Q: Have gardened most of my life but have never seen one of these characters. Caught him eating on my navel orange this morning.
A: You sent a couple of good photos of a weird-looking caterpillar. I was stumped, as I had never seen one of these before, so I forwarded your photo to some folks at University of California. Monique Rivera at UC Riverside tells us that it looks like a bird poop caterpillar.
The bird poop caterpillar, Papilio cresphontes, can be found in plain sight because it’s cleverly disguised as, well, bird poop. Birds like to eat caterpillars, but not bird poop, so they usually escape attention. Sometimes they have a pair of bright red horns to dissuade predators who might have figured out that they are edible. It is the juvenile version of the giant swallowtail butterfly, so if it doesn’t eat too many leaves off of your orange tree you probably want to let it be.
Q: Laura, I have a wood burning cast iron stove on our deck to take the chill off and for ambience. After several fires I empty the ashes into my vegetable garden and till it in. Am I doing good or bad things to my soil?
A: Wood ash is a fine addition to your garden soil or compost pile. It is rich in phosphorus, but not much else. It may raise the pH of your soil, making it slightly more alkaline, but probably not enough to do anything to