Recently a design colleague wrote inquiring as to the best time to mow her client’s fields as she was concerned about disrupting the breeding cycle of the Monarch butterfly. I am often asked this question and it is well worth considering, not only for the sake of the Monarchs, but for the survival of the myriad species of butterflies, bees, and other pollinating and beneficial insects that find food and shelter in untilled fields.
Newly Emerged Monarch Butterfly
I generally advise my readers and design clients that own similar untilled fields to alternately mow in stages–half a field at a time. The Monarch is a large, charismatic butterfly with an easily observed life cycle. The typical field comprised of native (and introduced) wildflowers and grasses creates a rich biodiversity, supporting innumerable species of butterflies and beneficial insects. It is hard to know when exactly to mow for each different species and when to mow for even one single species because, from year to year, depending on many variables including temperature and air currents, the insects breeding times are somewhat variable. For example, this year I have had three broods each of both Monarchs and Black Swallowtails, when in a more typical year I may only have two broods.
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars Attached to Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
I think of not too long ago when we were primarily an agrarian society. Farmers then would have mowed different fields at different times during the growing season. A woman in our community, whose field is rife with common milkweed, always mows in late June or early July. Initially I thought that this was perhaps not good practice for the Monarchs, but the thing with Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is that when mown to the ground in early summer, it shoots right back up again. By the time the late July, early August Monarchs have arrived and are breeding in our region, her milkweed has re-sprouted, grown at least a foot, is lush and green, and flowering.
That your client is interested in caring for the flora and fauna that abounds in her fields is wonderful! We want weeds (wildflowers) growing in our fields–they provide food and shelter for benefiel insects and wildlife and also help to retain moisture in the soil.
The single greatest threat to the Monarch butterfly is the use of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified corn and soy bean seed, which are designed to tolerate potent does of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, however, Roundup kills all other surrounding plants and all beneficials insects and their larvae. Additional threats include the extreme weather condiitons caused by climate change, overdevelopment in the US, which has led to loss of habitat, and the unrelenting poverty in rural Mexican villages, which is leading to the deforestation of the butterflies habitat in Michoacán
Monarch Butterfly Chrysalids
At a lecture I attended presented by Doug Tallamy, Professor and Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, he also suggested mowing fields in alternate stages, so we are in good company!
An additional suggestion is to give a corner of your field or garden over to a patch of milkweed, which would then insure a steady supply for the Monarchs. We grow both Common Milkweed and Mash Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) side-by-side. The marsh flowers slightly earlier, attracting earlier Monarchs. The males intently patrol the milkweed patch and after mating, the females flit from flower to leaf, alternatively depositing eggs on both species of milkweeds, while taking sips of nectar from whichever milkweed is in flower.
Note form Laurel:
I have a new client who has both cultivated ornamental gardens, which I am caring for, and open meadows, which she has mown once or twice per season. There is lots of milkweed in the field, with some seedlings sprouting in the garden. We pulled the seedlings and brought them home to later place in a field near where I live. We had them in jars in water and were surprised and delighted when a few days later we discovered 7 tiny Monarch larvae. We have raised them to the butterfly stage and released them. Fascinating! During the process I did some reading about the Monarch and learned that there are 4 or 5 generations each season, with the final butterflies, in September, making the trek to Mexico for the winter, and then flying north in the spring to start the cycle over again. My question is about the timing of the mowing of the fields. If it is mown at any time during the breeding season (May – September?), isn’t the current generation almost or completely wiped out? Do you know when the best time is to mow for the butterflies? I assume it is late fall, but since the mowing of meadows has been happening for centuries, is it perhaps ok to mow during the season? (or perhaps this is one contributing reason for the demise of these lovely creatures….) Thank you in advance for any info!
We are sending our most heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Japanese people. Viewing the broadcasts reminds me that it was just over a year ago that the devastating earthquake struck Port au Prince. Can a person ever fully recover from such an event? The utter destruction of the tsunami is confounding, now coupled with threats of nuclear meltdown. My wish for the people of Japan and their nation is as speedy a recovery as is possible.
We are so very blessed living where we do. Perhaps I mentioned that I am developing a television series, which will air on our local cable television station, Cape Ann TV, as well as other cable stations. I believe it was early last summer that Donna Gacek, the director of Cape Ann TV, approached me about the possibility of creating a show based around my writings and butterfly photos. A tv show would be a magnificent medium to share about the joys of creating organic habitats designed for people and pollinators. We can visit gardens, fields, meadows, and wildlife sanctuaries–and connect how to translate habitat information found there to our own gardens, examine gardening trends, loves, and literature, conduct interviews, undertake how-to projects–the possibilities are limitless. I hope, too, for some room for spontaneity and fun–once I get a handle on the process. I knew what I was getting myself into and knew it would be enormously time consuming, which it is, however I am so pleased with our initial progress and thought I would bring you this trailer for the first episode as well as behind the scenes updates.
Instinctively it was clear that the first step in development would be to film and photograph as much as time would allow, especially as this past summer, gratefully so, was THE summer to photograph Lepidoptera–day after day of hot, dry, sunny weather–a butterfly, and a butterfly photographer’s, dream conditions The past few months have been spent organizing all photos and footage from this summer, as well as footage and photos from previous summers, into handy categories from which I can draw, while simultaneously writing the first script, and thinking about future scripts.
I chose the butterfly garden I designed at Willowdale to be my first subject for several reasons. I know the grounds and garden intimately; the Lepidoptera seen there are the same species seen all around the northshore, and throughout New England for that matter; the setting is undeniably gorgeous; over the past few years I have shot many photos there and some video footage; and because the garden is on occasion open to the public.
While writing the script I tried to imagine how the information would relate to, and be of interest to, a wide audience. Creating ‘wild gardens’ (by wild gardens I mean to say gardens that utilize native wild flowers that support wild life) is meant to be joyful and easy for everyone– for the millions as well as the millionaire! The next phase was to organize the video and still photos, loosely, around the script. Then, and this part was really new and challenging for me, came layering the narrated voice tracks and precisely synching it to the footage, and still retain existing ambient nature sounds audibly. Much tweaking was necessary. Have you ever wondered where your speaker is on your computer? It took me the longest time to locate mine (iMac)– a pinhead-sized hole in the center of the top, right above the camera lens–and they do not produce very good or usable quaility input sound. All the audio will have to be redone at the tv studio, however, it was time well spent as I was able to experiment and learn the basics on my own time.
The first production meeting with Donna went really well. The next phase will be to redo the audio tracks, under the guidance of the staff at the tv station, and continue to work on the next two episodes. In developing a series, it is suggested that you have at least three to begin with – getting all your ducks in order, so to speak. I am working furiously on all because spring and summer are my peak seasons for garden design work and for presenting lectures and programs.
So far, everything has fallen into place, from the gorgeous weather of last summer, to finding a beautiful recording for the into and outro, to working with Donna and the staff at CATV!
My mission for this wonderful project is to create as vibrantly beautiful, and as informative and interesting, a viewing experience as is possible. I am also very interested in working in collaboration with anyone who may have an interest.
Perhaps after reading the above you can help me decide the title of the show–so important to get it right! I love the title of my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! because there is no other like it. Perhaps I shall call it The Garden of Fresh Possibilities Show.
Some other candidates:
The American Gardener’s Journal
Through the Garden Gate
Garden for All Seasons
Welcome to the Wild Garden
Any comments, thoughts, or suggestions would greatly appreciated.
When I looked at the photo, I immediately thought of your inspiring exhibit at the Sawyer Free Library. Brooke had an eight or more hour bus trip, then an hour horseback ride up to the 10,000 foot elevation in Michoacan state to see the migration. I wouldn’t be surprised to find you up there!
Back down here at sea level, I wish you a glorious Spring!
From Jan in Palm City, Florida: You may know all about this site. I am going to a banding in Florida on Friday morning. Someone near here has a yard full and I have been invited to the banding. I haven’t seen a hummer for at least two months. Vagrant and Winter Hummingbird Banding Love your Emails. Thank you.
Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Follow your heart.
From Jan in Dunedin, Florida: Love your site. Normally tucked into Rockport but we escaped to Florida for a few months this year – Dunedin – north of Clearwater, West coast. Rather than beautiful land birds we are surrounded with osprey, eagles, wading birds. You probably are aware of this little factoid, but just in case… Juncos do a better job of predicting a snow fall than the weather forecasters. The more of them hopping about under/in/around bushes and eating seed, the worse the snowfall. Check it out.
From Judith in Gloucester: Thanks Kim, for keeping me on the circut. These early mornings I am in my studio working on a commission and so enjoy watching Smith Cove come alive with birds of many feathers . Your words today warm the heart! You are truly tuned in . With gratitude, Judith or ‘ Snowed In ‘
From Sue in Newton: Thanks for sending your last about pine siskins – I did see one at my feeder in the last few weeks and tried to identify it, and now I know what it is thanks to you! Happily at home today – back to work tomorrow, then Florida next week to visit the “snowbirds”, I mean “in-laws.” David is away in Costa Rica this week – good timing! Hope all is well with you and family –
From Sally in Hamilton: Lots of junkos in Hamilton too this weekend. Such fun to watch the birds this time of the year, when everything else is so still and quiet. Still looking for a mini Slinky to hang on my feeder this June on Cape Cod!
Dear Gardening Friends, Please forgive when I am slow to answer your kind and thoughtful letters. I am struggling with an elbow injury and have had to limit my writing and photography somewhat (with extreme reluctance!!!). I love to hear about your bird and butterfly encounters, so please, keep your letters coming–just know that I am slow! Warmest wishes, Kim
From Jeannette in Marblehead – Kim Happy New Year, So enjoy your emails. Walter and I were in Gloucester in November and drove by your home to try to peak at your garden but of course, it was the end of November and the gardens were sleeping. It looked enchanting with the little sparkling lights. A quick questions where does one find the Nyjer feeder and seeds. We have been so unsuccessful, all our bird feeders in the past have become squirrel feeders. I hope to come and see your gardens this Spring/Summer.
Dear Jeannette, We purchase Nyjer and safflower seeds from our local Essex Bird Shop and Pet Supply and I imagine most Mom and Pop type bird and pet supply shops stock both varieties of seeds as well as the Nyjer seed feeder. I like looking at the Duncraft website–they have quite a selection of Nyjer seed feeders. We have the very basic single tube feeders, but I lust after their three tube copper feeder. I wonder if they photoshopped all those finches!
From Judy in Gloucester –Thanks for the wonderful information, Kim. I have what I think is a sparrow that spends each evening tucked into the corner of the little porch over my side door facing your house. S/he is there reliably every late afternoon as soon as it is dark and leaves in the early morning. It was the same routine last year. I’m wondering if it’s the same bird every evening and perhaps even the same bird last year and this.
Dear Judy, I can’t say for sure without seeing a photo or the actual bird, however, House Finches and European House Sparrows are well known for their habit of nesting in the eaves. We have had several pairs of House Finches build their nests on top of the porch pillars that are tucked under the porch roof, as well as House Sparrows sleeping overnight in the same areas, just as you describe yours. I would think it is the same bird every evening and possibly from year to year. House Sparrows are year round residents on Cape Ann (and nearly everywhere else).
From Joan in Gloucester –Dear Kim, As always, I enjoy your email messages. We use Nyger seed for one feeder, as well as sunflower seed for another and sunflower hearts for the third. We happily feed whoever comes to eat‹birds (our preference), but the cleverness and ingenuity of squirrels as well as their acrobatic antics have brought us much laughter over the years. For a while we tried many different types of feeders guaranteed to defeat squirrels, but found that the squirrels almost always could find their way to defeat the feeder designers.
It turns out that we also feed a lot of pigeons, starlings and other (I consider) less than appealing species of birds, but in the end, we are feeding hungry creatures who are our neighbors (including a brown rat who lives in the marsh next to our yard).
I love watching the various eaters and how they perch on nearby trees or shrubs waiting their turn, having little spats, diving in to disrupt each other, chasing each other away and reflecting the behavior of the humans who occupy our world in many of the same ways.
Thanks for your always wonderful photographs and the information that is so interesting.
From Diane in Ipswich –Hi Kim,I so enjoy your e-mails! Today one of our “mystery birds” was identified in your e-mail! We have had Eastern Towhees in our yard the past couple of weeks. I could not find them in my Audubon book. I saw Eastern Towhee mentioned in the e-mail and googled it to see what that was and voila! There was our mystery bird!
We have also had many Pine Siskins lately. I did not know what they were called either!
I too delight in watching the birds. I have two sets of feeders and keep them well stocked with Nyger, woodpecker food, black oil sunflowers and suet. I also throw millet, sunflower and sometimes, as a treat, peanuts in the shell for the ground birds – and squirrels. Since I have been doing that the squirrels leave the feeders alone. Although watching their acrobatics on the feeders is very entertaining!
The birds I know the names of that are here in my Argilla Rd. Ipswich yard are chickadees, siskins, red & yellow finches, various sparrow like birds, a wren or two, towhees, titmouses, lots of juncos, two kinds of woodpeckers, mourning doves, blue jays and 3 or 4 pairs of cardinals. Sometimes the chickadees will eat out of my hand. What a feeling! Have a lovely day!
Ipswich Garden Club
CBR, CRS, GRI, Green
Broker / Owner
Coast & Country Real Estate
From the Byers in Gloucester – Thanks for your very interesting email on Pine Siskins! I have never been able to identify any on the feeders previously, but thanks to your excellent photo (which I printed & stuck in my bird book) I may now have a chance. We have all the rest of the gang, goldfinches, chickadees, 2 var of nuthatches, titmice, purple (or maybe house) finches, juncos (ours seem to be much darker than your photo shows) & of course, zillions of sparrows. So maybe we can now separate out those pine siskins. Thanks again!
A quick note on the subject of butterflies: if you haven’t seen it yet, you should, & I would say ASAP. The Library has, in their 1st display case on right as you go in the front, a fantastic display of tropical butterflies! The story Tom & I got from a couple of the librarians is that these display trays they have were seized by customs authorities for some malfeasance; & that customs has the option, instead of destroying the stuff, to “lend” it to educational, nonprofit, etc. institutions. I would suspect they will not be on display for long, & probably the fluorescent overhead lights would in any case be detrimental to the magnificent colors.
Best wishes & here’s to an EARLY spring! Ann (& Tom) Byers Western Ave., Gloucester
From Sally on the South Shore – Hi Kim — I just heard yesterday for squirrrel proof feeders, you hang a SLINKY at the top! Remember them? I guess a toy store would be the place to look. I am going to get 2 and can’t wait to see if it works. Love your column. Sally Goodrich
A thought-provoking succinctly stated published letter to the editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, in support of Governor Duval Patrick, written by my husband Tom Hauck:
In their attempts to sway Massachusetts voters, Republican candidates, including Charlie Baker and Bill Hudak, offer the seductive elixir of tax cuts as the cure for our economic woes and the way to revitalize our economy. We have heard this merry tune before, and we should know that it hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work again.
“Supply-side economics” states that by lowering economic barriers for people to produce or supply goods and services, the result is economic growth. These barriers to supply are lowered not by investing, but by reducing income tax and capital gains tax rates, and by reducing government regulation. In theory, the result is an expanded economy that leads to an increase in tax revenue.
The Reagan administration was the first to implement supply-side policies. President Reagan promised that the government could maintain expenditures, cut tax rates, and balance the budget. It didn’t happen. Government revenues fell sharply from levels that would have been realized without the Reagan tax cuts. Reagan entered office in 1980 with a $79.0 billion budget deficit. By September 1988, the deficit had ballooned to $2.6 trillion – over thirty times as large. Meanwhile, a reduction in the top marginal individual income tax rate from 70% to 28% helped to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. The theory was that by helping the rich get richer, wealth would “trickle down” to the middle class. This was nonsense. The rising tide did not lift all boats, only the yachts of the wealthy.
Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, was forced to raise taxes to offset the massive federal deficit caused by a recession and low tax revenues. For his courage he was (and still is) vilified by the far-right wing of the Republican Party.
Members of Reagan’s own staff have repudiated supply-side economics. Most recently, in a New York Times op-ed piece of July 31, 2010, David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, says, “If there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. . . It is unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.”
Republicans have a recurring habit of wanting to play Santa Claus to the voters. They hand out irresponsible tax cuts like candy at a holiday party. Then the economy sours and the Republicans stand back while Democrats come in and do the dirty work of restoring tax rates to former levels. Once the economy is healthy again, the Republicans howl about the terrible Democrats increasing taxes. It is a tiresome routine that voters should reject on November 2 in favor of realistic, progressive solutions to the challenges facing our state. We don’t need Santa Claus promising unsustainable tax cuts. To elect leaders willing to make tough decisions, vote for Deval Patrick and John Tierney.