Every year, we get the pleasure of talking to customers and neighbors about the Monarch butterfly migration, where to find (or plant!) milkweed, how to care for caterpillars, and when to release the butterflies. It seems that everyone in the county and community is aware of Monarch conservation programs and just needs a few tips about rearing. In case we are busy restocking or have a line at the register, I thought it would be a good idea to offer a few tips and resources here on the blog.
First off, the absolute BEST local resource for all things Monarch is the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. Willowsford Conservancy and Willowsford Farm have partnered with them in many ways over the years. If you are looking to purchase milkweed seedlings, butterfly enclosures, or detailed instructions on how to care for the caterpillars, visit their website.
Secondly, here are some quick facts and answers to the most common questions we get:
Where can I find milkweed for my caterpillar?
Everywhere! Despite changes in the landscape, milkweed is a determined “weed” and once you learn to recognize the plant, you will start seeing it everywhere and easily feed your caterpillar. Spend time on the LWC website, download a picture of “Common Milkweed” on your phone and take it with you on a walk. We do have common milkweed growing in our butterfly bed in the Farm Garden as well, but we ask that you leave it there for the butterflies we nurture. We’re happy to send you home with one of our Milkweed & Monarchs coloring sheets though.
Also, note that the wet meadow next door to the Farm Garden has a lot of a plant called Hemp Dogbane, that resembles milkweed but will not feed your caterpillar. The butterfly bed is right inside the fence next to the new parking lot. That’s the plant you want to get to know!
I found a caterpillar. Now what?
If you have chosen to bring a caterpillar inside to nurture, you will need a couple of things. An enclosure, to keep it from wandering off. A steady supply of milkweed. Paper towels. A plastic container filled with water with holes poked in it to keep the milkweed fresh. And a few minutes each day to clean out the frass (also known as “caterpillar poop.”
Print these instructions and get ready for a very cool adventure.
Do you sell monarch caterpillars or eggs here?
No, we do not, BUT you are welcome to look for eggs and caterpillars in our butterfly bed. Keep in mind, however, that our butterfly bed is not in danger of being mowed, so depending on how many caterpillars you intend to care for, consider saving some from lawn mowers first.
Busy parents take note: We try and keep an enclosure at the Farm Stand for everyone to observe (without having another pet to care for). So if you are shopping weekly, you are bound to witness some magic.
Can I release my butterflies here?
Absolutely! While our butterfly bed has mostly host plants, the rest of the garden is full of nectar plants. Please feel free to release your butterflies in the garden or even specifically into one of the zinnia beds #photoopp.
My caterpillars keep dying. What am I doing wrong?
Everything that is alive around us is a miracle. We often forget how fragile lives really are. Caterpillars are no different. Handling them is a no no. Applying bug spray anywhere near them is another no no. And then, even if you are doing everything right, viruses and bacteria happen. Spend some time on the Loudoun Wildlife website and consider a couple things: Temperature, sun/shade, freshness of the milkweed, history of the porch (did you set ant traps recently), etc. These are delicate little creatures that have survived for a very long time without us, so the goal is to provide them safe place to eat, grow, form their chrysalis and emerge as butterflies. Resist the urge to cuddle them!
If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. The Conservancy has lots of knowledge in this area too! firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you’d simply like to see some monarchs, spend some time in the Farm Garden. The store is not always open, but the garden is open for exploration dawn to dusk.