Tucked in a corner of my yard, under the shadow of soon-giant sunflowers, I planted weeds. Yes, planted not pulled. Milkweed to be exact. The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment needed to transform the Monarch caterpillar into the adult butterfly.
The Monarch Butterfly is also known as the “milkweed butterfly,” because Monarch caterpillars eat ONLY milkweed. But these plants are rapidly disappearing due to the loss of habitat stemming from land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they live.
The Monarch population has declined dramatically over the last 20 years with last year’s population down 94% from 1995. But we should not give up hope. I am on the far edge of migration paths, but any stray Monarch that flutters my way will find a resting place.
Oh, give me a home
Dressed with Buffalo loam,
Where the bees and butterflies play.
Where often is heard,
The sweet chirp of a bird,
And the raucous call of the jay.
I love bees and still dream of humming hives of honey. But I am allergic to the stings and daunted by the intricacies of maintaining a healthy hive. As the yard becomes more bee-friendly, I hope to have a friend set up hives in the back yard and apprentice myself to his expertise.
Meanwhile, I entertain the native bees and provide spots for them to nest and find refuge. Bumble Bees are my favorite—I can watch their antics for hours; however, attracting them to nest is fraught with challenges. In spite of promises from well-intentioned products, research reports a mere 7% success rate. So if you have a Bumble Bee nesting in your yard, you are quite special. I expect to attempt a nest for them anyhow, and I will report any progress.
Today I gathered last season’s Sunflower stalks to make nesting places for the other important pollinators, native and solitary bees. Any other hollow-stemmed flower would work as well.
Using pruning shears, I cut the stalks into 8-inch lengths. With a long screwdriver, I removed the pith about halfway down the stalks—leaving the rest as nesting material for burrowing. I bound the stems tightly with natural jute with all open ends facing the same direction. I will hang them under a protected eave—facing the morning sun.
These bees are important pollinators–often overlooked and purposely destroyed when misunderstood and labeled a nuisance. Spraying or removing their habitats leaves a vacuum which attracts more aggressive, less beneficial varieties of Hymenoptera.
Gourds dry on their trellis–six of them this year, and the survivors will become birdhouses. The seed catalogs arrive and lure with the siren call of green buds and summer gardens.
To thaw frozen toes, I take MasterGardener® classes, learning of soils, and trees and pruning…grasses, annuals, perennials. Insects, diseases, and fungi haunt my dreams. I prune the shrubs on a warm, windy afternoon—the hardy six survivors—hoping for blossoms and fruit.
Wielding a hoe awkwardly, I poke at the compost heap to assess progress. My grocery list changes from produce aisles to garden centers. This week I will plant tomato seedlings and scheme to keep them from kitten paws.
I search for pictures to share and words to plant, so the blog will awaken after its long winter sleep.
Here’s the sketched out plan:
FOOD – Planting native shrubs and trees that bear fruit, nuts, seeds, or berries. Bird feeders and ground feeders. Plant nectar-producing native wildflowers. Insects are important, too. Avoid using chemical pesticides to rid insects…many wildlife species, especially birds, feed on them. Maybe a beehive.
- The Challenged Yard (But Great Native Buffalo Grass)
WATER – Provide a water source for drinking and bathing (not for me, silly). Create natural sources of water where possible. Use clean birdbaths and change the water daily. Install a small pond or stream with some of the great do-it-yourself pond products? Perhaps a Bird Pond Kit with cascade.
- Gourd Vines Growing On Junk Pile
COVER – Meet the cover/shelter needs of wildlife. Evergreen trees, native vines (wait—there is a Trumpet Vine sprouting in a corner…) shrubbery, brush piles, rock piles (I have tons of rocks), meadow grasses… Perhaps this year’s gourds will survive to become nesting boxes. The rickety privacy fence in the backyard and proximity to neighboring house provides some shelter from harsh winds.
PLACES TO RAISE YOUNG – Birds need tree cavities or man-made nest boxes—my large front yard tree provides some of those elements. What about toads and tortoises—how can I keep them happy and from roaming onto a busy street? Burrows or dens, and some need tall grasses?
- Did I Mention Challenges? Power Lines…Concrete Driveway
Provide the best food and cover sources for wildlife
Use the least amount of fertilizer, water, and pest control.
Plant native plants suitable for region
Use captured rainwater for plants
Work on more efficient watering methods
Use mulch to conserve soil moisture
Eliminate all chemical fertilizers
Control pests with natural pest control products and predator species