Welcome to Grow Milkweed Plants Podcast episode 012. I'm your host Brad Grimm. Today I'm going to recount a conversation that I had with Gail at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. I'm going to follow that up with product information about a small greenhouse that I purchased. You may find it helpful to start your seeds in a small greenhouse like the one I'm going to mention. Before get started, I have a secret share.
I've been going to work for the last two months. When I arrive at work I am been greeted by a coworker who has given me a nickname. It's not easy to say this but the nickname I've been given is, Braderfly. I thought it would go away. But after two months, it seems to persist. I suppose the spelling of that nickname would be B-R-A-D-E-R-F-L-Y. She always laughs after she says it. I always thought I would have a little bit stronger of a nickname like “Milkweed Man” or “Monarch Man”. But I guess Braderfly will have to do for now.
As you know from the last episode, early in 2016 my wife and I were down in Pacific Grove California which is Butterfly Town USA. We went down and we saw the clusters of monarch butterflies which were in the trees at the Monarch Grove Inn adjacent to the Monarch butterfly sanctuary. The view was pretty majestic. There were numerous butterflies probably well over 5,000 butterflies. The count is maybe 6,000 some of them have been moving on already. Just a short drive from the Monarch Grove Inn towards downtown is the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. There is a lot you can see in the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History including Monarch butterfly displays and a butterfly garden.
The one thing you won't see at museum is milkweed plants that are growing. When I thought about the location of the native plant garden at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History and its proximity to the monarchs; I just assumed that there was going to be milkweed plants growing there. However I was unable to see any milkweed plants all anywhere on their property or anywhere on the coast side near the overwintering sights. And that raised the question, why isn’t there milkweed growing in their garden?
So I posed this question to Gail who was an employee of volunteer at the Museum. We got into a short discussion. I’m going to recount that discussion for you now. The perspective that I took on the conversation was possibly devils advocate because with a good growing conditions for milkweed a nice climate from milkweed to grow in the proximity to Monarch butterflies. I guess it was just assumed that growing milkweed right there would give the monarchs jumpstart on their migration season they be able to break out of their clusters in late January, February or March as the weather warmed up and Immediately start the breeding process on some local milkweed.
However the assumptions that I made we're actually used against me in the conversation. I’m going to share a little bit more about that. The response I got from Gail was little bit unexpected. She said milkweed would grow well right near the overwintering sites. In fact it would grow so well that perennial milkweed like the showy milkweed or mexican whorled milkweed that grows along the coast-side in many places, would grow as an evergreen plant. It wouldn't die back in the fall. In the winter it would stay green. And, it would potentially encourage breeding in the winter season which is traditionally used by monarchs for overwintering while they are in diapause and not breeding. So we would have off-season breeding.
But that's not the main problem that was her concern. The main problem that was her concern and the position of the museum seems to be that it could potentially discourage the migration in the spring. So when do you break up, they find the milkweed, they may not go the distance to find more milkweed. We could be encouraging the static population of monarch butterflies. I found that be fairly interesting I couldn't necessarily find any supporting information to say that that would be the case. Although we do know that there's some nonmigratory populations in Southern Florida, Southern California & Southern Texas.
Gail gave a secondary and slightly more compelling reason that with evergreen milkweed a common problem that is a concern among many folks who are were raising monarch butterflies in their waystations and rest stops across the country is the presence of the O.E. Protozoa spore. O.E. most likely become more prevalent on milkweed plants that are evergreen. Which is why there are articles on the internet about “why tropical milkweed is killing the monarch butterflies” and things like that. When you have an evergreen milkweed plant you are going to get a higher frequency of butterflies visiting the same leaf. With the increased number butterflies visiting the same leaf the probability is that one that already has the O.E. spores is going to spread it on the plant and it’s going to get picked up by additional butterflies. So in my opinion the second point that was given about the milkweed growing as an evergreen in that climate and the probability of increased O.E. on the plants seemed like a pretty valid point.
One thing I really have to give him praise to the museum staff for is that they are just using the best available information that they have right now. She commented that if science were to prove otherwise or they have some better information saying that growing milkweed would be a positive thing. Or OE is not a concern. They would change their practices and they would consider adding milkweed to the garden. I thought was a really open-minded scientific approach she was using. I applaud them for that.
Besides friendly staff the museum featured many displays about the monarch butterfly. I featured five of the individual pieces that I saw in the museum in photographs that I featured on Instagram. I'll put a link to my Instagram in the show notes at growmilkweedplants.com/012 Speaking of friendly staff. My wife and I were talking to the employee in the gift shop at the museum. She wanted to make sure that we had taken some of the milkweed plant seeds that were available for visitors. The milkweed seeds were free. The only thing that they asked was that they would not be planted within 10 miles of overwintering monarchs.
I have to give them credit for consistency. Because of what we were talking about with native milkweed being planted near the overwintering sites. They are trying to get the plants 10 miles away or more. So if you lived right in Pacific Grove they were discouraging you from growing milkweed. They just wanted the plants 10 miles or more away from the museum which is by the overwintering site. That in theory is to kickstart the migration when it begins. The butterflies have to go out at least 10 miles before they start finding milkweed to reproduce.
Whether or not you agree with the science that supports their argument. I do have to give them credit for being consistent. As I was closing episode 11 I mention that it had started snowing. Every time it snows. So more milkweed. Well, #snowzilla has just struck on the east coast. So I hope many milkweed seeds were sown underneath the heavy snow. Cold moist stratification at its best. But winter is coming to an end inevitably.
To force this fact I'm going to go ahead and let you know about a product that I purchased. It's one of these vertical mini greenhouses. It's basically a rack that includes vinyl covering and thats going to create warmer temperatures inside and force an earlier spring. The product that I got is from Home Depot. It's a five tier rack with a double zipper on the front. With the five tears I'll be able to put in five racks that I can sow soil and add milkweed seeds on top of. The racks that I'm going be putting inside are little bit deeper than your standard vegetable tray. They are about 6 inches deep. That's going to hopefully encourage good root development for small milkweed plants. This is my first year getting a small greenhouse like this. I've done things with tiny green houses like the one gallon water jug that's been converted in a greenhouse. That's been very successful. I can’t give you a product review at this time on one of those vertical green houses but I'll put a link to Amazon where its the #1 Best Seller in Greenhouses. You can read the product reviews and decide for yourself if it's something that might help you get milkweed or other plant started a little bit earlier this spring.
Last night marked my 50th milkweed seed order in the Store. The customer purchased all of my remaining Mexican Whorled milkweed. I'm down to three seed products. I have Showy milkweed. I have Butterfly Weed. I also have Swamp milkweed. Those three types of milkweed are still available in the Store.
Thank you for listening to Grow Milkweed Plants Podcast "Braderfly at the Museum". I've been your host Brad Grimm. Be sure to continue the conversation by liking the Grow Milkweed plants Facebook Page
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