NSFW: Butterflies

2014 11 21 14.07.54 1 NSFW: Butterflies

We all like to eat different things. Throughout the animal kingdom, dietary inclinations, and our pursuits therein, are vast and multi-faceted. Some love bird eggs, while others adore pepperoni pizza (this guy here, typing away). The study of our search for the favored snacks is imminently fascinating, but it wasn’t until researching a previously thought sweet and simple character, that I discovered they were in fact one of the most interesting. Butterflies, the great equalizer.

Butterfly Puddling

It all started while researching butterfly puddling. Butterfly puddling is an essential element to having a successful butterfly garden. Hummingbird and butterfly gardens share many of the same plants and set structures, but one needed device is a shallow, contained puddle with which the butterflies can dip their feet in. Hummingbirds also crave the water, but one important fact is that butterflies don’t eat solid matter. They drink their sustenance through their probiscus, located and tucked in under their chin, on the head. Besides flower nectar, a diet high in sugar, they crave needed salts and amino acids they obtain from a variety of sources, such as water, but many species actually prefer the salts they derive from urine, dung, and carrion. More unusual sources include tears and blood. Searching for the liquid on each of these surfaces, and finding none, sometimes the butterfly will throw up onto the object, their bile mixing with the dry surfaces, releasing the needed nutrients. In many species, the puddling behavior is restricted to males. The male incorporate the extra salts into their sperm.
The Male Butterflies use the salts and amino acids also as an increase of reproductive success, which they transfer to the female as a mating gift. When they mate, the nutrients are transferred to the female from the in the sperm, improving the viability of her eggs. This increases the chances of their genetic makeup advancing to the next generation. It also gives a whole new outlook to “Butterfly Kisses”.
Some butterfly species also adore rotting fruit, such as watermelon, and orange juice-soaked bananas. These items can be placed in a shallow container with a lip, so the liquids will not run off. Butterflies mainly utilize the sugars as metabolic fuel.
In creating a butterfly garden, more than shelter (trees, shrubs, and vine-covered pergolas), sunny areas, and butterfly-attracting plants are important. First, choose your location, somewhere sunny, and convenient to view. Then pick a container for your puddling station. A shallow base works best. Anything from a low bird bath to a terra cotta saucer on the ground can work. Providing landing spots is helpful, if you use sand in the container, or dirt, make sure to avoid pesticides, fertilizers or additives; butterflies are very sensitive. Flat rocks work wonders for delicate butterfly feet (which is where their tasting sensors are located!). Keep it moist, if there is no rain in the forecast, fill it with water from your rain barrel, or distilled water works well,  and be patient. Hotspot butterfly gardens aren’t built overnight. Buzz takes time to build (bah-dum-bump!)
See what I mean about the great equalizer? Despite their delicate, and attractive demeanor, butterflies can absorb, and even seek out rather ribald sources of sustenance. They are amazing conservationists, (utilizing waste to create new life) and unbelivably fascinating. Vladimir Nabakov, the famous 20th century writer, and Harvard Fellow of Lepidopterology was quoted as saying, “It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to Lepidopterology (the study of butterflies), and never written any novels at all.”
If you’ll excuse me, I have a shallow puddle to go institute in a sunny space. I wonder if they like pepperoni pizza as well…

Learn more about Butterfly Gardens in our class!

Choosing the Right Mulch for Your Vegetable Garden

At Seedlings Gardening we generally use four kinds of mulch for our various projects. You may or may not have heard of them all: shredded wood, cedar chips, pecan shells and pine needles.

Reserve the shredded wood and cedar chips for general landscape beds,
i.e. around trees, flower beds, that sort of stuff.
These mulches are great when sitting on top of the soil. Don’t use them for vegetable gardens. It takes a really long time and a lot of nitrogen to decompose shredded wood and cedar chips – so much that if either one is mixed into the soil, the process of breaking down the mulch will tie up most of the available nitrogen which will end up slowing plant growth.

You dig around regularly in a vegetable garden as you plant throughout the season. While you should always move mulch off to the side when planting, eventually and inevitably some of it is going get mixed up in your soil. Best if it’s not robbing important nutrients and disrupting a balanced cycle.

We stick to pine needles or pecan mulch for vegetable gardens.
Both resist compaction more than wood mulch allowing water to gradually make its way into the soil (instead of running off) and they look pretty (or unique if you prefer that to “pretty”). Pine needles will make the pH of your soil slightly more acidic which is actually great for vegetable gardens; though, they’re somewhat difficult to source in Austin (perhaps the Houston area would have better access to pine needles?). Pecan shells are locally available in Central Texas and they’re even used to amend soil sometimes – the squishy material inside the shell mimics the spongy nature of compost and slowly releases water into the soil.

So there you have it, friends. If you’re planting a vegetable garden we recommend saying “no” to shredded wood and cedar chip mulch. Lay it on thick with either pine needles or pecan shells!

Do you use a different kind of mulch that works well in a vegetable garden?


How to Plant Vegetables in Your Garden

So, we’ve talked about deciding where to build your vegetable garden, how to amend your garden soil and when you should plant. Now we bring to you… how to plant the vegetables! I know, it seems like maybe we’re explaining the obvious but in all honesty the process isn’t that predictable if you’re not familiar with it. […] Read more »

Why Soil is the Most Important Garden Component, Part 3: Life in Your Soil

We posted last week about the most important nutrients in your soil which contribute to plant vitality in your garden. But here’s the thing: Plants can’t “eat” or absorb those nutrients in their raw form. Something must  first process the nutrients for them. That’s why organisms like earthworms, bacteria and fungi need to be present […] Read more »