Posted in Creatures, Progress

Cleaning out/Setting up the monarch keeper, Part 2

Welcome back to today’s installment of how I’m making my monarch keeper.  Here’s all the bits I didn’t write up yesterday, along with info and images about materials and the process.

As I mentioned, I had the busted window screen to work with, and used it both for further blocking any would be adventurers (if you look closely in the image above, you can see the silver of the needle since I’m still not quite done sewing all four sides.  Working with dark metal screen on old metal grid patina with dark brown thread is tough on the eyes.  I could have used a contrasting thread to make it easier, but for some reason I thought it best to blend the thread in best as I could.  Not sure that I would make the same decision if I had to do it all over again, though I only have to sew it once then too.

Below is a sample of the supplies I used.  I’ll talk about them and post one more supply image as I describe my process, but I’m sure some things will be obvious once you look at the image.

Yes, that's an old box of chalk. Chalk is really useful for many things.
The remaining bit of torn screen after cutting off the section I used on the tank lid, and making my first jar lid center. Thread, thread scissors, needles, shears to cut the screen, one jar lid, chalk which is easy to see on screen and brush off after cutting.

I happened to have all of these supplies and others I’ll soon get to on hand already except the canning jars.  I bought them at my local hardware store, and they cost $5.99 plus sales tax for a pack of four. I could easily fit all four in the tank itself, and still have room to also put the incubator in there if I want.  I have four larvae in the tank now, so the one jar with the new taller stalk, plus the other for the old so they could transfer between was plenty for now.

Important Material Note: I specifically used the screen I did because not only did it repurpose material, but the metal window screen is sturdier.  Nylon screen is softer, and a larva would have greater chance to push through the X folds to the inside of the jar and drown.  If you don’t have old metal screen on hand, nylon may be cheaper, but it is not better for the safety of the monarchs–use metal.

In case you're curious, this was the only brand they had on the shelves. I haven't canned before, so don't know pros or cons of brands.
Marketing is funny. I’ve given our monarchs a gift variety.  One could argue I’ve certainly put these to use for a special creation.

I picked this style of canning jar because they had a wider base good for balance against the milkweed stalk if too many monarchs might make a difference up top, as well as holding lots of water despite the room taken up by stones used to keep the milkweed stalk firmly in place.

The reason you need some sort of container as a base is to hold water to keep the milkweed alive until the larvae eat all the leaves, and then you need to get a new stalk.  By not using the “seal”–the disks that go inside the screw tops–I had an easy way to insert a piece of screen securely at the top.  That’s important for the following reasons:

  • A regular lid would require drilling a hole which some stalks might not fit in, and others would be fit loosely, leaving a gap.  Drilling would require another tool (though I have such, some folks reading this might not.)
  • A gap is bad because if a larva was to fall off the stalk/leaves onto the lid, the larva can get inside the jar itself where the water is and drown.
  • Screen is better because I could cut a small X in the screen to poke the stalk through, and that X is more flexible for whatever size stalk I find.
  • The four corners of the X help prevent that larva from getting inside and drowning as well.
  • gravy separatorI can add water through the screen if needed without having to remove the top and possibly disrupt any larvae on the stalk.  (Water slowly to allow it to slip through the screen and not pool and spill over the edge.)  You can use a small watering can with a thin spout, or even a creamer from a service set.  I use a gravy separator.  It’s small, with a low starting thin spout which is easier to pour slow exactly where I want if a stalk has low leaves near the screen that might block my view.  (I also use this for watering plants like my African violet.)

Let me share my trial and error about sizing the screen for the lid.  You want to cut it just big enough that it won’t easily slip around once the lid is screwed on, but not so big that it’s near impossible to screw the lid on securely either.  The firmness of the metal helps the circle keep shape, but I decided to trace my lid rather than the disk, and then cut inside my chalk line so I wouldn’t make it too small.  I did have to trim it once more because I forgot the chalk wasn’t pointed, so staying just inside made it too big, so the excess material made it harder to screw on the lid.  It probably would have worked near as well has I used the seal (disk), and cut a bit more than just outside the circle, but I haven’t made a second one yet.

You can use all sorts of containers, but I want to keep doing this over the years, so even if I need to buy another pack down the road because I find that many more eggs or larvae to take in, as long as these don’t break I can keep reusing them.

I also personally prefer not using plastic when I can, so I don’t have to worry about any possible chemicals leaching out that could hurt the monarchs.  That is a very minor point, because companies have gotten a bit better about plastic leaching, but we also don’t buy anything that has even reusable glass/metal packaging as ideal in size as these jars are for the reasons I’ve stated above.   Either it’s a short and thin jar like for store bought marmelade, or too tall to allow for much stalk like a spaghetti sauce jar.

The reflection you see above the leaves is what's on the table at that moment.
The one to the left is a complete container with stones, water and screen insert. To the right is the stalk I used to transfer the stalk with four instar ready to move to the keeper. The stalk is wrapped in a damp paper towel to keep the leaves alive in the incubator as they can’t be upright, and I knew the remaining bits of leaves weren’t long for this world.

I only use water from our rain barrel.  Our city water, even quick charcoal filtered, still has some bits of chemicals that would need to be aired off (meaning, fill a jar, set it aside with the lid cracked at least overnight before using) so anything that could be harmful to smaller creatures, but not necessarily humans or pets would not be an issue.  You may have better water quality than we do where you could even water plants directly from your tap.

The stones you see in the jar to the left came from our yard.  Remember this shot of the suspected former play set area?

My beautiful picture

All the stones have been and will continue to be from there because there’s so many of them.  I use a sieve to rinse them off before putting them in the jar, which gets rid of dirt as well as any possible little bugs or plant bits.  The stones don’t have to be pristine, just more rock than other stuff.  The bugs are more a concern because then you’ve let something into your house you might not want, or introduced them to your monarch habitat that might be harmful to them.

The paper towels that line the bottom of the tank are to make larvae poop easier to pick up.  It does get bigger than you expect as they grow.  Currently, I compost mine, but I’m also thinking about some old dishtowels I have (without holes) that might work just as well.  I can shake off the poop into the compost, then wash them to reuse.  I’ll have to ask my Monarch Expert lady about that just in case there’s something she knows I don’t–though I suspect she will recommend washing them by hand, and using dishsoap or maybe a vinegar water mix to not worry about harming the larvae with cleaning chemicals.  I line dry when I can, but she’d probably say no softener either with line or dryer.

I think I covered everything.  If you have questions, feel free to ask them below.  Hopefully I’ll finish sewing the last long edge tonight.

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