Good morning friends of the monarch and milkweed!
We've had an incredible two years starting up Caterpillar Chow and this 2023 monarch season is looking up! From our humble bedroom beginnings to our exciting visit to the 2023 WMS it has been an educational thrill ride full of wonder, discovery and a lot of hard work! We have made huge strides in our cultivation and habitat knowledge and have met some amazing people working towards the understanding of the monarch butterfly and the universe which encompasses it.
I would like to start off by thanking some people, in no certain order, for all of their help and inspiration in our journey to help the monarch. These are all people we've met along the way who really made what we have now possible.
Crystal Bowman, Jules Vanden Berge, Rob Wood, Kristy Brauch, Dr. Tom Landis, Darlene Rosemary, Suzanne Tilton, Brad Grimm, Stephanie Hollbrook, Angi Mosier, and quite a few others! And of course to all of our loyal fans and customers, including our local friends and business owners, I am deeply grateful to all of you and so are our western monarchs. That is something special that binds us together as humans, and one of the most beautiful things about humanity is how we can combine hands as unique individuals to do something great for everyone.
I also want to say a special thanks to Dr. Tom Landis for inviting us to do a little workshop and enjoy the benefits of the Western Monarch Summit. We certainly learned a lot and had a LOT of fun! He's a special guy and totally awesome in person!
Thank you all!!!
Company news for 2023
We went into December with a house full of plants, some of them topping 20" not counting the lanky A. albicans. What we did not expect were the amount of people needing milkweed, and most of our crop for this spring has already sold! We have about 600 plants left, and a lot of them last picks so we will be announcing a sale very soon.
Speaking of sales, we did great. We proved to be self sufficient enough to cover operating expenses and have enough left to keep growing plants. What we've invested into our greenhouse and the property will continue as planned.
This year we are rolling out a brand new webpage, with a deeper understanding of our mission we are trying on a few new boots and polishing the ones we have too. Expect updated products, updated pricing and grow to order plants. We are now introducing shipping of 4" seedlings as well. Not only that, we are building the foundation of our fundraiser program for group support in putting habitat back and our new Adopt a Seedling program, to allow customers to also help fund our habitat restoration projects. It gives everyone a chance to be a part of restoring our ecosystem.
We are also making plans with various friends to help supply plants- with one of our first sponsors, Wings of Change, putting in orders for our milkweed to help them with their garden projects. We are also working with GrowMilkweedPlants and hoping to partner with many more professionals so we can gain momentum in planting more milkweed. ~links to both below~
Because spoiler alert: habitat = ecosystem = monarchs.
I personally have a long list of desires and I often forget I am just one guy. That's why this year I am focusing in building relationships and growing plants and studying the habitat out there. It should be quite the adventure!
Now then on to the summit.
Ok I can admit one thing... I am so fascinated by what is happening with our ecosystem and that of the milkweed itself particularly. I listened to the various speakers as I could, and did think long and hard about some of the observations, the statements, the procedures and so forth. And more often than not, I found myself surprised at the inferences or conclusions drawn. Some of it I found more relevant than others as well, as far as motives, results, and also reception of some of the people I admire and respect the most. That doesn't mean I blindly follow anyones statements but I do like to make my own observations and ask questions in order to understand. Sometimes I don't shut up either... a character flaw say some, passion, say others.
So here's some of my take on the things we've observed, both at the summit and out in the overwintering sites and surrounding countryside. Thank you by the way, Crystal Bowman, for your support and planning of the trip for us and then letting me bumble through it with you. You are my hero.
2023 Western Monarch Summit
Tropical milkweed is not the bad guy. I didn't need anyone there for me to draw this conclusion. It is personal observation and also observation of some studies done that make claims or inferences to the contrary. Our observations where we are show all milkweeds can both harbor diseases like OE and can also produce healthy monarch butterflies. We did find that cutting tropical milkweed back when there was no other milkweed caused egg dumping and higher OE rates in later offspring/adults (fall season) So we don't really recommend that at all. Instead you can cycle snipping the plants so the regrowth is happening in stages throughout your garden.
Not very many people mentioned the stigma and attack on Tropical in California. I believe anyone who has made real observations can see that it is lack of milkweed and a poisoned food supply and the urbanization causing it. Our key takeaway is we need more milkweed in California or we risk losing our monarchs altogether, but not from the world, just from our state. I personally found that unacceptable.How about any of you?
Observations on science at the summit:
Some bold statements and conclusions were drawn by a few of the speakers, labels were made determining how fit milkweed was for the monarch (by whose standards we don't know) but also obvious causable effects were labeled as more or less detrimental to the fitness of the butterfly as well. As if somehow tasting especially bad to your would-be predators is worse than having 2 millimeters more wing length.
Also a lot of interesting things were ignored in a lot of the presentations- very relevant things like geography and weather. And a lot of other things seemed presumed as well, such as what a butterfly can and cannot see in cloudy weather. I have questions about that, and animal stress during testing, and using samples of seedling plants that weren't grown to maturity or possibly in the correct container/medium. And there are widely varied results when it comes to cardenolide content both in the lab and in the wild. not only between plants, but between individuals of the same type of plant too. And again geography and soil are not mentioned much here.
Not all science is the same, and not all scientists ask the right questions. Why? Because we're all not only different often in how we think or approach problems, we're also motivated by different things depending on our nature. That is OK. I do not think you need a specific education to be a scientist, only one trained in a subject my be able to accomplish everything we already know to date- not all can determine new things, and not all are good communicators.
This was a rockstar event. There were some moving speakers about conservation and about our general health on the planet as humans, but the scientist guys were the real show. And I loved every minute of it. I would love to corner any of those guys in a booth in the back of a bar.
So I have to remain calm and remember these guys are just showing their work and it is up to us to see or not see what they're trying to point out. I was enthralled with the guys who spoke about their work managing the overwintering sites. What an awesome and amazing job. I learned a lot about what they knew or think they know, not only by listening but by seeing out there in person as well. The summit being done where they overwinter is a brilliant gift to the person who really wants to have an education! These guys aren't the end all know all of the subject, but they are definitely up there. And you can tell they love their work.
I observed many things in the groves and about how they were managed. I walked the area around Oceano, explored the landscape and the grid layout of Trinity and did some serious thinking at the Grove in Pismo. I understand why Trinity will probably never work- and I know why the original trees that the monarchs used to sleep in are better for us and the ecosystem than the eucalyptus are.
Eucalyptus is a short term solution, especially in a managed grove. In fact, a managed "monarch" grove is possibly the worst idea we have when it comes to wild habitat. It supports only the trees and the butterfly and cares nothing for the habitat as a whole- only if some human starts a fire. But we have to realize we're already living on the edge of these places and that may be all there is for now. So who would would like to explore rebuilding more native grove and habitat spaces alongside these eucalyptus groves and slowly edge them out? I would. Especially up in the high places where the oats and rip gut and filaree now prevail.
I also do not think milkweed near overwintering sites is a bad thing, in fact it may be crucial. What I observe about milkweed in the natural watershed is it's supposed to be there, all the way down to the ocean. And I believe egg laying winter monarchs infiltrate the groves and add to the supply of eggs/sperm to help vaunt the spring exodus as temperatures rise. It's a slowly circulating machine keeping the engine idle until it's time to roll.
Do beetles that consume eucalyptus leaves make them better for holding on than smooth eucalyptus leaves? Does this affect which trees the monarchs stay in? I believe so.
Overwintering in California and the lifecycle of our monarchs in the west do not follow the same patterns as those in the east. I would consider them a completely separate arm of a bigger organism. The variety has to be completely related to geography and weather and habitat working in conjunction. I am not so sure there is a "switch" unless that switch is temperature and/or sun angle, but it was fun to learn monarchs from one spot can end up either here in California or in Mexico! Now, I know people who prefer the beach to the mountains so this could be that simple. Maybe even the butterflies talk about vacationing in legendary Pismo Beach?
Endangered status of the monarch in California. I don't think that we should continue that stance for one main reason: we want to put habitat back and promote education, not create a whole arm of government just to sell permits to anyone who can fill out a form. That is money not well spent.
So in the world of education there are young children, middle children and then young adults and elders after. College level adults and older professors tend to have different learning motives because they are told they have things to prove. Younger kids and middle kids have things to learn and experience, things that are important not only in subject variety, but activity as well. The very touch of a butterfly's feet on a child's arm can change their view of the world, and subsequently their life. Things we take for granted as adults can have a profound impact on someone young either for good or bad. Making it more difficult for the thousands of educators trying to engender some interest for nature in our children is not the way to go.
We believe the endangered status has served its purpose for awareness although I doubt it was necessary, everyone loves the monarch and it is just as well to tell the people of California they risk losing the monarch in our state unless they plant more milkweed. No permits required there!
Climate change is real- the causes may be immaterial, the results could take a long long time. The point is natural resources are the reason ALL of life exists. We all want to be where the good stuff is, and comfy temperatures qualify. Temperature in the southwest have slowly risen over the years, and sometimes that leads to a lot of scary possibilities. Now, I and others have seen monarchs and queen butterflies in near 48°c degree weather (120°f for most of you guys) happily flittering around, landing on milkweed blossoms along with countless other insects. When will it ever get hotter than that in coastal San Diego, I do not know, but I don't expect it to happen for a very long time.
Milkweed availability is going to determine the longterm survival of the monarch in quantity in California, and by proxy, all the areas they visit during the summer.
Urban sprawl, development, agriculture and ranching have decimate milkweed and it's natural habitat and our human influence is encroaching on it even in the wilds with management policies, watershed diversion and creeping human habitation/occupancy. You can drive around and look for yourself and once you know what to look for there's a lot of places that make you scratch your head. Because the milkweed just isn't there.
It goes the same for our oaks and cypresses along the high valleys and dells, cut down for cattle clearings and never regrown. Those trees mean a great deal to our ecosystem and not just for the monarch- a whole host of lifeforms are threatened by their loss.
However I do not believe it is too late.
When it comes to something important, like habitat and ecosystems, what we are really talking about is Life on Earth. Life that we are a part of and tied to inexorably. Life that requires balance in order to perpetuate. Right now I don't know how out of balance we really are, but it isn't exactly looking too pretty for our grandchildren. And I mean things humans are doing, not natural events. We struggle to control ourselves as much as we do everything else.
I love life. I love my kids and my family and I love a lot of other people too. I love nature because it also is life. When these things hurt, I hurt, when they are joyous and successful I feel the same way. Do you love life? Sometimes the hardest decisions we may ever make could involve losing that love. Even despite ourselves.
We need to bully each other with love not hate to achieve this goal. I am always afraid of pushing too hard and failing by alienating others. I think this can happen to anyone who is passionate. I think everyone reading this letter is passionate about their monarchs. That spiritual connection most of us gain with our experiences with the monarch butterfly is called LIFE. You can call that God, Mother Nature, Spirits of Relatives... and all of those things seem to work just fine.
You can't really deny the existence of that feeling and I think it would be foolish to do so. Either way I love you. All of you are my people. You are Monarch people.
It's obvious that there is a lot of work to do, and equally obvious that countless people are up to the task. From elderly retirees to determined school children and their parents I find people who are trying to help. Raising monarchs, planting milkweed, restoring habitat and overwintering sites- there are organizations and offices all over the country dedicated to this one butterfly. I am very very glad I decided to jump in here and join the world in preserving it's future!
Not one person who lifts a finger for another should be called a fool.
For anyone who wants to help us, I am available via text freely: 619-987-7848
Thank you for your time! And if you want to discuss any of this with me I would absolutely love to! Feel free to call me names, tell me I'm wrong and show me the way.