Thirst is the Worst and Grasshoppers Eat Their Way Up Hill

The last of 30 bees leaves the bird bath after drinking.

Thirsty. It is what everything is. Even I need more moisture. All creatures, plants, insects, animals and humans, are all thirsting for water. This year has been filled with so many “never seen before” moments because of the drought.

  • I’ve never seen so much activity at the water troughs and thick rings of bird poop left behind.
  • I’ve never seen birds queue for a dip in the water dish.
  • I’ve never seen 30+ bees converging on a bird bath to drink – anytime and all the time.
  • I’ve never seen oak leaves die in June, in JUNE, and fall off the trees as if it is Autumn.
  • I’ve never seen so many plants bloom earlier than their normal time.

I continue to water some part of the monarch habitat each day. I have a cycle mapped out so that I am not doing too much each day, but each site gets watered at least twice a week. I am still very grateful for the use of the electric Polaris quad that my wonderful neighbors Ric and Kim Wetzel have lent me. We still have not received the part for my electric quad. Without the part, I would only have the ability to haul a small vessel of water – 2.5 gallons vs 25. Definitely much more efficient and less work to be able to take 25.

Grasshoppers Devastate and March Uphill

There are only two milkweeds left with leaves in the arroyo at Site 2. One milkweed is trying to make a come-back, but will be met with ravenous grasshoppers soon enough like the mugwort that tried the same. I am so sorry my dear plant friends.

The grasshoppers have been moving from the arroyo up hill. They have ravaged the stand of A. Californica closest to the house and surely all other stands of this glorious and critical plant for the first stage of monarch migration. I have been checking the pods daily. It is still early to pick them. They need the milky nutrients to build healthy, strong seeds for the future. I lightly tug on them each day to see if they are ready to drop. I ended up harvesting several early because their mother plants were in the last stages of death by a million bites.

A. Californica seed pods. One is open with insulating duff and healthy seeds emerging!

Although the roots of A. Californica will resprout if the conditions are right, the seeds allow for more rapid increase in the number of plants. If I let the grasshoppers eat the pods, I loose the chance of this generation of seeds spreading. My plan is to spread the seeds after the grasshoppers abate. I will also give some to Ron Allen, my native plant hook up and owner of Mariposa Native Plants, who I affectionately refer to as the “Milkweed Whisperer”, to germinate. He has the amazing ability to bring milkweed seeds to germination – not an easy task.

Deedee Soto, the biologist from Xerces, happened to call me the other day asking about the seed pods. Xerces collects them too to help germinate and spread the plants to needed areas. I told her she could have some if they survived the grasshoppers and my early removal of some of the pods. I told her about the infestation, and we discussed what could be done. She came over on a Saturday and installed mesh bags over the seed pods. We know grasshoppers can eat through fabric mesh, but we are gambling that it may slow them down long enough to get just a bit more nutrients before harvesting. Thank you Deedee for being such a committed protector of butterfly habitat! Thank you Xerces Society for everything you do. Your staff, everyone I have worked with, are truly (and I mean it!), truly outstanding.

More Heroes

Husband David and neighbor Ric have a cold one after fence building

There are so many people that have helped me on this project. My husband David and my neighbor Ric are two. As already mentioned, Ric and Kim have lent us their electric Polaris. What a machine! Ric has also helped me install fence in several locations. We have been working at Site 8 removing the branch fence and installing a temporary t-post fence. There are already a number of butterfly plants planted. Some were eaten by cattle during break-ins. Some did not thrive from the Xerces kits. However, some are still going strong, and there are also oak seedlings I want to protect. I recently purchased more showy milkweeds from Ron Allen. Those I intend to plant in the creek bed where they will have moisture to thrive. For now, I am keeping them close to the house in pots. They will not get planted until the grasshopper infestation has passed. I have not seen many at the creek, but I know it is only a matter of time.

Technical Assistance Continues

Dear friend, remarkable gardener and butterfly lover Caroline Wenger Korn receiving her delivery of showy milkweeds

In a previous post, I discussed the technical assistance part of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts (CARCD) grant I have through my local Resource Conservation District office. We are continuing to provide technical assistance. Last week, I delivered showy milkweeds to a land steward in Catheys Valley, Caroline Wenger Korn. Caroline is a dear friend of mine. She is from a generational cattle ranching family and lives in the home her grandmother built on their family ranch. Caroline is a remarkable gardener. She feeds herself and many friends with the produce she grows. Fortunately, Caroline also loves butterflies and has existing habitat. She only has narrowleaf milkweed however and wanted to have more plant diversity. We are prioritizing places that are expanding existing habitat and plant diversification is important. Thank you Caroline!

Kae Sateurn (photographed center with her visiting sisters) is a farmer in Merced County. She has agreed to begin with one plant to help the butterflies.

Another friend, Kae Sateurn, loves flowers and produces the absolute best strawberries I have EVER tasted. Her and her husband have a diversified, no-spray farming operation in eastern Merced County. I spoke with her about the situation with the butterflies, and she agreed to begin with one milkweed plant. I will deliver her plant next week. My guess is that she will want more when she sees how beautiful they are and how many pollinators it brings to her farm. Thank you Kae!

Odds and Ends

A big healthy bumble bee enjoys the lavender

Not everything is bad news. I have been seeing several types of bees including a variety of bumble bees. They are one of my favorites. Bumble bees are also in decline and 25% of them are facing extinction. It has buoyed me in these dark times of drought, grasshoppers and pandemic to see them on the flowers.

I finally put the shade cloth windbreak up and attached it to the t-posts. It is working well. The last of the lemon sunflowers are growing and ready for replanting. Some of the other transplanted sunflowers were eaten by an as yet unidentified creature. One of the manzanitas was stripped probably by grasshoppers in the Xerces hedgerow. The smaller seedlings are sunflowers that I harvested from the plant I grew last year from the roadside sunflowers. Hurray. It took a while, but five popped up. They will be important late season sources of nectar. We may not get a late season though. It is not just the grasshoppers; everything seems to be in a hurry to grow and bloom earlier than normal. For the last week, I have seen tarweed in full bloom. That is early. I have not seen a butterfly in weeks, and they would typically be all over the primrose and pacific asters. They were last year. The wind seems to blow all the time, even at night. Butterflies do not like the wind or smoke – as we learned last year. I think they all sense the impending desert-like heat that awaits us in July through September. It is a looming worry for me too.

I watered the Site on Odom Creek and was pleased to still see the same amount of water in the spring and the pooled water fed by the spring. The willows that I planted last December have had a hard time. One was eaten by cattle or deer. The other three have struggled with the dryness. Only one has green leaves. The mulefat is doing well however. In this environment, I will take the win.

Not a flattering photo, but the truth. This work is tough. Icing my abdominal muscle.

The extra watering, the fence work, (probably) my age and all the concern I have had has made my body tired. Last week, I pulled my abdominal muscles badly. It was bad enough for me to ask David to do my watering for two and a half days. If you know me, you know I don’t ask for much help and I don’t stay still long. I have a plan; I get to work. I take responsibility for what I have committed to and don’t put that on others. Fortunately, it got better after a week and fully resting the muscle for three days. However, it was a wake up call. I cannot continue at the pace I am going and have to work smarter. There will be some changes next year if I can afford them. Most important, however, I have had to switch my mind around to not constantly feel like I am failing in baise’eboli weweriam (my butterfly relations). I have learned to tell myself “What happens happens. There is so much you cannot control. If the butterflies don’t come back, if the grasshopper eat everything, if the heat kills what is left, there is nothing you can do about that. You have tried”. This has become my daily mantra. I care so deeply. I want a healthy ecosystem. Inepo Yo’eme into inepo eteho in hu’u Yo’eme noki, in maala noki. Si enchi nake hu’u huya ania into aapo in hiapsi. (I am Yo’eme and I am speaking in the Yo’eme language, my mother’s language. I care very much for the natural world and it is my heart.)

2 thoughts on “Thirst is the Worst and Grasshoppers Eat Their Way Up Hill”

    1. Thank you Tiffany! Agreed!! There is so much we cannot control. We can only do our best. The knowledge that mother Earth will be here, in some form, long after I, and the human race, are gone, has provided needed comfort as I see so much decimation around the planet.

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