Late summer vegetable garden and Monarch butterflies

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The potager after yesterday's rain is definitely in transition.

The potager after yesterday’s rain is definitely in transition.

The vegetable garden is in transition. It’s late summer, and all the tomatoes were taking over, so I removed most of them keeping only those plants that were still producing heavily and seemed healthy. Most of my tomato plants have leaf diseases now, but still provide more tomatoes than I can eat. My gardener friends in Oklahoma are surprised I had so much tomato success this year. All that rain and manure were good for those planted in the potager. I’ll have to move them next year though because of root knot nematodes. I can’t plant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers in the same spot two years in a row. Next summer, they’ll be back in the big garden again.

Some of the tomato harvest.

Some of the tomato harvest. Yes, that’s a fly swatter above. We had tons of flies this year. Wonder why.

Most of our summer temperatures were in the 90s except for a hot spell in August that lasted about two weeks with temperatures over 100F. I just tried to keep everything wet and mulched in order to keep it cool. During those days, the tomatoes stopped setting blooms, but revved back up as soon as the mercury went below 100F again.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

As for the large vegetable garden, it was pretty dismal. I live on a hill, and the rain just kept coming for weeks and weeks. That’s the thing about a prairie climate. The weather always comes in extremes. All of my seeds slid downhill, and the germination rate for many varieties was very low. I replanted my okra twice, and I finally got enough the other day to fry some. I planted bush beans three times. I still await a harvest.

The one good piece of news in the veggie garden–other than the zinnias and sunflowers–was the ‘Glass Gem’ corn.

In frustration, I turned half of the large veggie garden into a cutting garden of cosmos, zinnias, amaranth, celosia, hollyhocks and nicotiana. It performed much better than the vegetables and became a way station for butterflies and other pollinators. I took my best butterfly shots with most of them posed on the zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie Hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

I think butterflies love zinnias because the blooms are flat and make a great staging area. Next to the zinnias, I planted two yellow milkweed plants, Asclepias tuberosa, for any Monarchs that might stop by. I have aphids of course. Irritating creatures. I keep washing them off after checking for Monarch eggs beforehand. I don’t want to wash off any precious Monarch eggs. Buying milkweed plants is complicated because so many nurseries and box stores use Bt. or Neonicotinoids on plants. If applied recently, these pesticides will kill your caterpillars. Ask your nursery what’s been used before you buy. This fall I bought seeds for three milkweeds native to Oklahoma, A. incarnata, rose milkweed, A. sullivantii, prairie milkweed and  A. hirtella, tall green milkweed. After soaking the seeds for a few hours, I sowed them in three different spots in the garden. Yes, it’s a lot of seed, but I’ll thin out the plants, and I wanted a better chance at germination.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

It’s my hope that the seed will break down over winter with small seedlings emerging next spring. If this works, I will know for sure that my milkweed is safe for Monarch caterpillars. When people are discouraged about disappearing Monarchs, I think of all my friends who are working diligently to bring their numbers up again. If you’d like to learn more from these dedicated gardeners, join The Beautiful Monarch discussion group on Facebook. Two other great groups are Oklahoma Friends of the Monarchs and the Monarch Initiative of Tulsa. My friend, Kylee Baumle, at Our Little Acre works very hard, and she’s inspired me this summer with her beautiful photographs and Monarch tagging and raising. When I get discouraged, I remember, it was backyard birders who helped bring back the Eastern Bluebird from extinction. I think we can do the same for Monarch butterflies. I haven’t seen more than three Monarchs in my garden this year, but I’m planting milkweed so that they will come. Kylee was kind enough to share her photos of a Monarch caterpillar and chrysalis so I could show you since I’ve got nada.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Aren’t they beautiful? That gold on the chrysalis always gets me. To learn more about Monarch butterflies including where they got their royal name, head over to Monarch Watch’s FAQ.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Last week, I planted some cold weather vegetables for my fall garden. I have beets, broccoli rabe, chard, kale, turnips, rutabaga, two kinds of lettuce and spinach. I piled leaf mold on top of the garden soil to keep veggie seeds cooler so that they would germinate. A cool front finally moved through the state yesterday. I also watered everyday until I began to see seedlings popping up through the mulched leaves. You can also soak seeds overnight, but I didn’t take that extra step. I sowed parsnip and carrot seeds in my cold frame including ‘Cosmic Purple’ carrots. Have you priced rainbow carrots in the store? Outrageous. I’ll just grow my own.

 

 

About 

I’m a writer, born and raised in Oklahoma, and an obsessive gardener who grows shrubs, perennials and vegetables on my acreage each year. My favorite veggies have to be homegrown hybrid or heirloom tomatoes, Genovese basil and hot and mild peppers. It’s an Italian salsa garden at my house.