Children are naturally inquisitive. We see it all the time. Children marvel at the world around them. They ask questions and are passionate about so many different things.
At some point along the way as we grow up, that desire to learn and observe gets muted. Often, I find myself walking past the natural world to the next task, not taking the time to enjoy the beauty around me. However, watching children around butterflies and other pollinators brings back the child in me. They marvel and are amazed by the smallest things, especially pollinators.
As we celebrate National Pollinator Week, I want to encourage you to look at these pollinators through a child’s eyes. Slow down and watch the mesmerizing and beautiful work of pollinators. If you have children or grandchildren, watch their eyes as they discover new things. Their eyes are wide open and and their minds are ready to learn.
Children are also our future conservationists, land managers and biologists. Adventures into the wild can be transformational for these youngsters. We all know these connections to nature will plant a seed for the future. We need people who are passionate about the natural world and its management. And the younger we can develop those interests, the better.
So as you think about your garden and how you can save pollinators, think about your own transformative experiences. What was awe inspiring, what made you smile, and what had you never seen before? Simply having plants that attract pollinators will have an impact on pollinators in the present, but having people (you and your children or grandchildren) in your garden to love and appreciate them will save the pollinators into the future.
Put Saturday, June 27, 2020 on your calendar and plan to help us count butterflies. The 21st Annual Harvey County Butterfly Count will consist of groups of butterfly enthusiasts dispersing to butterfly hot spots around the county to observe and count as many butterfly species as possible. Participant age or experience does not matter.
Whether you can immediately tell the difference between a pearl crescent and a gorgone checkerspot or you are unable to differentiate between a monarch and a moth, we encourage you to attend. The only requirement is a curious interest in finding and counting butterflies.
Harvey County Butterfly Count
The Harvey County Butterfly Count typically takes place on a single day in late June throughout a 16-mile diameter circle that includes Newton, Halstead, and Hesston. Emeritus biology professor, Dwight Platt, organized the first Harvey County Butterfly Count in 2000. Dwight has long been a champion of citizen science in South Central Kansas. As a Bethel College freshman in 1948, he helped organize the first Harvey County area Halstead-Newton Christmas Bird Count. As my major professor in the early 1990s at Bethel, Dwight inspired me to get active in citizen science, and many years later (in 2016) passed along to me oversight of the Harvey County Butterfly Count. Dwight plans to participate all day in this 21st Harvey County count at the age of 89.
Guidance for the Harvey County Butterfly Count protocol is provided by North American Butterfly Association (NABA). Their efforts to build and organize a robust data set is important to monitor trends in butterfly populations. Comparisons of the results across years can be used to monitor changes in populations and study the effects of weather and habitat change on North American butterflies.
By participating in such counts, you are contributing to research through citizen science. In the process, you are also increasing your scientific understanding, learning about environmental issues, gaining an appreciation for the natural world, and becoming a more engaged citizen. Thanks to Dwight, family members, and friends who encouraged me to do such things at a young age, citizen science shaped my choice of vocation and was personally transformative. I am hooked now and consider citizen science a fun hobby.
Common Butterflies Observed
In addition to sending all the data to NABA from each year’s one-day count, I have 20 years of Harvey County Butterfly Count data in a spreadsheet that can be organized in a variety of ways. Here are a few summary numbers:
Over the last 20 years, 85 butterfly species have been observed during the one-day Harvey County counts.
The average number of butterfly species seen over the last 20 counts is 50.8.
25 butterfly species have been observed nearly every year of the count (19 out of 20 counts).
Those 25 commonly observed Harvey County butterfly species are featured here for easy visual reference (photo credits). I lumped some of the similar-looking species together to help you more easily discern some of the subtle differences. Review them a few times and you will already start to develop a familiarity with the majority of butterflies seen on a typical count!
While the above 25 species are mostly what you will see and be counting, the real fun comes in finding the other 25 or so more rare species throughout the day. Searching for different types of habitat and flowers usually helps expand the diversity of species observed. Looking for certain host plants to find rare species is also part of the strategy.
What to Bring
The most important mode of preparation for a summer butterfly count is adjusting to the elements. Once you protect yourself from the sun with a hat and light cotton clothing and apply insect repellent around your ankles to repel ticks and chiggers, you can more easily turn your focus to the fun of looking for flowers and the butterflies they attract. If you simply plan to sweat and stay well-hydrated (bring plenty of water), you will find yourself enjoying a breezy summer day in Kansas.
Additionally, consider bringing binoculars (I also have close-range butterfly binoculars to lend you) and/or a camera with a zoom lens, but neither are mandatory. Each group will have a leader with an expertise in identification and a plan for sites to visit.
Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend for a half (3-4 hours) or full day (6-8 hours) and I will send you an email with more details.
Plan to enjoy part or all of a summer day counting butterflies and help make an important contribution to citizen science.
Thinking about starting a new garden using native plants is one thing, but putting in the time to get it established is another thing altogether. I was reminded today of the rewards you receive after working hard that first year to get your garden properly established. A design I had put together for a local couple last spring is now exploding in blooms and growth this year. They shared with me how amazed they are at the transformation those small plants have made in just one full year.
The second year
This couple had put in the necessary time and effort last year by watering and weeding their small garden. There will still be a need for some maintenance this season, but it will be greatly reduced because of their efforts last year.
Establishment is such an important step in the development of a new garden. You will still need to water during prolonged droughts and weed out invasive species. You will need to be vigilant until these natives are fully rooted and completely filling the space, crowding out weeds. Then you can let them fend for themselves, especially if you have done proper planning and chosen the right plants for the space.
Beyond the second year
Keep in mind, your first garden doesn’t need to be perfect. More often than not, it won’t be perfect. However, remember that you are creating a habitat that blooms, attracts wildlife and pollinators and brings you enjoyment. It takes time to get the results we want.
Often we get discouraged by the amount of time and effort needed to keep our garden going that first year. Prolonged dry spells, wind, heat and weeds can easily take the fun out of it. Think long term and remember why you are doing this. I certainly have experienced that discouragement and burn out, but have been rewarded with beauty and wildlife as these natives take off the next few years.
Remain patient and vigilant when establishing a native plant landscape, especially those first few years. Each season, plants will shift in response to the weather and soil. Follow the plants’ lead, tidy up after them as you need, and fill gaps with new plants. It generally takes 2-5 years before the full benefits of your landscaping efforts pay off and wildlife find and use the native plants. An old adage says, “The first year a garden sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it leaps.”
In our greenhouse and nursery, I work very hard to create a hospitable environment for pollinators and wildlife. This means limited use of pesticides and herbicides. Unfortunately, greenhouse pests flourish when uncontrolled and can lead to devastating crop losses. They affect the appearance of our plants, which in turn affects how well they sell. This year, to minimize my use of insecticidal soap spray, I tried using Mantises as greenhouse predators instead.
Finding and Identifying Egg Cases
While cleaning garden beds this spring, I found many mantis ootheca (egg cases) hanging on branches of shrubs and trees. The egg cases can easily be spotted in areas of dense vegetation that stay standing through the fall and winter. Non-native mantis ootheca are round and bulbous, but native North American mantises (Stagmomantis carolina) have a long, flat egg case resembling a tiny trillobite.
I carefully cut the cases away from the parent plant, leaving the egg sac attached to its branch. I then placed those egg sacs in our unheated greenhouse, sticking the end of their twig into potted plants that often get pest problems in early spring.
For two months, nothing happened. But in mid April when the days were consistently sunny and warm, they finally hatched out in a giant wriggling mass!
They were fun to watch, and they dispersed themselves all across the greenhouse. But when it comes to aphid control, they were not voracious enough. In the past I used lady bugs and parasitic wasps as predators, both of which preyed on more aphids and at a faster rate than the mantises.
Do Not Order or Buy Mantises
I would not recommend ordering mantises from any garden center or organic pest control website — often they send the non-native type that are more likely to cause problems than solve them. Mantises are indiscriminate, and eat beneficial insects like bees, caterpillars, and even prey on hummingbirds.
I had fun experimenting with them because they were readily available to me on our grounds, but I would otherwise be cautious of using a nonnative insect for pest control. The best pest control method for residential gardens is a diverse planting that attract lots of pollinators and predators. These insects will find a balance amongst themselves!