This week was difficult. Mid-week I saw a sign posted in our butterfly garden at school. It was not supposed to be there, but yet it was. Just a mere ten feet from the sign that declares our garden to be a Certified Monarch WayStation since 2008, was another sign. Before I approached to read it, I felt my heartbeat speed up; I knew what it was. My fear was confirmed when I read that “pesticide” had been sprayed.
Pesticide. In a Monarch Habitat. Pesticide. In a garden I have lovingly managed for 12 years to provide a safe habitat for migrating monarch butterflies. Pesticide. A killer of insects, both harmful and beneficial. Pesticide was sprayed in our garden!
Immediately, I went into attack mode. I really could not understand why our garden was sprayed. I am sure it has not been sprayed since we established the garden in 2006. At that time, I wrote our district’s Building and Grounds Department explaining that we had gotten permission to convert an old perennial bed into a garden habitat for local butterflies. I explained that from that time forward it could never be sprayed for the chemicals would kill our butterflies and more. They knew. They were informed.
What happened? I am still trying to figure it out. I emailed our building and grounds director and the principal at our school. Currently, I am being told they never knew not to spray the garden, have been spraying it, and it is for weed control. Furthermore, I was told that it was not pesticide that was sprayed, it was a herbicide. This confuses me even more; why did the sign state a pesticide was sprayed then? The herbicide spraying disturbs me as well for we have milkweed in the garden. Milkweed is essential for the monarch life cycle. Without Milkweed, there are not any Monarchs. I explained to our principal the following day that I am a detailed oriented person, I would never have purposely planted milkweed seeds in a garden meant to host monarchs over ten years ago, only to have the grounds crew spray chemicals on the garden. I never would have left that piece out because the butterfly garden was planted to enrich the students I have seen monthly for the last 12 school years. The garden, the lessons, the monarch habitat have all been used to plant the seed of Environmental Stewardship in our youth. It has been used for service learning and introductions to citizen science. I thought it was special.
It has been a valuable use of my time – the literally hundreds of hours spent preparing lessons, teaching the garden club students, and caring for the butterfly garden. Another reason I am sure that there has not been any spraying is that I have been the sole gardener in that particular garden bed (with the exception of students and rare families that I recruited). Due to that reason, it becomes overrun with weeds by the end of June, is cleaned up in early July, and is overrun again by mid-August by which time I plan about 10-12 hours of weeding to get it cleaned up for the school year to begin. It has been a successful Monarch habitat over that time. Annually, our milkweed plants grow to 5-6 feet leaving plenty of places to find monarch caterpillars and sometimes even a hanging, hidden chrysalis amongst the leaves. While gardening, I have been visited by countless Monarchs, bees, and other butterflies who are feeding on our nectar plants. It has been the result of hard work, dedication, and truly, a success story for monarch conservation, student enrichment, and my own self-esteem. It has been a product of my own self-direction and efforts. However, it has largely gone unnoticed by the rest of the community, our district, and sometimes even ignored by educators at the very school upon which grounds the butterfly garden resides.
Because of all the good the garden has provided me, the students, and the monarchs, I’ve been able to rationalize that ignorance up until this week. Having pesticide sprayed on the butterfly garden bed has forced me to realize that the garden will never be at its full potential because not enough people care about it. It has been, and can be, ignored. The ignorance this past week led to it being sprayed with pesticide as the sign stated or herbicide, as I have been told. Hopefully, it will not be a fatal action. But all actions have consequences and the consequence for this is that I can no longer justify my time only to be ignored, to have the habitat ignored, and to have the needs of our pollinators ignored.
The monarchs will find habitat in my yard, a short distance from school. We have planted plenty of milkweed and flowers for them to enjoy. They will be welcome and cherished there. My home monarch habitat is and will continue to be pesticide free. They will be safe. I will continue to provide community enrichment through other venues – such as my Master Gardener Association, of which I am a member. I am done investing time, only to be ignored for doing some good. Someone, somewhere, will appreciate my conservation and enrichment efforts and not spray the garden. It is time to find a new home.