While other farmers are readying for their spring and summer harvests, Jo Ann Goldenburg of Dahlonega prepares for a different sort of yield.
“It takes time to build a butterfly farm to have enough plants to sustain great numbers of butterflies,” Goldenburg said. “It’s like building any kind of farm. You start with a small crop and grow larger and larger.”
Dahlonega Butterfly Farm, which is owned and operated by Goldenburg, contains an 800-square-foot butterfly conservatory, as well as an acre of garden for native butterflies. The property first opened to the public in June 2019.
With the return of warm weather, Goldenburg has been hard at work growing plants to attract butterflies, as well as prepping the conservatory’s tropical plants for its soon-to-arrive fluttering residents. She plans to reopen the farm to visitors on Saturday, April 24.
During the off-season from November through mid-April, Goldenburg said she has kept her business afloat with landscaping classes and butterfly gardening lessons.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back on track this year, getting reopened and seeing happy faces again,” she said. “I love to inspire other people to go home and plant their own butterfly gardens.”
In around a week’s time, Goldenburg intends to import 150 butterflies from a Florida breeder. These will stay inside the conservatory since they’re not native to Georgia. Some of the imported butterflies include green malachite, which sport vibrant green and brown hues, and queen butterflies, an insect with rusty orange wings and bright white speckles. In order to take in butterflies over state lines, Goldenburg said she has to maintain a permit with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She is required to contain the insects and not release them into the wild.
Once the outdoor garden ramps up with mature caterpillars, she will begin bringing those native species into a containment room to raise until they undergo metamorphosis. Then, the butterflies will be introduced to the conservatory for visitors to view up close.
Goldenburg fills the outdoor garden with plants suitable for female butterfly species to lay their eggs. Some of her favorite host plants for attracting butterflies include milkweed, for drawing monarchs; passion vine, for gulf fritillary; bronze fennel and tulip trees, for Eastern black swallowtail; and wild cherry and plum trees, for red-spotted purple butterflies.
This year, Goldenburg has increased her production of fennel and dill weed to lure in more Eastern black swallowtails and has planted some new host plants to attract painted lady butterflies and American ladies. These two species have similar markings of amber, white and dark brown.
Another new addition to the farm includes one-eighth an acre of sunflowers and zinnias for people to enjoy in late July to August. Goldenburg said visitors will be able to walk through the flowers and even take some home.
When the farm reopens on Saturday, April 24, conservatory tours will be limited to eight people each half-hour. Like last year, Goldenburg said social distancing will be encouraged for guests. The experience includes a guided tour of the outdoor space and conservatory. Visitors will learn about the lifecycle of butterflies and be able to explore the property.
Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children and $6 for seniors and military veterans. Butterfly season hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.For more information and to purchase tickets, visit dahlonegabutterfly.com.