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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Butterfly Haven

Spending time with my college age daughter now that she isn't living at home has become precious. We had a magical, beautiful summer day visiting Hershey Gardens in Hershey Pennsylvania.

The Butterfly House is part of the childrens' area but with the butterflies, the bird observation area, the ABC garden and all the little extras to attract kids to the plant world, I enjoyed this area as much as any child.

Listed below are some of the numerous types of butterfly species housed within the greenhouse type structure. The attendants for the butterflies watch over them with great care. It is very important that they don't escape so visitors are inspected before exiting for any butterflies hitching a ride. Strollers are not allowed due to space restrictions and also since the butterflies are everywhere it is easy to harm them by accidentally stepping on them. Without predators, these flying flowers float around without a care. They have food, shelter, water, warmth...what a life during their short adult life spans which averages two weeks to a few months depending on the type. Included was a display of all the various types of chrysalis' so amazingly camouflaged to look like leaves and bird droppings.

The buckeye caterpillar is part of the brushfooted family. It is found throughout most of the U.S. except for the Rocky Mt. states. It is found in open areas with low vegetation, such as along roadsides, railroads, fields and meadows. To attract them plant snapdragons as a food source for the larvae and a variety of flowers for nectar for the adults.

The julia is a subtropical butterfly from Brazil to southern Texas, Florida and Mexico. They feed on the nectar of firebush and lantana.

The malachite is a tropical butterfly widespread in Central and South America. In America, they can be found in Texas and Florida. The caterpillars feed on green shrimp-plant and the adults feed on fermenting fruit.

Several types within Hershey's Gardens are from the swallowtail family. This family contains species that are the largest butterflies in North America. Swallowtails get their name from the "tails" on the back edge of their wings that reminded people of the forked tails of Swallows.

The tiger swallowtail butterflies can be found all throughout Alaska, Canada south through the U.S. east of the Rockies. Swallowtails favor broadleaf trees and shrubs. Birds avoid them due to a chemical in its body that makes it distasteful. Very common among gardens, farmland and meadows.

The spicebush swallowtail is such a beauty with its blue and black markings. Sassafras and Spicebush are North American natives and are the needed host plants for the caterpillars. The eyespots and big head make this caterpillar ferocious looking to predators. Adults feed on honeysuckle, butterfly bush, Joe Pye wee, zinnias and coneflowers. Birds avoid this type as well due to its foul taste.

The zebra swallowtail has a favorite location around the Potomac area near Washington, D.C. and into Virginia along rivers, but they do extend westward to the Great Plains. A host plant for the eggs to be laid is the paw-paw tree. Adults dine on a variety of sources with sweet nectar. These butterflies can live for up to six months.

Another swallowtail, the eastern black swallowtail, has a range all the way west to the Rockies and then the western black swallowtail is found. Plant preferences are parsley, carrot and dill and nectar sources include phlox and milkweed. Very common among gardens and farmland but avoids wooded areas.

Viceroy butterfly
is often confused with the monarch butterfly. There is an extra black line across the viceroy's hind wings that distinguishes it from the monarch. Milkweed butterflies such as the monarch are distasteful to predators, therefore similar looking types are also avoided. Viceroys live throughout most of the U.S. and Canada. They frequent moist areas as well as open meadows seeking thistles, asters and goldenrod. The larvae eat the leaves of trees such as the aspens, poplars, willows and fruit trees.

Easy to identify because of the stripes and long wings, the zebra longwings are normally found in the south and mid-western U.S. They prefer the edge of forests. Passionflower is the sought after host plant for the larvae. The flowers are toxic but harmless to the longwings and makes them distasteful to predators. This type of butterfly can live up to three months. They are the only butterflies known to eat pollen, which is a form of protein, enabling them to live longer than living on only nectar (sugar) sources.

Being a tropical resident, the white peacock is active throughout the year. They are closely related to the buckeyes and are native to the very southern Florida and Texas areas and like wet, swampy habitats. Caterpillars feed on ruellia and water hyssop plants.

Hershey Gardens included a few moths as well. Moth larvae develop in cocoons rather than chrysalises. Moths can be distinguished from butterflies in that they are night dwellers, have heavier bodies, and have feathery antennae, whereas butterlies' are wiry with clubbed tips.

moths are widespread across the U.S. and Mexico and often can be as large as 4 inches across. With its long tail and eyespots as a distraction from its head, they can often escape predators. Luna caterpillars feed on the foliage of broad-leaved trees such as birch. As adults they do not feed at all, so only live a few days.

Looking surprisingly like a butterfly, the cecropia moth belongs to the family of silk moths. Its range extends east of the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. and southern Canada. Also known as the robin moth, this moth is the largest in North America with a wingspan of six inches. Having no mouth parts they only survive long enough to find a mate and breed, from one to two weeks. The caterpillars feed on shrubs and trees, such as dogwood, box elder, willow, sugar maple, alder, birch, and fruit trees.

About the same size wingspan as a hummingbird as well as rapidly beating its wings as it feeds, the hummingbird clearwing moth is also called sphinx moth or hawk moth. These moths can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. Common in the eastern U.S. and Canada these moths feed on hawthorns and flower nectar during the day. Caterpillar food source include shrubs such as the viburnum. Rather than spinning a cocoon, the caterpillar digs into the soil.

I'm not sure if this type of moth was at Hershey Gardens but it frequents our area and it is so cute I had to mention it.
Its common name is Rosy Maple Moth
The habitat is deciduous forests but its eggs are laid in maple trees.
They range from Canada down to Florida over to Texas

The many plant types throughout the butterfly house included:
Butterfly bushes, lantana, coneflowers, rubeckias, verbena, lobelia, joe-pye weed, salvia, phlox and the shrub called spicebush.
Other valuable plants include dill, fennel, nettles, butterfly weed, milkweed, aster, marigold, zinnia, tithonia and the shrub buttonbush.
Water was supplied by way of a little pond and puddling areas.
Fresh fruit was offered on plates at ground level.

A great source for more information:
Host plants for caterpillars 
Nectar plants for butterflies 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Choose Drought Resistant Plants

After all the excitement to which we greet spring and the energy we put into our gardens and flowers it can be very defeating to witness the slow demise of our beloved plantings due to extreme heat and too little rainfall.

It is always a good idea to add compost to improve soil quality, mulch to retain moisture, and trap rain water from roofs by means of rain barrels. But after weeks of feeling our plants are so dependent on us, the routine can get old and we get tired. Most established plants can tolerate some water stress and just may not grow and flower as well as they would in better conditions. Plant roots go deep and unless we water enough to soak in deep to the roots, we may be doing more harm than good. You don't want the roots turning upwards towards moisture near the surface. Left on their own, roots go deep and send out feelers in their search for water. Potted plants and new plantings definitely need to be watered but as far as your bedding plants the best thing to do is to plant drought resistant plants right from the start.

Here in the northeastern states some of the tougher annuals we have are easy to grow and often reseed every year. These include spider flower (cleome), cosmos, calendula, kiss me over the garden gate, and nasturtiums.

is also known as pot marigold and is one of the medicinal plants used for making healing salves for skin conditions and wound care. All season long this plant flowers and matures into easy to gather seeds, all while forming new flowers.

is one of those plants that can take a beating and keep on going. Branches broken by the weather will still survive unless broken off completely. It is wild and carefree, and tends to look a bit messy by seasons end. Plant where tidiness isn't an issue. In the fall, the flowers dry and form easy to gather seeds.

is a beautiful plant but just be aware that should you brush up against it or work around the mature plants they tend to be a 'pricky'. In the fall the flowers form 2 - 3 inch pods that dry and split open to reveal pepper-like seeds to spill to the ground.

Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate
is an attractive heirloom which is used as a background planting due to its height (5-6 ft). Its dangling pink tassles add appeal and when they dry they scatter to the ground to pop up in various places next

Nasturtiums seem to thrive on neglect. They do fine in average soil and little rainfall once established. I have found these old fashioned flowers do much better in the ground than as a potted plant. These edible leaves and flowers add color and a peppery zing to any salad.

Some summer perennials requiring little care are day lilies, phlox, sedums, fall asters, beebalm, globe thistle and helianthis (wild sunflower).

Day lilies
are such a pleasant sight growing along roadsides and unmowed meadows. Each bloom only last for one day but for the month of July they greet the world daily with fresh blooms. The clump forming roots of these flowers are very easy to dig up and transplant into your own garden. They establish themselves quickly and will spread.

is often confused with the roadside wildflower dames rocket. You can tell the difference by the number of petals. Phlox has five petals, dames rocket has four petals. These flowers are a must for attracting butterflies, such as this swallowtail.

Fall asters hang in there all summer and by late september begin to bloom a splendid display of purple or blue depending on their type. Very well behaved, they grown in mounds which increase in size but are not invasive by any means.

(Monarda) is beautiful to look at but has many uses, medicinal, tea (oswego) and an attraction for hummingbirds with its brilliant red blooms.

Globe thistle
is an awesome visual if you don't mind a prickly plant. By July it delights the onlooker with numerous metallic blue round balls of color, very attractive to bees. Blue isn't very common a color with flowers so it really stands out. It likes full sun, reaches a height of about four feet, and once established is very drought tolerant. Thistles are a great food source if left to go to seed, finches love them, but they will reseed themselves.

Wild sunflowers
(helianthis) are so very cheery and their yellow flowers so welcome. Best to use this plant to naturalize as it will spread.

Growing with the sunflowers are a favorite, coneflower (echinacea). These welcome additions to the medicinal flower garden attract butterflies while in bloom and then dry into an attractive seed cone offering food for winter birds.

(stonecrops) have fleshy, succulant leaves to sustain them in times of little rain. Their attractive fall blooming pink to mauve flowers attract pollinating insects. As the blooms fade they are pretty enough to leave on the plant for awhile.

Two vines hardy enough to withstand dry spells are annual morning glories and the perennial American honeysuckle.

Morning glories
are fast growing plants eager to climb and are used on trellises, mailbox posts, lanterns or to hide unsightly area.

The American honeysuckle is very well behaved compared to the chinese honeysuckle which can become an invasive. Another good choice for someone with the desire to attract hummingbirds.

Finally, ornamental grasses are a great choice and little maintenance. Here we have Maiden grass which grows to about five feet tall and offers shelter and food to the birds. Very decorative in the fall and looks good right into the winter. Cut it back in the spring and look for new growth from the ground up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Homemade Raspberry Vinegar

Memories of hay making during the heat of the summer months are a mixture of the good times of family working together and the misery of the heat, sweat and bugs. However, it is with fond memory that we can recall taking breaks and walking the field edges looking for ripe berries. First came the black raspberries, then the red raspberries which are also known as wineberries, and the blackberries with their solid rather than hollow centers.

As children, we knew where the good spots were located along the country roads, and would peddle our bikes with our buckets clamoring from the handlebars. We knew to wear long pants even on the hottest days or we'd pay the price later with unsightly scratches and most likely poison ivy.

As adults, the days just fly by with our daily activities and unless we actually schedule a time slot to pick berries, their season is over before you know it. Eaten right off the bush is best, but if you can gather enough, raspberries are great with ice cream, cereal, smoothies, cobblers as well as this pretty vinegar.

Raspberry vinegar is surprisingly simple to make.
In a large saucepan, combine 4 cups white wine vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar.
Bring almost to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.
Do not boil.
Have 3 cups fresh raspberries waiting in a large jar (about 6 cup capacity)
Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the berries and cover the jar with a cap.
Let the jar stand at room temperature for 48 hours.

Strain through several layers of cheesecloth or a jelly bag into a clean bottle or jar.
Seal with a cork or lid and store in a cool dark place.
Yield is about 4 cups.

Raspberries are very healthy for you, as they are loaded with powerful phytonutrients and antioxidants necessary for a healthy immune system. Ellagic acid is an antioxidant which protects your cells from becoming damaged. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that have antimicrobial properties that help fight off Candida. These flavonoid molecules are also what give raspberries their red color.

Ellagitanins are a family of compounds that are reported to have anti-cancer activity. Of all the antioxidants, these are considered the biggest contribution to their antioxidant capacity.

Raspberries are a rich source of vitamin C, manganese, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, potassium, and copper.

Raspberry vinegar is a great tasty vinegar for any salad greens combination. Especially good is a spinach salad consisting of spinach leaves, dried cranberries, almond slices and fresh diced apples. Topped with raspberry vinegar and olive oil and you have a very nutritious, tasty salad different from the ordinary. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dealing with the PitFalls of Summer, Naturally

Don't let snags and set-backs let this season become a bummer of a summer!
Things happen, we just have to be prepared for those unexpected occurrences that can sideline the fun. Put together an all-natural "to the rescue" kit.

The listings below take you into the Meadow Muffin Garden Etsy shop.
You can also find these items on the Meadow Muffin Gardens website

Below is a list of things to be prepared for during the heat and bustle of summer activities:

During exertion and exposure to the summer sun and high temperatures it is important to seek methods of keeping the body hydrated and cool. The following three items feel so good to freshen-up during a hot, sweaty day.

Roses contain cooling properties therefore rosewater is a wonderful thing keep on hand.
Roses contain a substantial amount of vitamin C which results in an acidic rosewater wonderful to use as a facial toner or facial mist. Fresh rose petals are allowed to infuse in distilled water under the heat of the sun and then added to refreshing witch hazel. Feels wonderful and smells great.

Rosewater Facial Toner

Roses and Elderflowers can be combined with a good quality apple cider vinegar to bring you an awesome treatment for soothing sunburn or a skin balancing facial astringent. Vinegar restores the natural acid balance to the skin and also acts as an antiseptic.

Rose and Elderflowers Vinegar Spritz

Utilize peppermint's minty cooling sensation to bring some relief and perk up on those hot, humid days. Also helps relieve the throb of a headache often brought on by the heat.

Cooling Peppermint Body Spray

Peppermint has a great reputation for aiding in the relief of cramped tummy muscles and well as the headaches and nausea that often accompany motion sickness.
Peppermint tummy oil also contains the essential oils of chamomile and fennel, great aids for calming upset stomachs.

Cooling Peppermint Body Spray

Peppermint Tummy Ache Oil

We are told about the rule "if 3 leaves, let it be" but still it may seem every time we work outside or go hiking we somehow brush up against this plant. Nature's antidote, jewelweed, can often be found growing nearby but if not, keep a bottle of this Jewelweed Vinegar on hand to spray onto the affected areas to help neutralize the itch of the urushiol.

Jewelweed Vinegar Poison Ivy Spray

Combine the cooling gel of the aloe vera plant with Lavender essential oil and you have a fantastic antiseptic and pain reducer to help nip sunburn in the bud. Applied as soon as you notice the burn and you just may avoid peeling.

Sunburn Relief Aloe Vera Spray

Weekends and vacations can be over scheduled with fun activities but overdoing it can result in muscular pain.

Rosemary has long been depended upon for relief from rheumatic and muscular pain. Used as a liniment this sharp, earthy smelling herb helps warm the muscles and increase circulation.

Rosemary Oil for Pain Relief

Called the living medicine chest, both the leaves and roots of the comfrey plant are used to stimulate and accelerate tissue repair. Comfrey helps reduce swelling and bruising as it strenthens ligaments and tendons.

Herbal Overexertion Muscle Ache Balm

Insects, bees and ticks are a part of our natural environment but we'd rather they leave us alone. Help deter them without the potential risk to yourself of bug sprays containing pesticides. There are aromatic plants in nature that insects detest and avoid. Three good ones are Yarrow, Geranium, and Plantain.

Yarrow acts as a bug deterrent and soothing for skin irritations in this alcohol based body spray. Catnip and Citronella essential oils are added for additional repelling action.

Yarrow Bug Deterrent Spray

Geranium essential oil is detested and avoided by ticks. This aromatic oil is utilized as a body spray to help keep these dreaded parasites off of your family and dogs.

Tick Deterrent Body Spray

Plantain is amazingly efficient at neutralizing the sting of bugs and bees. It has astringent, soothing, antimicrobial properties that make it a beneficial addition to an herbal bug body spray. Plantain, Comfrey and Yarrow blend well together in this vinegar based body spray.

Herbal Vinegar Bug Deterrent Spray

Public swimming pools, showers, bathrooms, camp facilities
all put one at risk of picking up the fungus, tinea pidas. A few good foot soaks with this salt foot bath containing anti-fungal tea tree, cooling peppermint, and healing lavender essential oils should help with this annoying condition.

Fungal Fighter Foot Bath Salts