The Art of Timing

At our Open House a few weeks back somebody asked me if there was a certain part of day that was better for butterfly viewing than others.  At the time I thought once the morning started to warm up, the answer to that question would be, "No".

However, now that the construction is mostly done and I am getting more time to spend in the field, I think I am beginning to change my mind on that response.  It seems that the peak of the afternoon, say between 2-4PM, is in fact the best time for butterfly viewing.  Let me offer some evidence to support my position.

On July 3 a couple of my staff and I walked our trails conducting our monthly butterfly transect.  This is where we count every butterfly we see.  On this day we had to walk the transect a little earlier than I would've liked because of a scheduling conflict, therefore we were out from roughly 10:30AM-Noon.  Our results, despite sunny skies and temperatures in the 80's were disappointing, barely half of what we had observed in June.  Later that same day I led a tour of our trails and in fact saw three butterfly species that we had not observed on the transect two hours earlier.

Now jump to today, July 11.  At 3PM the skies were overcast, temperatures in the high 70's and more Silver-spotted Skippers than one could count.  I was expecting those numbers of skippers on the July 3 transect and did not get them, despite having seen that species in large numbers each afternoon for several days prior.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

For ever I thought butterfly activity was largely driven by temperature and sky condition.  While I think those two are still important, I am beginning to believe that time of day is equally important.  And, that time of day is relatively independent of the other two.

Butterflies . . . for best viewing go out mid-afternoon!

Sachem (female)

Sachem (female)

Butterfly Partnership!

Butterfly Ridge is partnering with Hocking Valley Community Hospital to transform their courtyard into a butterfly friendly habitat and spring exhibit.  Awesome butterfly nectar plants like marigold, butterfly bush, joe pye weed, and wild bergamot are being added to the site to maintain a butterfly presence in the space.

Butterfly Ridge will co-host the opening of the exhibit on Friday May 12 at 1PM, providing learning stations and crafts for children.  Painted Lady caterpillars as well as chrysalises of Painted Lady and Giant Swallowtail will be on display as visitors can learn about the butterfly life cycle.  Please feel free to join us for an exciting and educational event.

Hocking Valley Community Hospital is located on State Route 664, about a half-mile north of the CVS pharmacy.

Butterfly Ridge Awards the Environmental Action Scholarship

On Tuesday night, April 25, Butterfly Ridge awarded it's inaugural Environmental Action Scholarship to Liberty Russell of Logan-Hocking High School.  Liberty will graduate in May with plans to attend Wilmington College in the fall to study Wildlife Management. 

It was truly a pleasure to get to visit with Liberty and her parents after the event in the Logan High School Theatre. We learned that from a young age, Liberty was enthralled with the out-of-doors, dragging her parents through various wild areas chasing butterflies, dragonflies, and every other wild thing that caught her eye. 

We are so pleased with our selection for the first ever Environmental Action Scholarship.  Upon proof of enrollment Liberty will receive a $500 check to help defray the costs of here freshman year at Wilmington.  We wish Liberty all the best with the education path she has chosen.

Scholarships

Butterfly Ridge announces that it will be awarding two scholarships this spring to students of Logan-Hocking and Berne Union school districts. 

The Community Action Scholarship will be a $500 award to a graduating senior of Berne Union High School in Sugar Grove.  The award winner will have shown a dedication to community volunteerism and a passion for continuing this spirit of volunteerism as they move on to the next level of their education.  Interested students should talk to Mr. Heath about specific eligibility criteria, requirements, and deadlines.

The Environmental Action Scholarship will be a $500 award to a graduating senior of Logan-Hocking High School.  The award winner will show a demonstrated passion for the environment and a plan to continue this passion through college coursework.  All majors are eligible to apply as long as a passion for the environment can be pursued through the major.  Interested seniors should watch for the Butterfly Ridge information at your scholarship information session this winter.

Butterfly Ridge is also dedicated to making sure that its scholarship award winners get "first dibs" on summer job openings that we may have!

Congratulations to all graduating seniors in these two outstanding school districts and Butterfly Ridge hopes to hear from you!

Alexis Long

Logan High School senior Alexis Long has been commissioned to design and paint a mural for the side of the new Butterfly Ridge Visitor Center.  Her canvas will measure approximately 8 feet x 36 feet and will be the wall that faces the entry drive, with a great view for southbound traffic on OH374.

You are possibly already familiar with her work.  If you frequently drive US33 between Nelsonville and Logan then perhaps you have seen her billboard near the exit for OH328.  Alexis is not a stranger to Butterfly Ridge.  She and her brother Ethan helped to plant our prairie last spring.  They must've done a good job as the prairie really started looking great late in the summer!

The concept that Alexis will be hoping to achieve with the mural is to inspire a child-like joy for the beautiful butterflies that call Butterfly Ridge home.

Butterfly Ridge will not be the last stop on her artistic journey.  In Fall of 2017 she will start at Cedarville University near Xenia, Ohio to continue her art studies as a Graphic Design major.  Butterfly Ridge is very pleased that she will be sharing her talent with us!

National Butterfly Center, Mission, Texas

On November 18 we flew from Columbus, OH to McAllen, Texas to visit the National Butterfly Center, a few miles west of McAllen in Mission, Texas.  The Center sits in the Rio Grande floodplain about 1/2 mile from the Mexican border.  The center is about as close as you can get to the equator while still being in the United States!

While the temperature when we landed was 88 humid degrees, on Saturday morning when we visited the center it was a whopping 60 degrees with a cold, strong north wind.  Upon our arrival at 8:30AM the gift shop manager Angie Garcia was very apologetic of the weather (fearful we wouldn't see any butterflies) and actually gave us a price break on our admission.  She found later that a considerable portion of our visit was to pick her brain and steal ideas!

Angie and her assistant Marcelos spent a lot of time with us, above and beyond what we ever could had hoped for.  She was very open in terms of vendors she works with, tricks of the trade she had learned in her four years there, and how she would re-design her own gift shop given the opportunity.  The time we spent with her alone was worth the plane ticket!

Our April with gift shop manager Angie (left) and weekend assistant Marcelos (right).

Our April with gift shop manager Angie (left) and weekend assistant Marcelos (right).

Another interesting thing that she shared with us was that one of the greatest security concerns that they have is NOT illegal immigrants sneaking in, but rather poachers.  Apparently they have quite a problem with people catching butterflies to either add to their own specimen collections or to sell mounted specimens on eBay.  She mentioned that they had a "Most Wanted" board in the backroom with pictures of people who have been caught doing this.

The grounds of the NBC had a very "wild" appearance, with the landscaping being permitted to grow as it wishes, or so things appeared.  They have a few more structured areas, but even those were not highly manicured and formal, which surprised me to a degree.  The center is a project of the North American Butterfly Association and because of that sort of backing, I was expecting a much more formal, manicured presentation.  Not that the more "wild" look is "good" or "bad", just different from what I was expecting.  In all honesty, wildlife gardening done well tends toward the messy and wild.

One of the main attractions at the NBC is Spike, a large tortoise that you they rescued.  He has now lived at the center for several years and has grown quite large and quite popular!

Spike

Spike

The NBC also has a large bird feeding area which was quite popular with not only the birds but squirrels and people as well!

bird feeding area

bird feeding area

Of course, for me, the main reason for my visit, besides getting valuable information from Angie, was watching butterflies.  The NBC's main trail follows what appears to be an old canal that is lined largely with hackberry and some sort of palo verde trees.  This is where butterfly activity was greatest along with their more managed garden beds. 

From left to right: Top Row: Queen, Phaon Crescent, Gulf Fritillary, American Snout; 2nd Row: Great Southern White, Red Admiral, Mallow Scrub-hairstreak, Common Buckeye; 3rd Row:  White Peacock, Red-bordered Pixie, Crimson Patch, Laviana White Skipper; Bottom Row: Ceraunus Blue, Zebra Longwing, Tawny Emperor, and Large Orange Sulphur.

Overall a great trip.  We learned a lot about how to set up Butterfly Ridge!  A big thank you to the National Butterfly Center for it's hospitality.

Our research trip to Florida

Kris and I spent the past week on a quick vacation to Florida.  The purpose of our trip, besides getting away from our children for awhile, was to visit a commercial butterfly farm.  While we are not necessarily wanting to start a commercial butterfly farm, we are wanting to start raising butterflies in an attempt to expand our native population of butterflies.  We thought we should learn how before we got started.

We pulled in to Butterfly Dan's in Kissimmee around 10 AM on Wednesday July 27.  Crystal met us in the parking area (as Dan was out-of-state) and went over the ground rules, which consisted of only one rule; NO PICTURES!  Bummer!  So here is a pic of Kris playing in the Atlantic Ocean to prove we actually went!

The trip to Dan's was very interesting and gave us a lot to think about for Butterfly Ridge.  Dan raises perhaps 15 different species and ships out over 3000 chrysalises each week.  While we may work with that many species or more, we do not anticipate raising anywhere near 3000 butterflies per week.  So hopefully we will not need the 12 greenhouses that Dan uses!

Perhaps the thing that made an equally lasting impression as the wonderful tour of the facility that we received from Crystal was the 'wild' butterflies that we saw as we visited rest areas, restaurants, beaches, and other areas.  Or perhaps I should say, the lack thereof of wild butterflies.

We did not see our first wild butterfly up close and personal until the North Carolina Welcome Center, crossing into the Blue Ridge Mountains from South Carolina, ON THE TRIP BACK HOME!!!!!!  Yes, we drove nearly 1500 miles before we saw a butterfly that we could actually photograph, which I didn't because I was rushing to the restroom.  At the welcome center was a handful of Sachems, Fiery Skippers, and Silver-spotted Skippers nectaring on butterfly bush. 

Our next butterfly experience was at a rest area in Virginia when we went "off-trail", crossing into a DO NOT ENTER zone, hoping it wasn't mined, that was ripe with red clover and other wildflowers/weeds.  Here we found a couple of Orange Sulphurs and an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

How did we travel 1500 miles and not see a single butterfly?  Granted we did see a few, certainly not a lot, of butterflies as we drove.  However, in walking from the Days Inn to the Denny's in Moorseville, NC, not once but twice, we did not see a single butterfly.  In walking from the Sleep Inn in Ormond Beach to the Chili's we did not see a single butterfly.  In walking from the Sleep Inn to the Applebees we did not see a single butterfly.  In walking around the beach at Indiatlantic, Florida we did not see a single butterfly.  In walking around Hendersonville, North Carolina we did not see a single butterfly.  In walking around rest areas in South Carolina and Florida we did not see a single butterfly.  How can this be?

So much of it relates to the choices we make when we landscape our homes, businesses, and rest areas.  We get screaming deals on boxwood and Taxus, we shape them to look like cute petting zoo animals and think nothing of the consequences.  We plant acre after acre of grass seed so that we can mow on a weekly basis when we could plant acre after acre of wildflower mix and stand in front of it and ooh and ahh as it teams with life.

Let me encourage you to Landscape for Life.  Nobody should ever drive 1500 miles and not see a single butterfly.

The Hackberry Trifecta Complete!

We had a special week at Butterfly Ridge from the butterfly sightings perspective.  In one week we observed Tawny Emperor, Hackberry Emperor, and American Snout.  The latter two were new to our species list.

Tawny Emperor

Tawny Emperor

All three of these use hackberry (Celtis sp.) as their caterpillar host plants.  The ironic thing is that we have no hackberry growing at Butterfly Ridge!  So where did they come from?

American Snout

American Snout

Perhaps a neighboring property has hackberry and they have traveled in from there.  The American Snout is known to emigrate relatively long distances from the southern United States.  Perhaps the Snout arrived from Tennessee, Kentucky, or elsewhere in the south.  Snout is relatively uncommon in southeastern Ohio.  The one pictured below is only the third or fourth that I have seen in Ohio, although they are quite common in the desert Southwest.

Hackberry Emperor

Hackberry Emperor

The Hackberry Emperor, despite being new for our list was not especially shocking.  I have seen Hackberry elsewhere in Ohio, just never at Butterfly Ridge.  It made sense that eventually one would wonder through.  Although for the week I actually saw two individuals.

We have observed Tawny Emperor at Butterfly Ridge for three years in a row now.  I wonder if perhaps they also use elm as a host, it being in the same plant family as hackberry.

The emperors are fun butterflies to have around.  They are very social, although I suspect their "socialness" is actually more of a territoriality.  If you have ever had a brown butterfly land on you on a hot summer day, odds are it was one of the emperors.  Or maybe, rather than being social, it was a male sucking the sweat off of you.  They are notorious for that as well! 

A Mutualistic Relationship - Volunteers and Butterfly Ridge

We have had two awesome volunteer events in the month of June.  Below is a photo of the group that helped us plant the short grass prairie.  We were able to plant over 200 native perennials in just under two hours.  Without these helpers it would've been an all day job in the blazing heat.

The task - planting all of these!

The task - planting all of these!

Post-planting tour.

Post-planting tour.

This past weekend was our second event, the opening of what used to be a field.  My family stopped mowing the field roughly 20 years ago and the field had grown into a very dense forest, averaging 10-15 trees per 100 square feet.  Butterflies are not very fond of dense forest so the task was to cut large openings (roughly 1/10 acre for each) in the thick woods.

The work was hard and long.  My original plan was to offer a moth lighting night after the first work day but we were all so exhausted we scrapped that plan!  Everybody seemed to have a little more energy on Sunday!

One of the things I am most excited about, in addition to the openings being cut into the woods, was that several of our helpers learned new skills.  April and Nancy had never driven a Gator before.  Now they are Gator Masters!  Asa had minimal experience with the chain saw and Brandon had no experience with the chainsaw.  Both cut down probably over 100 trees each without killing themselves or others!  It was a tremendous weekend.

Cutting the openings in the woods is not finished and I am sure we will offer another Work Weekend in July or early August.  Hopefully you can join us!

Nancy and April getting their Gator on, hauling freshly cut fence posts and firewood.

Nancy and April getting their Gator on, hauling freshly cut fence posts and firewood.

The tag team of Justin and Parker taking a well-deserved break.  Parker is studying a geometrid moth caterpillar (inch-worm!) crawling on his hand!

The tag team of Justin and Parker taking a well-deserved break.  Parker is studying a geometrid moth caterpillar (inch-worm!) crawling on his hand!

Brandon, now known by the super-hero name Chain Saw, hard at work.

Brandon, now known by the super-hero name Chain Saw, hard at work.

The tag team of Asa and Eileen (wishing they were done?).

The tag team of Asa and Eileen (wishing they were done?).

Planting the Prairie

My last post was about the site prep for our prairie we are developing.  What I left out of that post was with what we are going to plant the prairie.  I did mention that we have several pounds of prairie grass seed, including Indian Grass, Little Bluestem, Purpletop, Side-oats Grama, etc.  Most of this was purchased from Roundstone Seed in Kentucky while some of it was collected.

We are going to also plant the prairie with various biennial and perennial wildflowers.  The featured wildflower for the prairie will be Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  It does well on our property and is an amazing nectar source for butterflies in general.  Mixed with this orange-flowered milkweed we will add thistle, bergamot, colic root, bushclover, rattlesnake master and others.

Here at Butterfly Ridge we grow ALL of our plants from seed.  Most of that seed has been field collected by myself or donated by friends.  This way we can save huge amounts of money on the Butterfly Ridge project.  

Butterfly Weed babies!

Butterfly Weed babies!

As example, currently in the greenhouse we have roughly 100 Butterfly Weeds growing (along with several hundred other plants).  To purchase those 100 plants at a garden center would cost nearly $1000.  Butterfly Ridge has invested a whopping $8.00 for those same 100 plants in the form of soil and tags.  All pots have been scrounged over the years and seed was hand  collected from various sites last autumn.

At Butterfly Ridge we are trying to be good stewards, keeping costs low, using native plant species from seed collected locally.  As a part of that stewardship we will also be seeking the help of supportive volunteers when these beauties are ready for planting.  Stay tuned to the Butterfly Ridge website (also on the facebook page) for planting dates (probably late May or early June).  

What do you think about our plans?  Comment or if you'd like a personalized heads-up on planting dates!

Bushclover babies!

Bushclover babies!

Spicebush babies!

Spicebush babies!

The Prairie

One of the several projects on the docket for Butterfly Ridge is the creation of a prairie along our ridge tops.  We are starting slow for 2016, not quite one-quarter acre in size.  If things go well we will expand the prairie each year, ultimately achieving a size of about 1.5 acres.

There are several good resources available to show how to start a prairie project.  Many of the regional state extension offices have website links to prairie development.  We consulted those for recommendations regarding how much seed and lime to use.  We also had our local soil and water conservation officer Dave Libben come out an take a look at the site.  Dave recommended the addition of lime after witnessing our healthy stand of broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus).  Apparently this grass (not a sedge at all!) is an indicator of relatively poor soil.  By adding lime we will raise the soil pH and actually make nutrients already in the soil more available to our plants.

Our prairie work has gone in stages.  The first step was a shallow discing of the soil to break up the broomsedge root mass.  We disced only a couple inches deep.

Newly disced.

Newly disced.

A week or so later we added about 1/2 ton of lime.  This was based on calculations found at extension office websites.  Most recommended applying lime at a rate of 2 tons per acre to raise the pH by a value of 1.0.  However, since we have heavy clay soils it was advised to double the rate.  The application rate on the back of the bag was considerably less however so we split the difference.  We can always add more.

A few days later, after having to get a part on the tractor repaired, my dad went through and tilled the lime into the top 3-4 inches of soil.  Now we wait patiently for some rain to begin dissolving the lime into the soil.  We will repeat the tilling at roughly two week intervals, on Dave's suggestion, for a month to remove any weed seedlings that may try to rear their ugly heads!  Hopefully by mid to late May we will be ready to plant.

Tilling

Tilling

And what are we going to plant you ask?  The primary prairie grass species we are using are Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Purpletop (Tridens flavus), and Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula).  We will also be adding native perennial wildflowers.  More about those in the next blog addition.

First Butterfly of the Season!

In what will certainly become an annual ritual, the first official butterfly sighting of the year for Butterfly Ridge happened today.  And the winner was . . . drum roll please . . . Eastern Comma!  Actually, it was the first, second, third, fourth, and possibly fifth butterfly sightings of the year, all rolled up in one.  I know for sure that there were at least four individuals, but there were two that were engaged in an aerial dogfight and it was hard to track each butterfly.

Last year our first official sighting was March 22, 2015 (see one of the first posts in this blog) and it was also an Eastern Comma.  So we are a little earlier this year.  Commas, Mourning Cloaks, and Question Marks will all come out on warm days in late winter/early spring.  They have spent the winter hiding in brush piles and behind tree bark and are anxious for an opportunity to fly.

Today's sightings were in the new woodland clearing, which by the way has been expanded by about 30 percent this winter.  I will be excited to see it later in spring and summer when plants start blooming and hairstreaks start flying.  Welcome to another butterfly season!  

Monarchs, Data, and Politics

The data is in.  And the monarch butterfly is on the rebound!  A perfect reason to stop all of this silliness about declaring it an endangered species.  A perfect reason to stop attacking the job creators at Monsanto.  The monarch is fine you environmentalists!  Crawl back in your holes and wait for the next crisis.

Expect this to be the rallying cry from agri-business in the coming year.  The monarch population this winter measured 4.01 hectares, nearly triple the previous year and quadruple the size of the record low population two years ago.  So, has the canary in coal mine regained consciousness?  Was all of this talk about endangered species a big tadoo over nothing?

Yes, the monarchs had a better year last year.  Am I prepared to call it a good year?  No, not when compared to the population data from the late 1990's.  While 4.01 hectares is an obvious improvement, it is still nothing to write home about when considering 15 years ago a good year would have been a population size of over 10 hectares in size.

A year or two ago, a collection of noteworthy scientists filed a petition to get the monarch declared as a threatened species.  Based on what?  Based on the 90% decline in population over the last twenty years.  And while the population decline is real, it is hard to justify that a species who's population still numbers in the tens of millions is a threatened.

To reinforce their efforts, these same scientists filed lawsuit against the US FIsh and Wildlife Service earlier this year when it appeared that the petition may not go their way.  Was it a pre-emptive attack, knowing that the population data for this winter was going to look stronger so we better attack while the species is still weak?  Perhaps.

Why list the monarch as threatened?  Seems to me that it was seen as the strongest tool in the box to fight agri-business and their tabernacle of Round-up Readiness.  Could Endangered Species Act protection save the monarch once and for all from the evil overlords of glycophosphate?  My hunch is, "No."  

One thing that is true in America is the reality of litigation.  Did we actually think that Monsanto would just hand over the keys to the combine without a fight?  If monarchs do receive ESA protection, there will be no protection until the legal system has taken its course, perhaps over the course of decades.

And what if protection is granted?  Do we actually, in our wildest cardiac glycoside-induced hallucinations think that the Monsantos of the world will cease and desist, go to jail, pay a bankruptcy-causing fine.  One thing that has been made crystal clear since 2008 is that corporate executives do not go to jail nor do they change their behavior.

So, if agri-business isn't going to be stopped by protecting the monarch butterfly, than who will be.  The answer is the very people who love the butterfly.  With every butterfly gardening class I teach and every butterfly walk I lead I meet somebody who raises monarchs.  And each of these wise elderly women, beautiful young ladies,and dedicated distinguished gentlemen will be going to jail if the monarch receives ESA protection because none of them can stop at just ten; raising only ten monarchs as the law limits.

Wouldn't a better use of our energy, not to mention money, be to create more wise elderly women, beautiful young ladies, and dedicated distinguished gentlemen to continue raising monarchs, planting milkweed, and letting the mower collect dust in the barn?  Afterall, the monarch population is up.  How did that happen?  Of course, weather more conducive to monarch success played a huge role but also did all of the Mom and Pop Jones' of the world replacing their petunias with milkweeds, their begonias with bergamot, and their mowers with butterfly enclosures.  

Which group is going to be more receptive of the monarch gospel, the Round-up cartel or Miss Mollee two houses down the street.  Yes, the news this year was good, but the canary is still on life support.  We cannot rely on a dysfunctional government or corporate players with too many skins in the game.  Each of us need to provide a breath and teach our neighbors to do the same.  This is an alter call.  What decision are you going to make?

 

Our One-Year Anniversary!

Sunday February 14 is the one-year anniversary of our website. www.butterfly-ridge.com!

In honor of this momentous occasion, we are giving away two of these awesome Butterfly Ridge t-shirts! How do you win?  Well, you have already accomplished the first part by visiting our website.  

Step 2 - Type the name of your state and your t-shirt size in the comments section of the Facebook post that sent you here!  For example, "Arizona-XL".

On Sunday February 14 at 1 pm Ohio time we will write the names of all of those who posted appropriate comments to the Facebook post on slips of paper and then pick two slips from the hat.  If your name is drawn we will contact you via Facebook to acquire your mailing address.  Thank you for supporting this project and our butterflies!

Butterflies in Winter

As I gazed out at the site for the Butterfly Ridge Butterfly Conservation Center gift shop and classroom (coming summer of 2016) the other day, I was looking out across a hillside with a fresh five inches of snow.  And this thought crossed my mind, "How in the world does a butterfly survive this kind of weather?"

As unbelievable as it may seem, many of the butterflies that call Ohio home spend the winter here in Ohio, in one form or another.  Not many of our butterflies immigrate in during the warmer weather.  So how do they do it?

The swallowtails in our area overwinter as a chrysalis, hanging from the side of a tree or perennial flower stem, exposed to the brutal sub-freezing temperatures of winter.  A week ago Butterfly Ridge experienced an overnight low of 3 degrees.  The chrysalis survives because it is in a suspended state called diapause, sort of like hibernation but more extreme.

Our local fritillaries spend the winter as a caterpillar.  The early instar caterpillar wedges himself into a deep crack in a tree's bark and holes-up there for the winter.  Some of our local skippers do the same, curling up in a grass stem or leaf.  They use their spinneret to create a silken thread to sew their leaf closed as if zipping up a sleeping bag for the winter.

Last year my dad and I raised buck moths.  The adult moths fly during the day, contrary to most moths, and very late in the season (November).  The buck moth spends the winter as an egg mass attached to a branch or tree trunk.  How the eggs do not turn crispy from freeze drying is beyond me.

Still another way that butterflies and moths survive the winter is as adults, hunkered down in piles of branches or rocks.  There is no better example for this than was found when I burned our burn pile (an old piano, some old boxes, and some large branches) the other day.  Not long after the fire started two moths flew out of it.  Made me feel badly that I had disturbed their home, but I am confident they were able to find new ones.

As you look out upon the winter landscape, consider who is alive and well under the snow or on the branches in that woodlot.  And look forward to the warmth of spring when those hardy souls will again bless us with their vibrant colors and spirited flitting about!

Book Fair Epiphany

This past weekend I had the honor of being invited to participate in the 28th annual Buckeye Book Fair.  This book fair takes place in Wooster, Ohio every year and 100 Ohio authors are invited to attend to sell their books and visit with book enthusiasts.  I was blessed to be counted among those 100 authors.

I shared my table with Mary Gardiner of Ohio State and her book about beneficial bugs in the garden.  Of course, I was there plugging my Butterfly Gardening book, the profits from which go directly to the Butterfly Ridge project.  The OSU folks had been kind enough to bring the Bug Zoo and several cases of prepared butterfly specimens, making Mary and I's table one of the more popular among fair goers.  I also gave away about 150 packets of wildflower seed, a total of about 7000 seeds.

As I chatted with people I found that some people were very interested in butterfly gardening and had already take steps to start a garden to attract butterflies.  These folks were excited to take some seed packets and start some new butterfly friendly plant species in their home landscapes.  

I also noticed that some people swung by the table just because they thought the butterflies on display were pretty.  These folks had no interest in gardening for a variety of reasons; it is too much work, I am too old, I don't have time, etc.  This of course got me thinking.

How do we spread the gospel of butterfly gardening to this latter group of people?  The former group has already received the gospel and are in fact starting their own ministries, their own gardens.  But how do you get through to the person who is already feeling overwhelmed, old and tired, or just lazy?  These are the folks who will just accept whatever the new home construction landscaping package includes, or whatever happens to be sitting in front of Giant Eagle on a seasonal basis.

I think to truly be the greatest benefit to butterflies, we need to preach our gospel to the new home construction landscapers, the ones who plant boxwood hedges and japanese maples and nothing else.  Planting butterfly friendly plants does not require any additional work.  Planting a dogwood hedge is no more time consuming than planting a boxwood hedge, and actually in the long run is less time consuming as the dogwoods will not need trimmed every year.

I have heard landscapers say the reason why they plant boxwood and japanese maple is because that is what their customers want.  Unfortunately their customers typically are not given many choices.  Do I pick the boxwood hedge or the yew hedge?!

One of the goals of Butterfly Ridge Butterfly Conservation Center will be to encourage landscapers to offer landscapes with a purpose; landscapes that are designed to attract butterflies, bees, birds, and other forms of wildlife.  It requires no more work in the short-term but has long-lasting impact.

The "WAR" on Monarchs.

I must admit, it seems like in 21st century America there is a "War" on everything; the  "War on Women", the "War on Christians", the "War on Black Males".  Personally, I think "The War on . . ." phrase is over used and frequently unwarranted.  However, if we are going to continue declaring war on everything, I think a case can be made for the War on Monarchs.

In the past week I have read two news articles of homeowners trying to create butterfly habitat in their home landscapes just to have township trustees and homeowner associations destroy the effort.  In one case, township trustees argued a woman was creating a nuisance property by converting her lawn into meadow.  She even had her meadow certified as Backyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, however the trustees insisted that there was no way to differentiate her property from a nuisance property.  I guess nuisance property owners also go out of their way to earn habitat designations!

In another case a gentleman planted milkweed in his flower beds to support the local monarch population.  The HOA demanded the milkweed be removed because it was too tall.  He pointed out that his neighbor's yard had tall perennials as well.  "But those are garden plants, not weeds," he was told by the authorities.

The other day I stopped at the local "Park and Ride" to check out the plants growing there, looking for butterfly host and nectar plants that I might be able to secure seed from later in the year.  What I found upon my arrival was that nearly the entire bank above the parking lot had been mowed.  I also found that a random strip had been mowed behind the guard rail that separated the parking lot from a nearby stream.

I examined a milkweed that had been blessed by being just out of reach of the spinning blades of destruction to find a half-inch long monarch caterpillar.  This little guy became monarch caterpillar #41 in our "nursery" at Butterfly Ridge.  Only the good Lord knows how many monarch caterpillars were chopped to bits by this senseless act of destruction.  

We like to lay the blame for the demise of the monarch on the shoulders of agribusiness, which in large part is justified.  However, a significant part of the blame belongs on the shoulders of a culture that thinks roadsides, home landscapes, and other random places MUST be manicured in a putting green fashion.  At a time when the monarch butterfly, the only butterfly that a majority of the American human population can actually identify, has population numbers in free fall, we are killing them and their habitat in the name of "neatness"?

We do not need a Fish and Wildlife petition.  We need an education program.  We need television commercials with tears dripping out of caterpillar eyes as the spinning blades approach.  We need milkweed being sold at every farmer's market in America.  We need the monarch to be designated as the National Butterfly of the United States.  We need kindergartners practicing their coloring with monarch butterfly life cycle coloring pages.  We need to get busy.