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When I was a small child, I would spend fall days chasing butterflies. Forget butterfly nets we had our hands!We would spot them off in a field and start running. If I close my eyes, I can remember how the sun felt on my back. The grass between my toes and butterflies in colors of white, bright yellow, golden-yellow or mixtures of brown,orange and black being carried away by the wind. Once they would land we would quietly tiptoe till we were right above them, slowly cup our hands, hold our breath and lower our bodies as we gently captured a little magic!They were our floating fairies.

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Chasing butterflies gave us a quest which we achieved over and over as we ran from,field to field. We never hurt butterflies for that was the number one rule, to hold them very gently making sure not to cause any of their wings to be damaged. As a child that was all we needed. Sometimes we were gifted with the “pause” of a butterfly that decided to hang on our fingers a little bit longer as it prepared to float away. As they drifted off, we would watch in wonderment until we spotted another butterfly to catch. Our other rule was you never chased the same butterfly again,all accepted the golden rules of butterfly catching. Life was simple. It was perfect.

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I see the same butterflies we use to catch with our hands for hours as they still float by, and some of them eat holes in my Brassica plants! I now plant petunias and other flowers to help with their increased populations. I no longer chase those butterflies with my bare hands. Instead, I am busy building butterfly gardens in my urban potager.

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The other day, I went for a bike ride on the back waters of the Mississippi River where native flower and plants were blooming. I saw the most beautiful thing in the world, pairs of floating monarchs up and down the river!I have not seen that many in a long time due to their decline.

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“What we’re seeing here in the United States is a very precipitous decline of monarchs that’s coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. The first ones were introduced in 1997, soybeans first, than corn. By 2003, 2004, the adoption rate was approaching 50 percent,The use of Roundup ‘has effectively eliminated milkweed from almost all of the habitat monarchs used to use.’and then we really began to see a decline in monarchs. And the reason is that the most productive habitat for monarch butterflies in the Midwest, in the Corn Belt, was the corn and soybean fields [wheremilkweed, which monarchs feed on, grew]. Before Roundup-ready crops, weed control was accomplished by running a tiller through those fields and chopping up the weeds and turning over the soil, but not affecting the crops. The milkweed survives that sort of tillage to some extent. So there were maybe 20, 30, 40 plants per acre out there, enough so that you could see them, you could photograph them.Now you are really hard pressed to find any corn or soybeans that have milkweed in the fields. I haven’t seen any for years now because of the use of Roundup after they planted these crops. They have effectively eliminated milkweed from almost all of the habitat that monarchs used to use”  University of Kansas insect ecologist Orley R. “Chip” at MonarchWatch.org

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 The loss of habitat in the United States is what is contributing to the decline in monarchs. This spring I  cleared another area to plant some more milkweed(host plant for monarch) and native plants to support the monarch and other local butterflies. I counted four monarchs the other day while I was working in my garden. That is more than I have seen in years!

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There are two different categories of plants you need in your butterfly garden. You need  “host plants”  which butterflies lay their eggs on at the start of their life cycle. I would check for articles written for your growing zone/area so you make sure to integrate the right  “host”plants into your landscape. You then will need “nectar plants”  for your butterflies. Try to find which native nectar plants are best for your garden. I have found since I rotate crops in companion plantings a list for annual “nectar plants” is useful.  Native wild life supplies have a helpful list of annual plants. If you do an internet search, I am sure you can find others to add to your list.

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When I got home from my bike ride the other day, I headed out to our garden to get some work done.I started clearing my summer garden bed for fall planting when out of the corner of my eye. I spotted a floating monarch.It called to me, “Get your camera and chase me today!I ran inside, stumbling over my poor old dog and snatched my camera and ran outside to chase butterflies!

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The monarch floated by me again, teasing me as they always do! When I try to capture them with my camera, they decide to flit away because this time they are in control. I was not up for another chase, until out of the corner of my eye there was another monarch that floated right in front of me and tried to land on the same flower as another. The two monarchs twisted and turned around each other trying to both fit on a Tithonia rotundifolia, which is their favorite in my garden. I grabbed my camera and shot a picture just as a native bee decided he wanted to jump in the picture and mix it up too!A little out of focus but priceless moment!

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As I was shuffling through my flower beds, chasing these two butterflies another one shows up, and now I have three monarchs.I was having a day of monarch butterflies flying in twos and now 3’s! ….I have never had three monarchs in my garden at one time. I was not able to catch-all three,but I did capture the two, and then the 3rd one decided he would let me get up close!

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If you have ever tried to capture butterflies with your camera, you know they drift and hardly ever stop too long to give you a chance to line up your shot. Since I started  creating a butterfly friendly garden, I have seen more butterfly’s than other years. It appears they are arriving + staying for they daily tease me with their ” Can you catch me”!

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I found this wonderful documentary of the Monarch butterfly at Mercola.com. There is an article worth reading and other information about the monarch. It is well worth 20 minutes of your time + I would watch with a young child since it will instill a love for the monarch life cycle. Maybe raises some more butterfly lovers!

” The future of the monarchs as well as ALL of nature is in our hands”....Please this fall plant more milkweed for our Monarchs. We all can spare a small spot in our garden for a few milkweed plants and if you want build a small butterfly garden on your city lot. It  will make a difference.

MOnarchon-zinnia-2014IMG_6155I may not chase butterflies anymore with my bare hands, but they will always be nature’s fairies to me!

Written by Robbie

M.S. Education, , Organic Gardener, soil + nature lover, former modern dancer

41 comments

  1. What a wonderful post. Thank you very much for this. I chased butterflies as a child too. And I am concerned about the Monarchs. Haven’t seen many this year. Are those zinnias I see?

    1. It did not take much to entertain us kids back then:-)Yes those are zinnias. I found they love the heirloom zinnia Will Rogers ( circa 1940). I love red flowers:-) I planted milk weed last year in the back flower bed + the Tithonia rotundifolia which the monarchs float around all day is an annual they love! I guarantee if you plant those two you will get more. I had 4 this year + last year I was lucky if I saw one:-(

      http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/97/#b

      I tried the dwarf cultivar of this sunflower but hmmm..those grew up to 8 feet! I need to find a dwarf one since I find climbing on chairs to capture them is a bit risky. I almost fell a few times!

      1. Sorry that I’m smiling as I read your last two sentences, Robbie. Somehow, when flowers grow way taller than humans, and we have to climb up to photograph them, something seems a bit whacky!

  2. I am happy that there is so much attention for the butterflies. I see a lot more butterfly gardens being planted by people. I love your photos!

    1. I know it is soooooo uplifting to see people putting in butterfly gardens! I bet that is why I am seeing more. I cleared another spot to put in more “host” and “nectar” plants for next year. I want to eventually sit out there and have them floating all over! awww..thank you:-) I had to use a chair to reach the tall shots since those “dwart”-lol-were not dwarf orange sunflowers were tall! I almost fell over a few times-lol-I must of looked funny to my neighbors standing on a chair ( and almost falling over) to get a shot of a butterfly:-)

    1. 🙂 so glad:-)I have to plant shorter monarch friendly nectar plants, next year since chasing them between the tall nectar plant is a bit challenging!

  3. What wonderful moments you have captured Robbie! My favorite is the Monarch and the bee together. Last year I saw my first Monarch very late in the season on none other but Mexican Sunflower and vowed to grow them every year. They seem to love those flowers. I have several drifting through my garden this Autumn, but sadly not that many butterflies this year – again. We had a lot of rain – the weather certainly did not cooperate. I just cut down all my volunteer Milkweed in my front walkway as it was looking like the haunted house on the block – but I saved all the pods and expanded the bed along the Nice Driveway and threw them in there with a layer of compost on top. I hope they pop up there next year! They’ll probably get blown around and pop up everywhere but that’s okay. Time for me to get in the garden and chase my own butterflies …

    1. I know that Mexican sunflower is a butterfly, bee magnet!One year I did not have it and it was greatly missed. The seed I got this year was suppose to be “dwarf” -do ya think that is dwarf????!!! Yikes. I need to be more careful and find a better seed company. I had some red + yellow tithonia which I was so excited about but they were ALL orange, which is fine with me, but I wanted dwarf so I could get to my beans behind them-lol
      I have 3 different types of milkweed so it is interesting to see what I will get next year. I love Joe Pye,too for butterflies…Happy Gardening:-)
      My front is looking like a haunted house, too. It is so dry we have not had rain in weeks!

  4. Oh, I learn a lot from Mercola! He is the reason I stopped taking cholesterol drugs and began working on lifestyle changes. I don’t think he agrees with a Vegan diet but I still listen to what he has to say.

    1. I never had read that site before, but pretty neat stuff as I looked around:-) Good to hear you are doing so well…I am not vegan but I do eat more plant food than my husband:-)

  5. This wonderful post reminded me that 20 years ago I used to ‘raise’ monarchs. I grew swan plants in pots on my deck amongst the roses and citrus trees and hanging baskets full of annuals. Every summer we would watch the caterpillars feed and grow and spin their cocoons. And after a while we would be treated to the sight of emerging butterflies who flew away, but who also returned to feed and leave their eggs again. I had to constantly replace the swan plants as they were eaten to the quick by the caterpillars! But it was worth it for those gorgeous creatures who accompanied us so closely through the final days of summer! Your photos are beautiful as usual – and I can feel your joy at chasing them to capture their beauty. The pic with the bee included is just lovely – blurred or not!!

    1. Oh, Pauline your life is so rich with things learned + filled with such beauty!I am always amazed by your stories and how different, but similiar we all are:-) We often times find beauty in the same things. It gives me comfort when you stop by to share:-) for I have no doubt my neighbors, wonder what the nutty lady is doing climbing on chairs to reach tall plants! lol. I have fallen and I am sure they are chuckling, but at least I make them smile!
      I love it when you and others share stories for I am in such awe of all the wonderful people, I meet in this “cyber village”( your coined term which I adore) that enjoy doing the same things or learning from one another. Our cyber village is getting larger:-)
      But I have to ask, “What is a swan plant?” It is so interesting how we have similiar things but call them by different names. Is it a milkweed?

      1. I had to google it to try and find out. Yes, apparently they are of the same family, but the plant we call ‘swan’ [due to it’s swan shaped seed pods which we used to pick and float down the stream when we were young] is the variety commonly available here. I’ll have to try and find some images later on to see if they look similar.

        I love our little community – it is a source of great delight to me 🙂

      2. How cool is that:-) You use to make swans out of them and float them down a stream. My mother told us about dolls she created with the hollyhock flower + I use to take all the flowers, twigs, stones and what I could find to build little troll houses and village with my neighbor friend. Oh to be a kid-life is grand!
        This community delights me too!

    1. I risk my life to “capture” those “teasers!:-) But so worth it:-) Funny thing about that shot it was one of those …..”snap” “snap”….did I get it…gosh I sure hope so…and sometimes you get close!lol

  6. Wonderful post as always Robbie, love your childhood memories and photos. And you know the great thing is kids are still chasing butterflies today. This very evening I was helping out at a local ladybirds group (like your girl scouts in America) and we were making ‘butterflies’ from card and colourful pipe-cleaners. And one of the little six year olds told me she was chasing butterflies today in her school grounds. How cool is that:)

    1. That is just TOO COOL!!!! I sure like “ladybirds group” better than “girlscouts”…so connected with nature your name:-) OH well, I diagress…How neat to hear a child still chases butterflies on school grounds during recess. I remember doing that when we were kids. There was a large field behind our elementary school and we would chase them for the entire time, they let us outside for recess-life was great!Thank you for sharing that story-made my day to know there are still little butterfly chasers!

  7. I really enjoyed this. A wonderful post and stunning photographs. What a magnificent butterfly. It is good to hear that people are starting to plant the flowers it needs for survival. I hope it will have a chance as more and more people become aware of its plight.

    1. Hi Choris:-) I can’t think of a summer/fall season without monarchs dancing across my garden. I just came inside from moving some of my fall salad seedlings and a few monarchs were just dancing all around me, as I worked-it made my work a lot more enjoyable!

  8. Robbie, I read this post with tears in my eyes. You know how important the Monarch project is to me and here was such a positive sign that efforts on their behalf are bearing fruit. Long live the King! 🙂 A delightful post with so many wonderful photos. Thanks so much for sharing your “fairy” visitors with us!

    1. awww…Eliza you are special! I still need to do more:-)Have you seen more monarch this year? I am seeing results which is inspiring me to do more! I will preach planting milkweed around here next year! I am keeping count this year and will report back to you next year-Monarch watch 2015 I want 7 at least:-) I will be putting in my new native garden with a variety of milkweed and nectar rich plants:-) I had them flying all (four) in my yard today:-) It will be interesting to see how many, I get next year with all the new milkweed and nectar plants I put in:-) Long Live the King!!!!

      1. 😦 that is sad…but there is next year and if we all put milkweed out there and nectar plants there will be more than 3 next year, I can count on! I was working today in the garden + my 3 kept floating around by me as they went between nectar plants…so comforting:-) We won’t give up:-)

  9. Thank you so much for this FABULOUS post! What a magical time you must have had with those beautiful butterflies! I could sense your excitement from here and they are so stunning! Your photos are popping with colour. You have a magical touch with your words and pictures and I find them totally charming and your enthusiasm totally infectious!
    Thank you,
    Karen.

    1. awww..you are very kind. I love this time of year and love to visit your blog. It is filled with such beauty:-) I keep missing your posts in my reader. I have to check again and make sure
      they are showing up. I am roasting more veggies to do your soup-yum!

  10. So beautiful & heartfelt, Robbie! You know I am well & truly on the same bandwagon with you. I have a few more butterfly & other pollinator posts coming up, too. Together we can all speak up for those creatures who cannot speak for themselves. Thanks for sharing this at migration time!

    1. Kindred spirits at heart:-) many of us over the cyber fence care about these beautiful creature! I am counting the increase in my yard since I have been putting more host and nectar attractive plants for butterflies. It is like being in a wonderland this time of year with floating butterflies,bees, 4 monarchs( most I have seen in years in my yard every day!), golden finches jetting about + all the other fall critters that work and store up energy for their jobs soon/winter survival. It is an exciting time of year!

  11. Natures Fairies! Your photos are the most beautiful ever ! Thank you for the reminder of thinking about plants now that I need to check into for my garden planning . I’m doing my Fall clean up now and dreaming of next spring already! It’s been a fun season–your blog has inspired much of it 🙂

    1. awww Mandy:-) I am planning mine for next year too. I want to change some things and not repeat some things-lol It is good we all inspire each other over the cyber fence:-)

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