Friday, December 30, 2011

Archie's Garden has a font, and you can too!

(click on the sample to enlarge)

Archie's Garden has a new font, which you can download for free and use on your computer! It's called "Royal Flutter" and has a collection of Monarch Butterfly images that you can use to decorate your documents.

Let us know if you create anything spectacular using it!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Exotic Insects

Walking Stick (Carausius morosus)
click to view large
We were surprised this morning to find this character crawling on the kitchen wall.

A quick check using the Internet, and we were pretty sure that it's a non-native species -- and one that could be a big problem: a Walking Stick. After reading this article, and this one, we decided we couldn't let this bug back out into the garden.

Some people think all bugs are bad, and should be crushed, poisoned, or swatted. Some people think that all bugs are good, and should be left alone to do what they want. If you've been to Archie's Garden or read the articles here, you know that we love bugs here -- but that still doesn't mean that we think all bugs should be treated the same way.

The walking stick insect is native to southern India, a place almost exactly half-way around the world from Archie's Garden. Where it comes from, it's part of a complicated balance. The walking stick insects eat the plants that grow there, but there are birds, spiders, rodents, and reptiles there that survive by eating walking stick insects. Because of these predators, the population of walking stick insects stays in balance.

Here in Southern California, there are plants that the walking stick insects like to eat. They like roses, berry vines, and ivy, but they can eat lots of other plants. But unlike in India, there aren't many birds, spiders, rodents, or reptiles in California that eat walking stick insects. This means that there is nothing to control their population. If we don't control them, pretty soon there will be walking stick insects everywhere.

This kind of creature -- one that is not native, and that has few natural predators -- is called an "invasive species" if it is too successful in its new home. Because they can do a lot of damage, people worry about invasive species.

What should you do if you find an insect (or plant or animal) that you think might be invasive? The first thing you should do is visit the web site of your state or county's Agriculture Department. For California, the Department of Food and Agriculture has a web page to help.

Friday, October 14, 2011

And Another New Video: Eclosure!

Here's another new video — this one featuring butterflies emerging from pupae.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Videos

Here are some new videos from Archie's Garden.

The first one is showing what's going on in the Butterfly Fort:

The next one is a very close-up view of a monarch egg hatching:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Getting Caterpillars for the Tent

You've seen the caterpillars' safe tent. We mentioned that the tent keeps out predators like wasps and ladybugs but also keeps away the monarch butterflies.

Since the adult butterflies can't lay eggs on the plants in the tent, we have to help out. Here are some pictures of how we get the caterpillars into the tent.
The leaves in the picture are from milkweed plants around the garden. If we notice an egg, we take the whole leaf from the plant, and bring it inside. We have a container with a damp paper towel, which keeps the leaf from wilting and drying up too quickly.

After a few days, the eggs have been hatching (two of the three we brought in, so far).

Out crawl the tiny caterpillars. Do you remember what they're called when they first emerge from their eggs? They're called "first instars." The number tells how many times they have shed their skins as they grow bigger. As you probably remember, monarch caterpillars shed their skins four times before they "J" and become pupas.

The caterpillar in these pictures is actually a second instar. He's already crawled around, eaten some small holes in the leaf, and shed once.

We think he's big enough, so we played the Pomp & Circumstances March, and took him out into the tent. We'll let you know how he does!

(you can click on any of the pictures to make them larger)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Secure Caterpillar Zone

It's summer, and a great time to go camping! But hey, that tent may come in handy for other purposes too...

The wasps have proven persistent, relentless, and resourceful. They have found the weakness in the blue things: there has to be an opening in the container for the milkweed plant. The wasps have been able to sneak their ways in even through this tiny opening.

So here, we introduce our latest round of defenses: total containment. The milkweed plants are in pots, and the pots are inside a mesh tent. The mesh of the tent is very fine -- too small even for mosquitoes, much less wasps. The only openings have zippers, so the inside is safe.

Safe Inside
You might have already figured out the one problem with this setup -- if the milkweed is protected by something that won't let in anything, how will the monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed?

The answer to this question is that they can't. Instead, we have milkweed plants all around the garden. The butterflies lay eggs on those plants (we'll have another article here on Archie's Garden to talk about protecting the eggs).
When the eggs hatch, we carefully move the small caterpillars inside the tent, where they can grow safely on the protected plants inside.

It seems like they like it! Several of the caterpillars have already pupated on the mesh of the tent. Here's a picture of one of them.

In about ten days, when the butterflies eclose (come out of their pupas), we will unzip the tent flaps, and they will be able to fly away. We'll have pictures here!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Blue Things

What in the world are those blue things doing in Archie's Garden? Here are some hints:
  • They are made of a mesh that lets in light, air, and water.
  • They have a milkweed plants inside them.
  • They can be moved from one place to another, but are also easily staked down.
Figured it out? These are Archie's advanced SWAPDECs (that stands for "Secure Wasp And Predator Defense / Evasion Containers" -- Archie likes making up funny acronyms). We install them around a milkweed plant if we see a few monarch eggs or caterpillars. It protects the eggs and caterpillars from being eaten by predators like the wasps or ladybugs that we've seen.

What we hope is that the caterpillars will be able to develop safely in these protective environments. They can probably pupate right inside of the contained areas -- we will just have to keep a close watch so that we can let the butterflies go free when they emerge.

The mesh on these is not particularly fine. Wasps, ladybugs, and other predators could probably squeeze in through the openings in the mesh, but it seems that they don't recognize that there is anything inside that would interest them.

We will continue to experiment with SWAPDECs and other ways of protecting the caterpillars. We'll report our results here, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


 Remember back at the end of May, when we saw a picture of milkweed that had been eaten almost completely by caterpillars? Remember how we wondered if any of the plants would survive?
Well, here we are part way through July. Here's a picture of that same pot. Some of the eaten milkweed looks just like it did in May - a green stick with no leaves. There's at least one of the plants that put out new leaves, and is slowly recovering. There are several new sprouts, plus a volunteer plant that's not milkweed.
Maybe we'll check in on this pot again in another few months to see how things turn out.

Meanwhile, some of the other milkweed plants have produced seed pods. Some of the pods have opened up, and are releasing seeds into the wind. If you want some milkweed seeds for your own garden, come on by (or send us an email), and we'll give you some!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


This butterfly is just a few hours away from coming out of her chrysalis. As you can see, the chrysalis has gone from being bright green to being almost transparent, and you can see the wings of the butterfly all curled up inside.
Here's another view, where you can see where the wings come together - this will be the butterfly's back.

And here she is, a few hours after breaking out of the chrysalis (the technical word for this is "eclosing")!
When she broke her way out of the chrysalis, her wings were still all soft and wrinkled up. Over a few hours, she pumped fluid into a network of tiny tubes within the wings. Once the wings were pumped up, they hardened and became flat like you can see in the picture.

A few hours after this picture was taken, she flew away. Maybe she'll come back and visit Archie's Garden again!

(click on pictures to enlarge)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scary Things!

What you see here are wasps. People tend to be afraid of wasps because, like bees, they can sting. With both bees and wasps, there are some species that are very peaceful, and some species that are very aggressive.

These wasps are called "paper wasps" because they create their nest out a paper-like substance. They make this paper by chewing up leaves and gnawing fiber from wood.

 This particular species of paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) is normally not aggressive towards people or other animals. In fact, the adults are vegetarians that live on fruit and nectar from flowers. They, like bees, are "pollinators," meaning that they gather pollen from flowers and help plants to produce fruit. So you might think that they'd be good to have around your garden.

However, for Archie and other monarch butterflies, these wasps are a big problem. When the wasps reproduce, they hunt caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts to feed to their larva. Monarch butterfly caterpillars, unfortunately, have no defense against these wasps.

A nest like the one in these pictures can kill large numbers of monarch caterpillars. For this reason, people who try to help the monarch butterflies will sometimes destroy wasp nests. You might think this is a bad idea -- after all, both paper wasps and monarch butterflies are native species, they have coexisted for thousands and thousands of years, and the wasps serve important functions in the ecosystem. There is some justification for reducing the number of wasps, however. Because people have changed the environment where these insects live, we have shifted the balance between the two species. Wasps can flourish in areas where people live: the exposed wood from houses and other structures provide them with easily used material for building nests (and places to build them), and gardens provide abundant fruit and flowers for the wasps to feed on. Unfortunately, people have had the opposite effect on the environment needed by monarch butterflies -- open fields have been turned into farms or cities, and there is less of the milkweed plant that the butterflies need to survive.

It is a risky thing to try to manipulate the balance of nature, because so many things are connected in ways that we don't always understand. By living where we do, we are already interfering with the natural equilibrium.

For what it's worth, in Archie's Garden we're working on making it difficult for the wasps to get to the caterpillars. We'll be building a screened-in area where we can move milkweed plants.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Shedding and Pupating

Monarch caterpillars shed their skins four times as they grow larger and larger. Each stage between shedding skins is called an "instar." When they've just  hatched from their egg, they're called a "first instar." After they've shed their skin once, they're called a "second instar," and so on.

When a caterpillar is ready to shed, it will often wander a short distance from the milkweed plant, and just sit there for a day. You may think it's dead, but it's not. Be careful not to disturb it -- even though it's not moving, it's alive!
After the caterpillar has shed its skin four times (when it's called a "fifth instar"), it keeps growing until it's ready to pupate. It will probably crawl off somewhere, and then sit still, just like the other times when it sheds its skin.

But the fifth instar does something different. After sitting still for a day or so, it will emit some sticky stuff, and glue its back legs onto whatever it was sitting on. Then, it will let go with its other legs, and hang upside down in a "J" shape.

As it hangs, it will gradually bunch up, and get shorter and fatter, until it sheds its skin one last time -- but now, instead of coming out from its skin as a larger caterpillar, it comes out as a pupa!

The pupa is this smooth, green capsule. It has a few shiny dots on it, and if you look carefully, you can see the tracings of what look like a butterfly wing inside. We'll watch carefully over the next ten or so days, and see what happens with this pupa!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Peekaboo Too!
This caterpillar is busily eating a milkweed leaf. It's growing big and plump. Talk about a very hungry caterpillar -- in the past week, it's eaten every single leaf off of some of the milkweed plants:
Archie Was Here
We'll see if this milkweed recovers. There are a few reasons to think it might.

First, the milkweed wasn't eaten all the way to the ground.

Secondly, there's a lot less of it to attract other caterpillars, so they probably won't try to eat the little sticks that remain.

And thirdly, the green of the stems shows that they contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a green-colored pigment that plays an important role in the way that plants convert sunlight into the energy to grow. Plants usually keep most of their chlorophyll in their leaves, but as you can see, it can be in stems too.

We don't know yet whether or not these milkweed sticks will have enough energy to grow back. Come back in a week to see an update!

Here's a picture of a milkweed plant turning into a leafless stick:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

More pictures

Here are some pictures of recent happenings in Archie's Garden.

Ladybugs patrolling the milkweed

We like ladybugs in Archie's Garden, since they're very effective at eating pests like aphids. Unfortunately, as this picture shows, they're also a threat to just-hatched monarch caterpillars. This particular ladybug is a Harmonia axyridis, a species that was introduced to California as a natural way of controlling pests.

This recently hatched caterpillar is making headway in munching through a milkweed leaf.

This guy is happily eating the tasty milkweed buds. He's eating a lot and growing quickly.  While he's much too bug to be attacked by ladybugs, he does still have to worry about wasps.


In the back yard, there's a stick that looks quite out of place. It's got no leaves, and it's not being used to stake up a plant. What's it for? It's a landing pad for this beautiful character!

He's a dragonfly, and despite his fierce name, he's very friendly, and good to have around the garden. He is an exceptionally talented flier, and can zip around to catch flying bugs very quickly -- his favorite foods are gnats and mosquitos, so you can see why we like to have him visit.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Flower Fotos, May 2011--Poppies! Purslane! Pods!

A lot of work went into getting ready for the Green Garden Showcase, and all the flora looked its very best!  Now that the weather is heating up, some of the flowers are getting ready to seed--that means we'll have seeds to share soon.
Shirley poppies and their seed pods  
Shirley poppy seedpod, still green

These Shirley poppies look great along the driveway, and this green seed pod (right) will soon be ready for harvesting.   Shirley poppy seedheads are really neat--they'll turn brown and form tiny holes under the little plate on the top (you can sort of see them forming in this photo.)  When the pods are dry and ready, you can shake the seeds out of the holes just like a tiny pepper shaker.  We collect lots of these seeds to share, but there are always plenty that reseed themselves.

Rock purslane
This is rock purslane, the first bloom from a cutting also generously given to me by Butterfly Lady Loree Bryer.  Isn't that hot pink scrummy??!!!  It's a succulent, so great for adding bright color to a low-water garden.  Grows pretty quickly, too.

Garden Show Archie, eating the leftovers
Where's Archie? In the Butterfly Box, reading a plant marker (sounds like "Clue"...)
We had some milkweed left over from the garden show, and it's been waiting and being watered on the porch until I have time to transplant it all.  Today I found a new monarch caterpillar on one of the plant markers--a pretty big one, so he's been eating a lot of those seedlings this past week!--and he and his marker have been transferred to our new Butterfly Box, a planter full of milkweed with a trellis for climbing/pupating.  We put it by the back window so we can easily watch all our Archies do their thing. 

Rose, "Fourth of July"

There are lots more photos of the latest flowers on our Archie's Garden Facebook page, so drop by and "Like" if you'd like to see updates in your Facebook thread.  Feel free to post your own garden photos and helpful info too, and looking forward to seeing you in the garden!

The Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase was a huge success!

Our Green Garden Showcase Flag/Sign

The Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase was a big hit this year, with an estimated 2000 visitors perusing the 80+ gardens opened for public view.  We not only teamed up with our butterfly friend Loree Bryer to give away milkweed seeds and hundreds of milkweed seedlings she grew for the showcase (many with eggs and caterpillars on them already!) but did a little bit of educating about solar panels, rainbarrels, organic gardening, and worm composting.  Whew!

Handing out milkweed seeds, plants, and butterfly advice

Thanks to all who stopped by, and let us know if you have questions.  We have TONS of milkweed seed packets left, so if you want some drop a line at archiesgarden at gmail dot com.  We've found a few new caterpillars on the leftover seedlings so we hope to have some new chrysalides* photos soon!

*that's the official plural of "chrysalis," just so's you know.  

There are lots more photos of the latest flowers on our Archie's Garden Facebook page, so drop by and "Like" if you'd like to see updates in your Facebook thread.  Feel free to post your own garden photos and helpful info too, and looking forward to seeing you in the garden! 

Garden Show Archie in the new "Butterfly Box" by the back door.  See him? 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Welcome To Archie's Garden! (Who's Archie?)

Howdy to all those who are joining us via the L.A. County Master Gardeners and the Mar Vista Green Committee!

We're so glad you could stop by Archie's Garden, your online organic Mar Vista visiting place.  We're bursting with flower photos, seed exchanges, local green event updates, garden ideas, monarch butterfly information, and more!  You and the kids can also share your own photos, seeds, and questions at Archie's Facebook page, and be sure to "Like" the page to see all of Archie's current gardeny doings.

Some of you new folks might be wondering: Who's Archie?

Archie is a monarch butterfly who lives in our garden (well, we like to think so.)  A few generations of monarch butterflies have passed through here now, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to glorious butterfly, and all of them remind us of the original.

We called our first caterpillar "Archie" because he was a monarch, get it?  He came to our house on a milkweed plant gifted to us by local butterfly expert/enthusiast Loree Bryer, and we got excited about butterfly gardening from the first moment we met him.

Here's a picture of Archie when he was just a little guy:

And here's how he looked just a couple weeks later:

How did this magical transformation occur?  Well, that's just one of the stories you'll see unfold right before your eyes here at Archie's Garden!

Thanks for joining us!  Please feel free to email us if there's anything special you want to see posted here or you'd like to stop by and pay a visit IRL.  In fact, we'll be participating in the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase on Saturday April 30th, 2011 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and guess what?  Loree Bryer will be here with milkweed seeds and all the information you need to start your own butterfly garden!  Come and see--we think you'll have fun.  You might even see Archie fluttering by.

As we say here at the Garden: Keep Your Eye on the Butterfly, and looking forward to seeing you again soon!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Garden Update

It's been a blustery week, with cold and rainy days interspersed with windy days and sunny days -- which is to say, it's been Spring weather. There's only one instar still out on the milkweed. It seems to be a durable little character, who may still weather all of the challenges awaiting it.

Several of the milkweed seeds that were planted in Archie's Garden seem to have germinated. Inside the house, the gooseplant and milkweed seeds have also sprouted, and have been moved into larger pots. As they grow, they will be gradually moved outside.

The milkweed in Archie's Garden is budding and flowering. The milkweed flowers look like ornate gold and orange lanterns.

Adult monarchs continue to visit the garden. The gal pictured below was feasting on the nectar of the Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) flowers. She may be the same visitor from last week -- she has two odd dark bumps on her lower wings that initially led to the conclusion that she was a male, but this week these dark areas are visibly separate from the line on the wing. Additionally, these dark spots really are bumps, are not just coloration.

Monarchs are not the only visitors to Archie's Garden. The individual pictured below also came by to catch some sunshine.