Recently, we received a beautiful letter from a Click & Grower named Ruth, telling an incredible story of how she managed to raise and attract butterflies with her Smart Herb Garden. It was the coolest thing we've read all week, and we knew we had to share this with you.
Two years ago an elderly neighbor passed away and his house was purchased by a real estate investor. His very mature garden languished and became an eyesore. The investor, who spent all of his funds on the structure of the house, thought the garden ugly and instead of cleaning it up, he began to clear it out. In a panic over the potential loss of a monarch butterfly habitat, I wandered over to rescue a couple of seed pods from his milkweed plants. I was so reluctant to see the end of the habitat that I decided to start my own.
Though milkweed plants aren’t the most beautiful things, they are what larval monarch caterpillars need to survive. In late winter, I began to cold stratify those rescued seeds along with other types of plants I knew would attract butterflies, but still survive under the canopy of a black walnut tree. This was no easy task as black walnut trees make gardening a huge challenge.
In late spring I purchased a seed starter kit for my butterfly garden seeds and planted black-eyed susans, blue vervain, early sunflowers, my neighbor’s milkweed seeds and two additional species of milkweed. Around the time I purchased that kit, I saw an ad for Click & Grow and thought year round herbs in Zone 6 might be kind of nice to have, so I bought that, too, and planted two parsley and one basil pod for my personal use.
The Click & Grow was a revelation. In late March I plugged it in and within a week I had healthy seedlings. By mid May, I made the decision to transplant those herbs to a large planter on my deck where they thrived along with spearmint, rosemary and thyme. I’d been harvesting the parsley fairly frequently and thought it wouldn’t be long before there was nothing left to harvest, but the parsley liked its new home in the sun becoming taller and bushier.
One day I harvested some to make potato salad and noticed a black worm like creature with a white stripe around its middle was munching on the leaves of the plant. I went out to investigate the rest of the plants and found 2 more just like it! After a bit of research, I determined this was the “parsley butterfly caterpillar”, which is the larval stage of the black swallowtail butterfly.
The black swallowtail lays its tiny pale yellow eggs on the leaves of the plant. Once those hatch the caterpillars begin to eat the leaves of the plant and they are prolific eaters. Still, my parsley plants begun indoors in the Click & Grow, continued to thrive. I had three huge caterpillars feasting daily out there, then one day I had only two. One was gone. I thought maybe a bird had snatched the brightly colored creature, but later that day, I found my young puppy playing with something on the deck. He was batting the poor little missing caterpillar around. I’m fairly certain the caterpillar was making its way to find a stick so it could once again transform itself. Using a stick, I offered the caterpillar a ride to my kitchen, where I placed it in a very large Ball jar along with some sprigs of parsley. It continued to eat until a few days later it migrated to the stick and stopped moving altogether. Two days after that, I caught the very end of the caterpillar becoming a pupa. Sometime in the next week or two, a black swallowtail butterfly will emerge and I will set it free. Science in my kitchen courtesy of my Click & Grow parsley plants is happening!
Two days ago as I was watering my garden, I noticed another mature female black swallowtail flitting around the planter on my deck. Today I took pictures of her eggs to share with you. And so the cycle begins again in my ersatz black swallowtail habitat.
So that is the story of my accidental adventures while creating a butterfly habitat. We’re still waiting for the butterfly to emerge from its pupa. The black swallowtails seemed thrilled by the Click & Grow parsley and while I’d agree with them, I’m a little sad there’s not enough for them and me with this new batch of eggs just being laid. We’ll see how many of these survive to maturity. If there was enough for me, I’d make some Lebanese Potato Salad.
Lebanese Potato Salad
1 quart small redskin potatoes boiled with skin on until fork tender then quartered while still warm
1 bunch diced scallions
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh spearmint
Juice of 1 juicy lemon--more if it’s not that juicy, but do it to taste.
4 T. Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Add all the ingredients to the still warm potatoes. Adjust seasoning. Serve warm, room temp or cold.
Have a great day and start growing parsley! :)
The one caterpillar I kept indoors completed its metamorphosis yesterday! The pupa had changed from a bright green color to purple so suddenly she missed its emergence. By the time I noticed, it was finished stretching itself out and was ready to fly. I released it in the afternoon.
Here is the very end of it becoming a pupa:
Pretty amazing, right? If you have a cool story to share about what you've done with your Smart Herb Garden, feel free to post it on social media or send us in an email. And if this letter from Ruth has inspired you to attempt to attract butterflies of your own...start growing parsley.