By Jannie Vaught
With cooler weather, my personal time outside has greatly increased. That means plants, feed the soil turn the compost, and plant the seeds. I am having some insect pressure and that just tells me that all of the living creatures are preparing for the winter. Pecans are falling and some leaves are turning. With that, the thought of turning on the oven is a real possibility. I don’t like to bake in the summer its just too darned hot to face the oven.
Last week was about Monarch Butterflies. Let us go a little farther with the why and hows these wonders of nature eat and thrive. I went to our library and checked out Natures Best Hope, A new approach to conservation that starts in your yard. by Douglas W. Tallamy. Here are a few tidbits that help me understand this question. Monarchs like other butterflies are orange and black. This tells all the predators that ” Don’t eat me. I taste bad.” They are specific to Milkweed which has cardiac glycosides a toxic substance and only some insects can eat this. This distasteful substance is stored in their wings and blood, rendering their own bodies distasteful to predators. Milkweeds also have a milky latex sap that jells on exposure to air. Insects who attempt to eat them find their mouth parts glued permanently shut. Monarch has found a simple way to defeat this defense: they block the flow of sap to milkweed leaves. they walk to the tip of the leaf and start to eat. If any latex sap starts to ooze they immediately stop eating and move two-thirds of the way or mid leaf and chews entire through the midrib. This severs the main latex flow, the leaf is then free of the flow of this sticky latex glue. You can see if Monarch caterpillars on milkweed by looking for the cut leaves.
Here are some simple ways to keep the natural world in balance. Restore the soil, encourage native plants, and with this the insects come and balance is restored. When there are more caterpillars the native birds have food for their nestlings. They prefer caterpillars to feed babies as they are jammed packed with the nutrients they need to grow and fledge. A pair of bird parents may bring multiple caterpillars over 800 times a day to feed their brood. If they do not have caterpillars they will have brood failure. The baby’s die and often you will find many nestlings on the ground out of the nest with little vitality. This is why the use of herbicides and pesticides break the natural cycle in the balance of their eating and reproduction. They eat the bugs that eat my garden. A few holes in my lettuce is a small price to pay to have a vibrant bird system in my yard. And by doing this I have seen in real-time the work they can do. When those around me are eaten up with grasshoppers, we have only a few. And the chickens take care of them with gusto!
I find I do tend to shy away from what is portrayed as conservation as I find it a task that is out of my skill level. But by looking at how nature works and keeping native plants and grasses available, not over mowing my yard to look like a picture book I am practicing conservation at the most fundamental level, right in my own home. And the soil, plants, insects birds and all their progeny have a chance to rebuild and balance. Hope you are outside enjoying this fabulous fall.
Growing Green With Jannie