By late August of last year, our giant sunflowers were in full bloom. Proudly they stood, a happy yellow colour, just waiting to attract different species of pollinators with their big and sunny faces. Before long, late season pollinators did show up to help themselves to some sunflower nectar. Our honeybees didn’t need to be told twice that these huge and tasty flowers had pollen ready just for them. Bumblebees, along with two different kinds of small metallic-looking hover bees also happily buried themselves in the faces of the sunflowers.
We also had about a dozen hummingbirds that spent the summer at our farm, building miniature hummingbird nests in two of our giant pine trees and in our spruce tree in the pigpen while fighting daily over the syrup Tom made them in their feeder. As soon as the sunflowers bloomed in full force, the hummingbirds spent their days collecting nectar from the giant blooms. They then also spent their days fighting with each other over top of the sunflowers.
Finally, on September 9th, other important pollinators finally showed up at our farm. We had seen a few of them down the road from where we live, checking out the remnants of the orange lilies that grow wild in the woods beside the road.
The Monarch butterflies had arrived! They were a wonder to behold as they took their breakfast delicately at the sunflower patch before fluttering back to the peace and safety of our pine trees. For almost a week they stayed with us, going to the sunflowers at pretty much the same time each day and then spending the rest of the day in our pines or deep inside the cornfields. It was glorious to see them.
This year I am a little concerned. I have spoken to several other farming friends in different parts of the province. One cattle farmer told me he hasn’t had Monarch butterflies on his farm since 2010. Other friends lamented that even though they planted flowers and crops that the Monarchs were sure to like, they haven’t seen them yet.
It concerns me that one of the most important plants to a Monarch butterfly, the milkweed, is considered a “noxious weed” by the agricultural department of our government, and they have been diligently spraying it with chemicals in order to eradicate it. Those bean fields have to look clean, you know.
The Monarch butterfly uses the bottom of the milkweed leaf to lay its eggs. When the baby larvae hatch, they need the milkweed sap, or milk, for sustenance. Where should the Monarch lay her eggs if the milkweed plant is gone? Why doesn’t our agricultural department look at the big picture before they add a plant to their “noxious weed” list? They only focus very narrowly on plants or bugs that must be eradicated at all costs. They don’t realize that often in nature’s cycle, one action can have multiple consequences.
But these questions are sometimes too big for me to ponder by myself. All I can see, as a small farmer and beekeeper-in training, is that the Monarch butterflies seem to arrive later and later every year. I do not want to see the day that they may not be back at all.
So for now, I wait. I’ve planted extra sunflowers in the garden for when they do return. We will be so happy when we see them again, almost like old friends.
And I’ve left my milkweeds standing at the edge of the garden where nobody can see them.