06 May 2016

This "area 51" will be a butterfly garden

For as long as I can remember I've been an enthusiastic fan of community gardens, but this year for the first time I applied for, and was granted, a plot here in a Madison suburb.  I have plot #51 in the Badger Prairie Community Garden.

Those unfamiliar with community gardening can read typical guidelines here.  All participants at our garden are expected to perform six hours of community service; I'll be working with the compost group on Tuesday evenings.

We are well past the last frost date, so it's time to get to work.  First, there are some weeds from last year to remove...

My neighbors clearly had a head start preparing their gardens, and I didn't want my plot to become a seed bank for unwanted vegetation for them, so this afternoon I hand-tilled and hand-dug about two wheelbarrowsful of weeds, which cleared about two-thirds of the 20' x 20' plot (photo taken earlier in the process); hope to finish tomorrow.

Next I'll need to determine the planting areas and walking access, and start seeding.  This past Christmas my stocking was stuffed with seed packets for dill, fennel, parsley, and carrot - all favored by the Black Swallowtail.  This garden is located near a lot of undeveloped prairie and fields, so I'm hoping that swallowtails will find this cornucopia of food plants and oviposit, and that I can find the eggs or early instars before the birds and wasps do.

I'll post some followups as the summer progresses.


Weeding finished (I left a few of what I think are nonagressive daisy-like wildflowers), and about six wheelbarrowloads of compost hand-tilled into the area.  Now I need to put a layer of woodchips down where I want to have my walking areas, then I'll be ready to plant the seeds.  Lots of work so far, but this is the hard part; the rest will be less labor-intensive and more enjoyable.


  1. I look forward to reading your updates on this project!

  2. Wonderful. I've got fennel seeds in, as well as a bulb from trader joes. Found some wee bee balm plants that I'm hoping will take. Lots of lemon balm - which bees and wasps love, as well as scarlet flax for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Tiny spot of land, but as much variety as possible.

    May you have multitudes of winged visitors.

  3. Thank you so much. I've lived in apartments for years and miss gardening at my dad's house. I moved last year from a place with excellent CSAs to a place with poor ones and I don't have enough outside area to do more than a few pots. I just looked up "community garden" and found out there's one near me that I'm eligible to use.

  4. Since you're talking about gardens. Let me introduce you to the concept of Dacha Дача https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dacha
    It was one of few things related to land in USSR which you could own.

  5. What enormous plots in your community garden! I'm on the board for our community garden and due to the soil conditions, all 50 are raised beds, approximately 12'x3' but as we have two growing seasons in Tucson, they can be quite productive for their size. I'm currently growing 6 varieties of tomatoes, basil, melons and peppers and parsley. I'm looking forward to reading about what you will be growing in the months ahead. Happy gardening!

  6. I'm struggling to find an analogy, but wouldn't a butterfly garden be kind of like raising mice in an elephant zoo. I realize my bias as having been taught to pick various larvae from potato and cabbages as a kid.
    Not sure if the focus of community gardens is recreation or agriculture, but maybe some farfalla count as beneficial over all.

    1. A valid question, anon.

      What you plucked from cabbages were probably the larvae of the Cabbage White butterfly, which is a recognized agricultural pest for a variety of garden and farm plants. I'm not sure about the larvae on your potatoes - most likely moth larvae I would bet.

      The community garden is already quite well populated with butterflies, because the rules here specify only organic gardening methods (no pesticides, herbicides).

      My plot will (hopefully) attract Black Swallowtails, which are not much of a pest because of the low levels of infestation. What I will do is remove the caterpillars from the garden when they are a reasonable size and finish rearing them in the screen porch at our house, affording them protection from predatory birds and wasps during the final caterpillar stages and as a chrysalis. When they eclose as butterflies I'll set them free from our house, several miles from the gardens.

      I'm also going to post a sign offering people who find caterpillars on their plants to toss them into my garden if they don't want them.

    2. Thanks for the explanation. Only mentioned potatoes because of many a summer evening spent collecting yellow striped beetles not butterflies.

  7. The community garden in Madison (Nebraska) I helped to start also uses 20x20 plots for beginners, and a double plot for those who are in good standing with experience.

    Of course, tillable land is a little easier to come by in our 3000 person town than in your neck of the wood.

  8. Will you post videos about weird and interesting things flying around "Area 51"?


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