Monday, March 7, 2016

Post # 2 / 2016, Feb. 12th

Well, I was waiting to write to you about the official monarch count in Mexico. 
However…. They have not come in yet. And I don’t know why. So we wait.
They are very fortunate that there have been no severe storms in central Mexico this winter.
There have been preliminary numbers floating around the ol’ interweb but they are not the official numbers.
Monarch Watch uses the World Wildlife Federation count in their record keeping and research.
The California numbers are in and they are up. This is a very good thing for the west coast population.
They have had some help!
Inmates at Walla Walla Penitentiary have been helping Washington State Entomologist Dr. David James track the migration pattern of the monarch down the coast to the over wintering grounds in Southern Cali.
Several of their migration tags have been located in Cali in the area of Santa Cruz and Monterey.
Very exciting for all those involved. These are two nice articles and video about the program.

I cannot express in words how excited I am for this year!
I can’t wait for the monarchs to return, I am doing education in several places to get people prepared and we will be having a Monarch Fest at the Oak Lawn Park District!
Here are a few upcoming public classes I am giving…
Winter Sowing & Seed Collecting:
Oak View Center at the Oak Lawn Parks: Mon. Feb 29th 6:30pm-9:30pm.
pre registration required.
Butterfly Gardening: Griffith Indiana Library: Mon. March 21 starting at 7pm,
Easy Pruning for the Gardener: Oak View Center at the Oak Lawn Parks: Mon. Mar. 28th 6:30pm-9:30pm.
Butterfly Gardening Workshop (all three lectures in one place!): Joliet JR. College: Sat. April 9th: 9am-12pm
Here is the brochure for spring classes, reg info inside.
Butterfly Gardening Workshop (all three lectures in one place): Oak Lawn Park District: Mon. April 18th 6pm-9pm at the Oak View Center,
pre registration required.
Succulent Social Hour: Bring a friend! Plant a pot of adorable little plants! Have a few snax! Friday May 13th 7-9pm at the Oak View Center
Openhouse at Dolly’s home, Late June- Date TBA
Butterfly Gardening and Demo: Internatl’ Friendship gardens in Michigan City: Sun, Aug 21 2:00pm- a great event! All outdoors, demo, conversation and plant sale.
Monarch Fest in Oak Lawn: at the Oak View Center: Sat. Sept 17th 2-5pm free educational and family fun event including monarch tagging, plant sale and kids activities (shhh! It’s a secret but the kids will be doing something super fun with our Artist in Residence!!!!)
Monarch Season Wrap Party: Early October date TBA
Seed Cleaning and Storage: November at the Oak Lawn Parks…date TBA
I hope to see you all  sometime this year. It is always nice to put names a faces together.
Getting prepared for this year rearing season….
Now is a good time to Winter Sow your milkweed seeds. If you need seeds send me a SASE and I will send you a few.
Come to my WS lecture to learn how to grow seeds at home outside in winter! Yes you can!
Also a good time to go over your supplies for taking care of your caterpillars this summer.
A few changes I will be making this year, I will be cutting a ventilation hole in my rearing boxes. Then covering the holes with parasitoid proof screening.
You can find this fabric here by the yard if you are interested.
I am going to do this because I think that airflow or lack of it, is one of my biggest problems. How do you do this?
Cut a hole in the top or sides of your boxes, glue the screening in and go over the edges with silicone caulk.
A few of you have already done this, so share with me what you did with a few pictures. I will share it with the group.
Consider increasing your air flow in the containers with your cats. It will improve your survival rate.
Always learning and changing this for the better is a great way to improve this hobby, passion…obsession...what have you :p

I will be growing trop mw in 6” pots on the ledge of my deck again this year. I loved having my eggs at eye level!
However, I won’t let those plants go to bloom or seed because they wilted, a lot.
So I will reserve the blooming to the very large pots. I got a little frustrated last year because I was waiting for seeds and struggling with the pots drying out daily yada yada.
Lee has said he will make another cat. house for me this summer. We need more room to spread the cats. out to minimize disease.
He is constantly thinking of ways to improve the design.  I can’t wait to see what he has planned this year. I am hoping to bring one to the Monarch Fest.
Another new thing for this year; cleaning the cat house.
I had problems cleaning out the new cat. house last year because of the design. I could not easily rinse out the frass like I had with the previous design.
This year I will try vacuuming it out. I bought a tiny shop vac last fall thinking I could clean the fluff from my mw seeds. Hahahaha, silly me. Not enough horsepower on that one. More like pony power!
So I will use it for the frass. If you do this too, make sure you thoroughly look for stray cats. first. I had to do that when I was washing with the hose.
Then every few days wipe down as much of the surfaces inside the cat. house with bleach water.
As for cleaning the mw, I was using Lee’s big shop vac and the dust collecting system he has attached to it for wood working. I used it until we noticed that the floss fragments and becomes airborne. Those bits of floss are not going to look good trapped in the finish of our woodwork.
Since we will be using the garage for varnishing the wood work for the house….well let’s just say I have lots of floss on my tongue in my future.. I may try fire again.
Other changes, I have procured a bunch of small organza gift bags and will use them around my seed pods this summer so the trop mw seeds don’t fly. I lost a lot of seed to that last summer.
I will have these available for purchase at my lectures and Monarch Fest.
The Uof I Extension is hosting a seed exchange in Chicago next weekend. I will be there with mw seeds and native pollinator flower seeds. Here are the details:

4th Annual Southside Organic Gardeners Seed Swap
Saturday Feb 20, 2016 from 10 – 11:30 am
U of I Extension office, 9415 S. Western Ave, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL
Co-hosted with Abe Lentner, featuring guest speaker, Josh Tate who will share his methods for intensive vertical urban farming.  Bring your seeds, envelopes and a marker. Extension will supply limited materials.

A new article on a blog about Dr. Chip talking about planting habitats, you might enjoy it…
The Monarch Joint Venture ( BTW the Field Museum is now a member) has made another fantastic handout for all of us to print off and distribute.
This one deals with teaching people about the best time of the year to mow fields and meadows to benefit the monarch
Here is a link to their webpage and all of the other handouts they have made.

Check out my website, I have added some content and will add more soon.
Well enough for now, I will be in touch next weekend.
Have  a great weekend and Happy Valentin’s Day Friends!

Dolly Foster, Horticulturist
“Horton Ergo Sum”

Monarch Mommas & Papas #5

I have some info for you on preparing for the upcoming Monarch Season. 
Some people express concern about how to find monarch eggs. 
It can be tricky. When I started out I had no ideas what I was looking for. 
I would wait until I saw little caterpillars and then they woulds disappear. 
Darn Spiders!  
I then learned about collecting eggs to protect them. The first step is to learn what you are looking for. 
Eggs are layed by the female monarch only on milkweed plants usually on the underside of a leaf. 
However, I have found eggs on the top of leaves, on stems and even on Flowerbuds!
So, don't forget to look there too.

I came across this video on Youtube a while back and it popped up on Facebook recently. 
It is a bit long. It was made in 2013 when the population was in jeopardy so it is a bit sad at the beginning
Keep that in mind- the video is 3 years old.  you can fast forward to 2:09 to view the info.
The info on how to collect eggs is spot on.  
The series is pretty good too. If I can't answer a question for you, maybe Mr. Lund can.
I will post some egg photos on my blog today that you can save to you phone and use as reference. 

One of the things that Mr. Lund states in the video is monarch eggs have a 10% chance in the wild to make it to the wing. 
This figure, while not wholly inaccurate, is believed by researchers to be  closer to 2-3% survival. 

He also says in his video that you can find eggs in the wild and take them home, raise them...
My experience the last few summers and talking with many other gardeners, is we have been finding more at home than 
out on roadsides and fields. There are many more predators out in the wild. 
So if you can plant native mw at home common if you have there room, swamp if you don't. 
Plant tropical in pots. 

I will be selling milkweed at the Oak Lawn Earth Day event and OL Monarch Fest... more about that later. 
If you'd like some seeds, let me know. 

Have a great week! enjoy the warm temps this week,
14 days until spring! 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

2016 Winter Monarch Population-MX

This info came out last week Feb 26th. This is really good news but we need to plant more habitat. 

The WWF states that the numbers in Mexico have risen to 3 1/2x the number of last year. 
We did it, we made a difference! 
The butterflies are occupying 10 acres! Last year if you remember the butterflies occupied only 2.8 acres and increase of 69% from the year before which was 1.6 acres. 
An acre is just over 40,000 square feet. 
What does this mean? Well I will ponder that and so can you, send me your thoughts. I will send another post this weekend. 
Have a great day! PLANT MILKWEED!!!

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Late October update 10/24

Hello friends, A little update for you: The monarch season, for me, is officially over. Lee released our last for beauties last Sunday. I was feeling under the weather and was sleeping most of the day. Since it was warm and we had held them over and fed them for three days, Lee released them. So another one in the can as they say.
My totals were impressive and sad too. My total number collected (eggs & cats.) was 2254. Most were collected from my garden and with the help of my awesome workers this summer, we collected over 1000 in the gardens at the Oak Lawn Parks. Thank you girls and guys! You were great!
That leaves about 1000 collected at home and this year I offered to foster cats. for a few select friends and relatives who wanted to ease into this. That was about 250. Once those individuals felt more comfortable, they began raising their own by mid Aug. 
My release number was just about 1000. I do not have an exact number because well, sometimes the butterflies gave me the bum's rush at the door of the cat. house. So I would say I am accurate within 1-3%. I lost many cats. to an outbreak of what I think was NPV virus. This is a highly contagious disease that kills very quickly and spreads very quickly. I had a little bit of Tachnid fly, a parasite common to monarchs and I had some O.E. parasite deaths at the end of the season. This appearance of the parasite O.E. at the end of summer is indicative to the care of monarchs. The spores of the parasite build up over summer on milkweed foliage, to a critical point and it infects many cats as they eat the milkweed. It is very important to wash and dry your leaves as you are feeding. Sometimes the infection is unavoidable. 
I was able to get a hold of 125 tags from Monarch Watch this fall and tagged some butterflies for the first time. That was very cool. Monarch watch makes 100K tags each year with the hopes that volunteers like us will tag monarchs and that a portion of them will be found in Mexico or observed on the way to MX. You can do this too, Go to the Monarch Watch website next summer. 
As of today 10/24 monarchs are arivibg in large groups at the sanctuary in central Mx. The huricane Patricia seems to have spared the biosphere of any heavy winds and rains. The storm is now moving through TX and the rain there put monarchs at risk. Time will tell, but instinct will hopefully make some of the monarchs pause and rest on one place fir a few days. 
A few items I have found for you this week...
If you are an Illinois resident, this link is to a petition to Pass SB1742 to create the Roadside Monarch Habitat Fund in Illinois. 
If your Tropical milkweed is planted in pots, it can be saved over the winter.
If you have been saving your seed, then you may not want to consider doing this. The seeds germinate easily and the plants grow quickly.
However, if you anticipate needing a plethora of plants for yourself or to share next year, you can save your plants a few ways:
1.     Repot your plants, trimming the roots and giving them fresh soil. Cut your plants down completely. Keep them in your house under grow lights
a.      By repotting with fresh soil you will reduce the appearance of fungus gnats- if they do appear, water with a 50/50 mix of water and hydrogen peroxide. One or two waterings should kill them
2.     Take cuttings of your trop. mw stems and root them in soil in the house, make sure to clean the stems with 5% bleach solution, pat dry, recut, plant.
3.     If your trop mw is in larger pots, you can try to keep it over the winter in your garage. Attached is best, place in a warm corner water once or twice over the winter. Take them outside in April when the weather breaks.
a.      At that time you will want to repot, trim the roots, fresh soil and slow release fertilizer.

As most of you know I have been collecting a saving seeds and sharing seeds for many years. I just received info on how to catch the seeds before the pods pop!
If you can get a hold of a few organza gift pouches, you can tie these over your mw pods (the small ones) wait for them to pop and cut the stem off with the bag.
I like this one, because it looks big enough to fit over a large cluster of trop. mw pods.
You can slow down the opening of common mw pods, by placing a rubber band around the pods to prevent opening. See the photo below.
All this does is ensure that you don’t miss the seeds when the pods pop. It does not hurt the plant or the ripening of the seeds in any way.

This is an interesting article on the many uses of milkweed:
This link is too a recently  released document discussing the long view of monarch recovery,
I found an article/ publication from Michigan State University Extension on planting for pollinators.
A link to an article out of Washing State, a group of volunteers got together and planted a butterfly habitat on a local college campus:
And just for fun…. The newest Winnie the Pooh story in a long time is all about saving the bees!

Please don’t forget to report your releases in our Google Doc. The results are building!
I can’t wait to see our total number of released monarchs. Thank you, let’s keep it going!
Again this is just for us, so we can see how many monarchs we have released as a group.

Please remember to sterilize all your tools, containers, vases, clippers etc. that you have been using for raising your monarchs.
Put everything you can into the dishwasher and clean everything else with bleach. The OE parasite spores can live over the winter. So sterilizing is very important.

Well, I don’t know about you but I miss my caterpillars but am thankful for a break! That’s why I love living in a region with 4 seasons ;)
Back to working on the house.
Don’t hesitate to email me with questions!

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

September 3 Update

I hope you are all surviving this heatwave here in the Midwest!
According to the weather history, we have not had this hot of a start to September since 1985!
Holy Smokes! I was just entering freshman year of high school…
Back to the monarchs.
I have come across a couple of really good articles that may help you at this time of the year:
this article explains all the critters that use mw as habitat and the predators that also hang out on mw.
Another great article is one that gives tips on raising monarchs with better success and less disease.
Things to think about next year if you continue.
There was a book written by Ba Rae and colleagues also explaining about who else uses mw. Excellent book! I encourage you to add this to your library,
I have collected very few eggs in the past 10 days, I think the cold overnight temps last week may have pushed our gravid (pregnant) females and their mates southward.
There are still caterpillars to be had. So give your mw one last look.
I have had multiple calls on sickly and deformed bflies eclosing recently….
One disease that is common on monarchs is a parasite called O.E. it is a protozoa that has evolved with the monarchs and seems to cull out the weak individuals.
At this time of the year don’t be surprised to have a few butterflies eclose form the chrysalis with deformed wings or legs. These individuals should Not be released.
As hard as it may be for you, you need to euthanize these butterflies to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to other healthy butterflies.
Simply put them in a container and slip it into the freezer. Then put the dead butterfly in the trash wrapped up in paper towel or in a plastic baggie.
These butterflies may not be able to feed, cannot fly and will never mate so their quality of life is limited. Please do the humane thing and euthanize.
I usually have a dozen or so every year that succumb to this disease. It is not uncommon and there is nothing you can do but clean your mw before you feed your cats.
This will minimize the spores.

I would love to hear about how the summer went for you, please join me for the Monarch Season Wrap Up at the Oak Lawn Park District.
I am hosting this on Oct. 5th at 6:30pm at the Oak View center at 110th and Kilpatrick in Oak Lawn (where I work).
Please preregister by calling 708-857-2200
I will have mw seeds to share with you.

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

September 19 Update

I am sure most of have wished your last monarchs Good Luck!
The pictures coming from different parts of the country of the migration are beautiful!
The migration has been sighted in the Indiana Dunes this week,
The Pelle Point, Ontario and Cleveland Ohio last weekend were impressive!
There has been a large group sighted in Missouri too.
It is so exciting to see all the pictures and videos on the monarch facebook pages.
People have been posting  mostly from the Great Lakes region this week.
If you would like to join any of these pages look for
The Beautiful Monarch, Monarchs and Milkweed and Butterfly Gardening
People are sharing lots of great photos.
Either everyone is looking more for the migration groups or there are definitely more butterflies.

The update on the migration can be seen daily at Journey North online
Please share you sightings with Journey North, this info is important to gage the migration population.

Collecting Seeds: Now is the time to be looking for mw seeds at home. They are ripening now.
Tuberosa may be finished, Swamp is coming in and Common will be ready in the next few weeks, Tropical is ripening too.
Remember that the seed pods ripen from the bottom of the plant to the top. So the lowest pods are ripe first.
Seeds are not ripe unless they are coco brown so if you cannot easily pop the pod open, then it is probably not ready.
Check back in a day or so.
Take a brown paper bag out with you when you collect, a marker and clippers. Don’t tear the pods off, you will get a hand full of sap.
Don’t get the white sap in your mouth or eyes and remember: nothing smaller than your elbow in your ear! Hahahhaha! Sorry, I digress.
Putting your seeds in paper ensures they will have lots of air circulation to dry. There is a video on my blog showing how to clean the fluff from the seeds after a couple of weeks of drying.
Mw seeds are all very similar in appearance so mark the bag with your marker.
After cleaning, weigh your seeds if you can and put it in your notes for this year. Then share them with as many people as possible.
Maybe send them into Bring Back the Monarchs Campaign. Here is the link.
Or, if you like, Monarch Mommas and Poppas can send in a large group collected amount of seed. I can do that if you want.

Monday I will be presenting a lecture at the Oak Lawn Park Dist. 6:30 at the Oak View Center at 110th and Kilpatrick in Oak Lawn.
I will be presenting the Benefits of Biodiversity, join me in a lecture and discussion on the importance of planting for pollinators. Registration is $5, come a little early to register in the office.

Don’t forget that on October 5th I will be hosting a Monarch Season Wrap-up at 6:30 at the Oak View Center at 110th and Kilpatrick in Oak Lawn. I am hoping to get as many people there that have raised monarchs this year. I am going to present a short program on how the season went according to Journey North, Monarch Watch etc. Then I would like to have a discussion on how the season went for you. Bring your totals with you, notes, photos and anything else you want to share. If you have a Monarch Waystation, bring your certificate along.
I will have milkweed seeds to share and info on butterfly gardening. In lieu of the $5 reg fee for the meeting I will have a collection jar for the Monarch Watch.
Light Refreshments will be served.
I hope to see you there! From what some of you have been telling me, this has been a great season! Let’s celebrate it!

Some news articles I have found this week…

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hello Monarch Mommas and Pappas!

Well here we are, nearing the end of the monarch season.
Reports to Journey South (aka Journey North) is that the migration has begun in the most northern regions of the summer breeding grounds.
Overnight roosts of many monarchs have been reported in Canada, MN and Wi.
The migration is triggered by the angle of the sun, day length, overnight temps and quality of the milkweed.
Meaning the mw is beginning to die for the season or senesce.
When the migration generation emerges from their pupae they are in a state of diapause.
It is a physical state of sexual dormancy. Mating is an enormous drain of the butterflies, energy.
In order to live through the migration and winter in Mexico, they do not mate until next March.
This however does not mean that our rearing time has come to an end. Last year at this time I collected close to 400 eggs and cats. There is no doubt that those eggs were butterflies destined for Mexico

So, if you have not found any eggs or if you do not have caterpillar fatigue…
I urge you to clean those aphids off your milkweed and give your collection on more week.
I have not found many eggs at home this past week but I have found quite a few at work.
I am hoping that next weeks’  80 degree temps will give me my last hundred eggs.
You can spray the aphids off with your hose or squish them first and rinse your plants.
Be sure to look for eggs first.

At this time of the season, you will probably be seeing a lot of red bugs on your milkweed seed pods.
If you want to save that seed,  go out in the garden with a bucket of soapy water and shake the insects into it.
The soapy water will kill them. These are the nymphs (immature) milkweed bugs.
These insects wait until the seed is almost ready then they devour them.

Sharing mw seed with lots and lots of people is an important part of my monarch conservation efforts.
If you have seed but no one to share it with, I will take the pods.

If you are going to collect seeds to give away, here is a short tutorial…
First, the first pods that will pop open and seeds fly away on the silk will be the lower pods.
Second, the seeds are not ready to harvest until the seeds are coco brown.
So if you are checking pods and they won’t pop open easily they probably are not ready and seeds are still white.
Third, when collecting pods they should only go in Paper bags, plastic will cause the pods to mold and spoil the seeds.
Paper allows them to dry naturally. They can be in the garage in a dry place away from mice.
Fourth, cleaning the seeds is a bit messy but there is a good method that can be used about 3 weeks into the drying process.
Basically, what you will do is, over a paper bag or some container, open the pod a little and grasp the pod at the top to hold the silk in.
Then use your thumb to shuck the seeds off the fluff. After that continue letting the seeds dry in a paper bag. After a while put them in a storage container.
Fifth, sharing your seeds, after they are completely dry, by Thanksgiving, you can package the in small plastic bags, small #1 envelopes or recycled prescription bottles.
This is a great way to reuse those Rx bottles.
You can send your seeds directly to Monarch Watch, they grow mw to sell but they also give away a lot to schools and non profits.
Make sure your seed is cleaned, dried, in a Ziploc bag an sent in tear proof package
Monarch Watch
University of Kansas
2021 Constant Ave
Lawrence, KS 66047

On Sept 21 I will be presenting my Benefits of Biodiversity lecture at work.
On October 5 I will be hosting a Monarch Season Wrap Up session. I would love to have as many monarch mommas and pappas as possible there.
My plan is that we can share our experiences from this season and compare notes. See if we can improve our chances even more next year.
These lectures will be at the Oak View Center in Oak Lawn and more info about them can be found here.

My egg and cat. collection is up to 1800 and 544 butterflies released, I have begun separating the little buggers by size so the cats. don’t eat each other.
I hope my success rate increases.