One of the many herbs I collect each year is nettles. It is a most useful herb for many afflictions and I try to gather as much of it as possible hoping to fill a gallon jug. Nettles grow wild at my daughter’s house between her black raspberry patch and her wood pile. At the end of May the nettles were looking lush and green but not quite mature enough to pick yet so I left them to grow for another week.
When I returned I was shocked and saddened to see that something had been feasting on my lovely nettles. The harvest would not be as plentiful as I’d hoped but I put on my long sleeved shirt and leather gloves and proceeded to gather what was left of them. I spread a large pink flannel sheet on the ground and piled up all I could onto it, gathered the corners together and dragged it into the back of my car.
When I got home there was surprise waiting for me inside that sheet – dozens of fuzzy black caterpillars were working at escaping the closed up sheet creeping in all directions. I knew then who had been feasting on my nettles.
It took at least an hour to pluck all the little beggars off the sheet and the back of my car then dump them into the chicken run. The girls were clucking like they were in caterpillar heaven!
After stripping the leaves off the stems (and gathering more caterpillars and making more happy chickens!) the remains were finally spread onto the screens of my home-made food dehydrator. There, done! Now we just wait a couple days for them to dry.
Well not quite. For the next few days as the leaves dried in the warm dehydrator I kept finding caterpillars crawling out of it. Oh the chickens were so happy! I was not.
Finally the leaves were dried, crushed and placed in the glass gallon jug they were supposed to fill up but only made it half way. Oh well, at least it was half full and not half empty.
A week later I gathered purple clover and the first of the year’s mint and put them into the dehydrator. The next day yet another surprise awaited me when I checked on the drying herbs. A Red Admiral butterfly flew out and fluttered around the room, beautiful with black and red wings. I gathered her into cupped hands and set her free outside. But the surprises weren’t over yet. Later that day I found three more butterflies. The next day brought six more and after that I started to lose count. In my giddiness while catching all the butterflies flitting around my house I realized I apparently hadn’t collected all of the caterpillars from the previous week and the warmth of the dehydrator must have accelerated their transformation. I even found a cocoon on the bottom of the dehydrator that never made it to the next phase of development.
I like the phrase, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.” Well, Mother Earth gave me caterpillars so I (sort of) helped make them into butterflies.
Next year I’ll be picking the nettles a week earlier.