GETTING READY FOR THE RETURNING MONARCH BUTTERFLY

2017, was an interesting summer and fall. Initially, it seemed to be a great year for the Monarch butterfly. Numbers from 2016, seemed to indicate a slight upward trend in population. The wet spring and summer led to abundant crops of milkweed.  Approaching the fall of 2017, we all had high expectations for the Monarch. Surely with all this abundant milkweed we should have a large volume of butterflies migrating – – a record? But Mother Nature threw in a twist, the warmest fall in 123 years! Initially I wasn’t worried. Maybe a warm fall would reduce migration fatalities and more Monarchs would arrive in Mexico to roost. Unfortunately, according to Cornell university, ‘ warm falls delay migration and late Monarchs don’t get to Mexico as well as the early Monarchs do. ‘ In fact, the critical date for flying is September 15. Past this date and the butterflies usually do not make it to Mexico.

What was truly fascinating was not just a delay in migration behavior but a delay in diopause. Usually the Monarch switches from a breeding butterfly to a diopause state (non breeding) in order to prepare for fall flight. Muscle mass and fat stores increase with diopause. But what we actually witnessed was an extra generation.

This extra generation had scientists worried. Seeing butterflies so far north so late in the year suggested few of these latecomers would reach Mexican wintering grounds. The blame for the unusually warm fall can be placed squarely upon our shoulders. Climatologists say that climate change is likely behind what they are calling the latest Monarch migration ever recorded in eastern North America.

Scientists will be conducting the Mexico over wintering site counts soon. Some researchers are hoping population numbers will surpass 2015 – 2016 counts due to some of that extra generation actually arriving in Mexico.

So where do we go from here? I’ve rolled up all the suggestions from Cornell and Kansas universities plus the Monarch Joint Venture.

Recommendation : Tropical Milkweed

Though tropical milkweed is not a native milkweed in Ontario, it is part of the natural life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. In the southern states, Florida and California, tropical milkweed grows naturally and the Monarch actually prefers to lay eggs on this milkweed followed by butterfly weed. As you progress further north tropical milkweed vanishes from the landscape since it is not frost resistant. In Ontario, Monarchs prefer to lay eggs on swamp and common milkweed followed by butterfly weed.

So why am I suggesting a non native milkweed? To combat climate change. Springs are becoming more irregular and earlier. Migrating Monarchs will encounter more incidences of having no food available upon arrival in Ontario. With unsure food and variable flight times in a varying climate, this could spell disaster to this fragile population. Tropical milkweed can be overwintered with your houseplants and can be used as an early larval and food plant while our native milkweeds are still dormant.

Recommendation : Expand your milkweed menu

We need to use at least 3 to 4 different types of milkweed. Different milkweeds have different growth cycles and this will ensure that there is always milkweed leaves available for hungry caterpillars. A good trio would be tropical, swamp and common milkweeds.

B) Cause : Pesticides

All pollinators are susceptible to pesticides, not just the Monarch. We have to stop the rate of decline of all pollinators. This is vital for securing our food chain and maintaining our environment.

Recommendation : Be Organic

Become organic in your garden practices and be sure to ask your nursery where you buy your milkweed and garden plants if they are pesticide free. Support legislation to ban neonicitinoids. Support organic farmers and local farmers at your farmers markets.

C) Cause : Climate change

Everyone can reduce their Carbon footprint. Climate change is not just affecting the Monarch but all living things on this Earth. One of the biggest impacts on climate change is to sequester Carbon. Be sure to plant more trees and shrubs. There is lots of information out there on what you can do but, in the end, it is up to you to affect a change and act.

 

 

GROWING THE GREENBELT

This week we attended a meeting, ‘ Growing the Greenbelt’. The Ontario government has plans to greatly increase the Greenbelt boundaries and is going through the consultative process. The biggest driving force for the Greenbelt update is the protection of water. And you guessed it, our Puslinch area is the first study area under review.

I have summarized our talks with government reps and collected handouts. The government realizes that urbanization threatens the long term health of water systems. This urban impact can be through changing the landscape to hard and impermeable surfaces, such as roads, buildings and concrete which will not allow water to seep into the ground but runoff into drains and storm sewers. Of course, if water is not allowed to seep into the ground the aquifers are not recharged.

In 2005, the Greenbelt was established with 810,000 ha of green space. With the growing of the Greenbelt, an additional 10,000 ha could be added along with 21 urban river valleys. Public comment is required prior to the deadline March 7, 2018. Greenbelt designations are basically divided into 2 categories. 1 – Protected Countryside – The aim is to protect against the loss and fragmentation of agricultural land base and support agriculture as the primary land use. This means that settlement areas outside of the Greenbelt are not allowed to expand into these protected countrysides. 2 – urban river valleys.

So why is our Puslinch so important? It’s all about the moraines and associated cold water streams. Moraines are the result of glacial activity where the glacier stood in one place for an extended period of time. These moraines are associated with sand and gravel features important to recharging ground water. Cold water streams are fed by ground water discharging from moraines. They often form headwaters for rivers and lakes.

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Focusing on Puslinch, we need to comment to politicians about such issues as agricultural practices, aggregate extraction, water taking and town growths. These are all valid concerns as the greenbelt expansion happens. There are various methods to have your voice heard. Go onto Ontario.ca/greenbelt for all the information.

This is your moment to shape Puslinch’s future. If we stay silent, in 25 years, the unchecked growth of the surrounding cities will swallow up Puslinch. And never forget, ‘Farms feed cities’.

 

 

SPRING IN A JAR

Every tree, shrub and wildflower has its own unique formula for germination.  It is up to us, as growers, to understand their uniqueness and simulate these requirements.  Some plants have very complex germination requirements while others are, relatively, simple.  Each germination inhibitor must be removed, in order, so that seeds may sprout.

Most seeds need a period of warm followed by a period of cold stratification.  These periods of warm and cold simulate nature’s winters and springs.  Some seeds may also need to get scarified.  This means we need to scar the dense seed coat so that water can get inside the seed and initiate germination.  Without water, no germination will ever occur.  In nature, the scarification would occur as the seed passes through the digestive tract of a bird or mammal and the gastric juices would pit the seed.

It always feels like spring is around the corner once we start moving stored seeds and nuts to their next phase of germination.  Right now, many seeds are being moved into refrigeration awaiting the beginning of spring.