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When I Grow up I Wanna be a Butterfly

Monarch “larvae” ready for a closeup!
Beauty on beauty…

A few summers ago I found this beautiful monarch “larvae” in the vegetable garden on a milkweed I had purposefully weeded around.   Obviously a caterpillar can’t take a selfie, so what’s a girl to do?


The obvious answer? Pose it for some awesome photos with a friend, Sheri Bergman, behind the camera.



This year, I brought in a monarch caterpillar and it metamorphosed overnight into this gorgeous jeweled chrysalis (I missed the whole thing).

Check out the chrysalis

I also missed the  totally cool nearly-butterfly phase,  but after relocating the chrysalis outside, here’s what I found just a few days ago.  I had clearly JUST missed the hatching as well as it pumping up its new wings.

Transformation complete!

Observing this process, I can’t help but think of the many different metamorphoses we all pass through in a lifetime.  It seems unlikely that the caterpillar knows it will someday have wings, but it’s clearly trusting the process and moving through it.  Life lesson in there…

OK, OK… I can’t resist one more lesson!

Did you know only 1-3% of monarch caterpillars ever become a butterfly? Birds, bugs and other predators are to blame, and when you factor in pesticides, loss of habitat, climate change and other challenges, the result is a 90% loss of monarchs in the past year.  All of this is a strong argument for weeding around the milkweed plants, and even for bringing in monarch caterpillars for the few weeks it takes for them to grow big enough to form a chrysalis.  Plus it’s a fascinating experience!  For more details, and for some cool videos of a monarch caterpillar hatching from its egg AND a monarch emerging from its chrysalis, check out The Monarch Project.

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she had always been. But she had wings.”  Dean Jackson

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Seed Savers

Martha & the Great Tomato Heist

Quick and easy seed smear

Did you ever hear the story about the restaurateur who declined to provide his hard-to-find heirloom tomato seeds for Martha Stewart’s garden? Not ready to give up, Martha dined at one of his restaurants and ordered the heirloom tomato salad… and, as you might guess, did a quick save of the seeds she’d been wanting. Pretty ingenious, huh?

You may not be Martha, but you can still try your hand at saving seeds. And, what do you know! It’s already that time of year again – time to select the best-tasting and healthiest tomatoes and save a few seeds so you’re sure to have some of your faves next year.

Simple Seed Saving

Though there are many ways to save tomato seeds, I’ve found this simple technique works best.

  1. Choose tomatoes that are fully ripe and from plants that have produced well and thrived in your garden.
  2. Label a paper towel with a spot for each variety of seeds you want to save. Believe me, you’ll be glad you labelled before the next step.
  3. Now smear the seeds onto a paper towel under their respective labels and allow to completely air dry for several days.
  4. Next, put them in plastic bags for storage.  (I don’t typically seal the bag since the seeds are secure, and this avoids any chance of mold later.)
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Hummingbird Moth

Hum Moth
Clearwing hummingbird moth on a short cultivar of monarda.

The first time I spotted a hummingbird moth, my brain could not believe my eyes.  Was it a baby hummingbird?  A bug?  Some weird cross between the two?  These beauties hover just like a hummingbird, and their favorite flowers are bergamot, also known as monarda or bee balm – but in general, they seem to visit the same types of flowers hummingbirds favor.

There are two types of hummingbird moths – clearwing and hawk.

The photos above and below are both examples of clearwing hummingbird moths – so named because the center of their wings are actually clear, like a pane of glass. The clearwing hummingbird moth shown below was spotted at a friend’s house in Westerville this week. And that makes sense, because the most likely time of year to spot a hummingbird moth in Ohio is July-August. During these months, they can be seen visiting flowers throughout the day and around dusk.

yellow hummer
Clearwing hummingbird moth spotted in Westerville, Ohio

The other type is called a hummingbird hawk moth.  Check out this short video I took of both types of hummingbird moths while on vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina:

And be sure to keep your eye out for these winged beauties in your own flower garden!

Drawn to this story like a moth to a… well, you know…? Keep reading about Patty’s Retreat.

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Ducks, Part 3

1 duck
Feeding time

And then there was one…

We’re now in the 5th week since our teenage ducks arrived.  Only one duck remains, and she has wisely chosen to swim/fly out to one of the floating nests at dusk to sleep.  We have decided this one is a girl for no particular reason other than it feels odd to keep referring to her as “it” and have named her Duckles.

Every day Duckles demonstrates better flying skills….we’re nearly there!

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Ducks, Part 2

And then there were six!

Within a few weeks of their arrival, our duck brood began taking practice flights around the pond, some flying, some half-flying, the smallest duck skip-flapping frantically in an attempt to keep up with the rest.

Only a few days later, 12 of the 13 began leaving the pond for parts unknown between their morning and evening feedings.

In the third week, seven of the teenagers stopped returning: our job is nearly done!

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Green Heron Chick

No, green heron chick isn’t a super hero… but, for a bird, it’s pretty close. It can hover briefly to catch prey. Some even say this bird is one of the world’s most intelligent because it has been know to use bait to attract fish.

Check out this green heron bait fishing with bread:

We’re lucky enough to have a green heron pair nesting near our pond for the past several years.  We always know when they’ve arrived each year because of their loud and very distinctive calls (advertising and alarm calls are what we hear most often). It’s impossible not to take notice when what sounds like a crazy, prehistoric chicken is croak/shrieking as it flies from tree to tree around the pond.

It wasn’t until this year that we were finally able to locate “our” green heron pair’s nest, which looks more like a scaffolding made of loosely interlaced twigs. Although we were able to observe the parents feeding the two chicks, we missed the chance to photograph them before they fledged this precarious perch.

GH nest

This little cutie was spotted 3 days later hiding in tall grass next to the pond.  It seemed wary, but tolerated a somewhat prolonged photo session and even seemed to vamp a bit for its first close up.


At different times of the day now, the parents can be heard calling to the chicks in their croaky, prehistoric voices, announcing a regurgitated meal of small fish, frogs, bugs and other small prey.

Mmmm-mmmm good!

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The Butterfly Knows

Worth the wait!

It took nearly an hour of patient waiting for a snapshot of this flying beauty who completely shunned all the hybridized Echinacea, proof that we are breeding out nectar and pollen traits that are important for our pollinators.  I strongly believe this is a big factor in the decline of the honey bee.  

Be sure to seek out and include in your landscape plenty of native flowers that can provide a variety of food for our pollinators all throughout the growing season.

My favorite place to find these is Scioto Gardens Nursery, located in Delaware on Route 37.  Owned by a husband and wife team, it’s a beautiful outdoor nursery surrounded by lots of native flowers and other plantings.  It’s a must-see!

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Posted by Patty Shipley.

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duck nest
Time to rebuild!

Every year, in the cold of early spring, we dutifully rebuild our floating duck nests in time for mallard mating and nesting season. It took several years of tweaking and observing before we devised a nest that could withstand both storms and jealous goose attacks.

 Although we always have at least one successful hatching, this year we had two, and were able to observe as the second nest of 10 baby mallards fledged from one of our “prototype” floating nests and followed Mama Duck into the grass surrounding the pond. Within moments of their fledging, a third mallard couple claimed the nest site. 

Because our pond does not provide sufficient cover, we’ve only ever seen baby mallards briefly after fledging, just before Mama Duck hustles them into the grass on shore, and on into the woods.  Every year, we wish we could watch as “our” babies grow up.

A baker’s dozen!

Last week we were a release site for a baker’s dozen of teenage mallards from the wildlife clinic on Billingsley Road in Columbus.

In the 20+ years since I moved to the Columbus area, I’ve brought numerous rescues to the wildlife clinic: baby squirrels knocked from a tree during a storm, a turtle hit by a car, a baby screech owl that was the nearly dead runt of a nest of four, and a juvenile red tail hawk that had been hit in traffic.

The clinic is equipped to raise and/or provide medical care for, and then release wild animals, and volunteers will send a postcard upon request to let you know how the story ended.

The teenage mallards were part of a collection of 50+ baby ducks that were brought to the clinic for various reasons – commonly the mother is hit in traffic, babies get washed down storm sewers, or are simply found fending for themselves for reasons unknown.

They’re raised on a farm owned by a clinic volunteer until old enough for release, and then it is the job of volunteers at the clinic to find sites that are suitable, chase, catch, and transport them.

They arrived in pet carriers just over one week ago.

The day after “our” teenagers arrived, Mama Duck #3 took an incubation break to see what all the duck commotion was about. Immediately, all 13 teenage ducks of varying sizes made a beeline for her.  It was sadly sweet to see how they yearned for a mama, but equally comical to know immediately by her reaction what she was thinking: “Oh, no! I have a few more days of peace before this starts!”

She communicated this to the horde of would-be adoptees in just a few short quacks, and they seemed to immediately understand and backed up, watching her in a way that can only be described as wistful as she swam away back to her nest.

A few days passed and the teenagers have stuck closely together and seem be mothering each other as they dabble around in the pond for food, and compete for their daily feedings of floating duck food left by the volunteers.

Today the floating nest is empty and Mama Duck #3 and her newly hatched babies have joined the melee on the pond, and the teenagers seem more than happy to help with the mothering.

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Posted by Patty Shipley.

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Honey Bees

Busy bees

A few years ago, a swarm of bees took up residence in one of our wood duck boxes.  I could stand mesmerized for long stretches of time watching them busily working flowers in our landscaping and vegetable gardens.  

Did you know honeybees make a small slit at the base of some larger flowers and extract the nectar from outside the flower?  This was my observation on hosta flowers.  I was also surprised so see that most of the flowers in our landscaping, though they were beautiful and even fragrant, were not the least bit interesting to the bees.

beeframe2Honeybees seem to get drunk in crocus flowers, rolling around in ecstasy inside, but daffodils and tulips sit undisturbed.  This is because hybridizing and genetically selecting for specific traits in plants/flowers often results in poor or no nectar or pollen production, or these plant products are lacking critical nutrients the bees

Now that I have my own beehive, I plant with intention, and rely
heavily on native plants I select from the little nursery around the corner that specializes in natives (Scioto Gardens) or from friends who are willing to share a little piece of their own gardens.

Want to see more bees? Check out this short home movie!

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Posted by Patty Shipley.

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Solomon’s Seal

Solomon’s Seal

A beautiful plant native to Ohio that is effortless to grow and will spread quickly to choke out weeds.  Mine came from Scioto Gardens, a wonderful local nursery run by Mike and Linda Johnson.  

Scioto Gardens specializes in native Ohio plants and Mike is an extremely knowledgeable and personable horticulturist.  Both Mike and his wife are big believers in holistic health and caring for the environment and our pollinators.

Solomon’s Seal

I always check Scioto Gardens first, and I prefer buying native plants because they’re hardier than hybrids and more likely to attract honeybees, butterflies and birds.  When we hybridize plants, most often they no longer supply nectar or pollen needed by pollinators and hummingbirds.

Add to that the practice of spraying weeds (native plants that provide diverse nutrition AND nectar and pollen), and you can begin to see the problems faced by the honeybees.

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Posted by Patty Shipley.

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