Last time, we told you about the Wildscape program at Bird and Bee Farm. They also sponsor educational events, and our members attended a training on raising monarchs for release there on Sunday, March 3. It was presented by Karen and Steve Thier of Plano. We were also joined by monarch expert Bob Mione.
Bob brought a group of Master Naturalists from the Dallas area, who joined seven El Camino Real members and some curious neighbors for a total of 23 attendees. Catherine Johnson of the El Camino Real chapter served as the host for the event, along with the Reks, who own the farm.
Steve Thier gave a complete overview of the butterfly propagation (if that’s the right word) project that he and Karen have been working on for the past year, which has resulted in them releasing many butterflies, not only monarchs. They have also raised queens, swalllowtails and others.
The process is fascinating. They plant a lot of milkweed and other attractors to get butterflies to come lay eggs, then gather up the eggs and hatch them in special butterfly cages. Once the caterpillars hatch, they feed them lots and lots and lots of the correct kinds of plants for their species, then wait while the future butterflies pupate. Once they emerge, they take them to places where they can find their friends and keep the cycle going. By doing this, they greatly increase the number of eggs that actually grow to adulthood, compared to out in the wild.
Another very interesting part of Steve’s presentation was where he went over all the parts of caterpillars, pupae, and butterflies. I’d never realized you could tell what parts of the butterfly are under the pupa before. I ended up with a much better understanding of the biology of butterflies, even though I thought I’d studied them a lot!
Of course, he also shared information on migration, and why our area is so important to monarchs as they travel to Mexico for the winter (I’ve actually seen the forest where they go, and it’s an amazing sight).
It’s important to do what we can to help monarchs, since their numbers have been declining, due to habitat loss and other factors. Even if most of us can’t grow them and release them, we can plant food for the caterpillars, such as milkweeds for the monarchs and anything in the parsley family for the swallowtails. And of course, we can also plant blooming things for the butterflies when they emerge.
After the presentation
When the training was over and all the questions were answered, participants went outside to see where the beginning of the Bird and Bee Wildscape project is. The volunteers have cleared space for a garden right outside where the chickens are kept. There is a damp area for wetland plants, and some interesting old farm equipment that is going to become planters and such.
Bob Mione looked at the garden and made suggestions on garden design, planting techniques, soil testing, fencing and entrances, and leveling the ground appropriately. He thought by year three, the place would look wonderful.
The plan is to have paths wandering through the garden, with many butterfly-appropriate plants, art installations, water feaatures, signage, etc., so that visitors can both enjoy the beauty and become educated about native plants and wildlife in Milam County.
There will be many future volunteer opportunities on this project, so let us know if you want to participate, and we’ll put you in touch with the team that’s spearheading the Wildscape and butterfly garden right here in Milam County.