above | the oak tree where the monarchs hang out.
As you may already know, good fortune came to Three Sisters Farm last April when a group of investors who were interested in creating habitat for Monarch Butterflies purchased a 29 acre parcel of land near our home farm with an understanding that Three Sisters will farm the land organically and a portion of the land will be set aside to be managed as a prairie to provide habitat for pollinators.
Since monarch butterflies have taken an interest in our farm—we have returned the interest in them. So we leave the milkweed that comes up in the garden even when it grows in with the food crops. Still I was a little surprised when on the packing line a couple week ago I was putting romaine lettuce into CSA boxes and I spotted a small monarch caterpillar in the head of lettuce. Mind you, the poor thing had been in our walk-in cooler for a couple of days. So even though packing morning is busy I tore the leaf that the caterpillar was on off the head of romaine and put it in a small blue bucket that we use for harvesting cherry tomatoes. I set it aside where I thought no one would bother it so that I could put it on some milkweed when packing morning was all over.
I thought I had set it out of the way—I left to get a cooler for some of the eggs and when I returned to find the caterpillar it was gone along with the leaf of lettuce. Jeff in an effort to clean up had tossed it somewhere. I was pretty upset and he could tell he was in the dog house—so with his tail between his legs he went back outside and found the piece of lettuce. To my surprise the little caterpillar was still on it.
A week before I spent most of a work morning listening to Kenzie Kremer, a workershare, talk about her monarch caterpillars (she raises hundreds!) while we hand weeded radicchio in the garden. She said most of her friends were kind of tired of hearing about her caterpillars. She explained the process of transformation that the caterpillar undergoes, how long it takes and how she cares for them. She also told me that raising them in captivity greatly increases the odds that the caterpillar will become a butterfly.
Armed with Kenzie’s knowledge, I decided to raise the caterpillar from the romaine lettuce, partially for myself to see the magical transformation and partially because I learned that I could increase the likelihood that the caterpillar would become a butterfly.
It has since spun its chrysalis and now I am waiting to see if the transformation to butterfly happens.
I want to tell you a few more of my experience with monarchs this year:
1 On my CSA day delivery route I have about 30 stops. There was one week where I couldn’t believe that at almost every stop I was greeted by a monarch butterfly.
2 Almost every week we sit in the shade of a beautiful large oak tree in the northwest corner of the new property with workershares to bunch your carrots. It is a marvel to watch the monarchs dance around us while we work. It seems that they are particularly attracted to this tree or this corner of the property.
3 Lately as I’ve been driving past this tree to the watermelon patch I am astounded that 4-6 monarch butterflies descend from the tree and, for lack of a better word, they dive bomb my vehicle as I drive slowly down the lane. Maybe I can get a video to share—it’s really quite something to be dive-bombed by a mob of butterflies!
Well, I set out an hour ago to update you about all the wonderful changes and progress that we have made at the farm this year—instead I wrote about the butterflies. Which in a way I suppose just shows how indebted we are to them for everything that has happened in the last year. I guess this means I’ll have to write another newsletter next week to update you on the progress we have made with our community financed infrastructure improvement project.
Cooler temperatures this week means that summer is giving way to fall. Basil and cherry tomatoes are now done for the season. Cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes look to have a few more weeks.
Jeff Schreiber has been farming organically for 10 years. In 2011 he started Three Sisters Community Farm with his wife, Kelly.