When working with the land, there is never a “normal” day. There is always something new and even exciting to discover. Yesterday, I left the house at 5:30am to water the “babies” at Site 8. We are experiencing a heat wave, and I wanted to get all my watering done before the sun rose. As I approached the small pool along Spring Creek on the way to Site 8, I could smell a strong odor of urine. Then, I saw several wide, grass-trampled areas where large animals would have created a place to rest. My heart did skip a bit. I picked up the pace, and a slight worry set in. I was not concerned about coming face to face with pigs. Although they can be dangerous and weigh in at upwards of 300 lbs, I was more concerned for what they could have done to the plants. I also had my dogs with me, which provided me the latitude to be that courageous.
Upon cresting the edge of the hill where I had left the milkweed peacefully and healthfully growing just 4 days prior, I saw a war zone. Plants dislocated and thrown away from their holes here and there. I could not allow myself to get emotional. I had to evaluate the situation and see what could be done quickly. There is also no photo for me to share with you because I had quickly left the house to get the watering done before the heat began. I did not bring my phone with camera. I do have a planting map (above) that will show you what was disturbed and what was left alone.
Surprisingly, the first thing I noticed was that it was only the Showy milkweed that the pigs disturbed. OK. I made a mental note of that. The narrowleafs suffered no damage, not even evidence of the pigs walking by them. Interesting. Fortunately, of the five Showy milkweeds, at least one was left in the ground – a little shaken and flopped over, but in the ground.
Second, I noted that of the Showy milkweed plants that had been rooted out and tossed away, they ALL were still in tact in their stainless steel baskets. This is another example of their tremendous utility. You could see, however, that their roots had already pushed past the mesh. While this is a great thing, again, showing how effective those baskets are as a tool, it also meant that the roots had been torn out of the ground. As mentioned previously in this blog, milkweeds are very picky plants. They do not seem to transfer well and do not like much disturbance. As quickly as possible, I grabbed each ball of basket, soil and plant, and placed them back into their holes. I clawed at the dirt around each hole to tuck soil around the open areas and then pushed to pack it in tightly. Finally, I gave them a deep watering. I don’t know if they will survive. I will check on them this evening to see how they are doing. Maybe I will allow myself to cry.
We also lost some nectar plants due to some creature snipping off the tops of the plants. The schematic above (Planting Plan – around the house nectar plants) shows some of the plants disturbed and the reasons. We’ve been fairly lucky close to the house. Only two of the nectar plants have been snipped off. I am desperately hoping that the roots established and plant material will sprout again above soil. Not shown is that I lost four plants in the Site 9 raised bed. One did not transfer well (narrow milkweed). Two were snipped off by some creature (showy milkweed and a woolly pod), and a volunteer sunflower was pulled out completely. I found its body with roots still attached dropped on the east side of the house. I think the culprit is a skunk. There was a faint smell outside the other morning when I discovered another plant missing. I am not sure what to do about this. If it were any other animal, I would leave my dogs out or I would sleep outside for a few nights. But…with a skunk…as much as I love my plant friends…I don’t think so! There are too many plants now to cover them all with mesh, and I am not sure how that would help if the animal could paw or nose its way though it. I will think through some more solutions with Ron and others.
What I am learning is the importance of planting as many plants as possible. There is so much that can happen, so many things that can go wrong. It gives more plants a chance to survive and therefore provide a home and food to the monarchs.