Q&A With Eli Snyder
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Question: What is this caterpillar?
Answer: This is a monarch butterfly larvae.
Eastern monarchs are a migratory butterfly that travels between northern sites in the United States and Canada during the summer months and return south to high elevation sites in the mountains of Mexico during the winter. This migratory trip can be 2000-3000 miles. There is also a western monarch in the United States, which occur west of the Rocky Mountains and travel between the Northern Rockies and coastal California.
Monarchs are a pollinator species, just as are honeybees, other butterflies, and other bees, insects, and animals.
The migratory generation that makes the long trip south to Mexico congregates on trees, especially the Oyamel fir tree, to spend the cold season. They can sometimes congregate so densely that they break tree limbs. Once the temperature warms, these butterflies enter a reproductive stage and their offspring will begin the journey north again. They will stop at sites first in the southern U.S. to feed and reproduce. The generation that hatches will then travel north, landing at the next appropriate site, repeat the cycle, with each successive generation moving farther north into the U.S. and Canada, until seasonal cues signal the need to return south for winter.
In the U.S. and Canada, Eastern monarchs lay eggs on our native milkweed species such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). The larvae hatch and feed on these plants. Then they form a chrysalis where they pupate, or transform into butterflies, over two weeks’ time. Milkweeds contain a milky substance that is toxic to vertebrates, or animals with backbones, but not to monarchs. Instead they buildup concentrations of the substance, and this provides defense against predators.
While well-protected from predators, their populations are threatened by loss of milkweeds and other sources of nectar. These plants are often grown in meadows or roadsides, which do not generally coexist with well-manicured lawns or crop fields. As more of our land is highly managed, there is less land left for these plants. Estimates taken at overwintering sites in California and Mexico suggest that monarch populations have decreased by 90-97% over the last 20-25 years.
Citizens can support monarch populations by allowing roadside and meadow milkweed populations to grow, flower, and mature during the summer months, or by establishing monarch habitat wherever they have space. This may involve planting milkweeds that support monarch reproductive cycle or other flowers that provide nectar. Another way to support their population is by establishing butterfly gardens that provide nectar sources for butterflies. Flowers that bloom in late summer are an important source of fuel for the migratory population that makes the long trip back to Mexico. More information on establishing a butterfly garden.
Monarchs are a beautiful sign of the seasons changing.
Be it larvae feeding on milkweed or butterflies foraging on flower nectar, observing a monarch in your garden is a sign that you are providing habitat for pollinators and that they are in turn visiting your garden, perhaps helping to pollinate some of your flowers or food plants.
Question: When do I harvest my pears?
Answer: Unlike other fruits, pear should be harvested before they are completely ripe. When pears are left to ripen on the tree, they ripen from the inside our so the cores breakdown by the time the outer flesh is soft enough to eat. Also, the flesh becomes mealy. The correct time to harvest is when they are fully formed and when the pear, when tilted horizontally, break easily from the tree. If the stem does not break easily, wait a few days and try again. Bosc pears do not break easily before they ripen, so this method does not work for them. Another way to decipher the harvest time is to monitor fruit firmness. Commercial farmers track fruit firmess with pressure meters. Without this tool, you can estimate that the fruit is ready to harvest when they flesh goes from feeling like a baseball to feeling like a softball. Color can also be an indicator, but this is variable. A final indicator is the browning of lenticels on the surface of the fruit. Apples, pears, and some other plants have pore-like structures on their surface. Think of them like small specks on the fruit. They are white when the fruit is immature, and will turn brown when the fruit is mature. Following harvest, pears do best when they are cooled in a refrigerator and then placed at room temperature (65-75 degrees F) to finish ripening. This takes 4-10 days. The longer the pear stays in cold storage, the shorter the ripening period will be once they are placed at room temperature. As they ripen, the pears will turn softer and colors will change. Pears should be enjoyed fresh in their prime, or placed back in cold storage or preserved once they ripen.
For information on growing and preserving pears and other foods safely, contact us at the Caldwell Extension Center at 828-757-1290, Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Many safe canning and preservation recipes can also be found on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. If you have a prized garden crop or preserved good you would like to show off, consider entering into the Caldwell Agricultural Fair taking place this week. Horticulture, craft, baked, and preserved good entries will be accepted at the Exhibit Hall of the Caldwell Fairgrounds on Monday, September 18, 2018, 8 a.m.– noon and 3–7 p.m. Cash prizes are awarded to winning entries! Even if you do not enter, be sure to visit the fair this week. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and Saturday at 1 p.m.