Controlling disease in outdoor settings

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  • #15262

    jenh
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    As I wind up my first season raising monarchs, I am looking for some suggestions on managing disease in an outdoor setting as I think at the end of a very busy and crowded summer and fall I may be seeing signs of trouble. All the butterflies (less 1) turned out quite well, and the cat population in the garden has dwindled, as I expected it to later in the fall. But what troubles me is the last dozen caterpillars – in all stages – did not fare well during the past two weeks and all but two have died. Several folded over and deflated, others went quite dark and curled up and died a few days later. At first I thought perhaps the nights were just too cold but this is Auckland and it’s not that cold here. I read up and these sound more like symptoms of the common diseases that affect monarchs.

    So I would like to do what I can to deter the spread of disease so next spring I can raise more monarchs in the garden. I have looked all over forums for suggestions, but they seem focused on indoor or laboratory situations. I am not keen to put bleach on plants in the garden, and dread having to upturn several wine barrels full of mature swan plants and wildflowers I have been cultivating for years. If I ensure no more eggs / no more cats grow on the plants for the winter, does anyone think this will be sufficient to reduce the load? Do I have to destroy the swan plants too (no small $ investment there)?

    Any comments are welcome. Cheers!

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    Jacqui
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    Hi Jen

    It’s all perspective, really. In a balanced garden or habitat there are peaks and troughs of different species, but relatively equal amounts of butterflies to all those things we don’t particularly like – whatever you consider a “foe” of a butterfly – such as disease.

    When you have a monoculture, you are creating the perfect habitat for all those things that like to dine off whatever your monoculture is. A “traditional” dairyfarmer has cows and knows that cows convert clover and ryegrass into milk. So the farmer doesn’t want the farm growing things that aren’t clover or ryegrass – and of course then the cows are lacking in minerals that they’d get from other “weeds”, so they’re more susceptible to disease. And cows need to wind their tongue around the grass/clover and so the cover crop needs to be long enough, and so the clover flea thrives… and on it goes.

    So in a butterfly garden, you do need a certain amount of those things to keep everything in balance. If you plant a “hedge” of milkweed, all the things that dine on Monarch butterflies are going to have a field day – so make it difficult by planting “clumps” of host plants, and make sure there are other plants around them to create a barrier beween the next “clump”.

    Healthy soil is another thing to focus on. Healthy soil gives you healthy plants. I mulch and compost everything I can lay my hands on… when I take my dog to the dogwash I bring home dog hair. From time to time I “cover up” what’s on the surface of my garden with old cartons, especially good just before it rains. I sometimes put my weeds or lawn clippings into the cartons – and let them make their own compost right on the surface of the soil. It would be great to be collecting fallen leaves right now and using those as a mulch. Seaweed if you visit the beach.

    Well, that’s a few thoughts from me. Hope they make sense!

    Oh – and you’d find you’d learn a lot from the next Create Your Own Butterfly Garden/Habitat Course, starts on 1 May, and it’s all on line.

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