Inhabit

Inhabit

For years I have waited,

watched, and prepared

the garden beds for visitors.

 

Carefully, I have examined each leaf

for signs they inhabit my garden filled

with milkweed for them.

 

Common milkweed was the first,

taking years to be established.

Then swamp milkweed, followed by

rose milkweed planted by students.

 

Each germinating, growing,

flowering, and podding – a live advertisement

for those looking to inhabit my yard and fill it with

color and grace.

 

I wait each spring for the inhabitants,

Monarch Butterflies, to arrive and live in

the habitat I have provided for them.

 

Spring has turned to summer now, before they

arrive, causing me pause as my concern over

this species mounts.

 

Inhabit. Inhabit our fields, our yards, our roadways.

Help pollinate our food. Add beauty to the landscape.

Migrate thousands of miles, visiting those who also invite

this iconic creature with milkweed in their yards from

Canada to the United States to Mexico.

Inhabit. I hope Monarchs can continue to.

 

Inspired via Daily Prompt: Inhabit

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Tiny Charges

Tiny Charges

Earlier this week, toward the end of the vacation my husband and I took to the island country of Bermuda, I remembered to ask my sister-in-law who was staying with our boys how the monarch eggs that I charged with her care were doing.  I did not get a response.

Our cell phone service on Bermuda was nil, and I only used the “free” wi-fi at our resort, so the occasional text I sent might have been missed or not even received. I worried more about how my sister-in-law would feel about some of the eggs not hatching or the caterpillars not surviving than about whether there would still be ten tiny representatives of the monarch life cycle upon my return.

Monarch eggs, the first stage of the monarch life cycle, hatch in anywhere from 1-4 days after being laid by an adult female monarch on a milkweed leaf, depending on conditions. I had found the eggs approximately three days before we left on our trip. I laid out all the leaves and showed my inexperienced, yet willing, monarch conservation participant what they looked like. We discussed what they do when they hatch – eat their egg shells, and then start eating a lot of milkweed. I told her that the caterpillars will be so tiny they will look like a whitish string on the leaf, encouraging the important tool of daily observation when rearing monarchs. The string is a caterpillar, without stripes. The stripes appear in several days, as the caterpillar eats milkweed and starts to grow.

My boys have helped me to rear monarchs for the last thirteen summers. They could manage the monarch care, if my sister-in-law felt unsure or things started to go awry.  Yet, when my question went unanswered, I wondered if it was because I had bad news awaiting me upon our return from vacation.

I would find out soon enough, so I did not ask again. The day arrived yesterday. We arrived home and after initial hugs, updates, and animated conversations about all our international wait staff on the island, I asked again about the monarch eggs.

“Did any hatch? Do we have any caterpillars?” I asked.

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My answer was a firm yes! We have nine caterpillars! Only one egg did not hatch. Wow! I was so impressed! Last year, I found most of the monarchs I raised in the caterpillar stage. Of the three eggs I found, only one did not hatch. So I was hoping to have a better percentage of success than 66%. Ninety percent was excellent! I was really pleased and thanked my sister-in-law and our boys for taking such good care of our tiny charges.

After dinner, I needed to refresh the milkweed the caterpillars were eating. When they are very small, I empty the entire contents of the netted growing container leaf by leaf on to the counter and make a count. Guess what?! We have TEN, not just nine, Monarch caterpillars. They all are striped now, making them somewhat easier to see, but still they like to hide in the curled edge of the drying leaves.  TEN! Ten means 100% of our eggs hatched! Wow! I am so thankful!

After counting and cleaning, which only entails getting rid of old, dried leaves, and dumping the frass (poop), new milkweed leaves were supplied, along with a slight misting of unsoftened water (something I used to do regularly, but found it is not absolutely necessary to do).

When arriving at my milkweed patch in my garden, I was greeted by a monarch flying from plant to plant! What a welcome sight! I picked some fresh leaves to place in the growing container and just happened to find three more eggs!

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Today, I will order my tags from Monarch Watch, so that when I release these monarchs after they complete their life cycle, they can be tracked, if found.  This will be the third year I have participated in tagging the iconic butterfly. It will be a special year, as I will have raised more from eggs than ever before!

Thanks, Aunt Mary, for taking such good care of your tiniest charges! (And the big, human ones, too!)

 

Inspection Time

Inspection Time

Late last week I spent some time looking at my milkweed patches for signs of monarch caterpillars. It is one of those activities that no matter how many times I do it, it is always filled with hopeful anticipation for me.

I have three main patches. The first patch is common milkweed, next to my garage wall in a long perennial bed. These plants are about knee-high right now and some are even starting to have flower bud clusters.  Eagerly, I looked for eaten leaves, or leaves with holes in them. I found a few and turned the leaves over to inspect the underside. Adult Monarch Butterflies typically will lay their eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. There are many reasons for doing this. The egg is protected from the elements – sun, wind, and rain, that might do some kind of biological damage to the developing caterpillar within. Obviously, if a predator cannot see the egg, it is a built-in protective mechanism. The egg is out of sight, under the leaf, it cannot be eaten or disturbed. However, I cannot imagine the egg would provide much sustenance for any other species, as it is tiny! As tiny as the head of a straight sewing pin! It ovoid in shape and a pale lemony color. It took me years to be able to find and identify a monarch’s egg.  I still find it so much easier to just look for the second stage of the monarch life cycle which is the characteristically white, orange, and black striped caterpillar. The common milkweed yielded no eggs or caterpillars, despite some suspiciously eaten leaf margins leading me to believe I would be lucky and see evidence of monarchs visiting my yard.

Last year, my rose milkweed, which is behind our barn and started as seed planted by my garden club students in May of 2015, was teeming with caterpillars. It was hard to count, there were so many! My milkweed inspection turned to this patch next. Now, the rose milkweed is about 3 feet high already! It is a much different looking plant, with a more elongated, sharper margined, darker leaf, supported by reddish stems.  My anticipation was dampened again, after not finding any signs of monarchs in this patch. I did not even see any eaten leaves.

Swamp milkweed is the last type of milkweed in my yard. This type of milkweed likes wet soil. Our yard varies from a sandy loam to a wet, dense clay depending on where you dig. Under a rapidly growing maple tree, in a shady spot, where the soil is almost always moist, grows my swamp milkweed. This plant is different still, not requiring the bright, hot sun, but milder conditions The leaves are a lighter green than the rose milkweed but similar in shape to that plant.  The blooms are white. Again, flower buds are already forming but there is no evidence of flying or crawling visitors.

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My hope was dashed. It is mid-June and I haven’t seen a monarch butterfly yet. There is no evidence they have been here, either. No eggs, no caterpillars, no butterflies. I looked back at my reporting records on Journey North’s Citizen Science Reporting Log for first sighting an adult monarch. In 2008, I saw one on May 14th.  Last year, in 2016,  I first saw a monarch butterfly on July 5th.  This is not good, folks!  I hope they show up soon. I have lots of food for them!

Looking for monarch eggs and caterpillars can be an exciting activity for youngsters. When they were young, my boys loved looking for the caterpillars and now will still report to me if they find one.   Even just learning to identify a milkweed plant on a local roadside hike can be a valuable learning experience, leading to more curiosity about a disappearing icon of the natural world.  Learning about the life cycle of another species is helpful in that we also learn how we, as humans, influence their habitats.  Knowledge is power!

Here are a few children’s books that I have used in the past to engage either my own boys or my students in learning about the Monarch Life Cycle.

The message is simple. Without milkweed, there are no monarchs!

Waiting Patiently

Waiting Patiently

We have some large projects going on at our house right now. The siding is being replaced and a few of the gardens are being revamped, once the siding is finished on each section. My husband is handy, so the siding job is his.

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My job, fitting for a nature lover and master gardener, is to spruce up the beds, once the scaffolding moves on to another part of our dwelling.  Last night, I was working on a long bed next to our garage. Among others, it holds my common milkweed plants. As I worked along on the border, replacing sand between bricks, I finally had to give in and look. The healthy green leaves are just waiting for a monarch visit. Were there any eggs, I wondered? Probably not, to have eggs, one must have butterflies. I have yet to see a Monarch this year.  So, I looked. I looked at the common milkweed. I looked at the swamp milkweed in another bed. And I looked at the rose milkweed, started by my garden club students from seed in 2015. Nada. Nothing, but healthy plants waiting to nourish a beautiful insect that depends solely on the verdant leaves to life.

Patiently, I’ll wait. For the alst 14 years I have raised monarchs, planted new and restored old habitats for this species that undergoes a miraculous metamorphosis and even more astounding migration. It is awe inspiring to be part of the process. It is that awe that I use to engage my students in learning about the environment, biodiversity, and human impact.

 

Hopefully, the monarchs will visit my gardens this year. The milkweed and I are ready for them. Patiently, I will wait. Expectantly, I will observe. Joyfully, I will welcome them once they arrive.

If you’d like to learn more about Monarchs and their plight, I would recommend these resources:

Monarch Life Cycle

Population Decline

How you can help

Milkweed Types

Creating Habitat for Monarchs

Creating School Gardens for Monarchs

My Story: Gardening with School Aged Students & Monarch Habitat Conservation

There are many, many other resources that I am aware of. If you need specific information, please let me know and I can provide it or direct you.  Thanks!

Plant Milkweed!

 

 

Simple Saturday – Nature in my Yard

Simple Saturday – Nature in my Yard

Today, I have a need to just post some simple photos of the evolving aspects of nature in my yard. There are reasons for this simpler post. While glancing at my social media feed this morning, I saw several articles and posts that irritated me. I do not wish to be irritated, so I will leave you with visions of happier more beautiful things that are right in my own backyard!

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Bleeding Heart

 

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Apple Buds

 

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Apple Blossoms

 

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More Apple Blossoms
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Home Fruit Orchard

 

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One of our five blueberry bushes.

 

Rose Milkweed plants behind our barn.

Seeds started by my garden club students in 2015.

We have Rose Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, and Common Milkweed in our Yard.

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Many of the 101 new Fraser Fir Trees we had planted in our yard this spring.

Enjoy nature today & leave the annoying posts behind. We’ll all be better off.

Here’s to a Simple Saturday!

Today’s Garden Club Lesson: Inspiring Youth with Monarch Conservation Activities

Today’s Garden Club Lesson: Inspiring Youth with Monarch Conservation Activities

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School Butterfly Garden, established 2006. Certified as Monarch WayStation by Monarch Watch 2008. We’ve been at this a long time!

Today, my garden club for third,  forth, and fifth graders will meet after school. We have two meetings in the month of May, instead of our usual single monthly meeting. On this first meeting, we typically weed the garden, turn over the soil to aerate it and loosen it up.  If you read my post last week,  you know a pesticide was sprayed (in error) on our twelve-year-old school butterfly habitat that also serves as a Certified Monarch Habitat or WayStation. Since the spraying was so close to our meeting and really, really should not happened in the first place, I decided to let the weeding go and keep the students out of the garden until our planting session at the end of the month. The planting is the culmination of the school year’s work for garden club students.

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Rose Milkweed erupting behind our barn. Seeds were started by Garden Club Students.

Today, we will discuss the monarch life cycle, the importance of milkweed, and where the migration stands with this dwindling population of butterflies.  Each student will plant common milkweed seeds (saved from my own garden beds) that will serve as the host plant for the monarch life cycle, starting with the egg being laid by an adult, female monarch, followed by the caterpillar stage during which milkweed is the only source of feeding, and during which the caterpillar sheds its skin five times. The chrysalis is formed after the skin is shed for the last time, after the caterpillar has attached itself to a branch or stem, house shingle, sunflower, or any number of existing environmental assistives. The chrysalis must hang off the ground for the metamorphosis to take place.  It is an awe-inspiring event to watch, but most often goes unnoticed and camouflaged in nature. After about 10-14 days, a beautiful monarch emerges and the process starts again.

The whole process and life of the monarch is dependant on habitat and the availability of milkweed. This is why the students will take the milkweed seeds they plant today home to start a habitat in their own yards.

Zinna seeds will also be planted for each student to take home. Zinna’s provide many species of butterflies with nectar. They color and hardiness attract the fluttering insects throughout the summer, well into fall. Zinna’s are also easy to grow.

Since learning the garden that we made into a Monarch Habitat so many years ago and well before it was needed and a “popular” thing to do, I decided that I must change course. Today, starts the path down a different road. I will try to instill the awe of a metamorphic and migrational life of a tiny, seemingly fragile creature in the minds of my students. The future is theirs. The future is ours. I will help them plant the seeds of our future in their own lives.

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Milkweed Seeds Planted 2015.