Thursday, August 27, 2009

Social Butterflies?

Unlike their party-hopping counterparts, these delicate beauties prefer nectar to martinis. Whether you are amazed by the awesome potential of a caterpillar or the symmetrical perfection of an unfurled wing, the butterfly is truly a spectacular creature.

With increasingly threatened habitats, the butterfly is becoming a much less frequent visitor to the urban garden. Here is a quick look at some local natives and the plants that attract them. Consider including some of these plants in your garden or terrace palette.

Take a look at some of these common, native Lepidoptera and some of the plants they are most attracted to.

Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll, Black swallowtail

The black swallowtail is a black butterfly with yellow markings near the margins of the forewings and hindwings and more limited blue and red markings on the hindwings. Its wing span can reach 4 ½ inches. Full grown parselyworms or caterpillars can reach 2 inches in length and are smooth and green, marked with black bands and yellow spots. This butterfly is easy to attract and raise by planting dill or fennel in your vegetable garden.

Foeniculum vulgare, Fennel

Pieris rapae, Cabbage butterfly

The cabbage butterfly is the common white butterfly throughout most of the eastern US. The larvae of this species is a pest when it feeds on cabbage, broccoli, the Brassicas, but it also feeds on many wild host plants. One of its favorite is wild mustard. There are several other white butterflies that also share the name as cabbage butterflies.

Brassica nigra, Wild black mustard

Papilio glaucus, Eastern tiger swallowtail

The male Eastern tiger swallowtail is yellow with dark tiger stripes. The female has 2 forms: one yellow like the male and the other black with shadows of dark stripes. of both female forms has many iridescent blue scales and an orange marginal spot. On the underside of the forewing of both female forms the row of marginal spots has merged into a continuous band. Adult wingspan can measure 3 5/8 - 6 1/2 inches. The adult butterflies visit many plants, both wild native plants and garden flowers. Some of these flowers include milkweed, thistle, Japanese honeysuckle, Ironweed and red clover.

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed

Colias eurytheme, Orange Sulphur Butterfly

Upperside of male yellow with orange overlay, yellow veins, wide black border, and dark black cell spot. Female yellow or white with irregular black border surrounding light spots. Underside hindwing spot silver with 2 concentric dark rings, and a spot above it. Wing span can measures
1 3/8- 2 3/4 inches. Adult butterfly will feed on nectar from many kinds of flowers including dandelion, milkweeds, goldenrods, and asters.

Solidago rigida, stiff goldenrod

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fall Broccoli

Plant broccoli now for the best tasting heads of the year.

Brassica oleracea 'Marathon'

The secret to the best-tasting broccoli is in the season. Broccoli that matures during cool weather produces healthy heads that are sweeter tasting than those you pick at any other time. This is because fall conditions are much more consistent than spring.

Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable with its roots in the Mediterranean region. Along with other cole crops, such as cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, broccoli is a descendant of wild cabbage. It comes in two common forms, heading and sprouting types. The heading variety forms one large head of flower buds on a central stalk, while the sprouting variety forms lots of small florets in the leaf axils.

Brassica oleracea 'Arcadia'

When to plant. If you want to sow seeds directly in the garden, do so about 85 to 100 days before the average first fall frost in your area. Usually around late summer, the end of August. If you're able to find seedlings, add 10 days to the 'days to maturity' and count backwards from your first frost date.

Where to plant.
Broccoli grows best in full sun and soil that is slightly acidic, between pH 6.0 and 6.8, fertile and well-drained. If you're gardening in raised beds, space your plants 15 to 18 inches apart; for gardening in rows space plants 18 to 24 inches apart and space your rows 24 to 36 inches apart.

Keep them fed.
Broccoli is a moderately heavy feeder, so work in 2 to 4 inches of rich compost or a thin layer of well-aged manure. After you have harvested the plant's central head, you can encourage side-shoot production by sidedressing the soil with fish meal or aged manure.

Harvest hints.
For best flavor, harvest broccoli heads while the buds are just starting to swell.
Harvest the central head by cutting the stalk at a slant, about 5 to 8 inches below the head. Most importantly, harvest the broccoli in the morning before the plants heat up, because broccoli has a high respiration rate.*

Brassica oleracea 'Gypsy'

*Organic Gardening - Aug/Sept 2006. Kris Wetherbee

Sources: Burpee Seeds,