September, belatedly.


Three ginormous and terribly ugly spiders have usurped the garden. They’ve built webs over the tomato plants and sneer at me when I approach. The last time I attempted a harvest, one managed to crawl onto my sleeve: I squealed like a piglet, dropped my colander of tomatoes and ran for cover. I immediately decided that gardening season was over.


Instead, I spent September tending to a solitary milkweed plant and a small family of monarch caterpillars. They came to me by way of Monarque sans frontière, an organization dedicated to saving the monarch butterfly. The school I work for kindly bought a monarch raising kit for anyone interested.

My kit came with five smallish caterpillars and one chrysalis. (Butterflies form chrysales, moths form cocoons. Who knew? The life cycle of the monarch is amazing. Read about it and sign up for your own kit next year.)

Over several days, my beautiful jade chrysalis turned pale green, then black. And then, this happened. It was amazing. I called everyone into my office to proclaim that I’d just given birth.

I tagged my monarch and released him with great fanfare in the garden the next morning.

Under the gaze of a group of wholly disinterested students.

“Look! This one’s male. See the two dots on the lower wings? Those are scent glands. That’s how you know.”

“Yeah, whatever lady, can we go now?”

Baby boy was strong and happy and took off right away. Godspeed butterfly WAC010! Or should I say, ¡vaya con dios! (He did, initially, fly north. Hope he’s figured out that Mexico’s the other way.)


Trigger warning: things don’t turn out well for the caterpillars. If you are sensitive to caterpillar death (like I am!), don’t read on.


My other babies did good for a while: munching away, molting like champions. But then their activity slowed. They seemed sluggish and disinterested.

I tried to encourage them with gentle, loving pokes. I would softly blow air on their curious little faces and they would arch their backs up at me as if to say: “yes! don’t give up on us! we loooove you!”.

But one by one, I found them overturned and deflated on the ground of their cage.

Ophryocystis elektroscirrha is to blame. A protozoan parasite. It devastated most of our caterpillar population this year.


Here’s hoping WAC010 and his peers make it to Mexico safe and sound.

Get down to that romance business soon, butterflies. The future depends on you.


UPDATE: The Montreal insectarium has decided to end their monarch raising program. They have determined that the risk of disease/pest is too high.

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Baby cuke closeup2

It has been hot as anything here the past few days. The kind of Montreal heat that glazes you, head to toe, in an unshakeable and most unbecoming sheen. The kind of heat that turns kitties belly-up on wood floors and ceramic tile.

The heat, the sun and the (all too brief) rainstorms have set the garden into overdrive. It’s usually around this midsummer time that I give up and admit defeat. The weeds will grow, the bugs will munch, the tomatoes will tangle, the paws will dig. In spite of me.

July has pushed the garden past that tipping point and it’s all I can do to not lay down prostrate in the grass and let the brambles and vines overtake me.

Thankfully, a few supersized cherry tomatoes have started making their way into my evening salads: little bursts of sunshine. A token gesture for the losing party, I suppose.

Cucumber leaves

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Deep Red Flower

Deep Red Flowers

The garden is in full pubescent growth this week.

Basil in ground

Plants are stretching their limbs, uncurling their roots, standing up straight.

Tomato Plant and Cage

Yellow tomato flower

Cucumber Seedling

Purple Iris

Purple Iris and Red Coleus

But as I’ve learned, with all imported plants come imported pests. I now fight a war on three fronts:

  • The red lily beetles continue their advance, regrouping and multiplying on two smaller lilies that were hidden under the peony. The adult population has been greatly reduced by continued squish raids, but a small regiment of gluttonous larvae have been building up strength.
  • What seemed from a distance to be a lovely dill flower growing amongst the coleus, turned out to be a rabid infestation of arrogant little yellow spider mites. Twice daily sprayings of soapy water and/or cayenne water have discouraged them temporarily. I remain vigilant.
  • A solitary pair of (what I believe are) yellow and black striped cucumber beetles have been spotted on the zucchini. One was eliminated; the other remains at large.

Red Coleus

Edible count, planted on May 23rd, for records’ sake:

6 cherry tomatoes of varying kinds; 1 regular sized yellow tomato; 2×2 lebanese cucumbers; 2×2 pickling cucumbers; tray of snap peas; 2 zucchinis; parsley; dill; cilantro; basil

Extra pea, basil, cilantro and dill seeds were planted a few days later.

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Spring and nemeses

Close-up of lily and peony sprout

“Plant one row for yourself, and one for the universe” I’ve read. This is because there will always be some loss from either insect, animal, disease or bad luck. We should accept it, even expect it.

I try to keep this in mind. For the most part, I have a monk-like sensibility about these things. I feel for all creatures of the universe. I try my best to be kind, fair, flexible and empathetic.

Red Lily Beetle on Leaf

But my empathy only extends so far. I mean, how much can you really care for a creature when its offspring devour your flowers and cover themselves in their own excrement?

Poopy little jelly blobs.   Voracious little booger babies.

So the springtime battle begins. I picked off and squished about a dozen of these red lily beetles, two of whom were in the process of making more lily beetles (if you get my drift). I found three egg deposit sites and wiped those clean. For a few minutes, I played God in their beetle world: so much death in so little time. I’ll admit, only a tiny part of me felt bad.

I’ll get you, you hungry little scoundrels!

Spring plant against chainlink

Close up Peony sprout

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