Thursday, July 30, 2020

Painted Lady Butterflies and Mallow

The Painted Lady Butterfly, or Vanessa cardui, is one of the most common butterflies in the United States. In doing a search, I was pretty surprised to see that this butterfly has a worldwide distribution. It seems that this species has figured out how to adapt to various climates and multiple food sources.

Fairfield and Vacaville California were within the migration route of a group of Painted Lady butterflies in the late spring/early summer of 2019. Besides utilizing thistle and thistle-type plants, the Painted lady also utilizes the leaves of mallow as a foodsource.

Mallow is a very common weed in Northern California and can often be found as a very common weed in this area. I recently discovered that it is a very effective edible plant to aid in digestion as well. There are a number of people who forage leaves from mallow for salads and cooking. 


Though Painted Lady butterflies will often lay their eggs on top of the leaves, they sometimes lay eggs on the underside of the leaves as well. The young caterpillars begin completely black and slightly fuzzy. Over time, they develop more fuzz and color until they pupate in their chrysalis form.

Fortunately, I happened to save some eggs from a nearby undeveloped lot (which was weed-whacked shortly thereafter). The little caterpillars that hatched from these were raised until almost full-grown. Being that my youngest daughter (who I collected the caterpillars for) did not take very good care of them and being that I was very busy, I saved half a dozen for us to finish raising while we put the rest on some obliging mallow plants.

Along the sidewalk of an empty lot.

The color of both the caterpillars and the adults seemed to vary a bit. I'm not exactly sure if that means that one is a male while the other is a female or that I had a couple different subspecies that I was raising.

If your children are young, and you get the chance - definitely raise some butterflies. Raising small insects that grow quickly can be almost magical for children. Although most children enjoy it, I found that as children mature, the novelty can definitely be much less appreciated.

Mallow next to a walkway

Mallow along a path.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Striped Carosello Leccese, Part 2

By late June, I began to recognize these Striped Carosello Leccese as being both beautiful and delicious. I additionally noticed that the fruit that was exposed to more sun would have darker stripes earlier in their development, while those that grew in more shaded areas would not show any dark bands until later in their development.

Striped Carosello Leccese, June 24th, 2019.

June 25th

The way in which my Carosello grew has much to do with the available heat and light. The plants that had the most heat and light (near the greenhouse) grew much faster than those that were closer to the southern, more shady part of my garden. Additionally, the plants that grew on the southern side of the garden were more likely to be munched on by critters.

As you might have determined by now, I could not get enough of these carosello. Both to look at and to eat, these are a delight.

June 27th

Speaking of critters, There were many times in which the woodlice (pill bugs) would eat off the flower end of the cucumber. For a while this became a big pain. The woodlice probably took about 6-12 fruit over the course of the first planting by this method.

One strange thing that occurred to multiple melon leaves that I grew this year were strange watering marks of the veins under the leaves. I’m not really sure why this occurs. It may have something to do with too much water in relation to nutrients or because of some other factor that I’m not familiar with. It may have something to do with a magnesium deficiency. If you happen to know anything about this, please let me know.

Additionally, the woodlice would burrow into the fruit from below and bite holes into the tender flesh. Though the fruit is exceptionally good in flavor (at least in my opinion) I have heard theories that the most healthy plants are able to defend themselves against small pests. I’m not sure if the problem with woodlice in my garden is because of a high population of these things from sifted compost or because there is some compound in the Carosello fruit that they are attracted to.

July 1st

Part way through the first growout of this variety, I decided to start a couple more plants. I purchased some more seed and started some transplants, which I put into the soil with some sifted compost. Again, I was very grateful for all of the leaves I was able to harvest in the fall. By the spring, it significantly improved how everything grew.

July 4th - Almost as good as fireworks (=

July 6th

As could be expected, the shortest Striped Carosello Leccese fruits were the first to expand and mature. The ones on the edge of the garden (where the most sun was) also developed some very dark bands.

July 8th

July 12th. Carosello going for a swim to ensure they are clean.

As each type of Carosello matures differently, I would definitely like to explain a little. Sometimes vegetables that produce fruit early in their lifecycle do not taste as good as those that produce a high quantity of foliage prior to fruit production. This is not to say that all vegetables that produce a lot of foliage are much later than their faster counterparts (though they are faster overall). However, short season varieties of vegetables can sometimes lack a lot of flavor when compared with their slower-maturing counterparts.

Though the Striped Carosello Leccese is significantly faster to mature than the Painted Serpent (AKA Striped Armenian) it does mature a little slower than the Light Carosello Leccese. However, the texture, color and flavor complexity is much more developed in the striped Leccese than in the light Leccese.

July 20th - first harvest

Back on July 18th, removing all lower leaves before succession planting.

July 19th - Second Crop of Striped Carosello Leccese to transplant

Old plants to compost.

Another thing to keep in mind about this variety is that there are different lengths to choose from. As I have not stabilized the fruit length (something I am considering as a option to select) the fruit comes in various lengths from shorter to longer. The shorter fruit produces earlier on shorter vines. So, if one still wanted to consume this fruit to mature quickly, they would just grow the shorter Striped Leccese. However, one very nice thing about having a variety of lengths is that – at least for the home grower – this means that one variety planted at the same time can produce a crop for a longer period of time with the shortest fruit being produced first, the medium coming on second and the longest fruit being produced at the end of the season.

July 31st - fruit from a remaining plant.

August 8th. This is the little plant that was transplanted on July 1st.

August 8th. These striped Leccese were sown earlier in the shade.

For me, this is one of my all-time favorite cucumbers. I was amazed by its color, flavor, texture, juiciness and taste. Not that the taste was like a super-sweet melon, but that it was something that I could have again and again – without getting tired of.