Building Monarch butterfly habitat at the farm

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This week in the news I noticed a disheartening article that illuminated this year’s decline in Monarch butterfly species population. A friend and colleague, Ben Vogt, has created several new online platforms for Monarch advocates to rally together and celebrate milkweed, the Monarch host plant. Encouraged by Ben’s positive movements, and also by the spring equinox, I considered how I might contribute to building Monarch habitat this week.

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It occured to me it’d be lovely to begin spring with a wildflower seed sowing project. Earlier this winter, I was lucky to participate in seed sowing at my organic farmer friend’s home in Saratoga. After that wildflower seed sowing event, I still had some Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) leftover, which is quintessential Monarch butterfly host plant: the only family of plants that Monarch caterpillars can eat. Swamp Milkweed has pretty pink flowers and can tolerate very wet conditions. So I contacted Mr. Otrembiak, my farmer friend and we walked around the farm until we reached a riverbank that sometimes floods from beaver activity.

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We divided the seeds and scattered them up and down the riverbank. We won’t have a 100% germination rate for this Milkweed, but if any of it is successful, this will easily become one more Monarch butterfly waystation, because everything the butterflies need to make their living is right onsite. Providing safe space for Monarchs is relatively simple, planting Milkweed is the backbone of their habitat.

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Many times when the Monarch butterflies return from their annual migration in Mexico, they find development where they had lived and procreated the year before; often a new Starbucks or Whirl-Mart is in place of the Monarch habitat. There is a new responsibility that falls on American property owners and gardeners to provide habitat for our native wildlife as our nation is rapidly leaving butterflies, birds, mammals and insects with no place to go. Adding Asclepias incarnata or A. Tuberosa to the garden for Monarch butterflies is a fantastic idea for starting spring 2013 positively.

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