Milkweed and Monarch Butterflies

Monarchs are probably the best ambassadors for conservation. They are popular, great looking, and they need habitat from their wintering forests in Mexico all the way to Canada. Here on the west coast we have our own population that winters in California. Because the midwestern migration route can be as long as 3000 miles, if farmers can be convinced to use farming practices that help monarchs, it helps a ton of other species, over a huge area. This means no Roundup Ready crops, because that means no weeds on the margins of agricultural fields, and that is where the monarchs are. Even better is organic farming with hedgerows, beetle banks, conservation cover, and windbreaks with some evergreen trees. By advocating for uncultivated margins, Aldo Leopold had the formula in the twentieth century.

Monarchs are dependent on milkweed (Asclepias sp.) because their caterpillars only eat milkweed. Adults lay their eggs on milkweed as they make a multi-generational journey from Mexico each year.

As Monarchs head north, they feed on nectar, stopping at night in protective tree canopies. The first and second generations from Mexico will die before the population gets where it’s going. After newly transformed butterflies emerge from chrysalises they continue on their leg of the migration relay. There may be three or four generations of butterflies by the time the population reaches the farthest point in their travels. In the fall, the last generation will travel all the way back south, looking for sustenance along the way. After overwintering as adults, they will head north again. It’s amazing that this works at all!

Here is an awesome time lapse of the entire monarch lifecycle.

If you’d like to have a look at some nice milkweed and possibly an egg, caterpillar or monarch, check out the gardens at Winter’s Hill Winery and Vineyard. (That is some butterfly-friendly wine, and so delicious!!)

I recently found these clumps of milkweed on the side of the road:

milkweed1_2 milkweed2_2

If no one sprays it before it goes to seed I will collect seed and grow out plants next year. Having planted a few this year, I can say they are a bit slow to get going but once established they thrive on neglect. A seasonally wet ditch in the sun is best. A wet prairie is ideal. That way the monarchs can find them.

While I was photographing these clumps, a honeybee and a western tiger swallowtail butterfly came by.

Milkweedbee_2 milkweedbutterfly_2

Prairie Field Day Arrives – May 31

Gallery

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Many thanks to Amie Loop-Frison of the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District and her prodigious organizing skills to pull this off. It was a beautiful day, a fun tour, and an inspiration to see so many people interested in … Continue reading

March marches on

On the savanna in the late afternoon, surrounded by lichen-draped oaks; noting the attractive old ones, the new straight ones with potential beyond our lifetimes, mistletoe, galls. Mindfulness comes naturally.

In this video of early spring you can see the effects of not mowing. The reason was fire hazard followed by soggy soil, (drought/deluge) last fall. A lot of thatch from old non-native grasses and taller scotch broom remain; but I hope that will make it easier to kill the broom this spring. Mowing as a substitute for fire is not ideal, although better than nothing.

Other interesting things I found this day out will follow in the next post!

Highs and Lows

Feb 26, 2013:    Overnight Low 30° F    9:20 a.m. 34°F    Rainfall since 2/25/13   .55″

Feb 27, 2013:     Low 38°     9:40 a.m. 45°     Rainfall 0

I really enjoy checking the weather station stats on the indoor display console several times a day.

Although it rained like crazy, between showers it was bright and warm, the sun was blinding, actually, as I puttered among the weeds in the garden looking for native plants that I’d sown from seed in years past. Some are not yet up, but many are bright and chipper, looking as if maybe they never died back completely, despite protracted sub-freezing temperatures this winter.

Sidalcea campestris

Sidalcea campestris

Meadow checkermallow, Sidalcea campestris, forms crowns early and spreads easily once it germinates.

P.vulgarisPerhaps the ground-huggers find it easier to overwinter. The champion germinator of broadcast or row-planted natives, Prunella vulgaris marches on. Maybe that’s why it’s called self-heal. Nice ground cover and lovely purple flowers over a long period for nectar and pollen.

P. gracilis 2.26

P. gracilis

P. glandulosa

P. glandulosa

Potentilla glandulosa and P. gracilis (five-fingered cinqefoil and sticky cinqefoil) set many tiny seeds (think strawberries without the juicy part) but did not germinate in great numbers when broadcast. Those that did, survive happily, however.

E. lanatum

E. lanatum

The gray remains of last year’s Oregon sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum, seen above new growth just getting started.

Baby Madrones

Baby Madrones

In the half-day shade on the west side of the shed, these Pacific madrones, Arubuts menziesii, have not been watered since sowing in winter 2010. Easy from seed (and not fresh seed at that- it was collected in 1999). I transplanted some to the hedgerow this winter, and will eventually distribute them around hoping for their continued survival.

IMG_4255Several thousand – literally – great camas, Camassia leichtlinii are on their second year. I separated and replanted most of the thickly sown seeds-now-bulbs that formed the first year until I wore out. So some are still in their previous crowded pots, like clumps of grass; those are the ones that are sending up the first shoots! (See below).

To say these are easy from seed is an understatement – I have to share with you the comment I received from one of my customers in the UK who purchased Camas seed from me to round out his collection,

Dear Jeanie

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy!”

Just a quick note to say that the Camassia seeds are coming up now, a bit like mustard and cress, so I hope I have enough space in the pot I sowed them in. Wee beasties aside, I should have a veritable forest of Camassia in a few years time.

From one very happy gardener on the other side of the pond.

Regards

Chris

Camas0001A gathering of robins, festooning the trees at dusk, kept me company. Great horned owls began moving from woods to meadow edge, conversing between themselves. Across the valley a western screech owl tooted out its ‘bouncing ball’ call.

robins

Patience

The inward season descends. Rain, early dark, late rising sun. The forest drips quietly, aroma of wet moss, earth, fir needles, inhaled with the moist air.


I’m replanting hundreds of Camas bulbs started from seed. These are one-year old bulbs.

After a few years, they will be large, blooming-size bulbs ready to sell.

The mushroom logs are starting to fruit – a few very large (6″-8″ across!) mild Shiitake and oyster mushrooms popped out. I put those logs aside, in the group of those that can be relied on to produce again for the next 2-4 years. Still waiting for most to fruit. The first ones give us hope that hours of sawing, drilling, pounding and watering were worth it. Can’t wait to start selling in earnest. Time to cut more logs…

Planted small seedlings of native Hawthorn started from seed for the hedgerows, collected in the summer of 2011. Two to four inches high now. They like the rain.

Seedling Madrones, short but robust – direct-seeded those into the garden in 2010 in pouring rain, mucky soil full of quack grass – with no summer water – now ready to transplant into the hedge, leaves an inch wide and twice as long – much more likely to live than those in pots.