Canada's Local Gardener Podcast Episode 12: Helen and Monarch Butterflies

Helen Hogue is a Winnipegger with an interesting hobby, or rather, passion. Helen raises monarch butterflies, from egg to adult, then sets them free. It is estimated that people like her increase the survival rate from 5 percent to 95 percent.

Dorothy and Shauna chat with Helen about her hobby and what is involved in making this happen.

Helen and Monarch Butterflies

Helen has a garden full of milkweed, which is the only food monarch caterpillars eat. She goes out daily in the summer, looking for monarch eggs on the leaves. When she finds an egg, she plucks the leaf and takes it inside. The leaf goes into a small container—right now she uses clear plastic condiment containers.

Helen and Monarch Butterflies

The egg, which is the size of the head of a pin, hatches, and a tiny caterpillar starts eating. And eating. Helen’s pets keep her busy: she brings them fresh food and cleans their living quarters several times per day. The caterpillar goes from smaller than 1/8 inch to 1-3/4 inches in about two weeks, ending at about 22 times the size. That’s a lot of milkweed!

Helen and Monarch Butterflies

Along the way, Helen moves the tiny guys from one per condiment container to several per enclosure. The enclosures are zip-up mesh cubes, about 24 inches high and 15 inches square, that can be bought on Amazon. To hold milkweed in the enclosures, she pokes a branch into the egg cells of an upside-down egg carton and fastens florists’ water bulbs at the bottom.

Helen and Monarch Butterflies

When the caterpillar gets to maximum size, it turns into a chrysalis, hanging (usually) from the top of the enclosure. It stays in this form for about two weeks, while miraculous things occur to make it a butterfly.

It is a fascinating avocation, and Dorothy and Shauna are as excited about it as Helen is.

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