Caterpillar rescue

Swallowtail caterpillars say thank you for saving them.

Late summer is butterfly season at Little Cedar. It’s also caterpillar rescue season.

As you probably already know, Monarch butterflies are in trouble, and I believe it’s backyard and community gardeners who will eventually save the day. At least that’s what I tell myself as I bring Monarch eggs and tiny caterpillars indoors every day. It takes commitment, a whole lot of milkweed and trust in the process to bring these tiny creatures to flight. If you’re interested, I can write another post about bringing Monarch caterpillars/eggs indoors and raising them. Just let me know.

But, in the meantime, why don’t you read my friend, Kylee Baumle’s, new book, The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. I know she worked hard on it, and I think you’d like it especially if you want to save Monarchs. And, really, who doesn’t want to save Monarchs?

Cover of The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. by Kylee Baumle.
Cover of The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. by Kylee Baumle.

Today, though, I want to tell you about a caterpillar rescue of another kind–my epic battle to save some Swallowtail caterpillars from a very hungry red wasp–Polistes rubiginosusI think. I don’t claim to be a wasp expert.

I do try to love all of God’s creatures–I really do–but red/paper wasps really irritate me. Maybe, because they’re just so damn mean the hotter the weather gets. I know that’s my excuse.

Monarchs are not the only butterflies laying eggs on various plants in the garden. In my vegetable garden, especially the raised potager, a Swallowtail mother laid about a billion–okay, I’m exaggerating–eggs on three parsley plants. This year, I planted six or seven parsley, many dill and a pot of rue in my garden just for Swallowtail butterflies. If I got a little parsley and dill for my supper, that was good too. I’ve been watching these little munchers for several days now. I could bring them inside, but they seem to have an easier time of it outdoors than Monarchs. Plus, they aren’t as predictable–once they reach chrysalis stage–as Monarch butterflies are. Sometimes, Swallowtails take all winter to become butterflies.

I don’t know which type of Swallowtail laid her eggs. I have many different ones bouncing about the garden. If I had to guess, I would say it’s a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenesis), Oklahoma’s state butterfly, because of the markings, but that part doesn’t matter. I kept an eye on these little critters because I knew they were going to quickly run out of parsley, and my dill was finished for the year. So, I pulled a few weeds around the bronze fennel in a completely different part of the garden and waited for them to grow too large for their habitat.

Parsley consumed by Swallowtail caterpillars. I'm not going to show you the partially consumed caterpillar. Gross.
Parsley consumed by Swallowtail caterpillars. I’m not going to show you the partially consumed caterpillar. Gross.

Today, I realized was caterpillar moving day. I came outside to find one caterpillar half eaten, so I knew they needed a new leafy residence.

Soon, it instead turned into a full-scale caterpillar rescue.

One of the large swallowtail caterpillars I moved to the bronze fennel.
One of the large swallowtail caterpillars I moved to the bronze fennel.

I was moving them in fives because that’s about all I can handle. I gently pulled them from parsley stalks and took them over to the three, large bronze fennel plants working feverishly to convince them it was their idea to get on the new plant. It works better if I don’t handle them too much. When I made my third or fourth trip, I saw a very large, red wasp circling the area. She buzzed me a couple of times, and I ignored her as I grabbed five more. Usually, I don’t get stung if I’m not near the wasp nest. I knew what she wanted, and she was waiting very impatiently for me to move out of the way.

Then, disaster struck. I came back to find her munching on a large caterpillar. I kept moving more caterpillars hoping she was too engrossed in her meal to come after me. Of course, I didn’t have my camera the entire time. I was too busy to take pictures.

Bronze fennel with finished Phlox paniculata behind. The caterpillars being green yellow and black really blend in with fennel foliage.
Bronze fennel with finished Phlox paniculata behind. The caterpillars being green yellow and black really blend in with fennel foliage. They are much harder to see on here than on the parsley.

After four or five more trips, she was quite irritated with me. She left her meal and buzzed me, but I was really determined she would not win today. She went back to her meal, and I picked up my berry-colored Dramm Touch‘N Flow Revolver Spray Gun, turned it to jet and doused her. You can sure slow down a wasp, especially one not paying attention with a steady and hard spray of water. She crawled out of the bed and stumbled around. Again, I took her out, and I daresay I enjoyed it.

“Take that for all the times I’ve been stung,” I said, “Here’s another spray for all the caterpillars you’ve munched today.”

Red wasp/paper wasp after I sprayed her with water.
Red wasp/paper wasp after I sprayed her with water. See the Swallowtail caterpillar in the upper right corner? I saved it.

I sprayed her long enough to grab three more cats with my right hand in a whole new definition of multitasking.

No, wasp lovers, I didn’t kill the wasp with water. She was soon back searching through the empty parsley stalks looking for more prey, but in the meantime, I’d relocated everyone.

Swallowtail caterpillars relocated on rue.
Swallowtail caterpillars relocated on rue.

A lot of bug-eat-bug happens here but sometimes, it’s about sticking up for the little guys. Today was caterpillar rescue day, and this little caterpillar raised his/her thoracic legs in a fond thank you–at least I like to think so.

Swallowtail caterpillars say thank you for saving them.
Swallowtail caterpillars say thank you for saving them. Caterpillar rescue.

Jealous roses sing the blues

'Sophy's Rose'

“Where have you been,” says ‘Sophy’s Rose’ as I bend over her to drag out some weeds.

I feel guilt wash over me.

“I’ve been busy.” I try not to look at her, but she clutches at me with her prickles so that I have to remove them one by one. Roses beckon with their beautiful faces, but they never want to let go. I continue weeding and try to ignore her.

“It’s been over two months since you’ve come by. You’ve been out with Susan again haven’t you? Or, is it Becky this time?” I jump back in surprise and snag myself. Dang it. ‘Sophy’s Rose’ is too smart for her own good. She’s referring to Rudbeckia fulgia ‘Goldsturm’, black-eyed Susan. Becky is Leucanthemum × superbum ‘Becky’, a shasta daisy cultivar whose sunny personality helps carry the garden through the long, hot summer.

“You think we don’t see you, but we do. You visit Becky and Susan almost every morning and night along with that pink Phox paniculata. She’s just common,” says ‘Buff Beauty’, in a huff, from the other side of the border.

'Buff Beauty'

How on earth do they know? They can’t possibly see over the deck into the tiered beds, can they?

As if reading my thoughts, ‘Cl. Cecile Brunner’ snorts, “We have our spies. the David Austins are in that part of the garden. You think they don’t share your whereabouts?”

“Look, I’m here now, and I’ve got some nice, organic rose food for your roots. I’m deadheading your spent blooms. What else do you want from me?”

“We want you to spend time with us. We were your first love. Remember?” pleads ‘Golden Slippers’, “What happened? You’ve changed.”

I clip and throw dead blooms over the edge of the retaining wall. Why am I so blase about the roses’ care anymore? A drop of sweat rolls down from my hair into my face. I take off my gardening hat and wipe it out of my eyes with a corner of my t-shirt. It’s 98F and climbing. I’m hot. My clothes are snagged, and I have wicked scratches on my legs and arms.

“I always get the worst of our affair, and I’m no masochist. Other flowers don’t tear at me, and pull my hair.”

'Altissimo'

“Whoa,” says ‘Baseye’s Blueberry, “I’m not into any of the kinky stuff. I got no thorns.” He fluffs his stems as if to emphasize the point.

“Me neither,” says ‘Zephirine Drouhin’, “Little good it did me.”

“True ZD, but somewhere your partner on the arbor picked up a nasty rose disease. I think it was Rose Rosette. Although it isn’t listed in Oklahoma, I know that’s what it was. He had to go, as did one shrub of ‘New Dawn’.”

“She just killed them,” cries ‘Cliffs of Dover’ “who will be next?”  He shakes so hard, his black-spotted leaves fall like confetti around his waist.

'Valentine'

“Oh, Cliffie, stop that. No one is going to kill you. You’re a shrub rose. Other than the blackspot, you are great,” I say, tipping up one of his blooms with my gloved fingers. “At the back of the border, you support all the other plants. Besides, who could keep company with the purple crapemyrtles except you? Let’s be clear. I didn’t kill those roses. Disease did them in. I just had to dig them out. Oy, my aching back.”

“Your aching back? What about my leaves? I have spider mites,” says ‘Cramoisi Superieur’, and I’m being crowded by the common phlox.”

“I have mildew,” says ‘Julia Child’, “and this weather makes me feel like I’m in an overheated kitchen!”

“Stop it! See what I mean, I just don’t have time for all of your prima donna ways anymore. Some of you don’t give much throughout summer. Instead, you just sit and complain while other plants take up the slack.”

“Yet, you’re still here,” says ‘Valentine’ in his velvety rich, red voice. He wafts a bit of his spectacular perfume under my nose. “I bet your prairie plants don’t have this.”

A portion of the garden in May, Roses are: 'Jefferson' (front), 'Blush Knockout' (left) 'Cliffs of Dover' (rear) and 'Carefree Beauty' (right)

“‘Valentine’, that’s not playing fair,” I insist.

“All’s fair in love and war,” says ‘Marchesa Boccella’ the pink dimpled beauty, as she blows me a perfumed kiss.

“You do still love us don’t you?”asks ‘Altissimo’ as he leans from his lofty perch to touch my hair.

“I will again in September,” I sigh, “once the heat is gone, and you start to bloom again.” And I know I will.

All the pictures which accompany this post were taken in May when the roses are at their height of beauty in Oklahoma. Except for shrub roses and some of the newer cultivars, roses don’t bloom much in summer. However, in mid-September, they will have a renaissance when temperatures again cool. In Oklahoma, as throughout much of the country, we are seeing soaring temperatures of 100F and over. Yesterday, in town, it was 107F. However, at my country place, it was a balmy 103F.