While in the pasture last week my little eagle eyed thing finder found a preying mantis (which he is a bit shy of as they have a tendency to land on his head), and a monarch caterpillar.
"How could he now?" you say. "That thing is enormous!" you think. Let me remind you what the pasture looks like. Yes, it's an impossibly plump, brightly patterned needle, but its still a pretty big haystack.
This is not our first monarch caterpillar. After finding our last caterpillar without much effort, I naively thought I could find a chrysalis in the wild just as easily. Two years later, I'm still looking. After a few second of moral debate in my head, we took this on home with us. He's already been to Philadelphia once, and he is in a jar on our kitchen table as we speak!
This is a story of nothing to do. No where to go, no place to be, nothing to be pick up, or dropped off, no errands to run. Just a day to be, and see, and enjoy each other's company. My favorite kind of day. Its no surprise that on just such a day we saw lots of butterflies.
I have given a great amount of thought to how exactly I could chase down a monarch caterpillar, and more still to how I could find another egg. On the day last year when we so naively walked up into the pasture and quickly found what I am fairly certain was a monarch egg on the underside of a leaf (was it really an egg?? All indications are that it was, except that it was June and that seems early. Why didn't I save it?!?) it all seemed so easy. But the results can not be replicated. I have been hatching a plan to follow a female butterfly, and not let her out of my sight until I am sure she has laid some eggs. It would seem that finding a butterfly on a broody day would be a whole lot easier than looking for a pin head in a pasture.
We (me, the kids, and my father too) saw our first monarch on the farm around August 1st. It seems a bit late, but then it's been on the cool side this year, and Mexico isn't getting any closer, so there are plenty of reasons they would be a little late. Since then we've seen a handful fluttering around. One day last week we caught a glimpse of a female. In my quest to put each of the Monarch's significant milestones right under my my kids little noses so they can't help but learn something whether they realize it or not, I went to get my camera so we could chase it. By the time I came back out of the house, there were two...attached. That's right. Mating Monarchs!
The butterflies continued in this way for over an hour-ish. Sometimes standing still, usually on a thistle flower, and sometimes flying between thistle plants, but always attached, and the male (shown more upright) was feeding the entire time.
Finally the two separated, and we stalked the female for another hour or two, but then lost track of them, so we never actually got to follow the female up into the milkweed in the hope of her laying eggs. How do I know this is a female? It doesn't have the little black dashes on the top of its wings that the male has. Want to know as much as this braggy betty about butterflies? Go to the library where they give knowledge away for free. My favorite kid friendly monarch reference says that the female can mate with several males before laying her eggs so I'm gonna assume that takes some time.
Here we are one tiny step closer to first hand experience with the Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly, but with no caterpillar or egg. The kids seem to enjoy the hunt, and they sure look cute when they declare their independence from the confines of the yard and start heading up the hill into the pasture. Tomorrow I'll show you what they found.
Honestly friends it has been such a chilly, drizzly couple of weeks around here that I can hardly think about drying anything. I would like a summer do-over on account of crumby weather, and my head being elsewhere. But, as summer is coming to a close, let's try to preserve what we can. Let's dry herbs.
Pick the lushest leaves you can. Strip the leaves from the stems. Wash thoroughly in cold water. Spin dry in a salad spinner, or pat dry with a towel. I'm using oregano to illustrate my point, but you can dry just about anything green and leafy.
When all of the excess water is removed spread then in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. I line mine with a paper towel, or lint free dish towel just to be sure none the the residue from whatever buttery thing I baked last doesn't stick to the leaves.
And the best way to dry herbs is...in the back of your car! Put the baking sheet of herbs in the back of your car, out of direct sunlight. After a day or two (depending on the heat) test your herbs for crispiness, when they are completely crispy dry, store them at room temperature in an air tight container for winter use.
This is a little (okay, ALOT) gimmicky, and I distain gimmick with every ounce of my being, but considering I have actually done this two years running, and it doesn't involve the purchase of overly specific equipment (assuming you own a car), I'm just going to own up to my sensational attention grabbiness and recommend that you try it. In the past I've discussed drying herbs in a warm oven. Works great, as long as you keep an eye on it. You want the over to stay warm enough to dry out the leaves, but not get so warm that it blackens them, which can be a little tricky. The back of the car seams to be the goldilocks sweet spot. Not too hot, and not too cold.