Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Waging a Campaign of My Own

Topping the list of things I am thankful for these days is the fact that I'm a life-long Democrat (much to the chagrin of most of my family and many of my dearest friends). The ugly rhetoric, the name calling, the bullying, the incredibly poor manners on display by the Republican Presidential candidates make me ill. I can't believe that these guys are running for the highest office of our nation. It's embarrassing. No, make that appalling. I also find it more than a bit scary.

Come November, I'll vote with great enthusiasm for either of the Democratic candidates: Hillary or Bernie – I like them both. A lot. In the meantime, I'm turning off the TV and turning my attention to waging a campaign of my own. It's a campaign to bring nature home to Farm Dover by sustaining wildlife with native plants.

I'm starting with a grassroots effort to increase the number and kinds of caterpillars that call Farm Dover home. I'm debating about how best to increase insect diversity and create a balanced community.

I recently read Doug Tallamy's book: Bringing Nature Home and then Ed and I had the good fortune of hearing him speak a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of the Glenview Garden Club.

We learned that most insects are specialists and eat from only one or two plants. And those plants must be native to the area. For example, the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly eats only members of the milkweed family. No milkweeds – no monarchs. In the last 20 years, the monarch population has dropped by 90%, corresponding to a loss of milkweed due to roadside management practices, intensive agriculture and the the extensive use of herbicides. Imagine a whole generation of kids growing up without Monarch butterflies to chase. Breaks my heart.

The birds that Ed and I love so much rely on caterpillars and other soft insects – not seeds or berries – to feed their babies. No caterpillars – no bluebirds, bobwhites, meadowlarks, sparrows or any of the other 59 species we have identified on our farm walks. I'm even rethinking my dislike of tent caterpillars. I've come to understand that while they might gobble up a few leaves on a wild cherry, they also make a tasty lunch for a nest full of bluebird fledglings.

So, our campaign to increase the beneficial bugs involves planting native woody and herbaceous plants that support the species we are trying to encourage. For example, oak trees support 543 species of butterflies/moths. You read that right: 543. Black cherry trees are in second place with 456, followed by native willows at 455. We have tons of oaks in our forests, but last week, we planted another 90 white oak seedlings. A few years back, we planted some wild cherry trees that are now taller than Ed. Around our pond, dozens of willow trees have sprouted.

Bush (Japanese) Honeysuckle, on the other hand, is a non-native species that is highly invasive and supports zero, yes that's right, zero butterflies/moth species.

We are working with Margaret Shea, owner of Dropseed Native Plant Nursery to extend our front meadow by featuring a multitude of wildflowers, including: St. John's Wort, Boneset, Coneflower, Mountain Mint, Rattlesnake Master, Bee Balm, Eastern Bluestar, Culver's root, Ashy Sunflower, Showy Goldenrod, False Blue Indigo, Gray Goldenrod, Joe Pye Weed, Compass Plant, Devil's Walking Stick, Foxglove Beardtongue, Maryland Golden-aster, Wild Quinine, and Trumpet Honeysuckle.

Each of these native plants were selected to encourage specific wildlife. The goldenrods, for example, support 115 species of butterflies and moths; the asters support 112.

Last month, the girls and I visited the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans.
I promise not to kill and stick a pin through any butterflies that make their home here. 

I can hardly wait for summer around here. You might find me someday up in an oak tree, trying to find 500+ species of caterpillars. Or chasing down a butterfly with my camera.

Sure beats worrying about who will be elected our next President...

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