Tuesday, July 16, 2013

RUNNING OUT OF FOOD

Last week I picked the last of my green beans, the last zucchini and all the ripe tomatoes. Now I will have to go to the market for my fresh produce. But what will the swallowtail caterpillars do when their food runs out.


 This is my first year to grow bronze fennel. I saw this plant in a garden last year. Three feet high, with gorgeous bronze wispy foliage. A must for my herb garden. Growing it proved difficult in my dry soil. They struggled to stay alive and then were attacked by aphids. I gave them extra care and they began to grow again. Not as I hoped but at least they were still alive. A few weeks ago I noticed swallowtail caterpillars. 21 in all.


They chomped away at the foot high plant. No road runner came by to pick them off. All 21 appeared to survive. The next day I went out to find the whole plant eaten down to the stems. Maybe the thicker stems were enough for them to complete their cycle. I do hope so.


I'll be planting bronze fennel again next year if only for the butterfly show.

17 comments:

  1. That is an impressive butterfly show. I've seen bronze fennel recommended. It's good to know that it might struggle here as well but be worth it for the show.

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  2. Wow 21! That's amazing. Hope you see lots of these lovelies when they turn into butterflies.

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  3. How sweet. Love the butterflies---it's a shame you'll get no fennel, but I think the results will be worth it!
    :)

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  4. Wow, that is a lot of caterpillars. The wasps usually keep mine in check. My bronze fennel went to seed last year and I had hundreds of plants pop up this spring. I hope you find 21 butterflies in your garden in a few weeks.

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  5. I've got a little stand of fennel going in the back that I keep mostly for the butterflies (though I do harvest the seed if enough heads set). I put tomato cages around it to hold the tallest spikes upright. This year I only saw a couple of caterpillars but it is really an aphid fest going on. There have also been lots of ladybugs working there so I decided to let that go. So far the fennel has come back and even multiplied but it does get a little shade in the hottest part of the afternoon. The fronds are so pretty in cut flower arrangements.

    The bronze fennel is a gorgeous color. I tried it out front but it fell prey to the deer. It appears something is always chomping on fennel in these parts!

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  6. I tried bronze fennel out front - it struggled in the afternoon heat then the deer ate it. Out back I have quite a stand growing - it comes back/multiplied to the point I put up tomato cages to hold the fronds upright. I get a little caterpillar action but this year the aphids have taken over. Ladybugs have settled in so I'm giving them a chance to work the area before I try to intervene.

    It turns out we aren't such fans of the anise-flavored bulbs but I love the fronds in flower arrangements and I harvest the seed when I get enough. I toast the seed and use it to make curry powder. Somebody is always enjoying fennel!

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    1. I adore fennel but never manage to grow it . I must try harder next year because it is too expensive in the store. Of course I would have to do some serious protection. Or maybe I should just come over to your house!

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  7. Same thing happened at my house. Growing more bronze fennel for the cats next year!

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  8. Black swallowtails will also go to other carrot-family members like flatleaf parsley and green fennel. I grow both almost year-round on my porch in pots in part-shade.

    You're lucky to have kept so many of the cats! The last time I had a big group like that, a screech owl picked off all but three. I know it was her because she nearly hit the top of my head one day as I knelt beside the fennel.

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    1. I certainly hope an owl didn't come by in the night . They were all gone by morning.

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    2. Oh Steph, sorry to hear that. Maybe some of them crawled off to become chrysalises. The others probably fed the food chain, which includes foxes, raccoons and possums in addition to owls--who all have babies to feed too this time of year.

      I tell myself that's why the butterflies lay so many eggs...

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  9. Wow! Those are some very hungry caterpillars. I've tried growing bronze fennel in the summer and it could not take the heat. I think I'm going to try growing it in the fall.

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  10. WOW! That is some show! I'll put that on my list for next year too.

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  11. That's fascinating. I find I can hardly walk away when there are cats in the garden.

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  12. Bronze fennel is a thug in Oregon where rainfall is plentiful but I'm still so tempted. It smells wonderful and has such a wonderful texture. I think knowing that it is loved by swallowtails may push me over the edge . . . I'll just keep it in a pot. :)

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  13. Wow, that's an impressive number of caterpillars! I hope they ate enough! Last year I planted a few parsley and bronze fennel plants, and I found that I had to keep buying more because the caterpillars ate them faster than they could grow. Of course, more plants just attracted more egg-laying butterflies, which meant more caterpillars eating them, which meant I needed more plants... you can see how the cycle went :)

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