Field day fosters monarch butterflies

Conservation-minded people gathered for a seminar and field day July 25 in rural Princeton at the Uproot Farm, where everyone learned more from experts and each other about how to support pollinators with native plantings such as milkweed and nectar flowers. The local host farmer, Sarah Woutat, led the group to a specially planted area surrounded by an electric fence to keep out the creatures that would eat the plantings.

A group of about 30 people gathered at the Uproot Farm in rural Princeton July 25 to learn more about monarch butterflies and what people can do restore their habitat of native prairie grasses and nurture the nectar-flower plants on which they feed.
Sarah Woutat owns the organic farm that hosted the monarch event. Guests sat under the shade near the farmhouse learning from experts from the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab; representatives of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mille Lacs, Isanti and Chisago counties; the Xerces Society; and Minnesota Native Landscapes.
The presenters were there to give in-depth information about the re-establishment of native grasses, flowers and other plants that support pollinators, monarchs in particular. They said native grasses are beneficial in other ways, too. They reduce soil erosion, require little maintenance after establishment, do not need fertilizer or watering, benefit wildlife all year, increase the number of good insects and reduce harmful gases.
The professionals talked about habitat restoration strategies, site preparation, seed mixes and other issues important to monarchs. They said they get a lot of questions about seed mixes and what should be in them to establish monarch-friendly plantings.
A lot of places offer mixes or are willing to make custom mixes, but what goes in them depends heavily upon what it is the landowner wants to accomplish. Experts would look at the square footage of an area and establish a “seed per square foot” ratio that would encourage pollinators.
In addition to nectar flowers, the mixes can contain grasses that are green in three seasons. Some shrubs and trees are also considered good for pollinators. Everyone recognized milkweed as an ultra-important monarch habitat, since it is the only plant upon which monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. Everyone groaned a bit when one of the field experts explained how thistle – which most people don’t want on their property – is a monarch-friendly plant.
The seed mixers consider the life span of each seed as well as the goals and budget of the landowner. Many will advise that people establish a planting that offers something to the tiny pollinators throughout growing season if possible.
The experts pointed out that the seed mixes can be assembled with locally sourced seed from neighboring counties. The presenters said local seed is important to people because it ensures that the plants will be acclimated to Midwest weather and soil conditions. The group said each county’s respective soil and water conservation district could help with the locally sourced seed mixes.
Woutat led the group to two areas she’s planted in the past few years, pointing to nectar flowers, milkweed and other plants, explaining that some of the seeds in the mix haven’t yet sprouted. Her associates explained that while the mix of seeds determines a lot, much also depends on management techniques, such as whether a person mows the area or not, as well as how much snow fell on it during winter.
The monarch advocates also advise monitoring the planted areas to see how the pollinators react to the various plants.
Why worry about monarchs?
Three years ago on Aug. 26, the U.S. secretary of the interior received a petition to extend protections to the monarch butterfly under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Petitioners included the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety and the Xerces Society, which is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife through protection of invertebrates.
Further study and conservation efforts have been ongoing as the monarch’s habitat continues to be threatened by “pesticide use from genetically engineered, pesticide-resistant crop systems that kill milkweeds and nectar sources,” as well as loss of habitat and food sources due to development, logging and climate change, according to the 2014 petition. A decision is expected by sometime in 2019 on whether to list monarch butterflies on the endangered species list.
Pollinators such as monarch butterflies and bees, among others, carry pollen from one plant or flower to other plants and flowers. The act is essentially fertilization that enables the plant to grow, resulting in products like fruit, vegetables, chocolate and coffee.
Sarah Foltz Jordan, a Princeton-based pollinator conservation specialist with the Xerces Society, said her organization gets involved in as many pollinator planting projects as possible. The pollinator experts shared how there are funding and reimbursement programs available to people who plant an acre or more of habitat friendly to monarchs and other pollinators.
For example, the Sherburne SWCD reimburses 75 percent of the seed mix cost for a site, not to exceed $600 per acre, and the conservationists can help with site preparation and planting. The maximum acreage for reimbursement is 10 and the minimum acreage is 1. The Mille Lacs County SWCD can act in an advisory capacity to anyone interested in native plantings including site preparation and seed selection and sourcing.
Woutat said the organic Uproot Farm grows about 50 kinds of plants on the farm – “every kind of veggie you can grow in Minnesota,” which it sells through a community-supported agriculture program and two Minneapolis farmers markets. She and her partner bought the land in 2010 and have been focusing more effort on supporting pollinators in recent years.