WOW! I went outside in June last year to collect some herbs for my lunch salad. I have a wild patch of dill that grows in my herb garden in front of my home and there in the middle of the dill was this beautiful caterpillar. This was a big deal to me and was very exciting. I have been a vegetable gardener in some way or another for my entire life. At times I have had a few containers of vegetables or a small front yard of a small urban city lot to grow some tomatoes. However, it has only been the past six years that I have become really serious about gardening and became a Master Gardener.
In Wisconsin to become a Master Gardener you take 10-12 weeks of courses and then a big test to see how much you have learned or more like how much there is to learn that you don't know! It was at this time that I started to have more interest in flowers that attract butterflies and pollinators. I did not have a lot of bees around to pollinate the vegetables and had resorted to hand pollinating the squash. I increased the varieties of herbs and flowers in my landscape and let some plants to go seed to see who would show up from the pollinator world to check out the different plants. It is amazing how quickly the local ecosystem can change. I also volunteered at the Milwaukee Zoo Butterfly Habitat where I saw beautiful containers filled with flowers for butterflies and I planted my own. http://fyi.uwex.edu/sewmg/files/2011/01/butterfly-gardens-in-pots-2012.pdf
In 2015 I focused on butterflies and planted dill, curry plant, multiple varieties of parsley as well as two big pots of flowers for butterflies. When mama butterfly is flying around looking for a place to lay some of her eggs, she will only pick the plants that are host plants for her that her little caterpillars will eat. Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed and swallowtails lay their eggs on dill, parsley, carrots and fennel. These are called host plants. After the caterpillar turns into a butterfly through metamorphosis they will feed off of a variety of flowers or nectar plants but will return to lay eggs on only the host plant.
Back to my original caterpillar. I decided to raise beautiful caterpillar inside the house, protected in a butterfly habitat.
I put the caterpillars and the dill in the butterfly habitat. First I lined the bottom of the habitat with paper towel. They do eat and they do poop, don't say that I didn't warn you! You can keep the dill in a water tube like the ones that come with fresh cut flowers so you do not have to change it as often. The little buggers eat a lot! Just like that book The Hungry Caterpillar.
After a few days the caterpillar well start to move to the top off the habitat and here it is helpful to have a small branch or two. They will enter the first stage of pupa.
The caterpillar, when full grown and finished with eating, will move to the top of the habitat, form a chrysalis and will stay there for 7 - 12 days. This chrysalis is also called a pupa. One day you will see movement in the chrysalis and the butterfly will start to emerge. It is very important that when the butterfly emerges that the habitat is not moved or disturbed. If a new butterfly falls before it's wings have expanded and dried a little, it can be devastating to the butterfly as their wings do not heal. Within the next 2-3 hours the butterfly will have time to dry it's wings and be ready to fly. Ultimately, they should be released within 24 hours or they will need a nectar flower in their habitat to eat. If the temperature is below 60-65 degrees (15 - 19 Celsius) or if there are heavy rains in the near future, you may want to delay releasing the butterfly.
To release, simply move the habitat outside and open up the top. You can also allow the butterfly to rest on your finger before release as long as you do not touch the wings. Here is the video of our release. What a great experience!