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CHECK OUT OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH LARA BARRETT!!! The Butterfly Whisperer Q & A
How long have you been supporting monarchs?
Although I've tried to support monarchs with milkweed plants in past years, it never went well. This was my first successful year.
What made her decide to do this?
I saw a beautiful large milkweed plant at my local nursery and decided to give it another try. About a week later I read in the news that monarchs have been moved to the endangered list, so that more determined to make this round successful.What have the struggles been along the way?
In previous years, the caterpillars that hatched on my milkweed plants suffered from predation and disease. The most common problem I encountered was that the caterpillars or chrysalises turned black and died, probably from either nuclear polyhedrosis virus or pseudomonas bacteria. I also learned that organic products such as neem oil and bacillus thuringiensis (BT) can kill caterpillars. Luckily, this year I didn't have any of those issues. Instead, my biggest challenge was finding enough food for all the healthy hungry caterpillars! I was shocked by how many I ended up with, especially because I covered the plants with insect netting to keep new monarchs off. I didn't want them laying any more eggs, it gets out of control very quickly. How many viable embryos did she get?
I ended up with about 30 caterpillars, and almost all of them successfully turned into butterflies.What is her processing system?
From watching YouTube videos, it looks like there are people out there who really manage the whole process with their monarchs carefully, but I didn't really have a system. For example, I watched one video of a guy in Michigan who peels off the chrysalises once they're formed and then gently clips them all to a clothesline, all in a row. I thought that was interesting, especially because we had a situation where one of my fat caterpillars knocked down a chrysalis and killed it. I didn't want to manage them that closely, though, I mostly just let nature take its course.How does someone do the set up that she does?
To support those 30 caterpillars, I purchased a total of about $150 worth of milkweed plants (the large 2-gallon plant I started with, which was $35, and then about 9 additional 1/2-gallon plants at $10-$15 each). I bought insect netting to protect the plants and caterpillars but ended up switching to pop-up butterfly habitat cages instead (here's a link to what I bought from Amazon, they run around $15). The pop-up habitats are great because it's easy to get in and out through the zippered side, and the caterpillars have a good space on the top to anchor themselves when they go into their chrysalises.
What is the easiest way for somebody to duplicate her system with her butterfly garden?
My neighborhood is already very butterfly friendly. Our HOA has planted native milkweed as well as lots of flowering plants and trees that pollinators like. I've also met several neighbors over the years who had their own butterfly breeding setups on their back patios. So since the butterflies already frequent the area, it was very easy to attract them. (Too easy, really... we have butterflies flitting about our patio looking for places to lay their eggs nearly all day long.)How large does she anticipate the operation getting?
I planned to be all done after those 30 caterpillars made it to butterfly-hood. The plants were chewed down to stumpy stems, and there were aphids all over them (which is actually a good sign that the plants weren't sprayed with any pesticides before I got them). I started spraying the plants each day with soapy water and neem oil to get rid of the aphids, and then a baby praying mantis moved in to help with pest control (adorable). I zipped all the plants back up into the pop-up butterfly habitats and they started to grow their leaves back. And then... lo and behold, somehow there must have been some butterfly access to the plants because about a week later caterpillars started appearing! I'm not kidding you, I have at least 30 caterpillars again. I had to send my husband and kids out today to find more milkweed plants because all the young leaves have been devoured! And that praying mantis is still living in there with them, and growing big, but it doesn't seem interested in eating any caterpillars. That's the magic of milkweed, I guess, the milky sap makes the caterpillars taste really bad.Would she like to teach classes in the future to clients on how to do this as well?
I'm certainly no expert, but I'd be happy to share my experience with anyone who's interested.Last question is how can we help best support her in her endeavors?
The toughest part is finding good milkweed plants that haven't been treated with any pesticides at all, and that hasn't been easy. I feel like we need a local milkweed exchange so people can share plants when their caterpillars get out of control!
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Monarch butterflies growing in a backyard garden and they couldn’t be happier!!!