Saturday, July 26, 2014

Magic Wings Butterfly House at Museum of Life and Science


Butterflies alight in us a wonder and curiosity of how such a small insect can conquer and soften the hearts of people across the world. To see a butterfly brings peace. I can stay mesmerized for hours watching butterflies fly from flower to flower. All heads turn at the mention of a butterfly being present. We desire to know the secret of how a wiggly caterpillar can turn into a winged creature, but that mystery is the magic behind a butterfly. They appear to be amongst the most delicate of creatures, but it is because of this elegance and fragility that we seek to become attuned to our surroundings. Butterflies welcome us to explore the rest of creation. They invite us to take care of our environment and praise God who was behind every detail of their design. We have only begun to scratch the surface of life and science so I invite you to come along with me as I take you on a journey of pictures I took while visiting the Magic Wings Butterfly House at the Museum of Life and Science.

Magic Wings Butterfly House Website:


The butterfly conservatory is the largest museum butterfly house east of the Mississippi. It is 35 feet tall enclosed in glass that simulates a tropical environment. Butterflies like tropical steamy environments and the exhibit caters to that. They have a water feature and keep the temperature at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. More than 250 exotic plant species add color and vibrancy to the conservatory. They allure the butterflies down to allow us tourists to gaze at their beauty.


The Mary Martha Uzzle Emerging Wonders Window allows guests to see the magic behind the emergence of a butterfly.


To capture a photo of the Blue Morpho with its wings open is not common place. This is the first time in my 5 + years of raising butterflies and 12 years of photography that I’ve gotten such a crisp photo of a Blue Morpho in this position.


Butterflies are friendly and may land on you if you are patient. In is prudent not to try and catch a butterfly unless you are an experienced butterfly raiser. They are resilient, but still can be easily damaged.




There were a wide variety of tropical plants and some were simply on the wild side.


They also had trees like this Cocoa tree which is the source of a oh so delicious chocolate bar.


Outside of the glass conservatory the tour and learning experience continued with mounted butterfly specimens from around the world on different continents. The Bayer Crop Science Insectarium is part of the experience that has 25 live exotic and native species of insects and predators including a rather hairy tarantula. My first thought, “I wonder if they let anybody hold it?”


The conclusion or beginning of the experience depending on your perspective, was in the great outdoors where native plant species and wild flowers attract butterflies, bees, and pollinators. This patch above are Common Milkweed which are native to North America and are the host plant of the famous Monarch butterfly. Every flower is a source of food and nourishment for our winged insect friends. Thanks for joining me on this tour!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

How to Build your Own Butterfly Conservatory


finished butterfly conservatory

I’ve been raising butterflies for 5 years ever since I was 15 years old. I wrote my first book about butterflies after gathering research from all my experiences and stories. We call ourselves butterfly enthusiasts. You’ll know us we you see us. The people who wear everything from shirts with butterflies on them to butterfly purses and matching butterfly earrings. We are fearless and will climb through a poison ivy patch if it means finding a hard to find butterfly host plant.  We will tramp through roadside ditches if it means finding Milkweed for our Monarch babies. We will stop at nothing to insure the safety of our precious butterflies so beware. Alright, I’m exaggerating here, but I can assure you that butterfly lovers are among the coolest people I’ve ever met and are among the generous of people. There have been many people who have helped me along on my butterfly journey and below are pictures of my butterfly conservatory during the construction phase as well as pictures of my butterfly caterpillars.


The butterfly conservatory was created by recycling a patio pergola that was donated to us. Watching the transformation process has been great. My mom has put in countless hours to make it an exquisite one of a kind butterfly conservatory. The first step was painting the individual panels which took 10 cans of Rustoleum spray paint. Next, the conservatory was mounted on a 2’ x 4’ wood base with 8 inch anchors to secure it. To make the conservatory mosquito and wasp proof, we ordered 86 inch  by 100 feet of fiber glass pool screen. It was secured to the wood frame by using an air gun and then my mom hand sewed the walls by using 450 yards of outdoor thread and then sewing up the roof made up of 2 panels. The totals for the materials was around $200 and the frame was donated.


Rolling out the fiberglass pool screen for the butterfly conservatory.


In about two weeks time my babies turned into teenage caterpillars and will emerge as beautiful butterfly adults. There is a beauty and mystery in the butterfly life cycle. How a wormlike creature can grow into a winged insect. They will never lose their mystery. They are a reminder of the great Creator God who is too great to comprehend. And so I have faith and just have to trust God and realize I can’t possibly understand everything. I don’t need to know how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly in order to enjoy the beauty of it. And so it is with God. I don’t need to understand everything that happens in this world, but still I trust that God works all things for good.


I ended up getting thirteen chrysalises.


This is my first Monarch chrysalis in 1 1/2 years because of two moves and a lot of hard work to get our farm established. A good friend asked me what I’m going to name it and I decided on Hope because it has given me hope that I can with the help of others save the Monarchs. Some of my neighbors are jumping on board to help! I believe with all my heart that I can help save the butterflies and I will never give up hope. I believed this from the very beginning and still do to this day.

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I raise my caterpillars in containers and once they make chrysalises I move them into another butterfly habitat to prevent curious caterpillar from damaging new chrysalises. I get mine from Judi Sunshine owner of It is easy for chrysalises to get damaged if they have not hardened yet. For this reason I find it best to separate the different stages. I also separate some of the different caterpillar instars and eggs from caterpillars to avoid the large caterpillars from accidentally eating them. Another tip is to put Milkweed in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator if it is getting ready to rain or you want to save yourself from a trip to the garden. A great time saver. Here is a picture of my butterfly habitat inside my butterfly conservatory.


Milkweed = Monarch. Without it there are none so please start planting them today.  Get free Milkweed seeds and more here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Butterfly Conservatory at Elizabeth’s Secret Garden



Judi Sunshine the owner of Wingin’ It Butterfly Farm came for a tour of the official home of Elizabeth’s Secret Garden and to see the butterfly conservatory which is in the construction phase. It will be enclosed with screening and be a safe haven for butterflies. The goal is to breed various butterfly species including Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, Black Swallowtails, and more.


I’m very grateful to Judi for getting me started off this butterfly season with a selection of butterfly enclosures as well as Monarch eggs. If you are in need of butterfly raising supplies such as microscopes, enclosures, butterfly nets, and more check out her online store. 

I’m getting close to having 100 Milkweeds for the Monarchs. Many of them are small, but they grow fast. Monarch conservation is close to my heart and I do presentations at schools and camps teaching about butterflies. The dream I once had is now really happening. I encourage you to plant Milkweed. You can get free seeds at the following link.


Here is an example of how Judi uses her smallest enclosure (7” x 5”) for emerging butterflies. The enclosures she sells are really handy because they allow easy viewing of the butterflies, can be compacted, and have a strap for hanging. The butterflies shown above are Black Swallowtails.


Zebra Swallowtails feeding on a tray of nectar rich flowers.


I was able to get a close up look at her Red-Spotted Purple caterpillars. They have a few different host plants they will feed on. This one is Black Cherry which is prevalent here in North Carolina. There is so much you can do to help butterflies. Some of the greatest advice is to start out small and step by step expand as you gain confidence. Butterfly raising is a lot of fun and need not be challenging. No science or lepidopterist degree necessary. Just a desire to make a difference and help butterflies one egg at a time.

Friday, June 20, 2014

How to Turn Wood Pallets into Compost Bins



After the construction of our modular home, we were left with several wood pallets. Most people would disregard them and consider them trash, but we looked at them and saw a potential treasure. A treasure because they would save us money. Who would pass that up? When I see those pallets I think of the saying,“A penny saved is a penny earned.” – Benjamin Franklin. And just like that “ka ching” money saved that can be put towards the next project on SHAPE Eco Farm.


Here is my sister standing next to our reclaimed wood pallets. You can find wood pallets by approaching a construction site and taking them off there hands. I’m sure they would oblige quickly because that is one last thing they have to haul off to the dump.


Assembling these compost bins was a snap. All that is needed is people (most importantly), screws, wood pallets, and a drill. We have  a saying around our house, “If you want to eat, you got to work.” It has worked well for us thus far.


We have four “bins” on each side which took a total of 18 wood pallets to build. One side is for compost and the other works well for storage. We neatly put scrap wood, pots, and cardboard in those slots. I even have a slot for my worm bin.


Ah, freshly harvested compost full of microorganisms and worms. This is the life and breath of a garden. Healthy soils = healthy plants. There is such a satisfaction from knowing you are giving back and helping in the efforts for environmental sustainability instead of always taking. God gave us this earth and there is only one so we need to do our best to keep it running. Once nonrenewable resources are gone they’re gone. I mean I could be wrong and some genius come along and invent a way to replenish them, but why take that chance?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why Homegrown Vegetables are The Way to Go



After eating homegrown zucchini and squash from my garden, I’d much rather eat home grown vegetables then that imported grocery store stuff again. Who wants fruits and vegetables from Mexico when you can eat vegetables that have been picked a few hours ago? Just imagine how many days or maybe weeks that produce has been laying around. Not to mention the places it has been, the fossil fuel that has been guzzled up, or the poor pay labors received. I frankly will say that grocery store zucchini is practically tasteless when compared to my produce that has a natural sweetness to it. My family must be getting tire dof me saying, “I just can’t believe how good these vegetables taste!”

Fact: According to the Web produce in the U.S. travels, on average, 1300 - 2000 miles from farm to consumer.For tomatoes alone it is about 1,369 miles. That to me is preposterous. I’d rather walk a few yards to get fresh vegetables. Now wonder the modern vegetable is almost lifeless by the time it reaches our plate!


We’ve been loading up on oven backed squash, fried zucchini and squash, and zucchini bread. Homegrown and local over imported hands down just makes more sense. If organic prices are too high for your liking, why not grow your own? That is becoming my niche. Sharing my love of growing plants and raising butterflies with others through teaching and writing. Have a question? Post a comment and I’ll get back to you about it. I don’t want to brag and go as far to say I’m an expert, but I am developing a passion for this and some know how on developing a relationship with my customers.



I’ve been getting some pretty hefty harvests. I can’t label my products “certified organic,” but that basically sums it up. Alright, it is definitely more work, but so worth it. Would I trade less de-worming for pesticide laden crops? Never. I’m becoming a pro at squishing caterpillars. Now that I will brag about.


My customers are waiting in anticipation for a harvest of tomatoes. I’ve counted 40 tiny tomatoes on just one row! There are many more. I’ve been getting requests for peppers so I got a six pack of Golden Wonder yellow sweet peppers and California Wonder green sweet peppers. Pleasing my customers is super important to me. They are my friends.



I despise monocultures. Rows and rows of the same thing. You’ve seen it. Rows of pesticide laden corn and such. I’m not ashamed to speak my mind. I will not shy away from standing up for what I believe and encouraging you to do the same. Let’s decide to choose local over imported whenever possible. Our family is big so that is not always possible, but the reason why I get up every morning water for an hour and work hours more is so that I can slowly replace the grocery store produce with home grown. I believe that variety is key. Try growing zinnias amongst squash and parsley and cilantro in between tomatoes. Flowers are appealing to the eye and attract beneficial pollinators.


Flowers like lavender will attract beneficial insects like bees to your garden.




Plant herbs to repel pests and attract the good guys. Like I said before variety is key. Plant a diversity of plants, be creative, and most importantly have fun. Within the next two weeks I’ll post an update for you all.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How to Build a Rabbitry



SHAPE Eco Farm was in need for a safe and secure habit for our pet and meat rabbits. Our rabbitry ended up becoming more like a bunny palace than a rabbit habitat. I now understand how easy it is to spoil pets and give them a luxurious life style.

I write this blog entry with the goal of showing how our rabbitry was made and giving you some how to instructions. This entry is for the rabbit enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys DIY projects.

Here is a list of the materials we used:

Suntuf 26” x 8’ Solar Gray Poly Panels from Lowes
Six 8-foot 2 x 4 pressure treated wood
Four 10-foot 2 x 4 pressure treated wood
Five 8-foot 2 x 4 pressure treated wood
Two 10 foot 4 x 4 pressure treated posts
Six skew joist hangers
3 inch deck screws
One hundred screws with neoprene washers
Galvanized rabbit wire fencing 48” x 50’
Pea gravel


Dig a hole at least 3 feet deep for the 4x4 posts. Place about 2 inches of gravel in the hole (pea gravel works well). Bury the post in the hole and ensure that it is level.  Attach a pressure treated 2' x 4' to the top of the posts to build a frame for the roof. 2’ x 4’s on the barn will provide support for the other side of the roof joists.


Install joist hangers to the header attached to the barn. The 2’ x 4’s attach to the joist hangers with deck screws. Cut notches out of the joists so that they fit snugly on top of the 2’ x 4’ that is sitting on the posts.


Construct a frame around the bottom to hold pea gravel. The gravel allows water to pass through to keep the floor dry. Wood chips will be added on top of the pebbles for bedding and to provide a softer surface for the rabbits.


Pre-paint or stain the framework before installing screen and wire.


Adding pea gravel to the floor of the rabbitry.


Screening keeps out the bees and wasps and adds UV protection.


The door to the rabbitry is custom built to fit. You can attach an adjustable tension rod to the door to add stability. Add hinges, handle and locking latch to the door.


Add rabbit fencing to the outside of the frame using staples. A compressor and staple gun is a quick way to attach the fence to the frame.


The roof was made with polycarbonate panels sold at Lowes or Home Depot. If your rabbitry receives too much sunlight use a solid color roof panel.


We also added a sand box for our rabbits to dig in. My mom calls it a “Bunny House”, my brother calls it a “Bunny Palace”, and my dad calls it Fort Knox!