Helping the Monarchs Survive

I read an article last April about how the monarch butterfly population had diminished by 90%. This shocked me. Although I know that many living things have it tough due to rapacious human behavior, I was not aware that this incredible butterfly was in such decline. They are magical, beautiful creatures that spend generations migrating from locations in Mexico through California and up to the far north of the US. Why was this happening? Habitat loss and pesticide use were two major reasons given in the article.

After reading the article, I thought, “How can I make a difference?” So, I did some research and found that my beautiful ranch, FeatherField, is along the monarch migration path! After all, I live in Mariposa County, and Mariposa means “butterfly” in Spanish. My ranch is also within the traditional lands of the Yokut and just west of the Ahwahneechee – Southern Sierra Mi Wuk people, whose word for large butterfly is toj un.

Getting Started Right – August 10, 2019

Ron and Bev after planting the South Plot with Heather – August 10, 2019

Ron Allen is a UC Master Gardener. I knew Ron and his spouse, Bev Andolora, from other civic clubs in town, but did not know they were talented gardeners. They have also started a business, Mariposa Native Plants. I learned about their love for Milkweed at the Butterfly Days event in Mariposa town, at which they were vendors. Mariposa has this event the first weekend of May each year to celebrate butterflies. It was there that I revealed my thought about establishing a large monarch habitat and asked if they could be my plant suppliers. They had germinated just enough for me to have a good start.

Ron had quickly developed a reputation locally as the “milkweed” guy among the Master Gardener’s group. He has been able to successfully germinate tricky seeds and turn them into healthy plants. I knew I was working with the right people.

Ron explained that I would need to group 9 to 10 plants together of varying species to be most effective. They should be spaced at least 1.5′ apart from one another and have a source of water to establish them over the next two years. They would need to be watered once per week until the rains begin.

The South Plot looking east.

I chose an abandoned 4×4 raised bed as my first site just to the south of my home and adjacent to a 2500 gallon rain water collection tank. Prior to their arrival, I moistened the dirt and dug 10 holes at least 1.5′ apart.

Ron and Bev recommended that we also make gopher baskets in which to plant the milkweed seedlings as an “insurance policy” against a possible gopher attack.

Heather and Ron planting as Bev captures photos.

We planted in the morning to avoid the heat. We made baskets out of metal fencing and carefully planted each seedling in the basket and packed local dirt around it. We packed the dirt tightly on top. The seedlings ranged in age from 1 year to 2 years old. We planted four species. Their common names are: Showy Milkweed, Woolly Pod, Sacramento Narrow Leaf, and Mariposa Narrow Leaf.

Map of South Plot plantings.

After the seedlings were planted, we gave them a good watering (1 gallon per plant). I water them once per week.

I am so excited to be a part of the solution. I plan to plant sunflowers and other flowers to provide nectar for the butterflies once they emerge from their cocoons.

For more information on monarch butterflies, visit the Monarch Watch website.

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