Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

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Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby stacey16 » Thu Jul 10, 2014 10:42 am

Are there any ideas on keeping common milkweed leaves from drying out? Even wrapping the stem in wet paper towel only keeps them fresh for about a day.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby buffalowings » Fri Jul 11, 2014 2:12 pm

Use a ziplock bag. Immediately after picking, insert individual leaves in bag with a damp paper towel. Viva brand works well as some other brands grow mold/mildew. Holds well in fridge vegetable drawer but make sure to label as poisonous. Make sure to separate all leaves from any clusters. They wilt faster if left as a cluster.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby blazing star » Sat Jul 12, 2014 12:16 am

What do you mean by cluster? Do you mean wrapping multiple stems in the same wet paper towel?
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby stacey16 » Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:55 am

I would think keeping more than one leaf on a stem would hold up better than a separate leaf. Also, how do you keep leaves fresh as you use them to feed the caterpillars? I use stems in water but that does use a lot of milkweed and I only raise around 10-20 at a time. I started raising instars 4 & 5 in a large screened cage in a screenhouse outdoors. The humidity is higher so the leaves hold up better.
Last edited by stacey16 on Sat Jul 12, 2014 11:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby stacey16 » Sat Jul 12, 2014 11:07 am

What about putting a moist paper towel in with the leaves to keep the humidity higher? I know you can't have it too humid but I did that with my eggs and instars 1 and 2 in containers with air holes.
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Successful hatching method

Postby buffalowings » Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:51 pm

I normally have many monarchs in all stages so this method of hatching and habitat has worked well. Eggs are hatched in plastic snap lid storage containers about 18"x12"x4". Spread a single Viva paper towel (doesn't mold) in the bottom of container. Using a spray bottle, mist the paper towel to slightly dampen. Place leaves with eggs in the container on towel in single layer. Cover with lid and keep out of direct sun. My screened in porch works well for the whole process. With lid on, the leaves should stay hydrated until the caterpillars hatch. As the cats are so small, I find it easiest to use scissors to trim away most of the leaf and then place the tiny cat & leaf portion on a fresh leaf. At this point, I change the habitat with fresh paper damp towel and leaves everyday. When they grow to about 2nd instar, they are transferred to a glass container. Glass cube vases or glass terrariums from the craft store work well. Place a damp paper towel in the bottom and insert about 1 leaf per cat. Don't crowd - about 3 per 6" vase. Insert a small stick for climbing. Cut a piece of netting to cover top and secure with rubber band. Hint: I find it easier to cut around the cat on the old leaf and then place on fresh leaf. Empty out old bedding everyday and give fresh leaves everyday. Cats usually attach to the netting. If I have a very large population, I transfer the chrysalis attached to the netting to an obelisk to hatch. A very careful dab of hot glue attaches the netting with chrysalis to the frame. I have had over 100 in chrysalides & cats at one time, so freeing up habitat space was a necessity. Housing the whole leaf with egg attached on top of the damp paper towel in covered container has greatly improved the hatching success. It also takes up very little space as plastic containers can be stacked. All habitats are rinsed with 10 to 1 water/bleach to disinfect when empty before staring new group.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby buffalowings » Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:58 pm

Unlike so many plants, milkweed leaves do not stay better when preserved on the stem. Our neighborhood has found that the leaves tend to wilt quicker if left attached to a stem or the cluster at the top of the plant is kept intact. Leaves should be separated and placed in the ziplock bag individually.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby blazing star » Sun Jul 13, 2014 2:06 am

I am confused. Do you wrap each individual stem with the damp paper towel and plastic Baggie or just lay them loosely on the damp pepper towel on the floor of the cage without the stem wrapped?
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby buffalowings » Sun Jul 13, 2014 12:10 pm

The eggs and tiny cats are in rubbermaid-type containers - long, flat plastic lidded containers. Single layer of paper towel misted damp in bottom. Leaves with eggs attached are spaced out on top of towel. There is no wrapping of the stem at all. For eggs: the evaporation from the paper towel in the air tight container allows the leaf with egg attached to stay hydrated until cat emerges. For 1st few days after hatch: the cats are so tiny that I found it easier to monitor them with the exact same set-up. I also used less leaves as about 2 cats could be placed on a fresh leaf. I change the damp paper towel and give fresh leaf everyday. Just as an overview: lift the old paper towel (with leaves on top) out of the plastic container and set aside. Place a Viva (doesn't mold) paper towel flat in bottom. Use a spray bottle to mist with water. Lay new leaves flat on top of paper towel. (No wrapping, foiling, watering etc.) I usually trim around the cat on the old leaf and place the tiny piece of leaf on top of the new leaf. (2 can be placed on a larger leaf at this stage as they are so tiny) Once the cats get a bit larger, they eat fast enough that the air-tight container is no longer necessary. I move them to glass containers with damp paper towel in bottom and only give them as much milkweed as they will eat in a day. But it is basically the same drill. Everyday, throw away old towel and debris and then just lay the fresh leaf (or leaves) on the fresh damp towel and return cat(s) to container. This has been the most successful method tried. Looking at my old records, I see only 5 cats out of 200+ died before chrysalis stage. Bottom line: I don't trust the freshness of the sap of a picked milkweed leaf (unless stored in fridge) for more than 24 hrs. Fresh leaves for cats at least every 24 hrs.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby blazing star » Mon Jul 14, 2014 11:35 pm

What type of lid is on your glass containers? Mine has screened lids. Would simply a wet paper towel without wrapped stems keep the leaves fresh, without wrapping the stems, or do I heed a closed lid for this?

Thanks for the info,
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby buffalowings » Tue Jul 22, 2014 8:45 am

Netting for tops has been my favorite as it provides a great material for cats to attach. Buy netting (avoid the similar fabric, tulle as it is too slippery) at fabric or craft stores. It can be cut to any size and is inexpensive. Just drape the section over the top of the glass container and hold in place with a large rubber band (found at office supply store). It also provides greater visibility than paper towels or coffee filters. Most of my cats now choose to attach to the netting. See my post on July 12th: successful hatching method.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby blazing star » Tue Jul 22, 2014 11:19 am

OK, great. That's similar to my tops as my tops have two layers of screens. I was just making sure that you didn't have a solid lid to keep the container more moist. Logically, I did not think this would have been a good thing, i.e. more humidity, but I didn't know for sure.

Thank you for all the useful info. As an FYI - the person helping me raise just emailed me that the floral foam in a cleaned out cat food can is working great with her common leaves. She used to use only swamp to feed but her swamp came down with some parasite or disease this year so she had to switch it up. Her set up is probably way easier than my wrapping individual stems in wet paper towel and wrapping in tin foil. I'm not sure if it would extend the viability of the leaves for you so I thought I would mention it.

Thank you for all the useful information. I have been raising for a few years but it's amazing how much more info I learn that makes me more efficient. I'll pass your info to her as she's somewhat spear heading a local network for monarchs.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby buffalowings » Wed Jul 23, 2014 2:23 am

All the different methods are interesting. I have common milkweed growing in my yard so the fridge preservation is not an issue for me anymore plus I can just demand feed. The best method for keeping the leaves with egg attached hydrated was a trial and error. The lidded plastic boxes turned out to be great especially when I had as many as 100 eggs. I first learned with the canning jar method but that was not practical and the leaves tended to dry out. The boxes when stacked took up very little space. I should have made the moisture issue clearer in my previous posts. Because the plastic container is lidded, the environment stays very humid. It is only necessary to lightly mist the paper towel at the bottom of the container. Too much moisture will cause mold to grow on the leaves. On the other hand, once the cats are moved to the terrarium-type containers with the free air flow tops a much more wet paper towel should be used to produce humidity. All the studies I have read found that monarch cats do best in higher humidity. The MonarchLab website from the University of Minnesota is a terrific resource. Great tips for monarch rearing but the studies are even more helpful for veteran raisers who are trying to perfect the details. Some of the information I was originally given was incorrect. Humidity is good but don't overdo especially with the leaves holding the eggs. Thanks for bringing up the topic.
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby stacey16 » Sun Aug 10, 2014 2:17 pm

Your setup sounds easier. Do you stand the leaves up at all?

Thanks for mentioning the University of Minnesota. I looked up the monarch lab and found this newsletter.

http://www.monarchlab.org/mitc/newslett ... df#page=11
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Re: Keeping common milkweed leaves fresh

Postby buffalowings » Fri Aug 22, 2014 7:54 pm

I try to simulate their natural environment by adding some vertical climbing and munching habitat once the cats get larger. They certainly are climbers. Each terrarium has at least a few leaning twigs for climbing and to support the leaning milkweed leaves. The twigs lean from the bottom of the container to the opposite wall on a diagonal. I also hoped it would help with air circulation and cut down on disease (and spreading of disease within the container). Now that I think about it, I am seeing less spread of disease. Even when a cat fails, I can't remember the last time disease spread to other cats in the same container. That was a great question! If kept in a communal environment, it seems that the cats are much more likely to survive and be healthy if they have space to spread out. Disease is possibly reduced by limiting contact with waste materials. So for the larger cats, the habitat looks a bit like a small twig and milkweed lean-to.
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