Thursday, February 1, 2018

Beautiful but Hungry

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
It's been so cold, and we desperately need rain.  A blue sky tricks me into wearing a jacket when the temperature requires a heavy coat, and I resent the winter chill even more.  I am eager for January to end in hopes February will bring rain and milder temperatures.  Since Mother Nature offers no such guarantees, I am going to ignore winter and share a blog about last summer.

As I have read Isaac Werner's journal entries about the challenges of farming in the late 1800s, I have reflected on current methods used by farmers to confront insects as compared to  Isaac's efforts to hand pick potato beetles off his plants.  

Last summer I could not help but think of Isaac as I watched the larvae of Black Swallowtail consume my dill.  One previous summer I had not known what the caterpillars devouring my dill were, and I hand picked them and dumped them into the burn barrel.  When I discovered later what they were I regretted my slaughter.  While identifying them online, I read one person's comment that she loved the butterflies so much that she always planted far more dill than she needed so the larvae could feast without eliminating her crop.
Not much left!

Last summer I found a small zip-lock bag in which I had saved a few dill seeds.  It was late in the season for planting this cooler season herb, but I put them in the ground in a less sunny part of my herb garden, doubtful whether they would sprout.  They did!  I love using fresh dill, so I was delighted.

A few days later I found the few stalks covered with caterpillars.  Almost all of the foliage was eaten, so I left them alone to finish it, consoling myself by looking forward to enjoying the butterflies.  I assumed--wrongly--that all of the damage had been done.

Several days later I went to the garden for fresh parsley.  I probably do not need to tell you that they also seem to accept parsley if fresh dill isn't on the menu.  Fortunately, I had lots of parsley, and I found leaves without damage or eggs, leaving me enough dill for our use.

Did I get to enjoy clouds of beautiful Black Swallowtail Butterflies later as a result of my generosity?  Not really.  I saw only one Swallowtail all season.  She was lying on the concrete drive, making no effort to fly when I approached.  Although she was beautiful, she may have been dying--having fulfilled her role of laying her eggs.  And, she was probably one of those hatchlings that had feasted in my herb garden, maybe one of those that had deprived me of any fresh dill.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Today, as I shiver in the winter cold and hope for rain to save the crops, I will think about that beautiful Swallow Tail butterfly and remind myself to plant lots of dill and parsley seeds so I can share. 

P.S.  I read this week about the terrible loss of Monarch Butterflies because their larvae need milk weed, which has nearly disappeared.  I believe milk weed seeds must be planted in the fall, but perhaps I can find a place that will not disturb farmers' crops to also plant milk weed for the Monarchs next fall.  It would be a dull world without those winged jewels decorating the air.

No comments: