I Hate Butterflies

July 16, 2018

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Yes, I hate butterflies.  I used to think I liked butterflies.  In fact, like many of you, I read about the plight of the pollinators, and I took action, creating beneficial habitat.

I also educated myself, reading many books by The Xerces Society, a group which works for the benefit of invertebrates.

And now, perhaps because of creating better habitat, but more likely because of educating myself, I’m seeing butterflies everywhere.

I thought that would make me happy.  But working in the fields, mowing hay, raking hay, baling hay, my mood darkened.  It took me awhile to check in with myself and figure out why. 

I’m working hard in the summer sun, sweat pooling in my butt crack, and butterflies are aimlessly flitting, floating, and fluttering.  

They lack discipline.  They lack direction.  Do you have any idea how long I had to wait by this Milkweed to get a good photo?

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Occasionally, I’ll catch two of them having sex, mid-flight.  Its not enough that they can fly and I can’t.  They add insult to my injury by fornicating, joining the meter high club.

Sidenote:  As I write this, a bee is in a death struggle with a spider outside my window.  The bee is losing and I’m glad, as I don’t like bees either.  

Bees however, I respect.  They work hard for a living.  Flying straight to flowers, doing their thing, then flying directly back to their hive.  No aimless meandering for bees.

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Butterflies practice casual sex, then lay their eggs and completely forget about their offspring.  They do absolutely zero when it comes to raising their offspring.

The eggs hatch and the caterpillars spend their adolescence eating and pooping.  They live on their food.  How charmed of a life is that?

And then, as a reward for all this gluttony, they form a chrysalis, take the mother of all teenage naps, and wake up as a butterfly.  It this fair, God?

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I reserve my worst vitriol for the Monarch Butterfly.  The Monarch Butterfly winters in Mexico.  Yes, you read that right.  The Monarch winters in Mexico.

For the longest time, scientists couldn’t figure out where the Monarch goes in winter.  Hint:  Check out a sleepy little Mexican village in the mountains, with just the right climate to spend the winter.  

It’s not enough for the Monarch to enjoy the heat and humidity of a midwestern summer, they also get to enjoy their winters, while I’m stuck here on this farm, paying the bills, feeding the stock, and chopping wood to stay warm.

Butterflies are the ultimate hedonists.  Is it any wonder they’re struggling?  

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Red-winged Blackbird Returns

March 12, 2018

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My old friend, the Red-winged Blackbird, has returned from his winter home, March 11, 2018.  There is usually a male who sits in the apple tree in my yard as I practice my disc golf putting.

While he probably isn’t the same bird, there is a chance, as the longest living wild Red-winged Blackbird was nearly 16 years old when scientists studied him.  If he isn’t the same bird, I’m sure he’s kin.

The photo above was taken in June or July, five years ago.  You can read more about Red-winged Blackbirds on my blog, here,  and here and here.


Denizens of the Night

January 20, 2018

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The idyllic farm of daytime turns into the stuff of nightmares when the sun goes down.  If you are a chicken who missed your farmer’s shutting of the door, you’ll have to search for a safe roost to spend the night.  But beware, some of these creatures climb.

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I noticed a deer carcass, so I put up a trail cam and captured these images one night last week.

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What’s interesting is the times recorded on the trail cam.  It looks like the raccoon came out early in the evening and the coyote stayed until after daybreak.

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Annual Pollinator Mix, Black-Eyed Susan

September 21, 2017

 

I am singing the praises again of the Annual Pollinator Mix from Lacrosse Seeds.  If you want a splash of color in your annual pig pastures, this is a practical way to do it.

I also experimented with a perennial prairie planting, which is considerably more expensive.  I purchased a pound of the Native Pollinator Mix for about $200 and have yet to see any of those plants flower.

Wanting to see quicker results, I picked up a couple pounds of Little Bluestem and Black-eyed Susan from Agrecol Seeds in Evansville, Wisconsin.  The Black-eyed Susan did well, pictured below.

I’ve mowed the weeds in my prairie a few times this summer and am excited to see what grows there next year.  My interest is growing in all the different native pollinators.

Everyone talks about the plight of the European Honeybee, which isn’t even native to North America, but I care about everybody else.  For example, how about this fella on the Black-eyed Susan.  I can’t even figure out what he is, but he’s cute.  He’s fat and orange.  He is what I imagine Cupid would look like if he was an insect.

 


American Toad Tadpoles

June 20, 2017

 

May was a wet month with rain every couple of days.  My pig wallows filled with water.  One wallow that had yet to see pigs this spring was used as breeding grounds for the opportunistic American Toad.

The frog species on our farms almost exclusively use my parents’ pond for breeding since it was built in 1992.  Toads are not as picky and will breed in any standing water, sometimes to the detriment of the resulting tadpoles as often these water holes will dry up if the rains stop.  And that is what happened here as the first two weeks of June saw warm temperatures and no rain.

I was looking forward to thousands of baby toads in my yard, so I intervened with a garden hose, adding water every day or so until we got two inches of rain a few days ago.  Now I’m starting to find the little toads hopping around.

The tadpoles almost seem to shrink as they develop legs.  Its as if the fat tadpole body repositions itself into the skinny legs as the tail shrinks.  I love the American Toad.


Annual Pollinator Mix, Planned Pig Pasture

April 23, 2015

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I was wondering what to plant for my annual pig pasture when I stumbled across an Annual Pollinator Mix on the Lacrosse Forages blog.  I ordered it from my local supplier, and with some delays, finally planted it April 16th.

The Annual Pollinator Mix contains eight different flowering plants with many of them legumes.  Its supposed to improve the soil and benefit pollinators.  My thought is it would make a decent pig pasture as well.  I also planted two bushels of Jerry oats per acre.

The Jerry oats cost $8.20 per bushel, so at two bushels per acre the cost for the oats is $16.40 per acre.  The Annual Pollinator Mix cost $181 per 50 lb bag.  I planted 18 lbs per acre so the cost for the Annual Pollinator Mix is $65 per acre.  I actually hadn’t figured out the cost until now, and its pricier than I expected.  It better be pretty!

I came across a short Ted talk and video by Louie Schwartzberg about pollinators.  Its really good, and did I mention its short?

I’ll keep you updated as the pasture progresses.


Native Beneficial Insects

January 26, 2015

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The above photo was taken August 10th.  It’s my Native Pollinator Garden which I grew from transplants, planted in June.  Insects were attracted to the garden, with a favorite plant being Hairy Mountain Mint, small white flowers near the top of the photo.

The orange and black beetles, pictured below, blanketed the Mint.  I had never seen this beetle before and I immediately thought, “Oh no, I’ve attracted a new pest.”  Looking back, it’s amazing to see my negative bias.

 

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This winter I picked up a new book from The Xerces Society, “Farming with Native Beneficial Insects“, and in there was a picture of my beetle in the Predatory Insects section.  The Goldenrod Soldier Beetle eats insect larvae and eggs, aphids, and slugs.  The adult Soldier Beetle needs nectar and pollen to survive, which they were getting from my garden.  My garden was doing exactly what I wanted it to do, but my negative bias kept me from recognizing it.

In the photo below you can see what I think is a Blue Mud Dauber Wasp, which provides size comparison to the Soldier Beetles. I should also say Soldier Beetles are related to Fireflies, which we see plenty of on summer nights.

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The photo below is of some type of Tachina Fly.  I’m amazed to say I’ve also gained an appreciation for flies.  I guess the ability to see insect nature up-close is helping me appreciate it.  I enjoy seeing the megafauna like deer, turkey, bald eagle, but you never get to really examine them unless they are dead.  Most of these insects, however, don’t mind your nose being a foot away.

It’s not all peaceful though.  Much is written about the plight of the Monarch butterfly, probably exaggerated, but I try to leave some Milkweed growing and keep an eye on the Monarch population.  I’m happy to say I’ve seen many Monarch caterpillars, but am sorry to say I haven’t seen any pupate.

I watch the caterpillars daily.  Once you know where they are it’s pretty easy to find them again.  One day I checked a big caterpillar twice, only to find it shriveled to a third of its original size, with a predatory Stink bug in the process of sucking the remaining juices out of it.

Even though I was disappointed the Monarch caterpillar was dead, I left the Stink bug alone.  I realized it’s always a balance, and beyond creating a decent habitat, there is little I should do.

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