Monthly Archives: September 2016

Monarch’s go native!

MonarchMonarch Butterflies

The Monarch butterfly is an amazing and beautiful migratory pollinator.  Their incredible yearly journey can go as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico City, Mexico – pollinating billions of plants as they go.  It takes four generations of this butterfly to complete the annual migration, yes, four entire cycles of life.  In case you don’t already know the metamorphic stages of a butterfly, they begin as an egg then mature to larvae and caterpillar, then their body encases itself in a chrysalis inside which they turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly. Nothing short of miraculous!

The first three generations only live for about two weeks after emerging from the chrysalis.  The fourth generation is different and lives for several months.  In September, here in Georgia the fourth generation is now emerging.  Monarch CaterpillarHere is what a Monarch caterpillar looks like.  I took this photo in mid-September, locally and the caretakers of this garden said they had not seen Monarchs there for four years.  Why?… lack of habitat.

Habitat is being depleted

Did you know that the Monarch butterfly ONLY lays its eggs on the milkweed plant.  Incredible, but true.  The milkweed plant is not something normally grown on purpose and so often times it is pulled up and discarded without another thought.  How unfortunate for the Monarch butterfly!  It’s becoming a real threat to this insect.  Remember that three generations of this butterfly only live for two weeks each and if they can’t find a milkweed plant at the critical egg-laying time, the butterfles will die without reproducing.  How true that everything has a purpose – even the milkweed plant. I’ve talked in previous posts about “what makes a weed, a weed” and how unfair this way of thinking really is. How we choose to garden impacts more than we know.

butterfly weedPlant weeds, go native

Planting weeds sounds absurd, but we CAN help offset the dwindling habitat for the Monarch butterfly, and other species as well, by planting milkweed and other native plants. It doesn’t have to be a large scale project, just a few plants is a good step.  I’ve ordered seed from the Internet (there are lots of sites) and am planting a small milkweed area here on the farm.  I’m planting many other native trees as well just because they’re obviously native to my area for a reason and native is good.

My type of milkweed is called “swamp” milkweed and it is not invasive at all.  I also want to grow “butterfly weed” which is a native variety of milkweed that is reddish orange and really beautiful when it blooms. (see photo)  Check the varieties that grow in your area and do your research on invasiveness.  What you don’t want to do is to plant milkweed where there are grass-eating livestock.  Milkweed is poisonous to animals if consumed.  This toxicity of the plant apparently makes the caterpillars taste really bad and therefore is a natural protectant from predators.  Hey, you are what you eat!

Fourth Generation

The fourth generation of the Monarch lives way longer because it has the task of surviving winter.  That’s why they go South to a warmer climate.  After the weather warms again, they begin the journey back North and will try to find a milkweed plant to lay the eggs of the next “first” generation.  Hopefully you will continue to see Monarch butterflies in the future and recognize them as beneficial pollinators, with a need – for weeds. (milkweed)

 

 

Living Sweet with Sweet Potatoes

Living the Sweet Potato Life.  Actually, a recent study found that the most long-lived people today have a diet that includes sweet potatoes. Along with being one of the most nutritious foods they are also an easy crop to grow and to store for the Winter. Did you know that you can also eat the leaves?  I’ve just recently found that out and they’re pretty good too.  You can eat them raw in a salad or sautéed with onions and bacon, or numerous other ways you can think of to eat a green leafy vegetable.  This plant is also one of the few that is capable of supplying all you need nutritionally if it were a main part of your diet.  So, if you only had water and sweet potatoes to eat, you could survive, and that’s good to know.

Vine JumbleWhat does a sweet potato plant look like?  Here is a photo of how one section of our sweet potatoes have gone wild and intertwined with Morning Glories and Firecracker Vine.  In this smaller photo I’ve cropped only the sweet potato blossoms and leaves.  They’re quite beautiful.Sweet Potato BlossomsThis variety is a purple sweet potato. They look a lot like Morning Glories and their blossoms close up similarly at night. The regular orange colored sweet potatoes have a leaf that has more points, but those leaves are edible too.

This section (shown) are volunteer plants.  We grow our regular garden inside a fence because the deer will come and eat an entire patch of these plants to the ground overnight.

Growing Sweet Potatoes

You can grow an entire Winter supply of sweet potatoes for your family from one or two actual sweet potato tubers.  Really, not kidding.  If you place a sweet potato in a little water, it will sprout.  These sprouts are called “slips” and each slip forms one plant.  Leave the original sweet potato in the water while the slips grow out from it and the slips will begin to form roots once they are about 5 inches tall.  Gently separate the slips from the potato and place those in a separate glass of water.  Their roots will quickly increase.  Once they form a good root system, they are ready to plant out in the garden.  I’ve gotten 40 slips easily from one sweet potato.

Quantity

Sweet Potato HarvestDoes one sweet potato plant form only one potato?  No, one plant has a tremendous potential of producing numerous potatoes if you do it right.  We haven’t harvested yet now, in 2016, but here is a photo of one of our plants last year (from 2015).  This was our best plant and yes, this is only one plant.  It produced 15 pounds of potatoes!  We were happily surprised and just had to take a photo.  Not every plant produces like this due to varying growing conditions, but every plant has a huge potential.

So, what do they need to grow?  Here is what works for us. They need regular water. They like lots of sun, and loose fertile dirt.  Since the roots are what is expanding, it seems logical to make that expansion as easy as possible.  We grow in dirt that has years of mulch that has composted into loose dirt.  How do you keep the soil loose?  Brown corrugated cardboard.  We get cardboard from large appliance boxes and cut them open to lay flat.  On your prepared garden bed, lay down some drip irrigation then on top of that lay your cardboard.  Wet the cardboard and poke holes in it to plant your sweet potatoes through into the soil beneath.  Be careful not to damage your drip irrigation.  Then mulch on top of the cardboard all around your plants.  Cover all of the cardboard.  Water them regularly and don’t walk on the cardboard.  Let them be until its time to dig them up in the fall.  That’s it.  Sweet and easy.