Garden lore

“ My garden is an honest place. Every tree and every vine are incapable of concealment, and tell after two or three months exactly what sort of treatment they have had.”

Journals by Ralph Waldo Emerson (published 1909-1913)

??????????????????????????????? The very hungry monarch caterpillars

There is something bravely optimistic in the sight of a diaspora of monarch caterpillars heading away from a swan plant they have totally stripped, in search of another food source. This is even more so if you know there are no more swan plants around and judging by online searches and discussions, the state of the monarchs’ food supplies at this time of the year is causing a great deal of angst.

Do not panic. Reach for slices of pumpkin instead. We have done it here in one crisis year with good success rates. The NZ monarch butterfly website ( tells me that you can also use cucumber and courgette. But these options are not a complete diet and are only suitable for caterpillars which are already half grown, or about 10 days old.

What we did was to confine the caterpillars to an extremely large carton (so they didn’t head off looking for swan plants) with plenty of twiggy sticks so they could pupate and hang as cocoons successfully. We replaced the sliced pumpkin every day or two. Being caterpillars, they feed constantly from one end and excrete from the other – their poos were an astonishing orange.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.