The Monarch Project

Watching the eggs very closely. They are about to hatch into Monarch Larva!

Watching the eggs very closely. They are about to hatch into Monarch Larva!

Hello, Friends!

We moved into our current home six years ago, and since the beginning I’ve been working on the garden. Expanding the beds, creating new beds, slowly filling said beds with perennials. I’m not a proper gardener, but I do have a cottage garden that is overflowing with flowering plants that attract pollinators and butterflies.

The garden early in the season, 2016. The gaura was very very happy!

The good thing about this is that from May until early September, my garden is really really pretty. Unfortunately, it isn’t much to speak of the remainder of the year, but I’m ok with that. My magenta door more than makes up for the bleak beds.

This year, I wanted to fill up some space on the side of my house where we had put a fence a few years back. It took me 2 years to cut the bed, and I didn’t particularly feel like weeding that space anymore. When I was at the nursery, one of the employees suggested Milkweed.

“Why not help the butterflies that you are attracting?”

I had an instant flashback to our first home and our neighbor there, who would be outside his house on the side of the road every summer night at dusk. He’d be inspecting every single leaf, carefully snipping here and there, returning to his home carrying a Tupperware container. He’d hold the thing like it was the most precious thing in the world. I didn’t “get it” then. I just couldn’t relate. Flash forward back to the nursery…

“Trust me, Milkweed is a good option for you.”

“Ok…” I said, “but only two plants to start.”

I stuck them in the ground, almost as an after thought. I had more exciting plants to put in, after all. Imagine my surprise when they almost tripled in size within the first month!

So I staked them, and paid a little more attention to them, but not much. After all, the deer were eating up all my “pretty” butterfly attractors! Our sweet stray, Mama Cat, has been kind enough to keep away the rabbits, but those darn deer just won’t take a hint.

We then took a two week vacation. The entire time I thought about our tomatoes and cucumbers. We love eating out of the garden, after all! I sent out positive survival thoughts to our broccoli. I wondered if I’d miss my False Sunflowers blooming, or if my Phlox started to develop powdery mildew from all the rain and humidity.

When we got home, I took a quick peek and couldn’t believe my eyes. The milkweed was HUGE and covered in honeybees and butterflies. There were Monarchs fluttering and flying all around my gardens. I took a closer look and I discovered a caterpillar! A Monarch caterpillar! Closer inspection revealed eggs. Lots and lots and lots of eggs.

Monarch Eggs on Milkweed Leaves

In a matter of seconds I went from being skeptical and indifferent to completely committed to the Monarch cause.

A Monarch egg, close to hatching. See the black spot towards the top? That is the head of the larva pushing through.

A Monarch egg, close to hatching. See the black spot towards the top? That is the head of the larva pushing through.

Forget crazy cat lady. I’m turning into a Butterfly Whisperer.

Raising Caterpillars into Monarch Butterflies

Here I am, 4 days later, with my dining room table completely overrun with my Monarch Nursery. When all is said and done, I have 30 critters in various stages of development, and we are checking the plants daily for more.

I had no tule on hand, so I recycled one of our old dance costume to make an oxygen friendly top to one of my reusable tupperware containers.

I had no tulle on hand, so I recycled one of our old dance costume to make an oxygen friendly top to one of my reusable tupperware containers.

They are eating, pooping, growing. It is amazing! Although all of my girls are showing various degrees of interest with the caterpillars, my middle daughter has approached the project with as much insanity gusto as I have. She runs out and checks our plants 4-5 times a day looking for eggs, or larva that may have hatched from eggs that we missed.

Ten caterpillars in one container. This was before the internet told me that I should have no more than five in a container to help ensure the well-being of our munching friends.

Ten caterpillars in one container. This was before the internet told me that I should have no more than five in a container to help ensure the well-being of our munching friends.

She is naming “the cats,” and she can tell them apart. She is removing old leaves and replacing them with fresh. I’ve now recruited my mom into the madness, and she is saving up those disposable plastic containers that you get meat and salads in. I even took her to the nursery today where she was kind enough to treat me to 4 more plants with her coupon!

One of the larger caterpillars, or "cats" as they are known in rescue community, on a Milkweed leaf.

One of the larger caterpillars, or “cats” as they are known in rescue community, on a Milkweed leaf. My middle daughter has named this caterpillar “McPonytails”

After all, when these caterpillars are in the later stage of development, they eat A LEAF AN HOUR. You guys. Things are going to get pretty intense over here in the coming week. I’m on the edge of my seat wondering if the six plants that I have now will be enough.

So tell me, have you heard of this movement to save the Monarchs? Have you ever raised them through their lifecycle? Would you be interested in hearing more? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment, or finding us on Instagram or Facebook!

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