are doing something strange. Also I notice various growing points in some plants just bend and dry up. Strange goings on. I agree with you on a hot and long summer.

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    1. I dream of the day my fennel gets so big! The asters are blooming in my garden already too. I wonder if there will be anything left for a fall bloom.

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  10. Hello! There are always lessons to be learned in the garden and always a lot of work! I am in the south too (Georgia) I am enjoying the lovely - mild weather today - things change from day to day - lots of weeds and bugs due to the very mild winter - but, it is a joyous chore - very, very rewarding! I have enjoyed my visit and am your newest follower!
    Kathy

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    1. Kathy, so glad you stopped by and visited! It is always a thrill to meet kindred spirits and fellow Georgians! I look forward to following your blog too. This weekend is gorgeous! Perfect weather to enjoy the outdoors.

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  11. So many caterpillars on one plant! I learned so much from this post, Karin! I've never seen that venomous caterpillar before, and I hope to never encounter one. Thanks for joining in the Lessons Learned meme!

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  12. Wonderful Karin...I too am learning so many of these lesson especially identifying critters and having enough plants for butterflies. Our weather has vacillated between spring and summer...it cannot make up its mind. I am looking forward to your seasonal celebration!

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  13. Beautiful header, Karin ! And a good list of lessons learned (fortunately we don't have any venomous snakes here - we have only the garter variety). And I had heeded the lesson about not being fooled by the weather - we too had unseasonably warm weather a couple of weeks ago, but I held off planting the warm weather (for us) crops such as beans and corn. It's been low 50's and wet here for the past week - very little would have germinated.

    Have a great week.

    [as a favor, would you consider removing word verification - almost indecipherable and a real pain ...]

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    1. Oh no...I didn't know I had word verification turned on. So sorry!!!! I really dislike it myself so I was surprised it was on. Hopefully, I have remedied it now.

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  14. Wonderful lessons, Karin! Especially the first. That, I think is like a Golden Rule.
    How I wish I could grow fennel in my garden. We love making salads with them but they are not always available locally and can cost a lot.

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  15. These are excellent lessons, Karin; the first one is one that I think we all learn and re-learn every year. It's too bad about your cabbage and other early veggies; my spinach didn't do well this year either, and it finally bolted in this heat. I'm amazed by all the caterpillars on your fennel! I do know the black swallowtail catts, but I'd like to be able to i.d. more insects, too, so that I can know when I have to be worried.

    Thanks for visiting me; I so enjoyed your blog!

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  16. There is no reason to kill a snake that you know isn't a rattle snake or copperhead.

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    1. Jodie over the years I have learned a lot more about snakes and welcome them in our garden. In this case, as I pointed out, it was a lesson learned and I shared it so that others wouldn't be making the same mistake we did...killing a non-venomous snake that is helpful in the garden. In fact we often see rat snakes in our garden and they help keep our vole/mole and chipmunk populations in check.

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  17. It was a juvenile rat snake. Often the adults have different coloring. These are helpful snakes in the garden that should be encouraged.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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