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Identify and look after cute, creepy caterpillars

Published: Sunday, July 29, 2001

Caterpillars are cool creatures -- even ones that like to devour my plants.

My favorite is the spicebush swallowtail with its green to yellow body and large orange and black eyespots. He looks so prehistoric -- in a nonthreatening, cute sort of way. I call him the cartoon character of the caterpillar world. Naturally, he nibbles on spicebush, along with some sassafras for dessert.

The caterpillar that transforms itself into the red-spotted purple butterfly looks more like a bird dropping than a caterpillar. The cream caterpillar, which has a humped back with a darker saddle, feeds on apple, cherry, hawthorn, poplar and willow.

The ravenous monarch butterfly larva is white with yellow and black stripes and long black filaments at either end. It adores milkweed.

If you have not learned how to recognize these precious predators in your gardens, there's an upcoming event that promises the perfect opportunity to schmooze with some of the best-educated butterfly enthusiasts in Hampton Roads.

Butterfly Festival 2002 -- Caterpillars are Cool takes place 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Sponsored by the Butterfly Society of Virginia, the family-oriented event will teach you how to make caterpillar-rearing cages, how to create a backyard butterfly habitat and how to identify caterpillars and butterflies common to home gardens. A plant sale features hard-to-find nectar and host plants, books, special Caterpillars are Cool T-shirts and novelties.

Speakers and topics include:

* 11:30 a.m., tips on identifying butterflies by Bill Shealy

* 12:30 p.m., gardening to attract butterflies by Jeanne Pettersen

* 1:30 p.m., finding and raising caterpillars by Ruth Burch

* 2:30 p.m., self-defense, butterfly style, by Teta Kain

You also can enjoy guided tours of the Bristow Butterfly Garden and the adjacent four-season garden filled with wildflowers frequented by butterflies.

Admission to the gardens and festival is $1 with a special discount coupon. To get coupons, contact Ruth Burch at 499-6789 or e-mail bfly-society-ruth@; Don Snipes, 625-7143 or e-mail; or Jim Hutson, 479-9674 or e-mail jwhut1@ The gardens are located at 6700 Azalea Garden Road; take the Norview Avenue exit off Interstate 64 and follow the signs. They are adjacent to Norfolk International Airport.

Remember, the Virginia Living Museum's butterfly house with educational pollination station also is open through summer; call 595-1900.

HELP KIDS GARDEN. I spent part of a nice summer afternoon with children who like to garden at the C. Waldo Scott Center on 31st Street in Newport News. The kids, ages 6-12, eagerly told me about their favorite flowers and vegetables. We chatted about good and bad bugs and why bees and butterflies are important in our gardens. After we potted up some salvia plants in cups for them to take home, I visited their vegetable and flower garden along a protected outdoor corridor at Huntington Middle School.

These kids are great gardeners, raising everything from tomatoes and carrots to watermelons and zucchini. Marigolds add bright touches of color.

Trouble is the kids need tools to garden. For now, they use tools lent to them by the middle school. Ebbie Samuel and Doris Freeman, who work with these young gardeners, say they need long-handled shovels, hoes and rakes. A tiller -- new or a used one in good condition -- would be greatly appreciated because the gardening area is filled with tough weeds.

If you have unwanted tools to donate, you can bring them to me at the Daily Press office, 7505 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, and I will take them to the center. Or, you can deliver them or a tiller directly to the center. Contact Ebbie or Doris at 244-9223. There's nothing better than encouraging a child to garden.

USING WASTWATER. Waste not water because it's precious. That's a given. You can learn how wastewater is being tested and used to irrigate turf and landscape plants commonly used in Hampton Roads during a free Field Day 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Aug. 7.

The event will be held at Hampton Roads Sanitation District Virginia Initiative Plant, 4201 Powhatan Ave., Norfolk (behind Old Dominion University). Sponsors are Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Hampton Roads Sanitation District and Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Four turfgrass plots and six raised beds have been planted and are being maintained with wastewater and potable water for comparisons.

For information or to register, contact Norfolk extension agent Dawn Alleman, 683-2816 or

HAPPENINGS. Tuesday is the last day to apply for Peninsula master gardener training this fall. To apply, contact your local extension office.

* Pick your own blackberries and blueberries at Fiddler's Green Berry Farm, Gloucester. Hours: 8 a.m.-noon Wednesday-Saturday, 3-7 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday. Cost: blackberries $7 per 5-quart bucket, blueberries $6 per 5-quart bucket. The farm is located at 5580 Fiddler's Green Road; call (804) 693-5568.***


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