Friday, September 21, 2018

Monarch Mail Time!!

What a zany summer it has been! The temperature swings this season have been especially fickle, but once the September brought much-needed rain and we brought the comforter out from the cabinet it's hard to imagine Fall is here. The dahlias have only just hit their peak, and we have so many tomatoes still ready to ripen on the vine!

This Summer seems to have been especially disappointing in the Monarch world. No Monarchs appeared at Ross' old house in Tigard this year, and very few were even sighted in Washington. It's very alarming news. But where there is rain, there is a rainbow: Ross found several eggs at a new population of milkweed he cultivated at his son's elementary school, and 3 made it to adult Monarch-hood! We waited on pins and needles as he kept the Monarchs in his cool basement area to await identification tags to arrive in his mail; and arrive they did, right in the nick of time. Portland Community College tweeted about their release. At this time of year, the Monarchs are no longer interested in breeding, and are heading straight down to their breeding grounds in Mexico. Wishing them the best of luck!!

And it is that time of year again, for Monarch mail! We do ask to keep an eye on the weather - it looks like we are in for some warm days ahead, Fall isn't quite ready to settle in yet. We would advise starting seeds in the dead of Winter instead, perhaps through the stratification method to give the seeds the best chance. Generally we spread the word through craigslist, however this takes a good amount of time, and there are some individuals flagging our posts for removal. If you belong to any garden clubs, are educators, own large amounts of private land, we would love to send you lots of seed to share. Please read on!

What is Monarch Mail?
Monarch Mail is what started our whole campaign. When faced with the dilemma of absence/complete loss of Monarch caterpillar food and habit, what is the most effective way to bring the native milkweed back to the Pacific NorthWest?

Disperse seeds and plants for free or for cheap. 

We've found that many local nurseries and seed companies sell milkweed seed or plants for fairly cost prohibitive prices. Sometimes the seed was clearly harvested too soon and had poor germination rates. By distributing seed for nearly free, we hope that when people's plants mature in the future, they will 'share the seed forward' to friends and family or back to us to re-distribute. We have reached a point where we have funding to purchase soil and pots for plants. All proceeds go towards more materials and resources to grow our campaign.

It is that time of year for Monarch Mail!

Very Late Fall is a good time to plant native milkweed seed. When properly planted (do not surface scatter!), the seeds go through the natural stratification process they experience in the wild. After experiencing the cold and wet of our winter, the seeds send down deep taproots and emerge with the warm and sunnier weather. The only downside to this method however is the risk of a late frost and pests- we have heard reports of frosts killing tender seedlings. One of our recommended suggestions is to plant the seeds in flats, or with the ability to cover them so they can be protected during those frosts once the little green leaves emerge. Another method is to stratify them in the fridge on a moist (not wet!) paper towel in a plastic bag for a few weeks. Once removed, the warmth of the room is enough to get them to sprout. This can be done safely after the danger of frost, but the seedlings might be a little bit behind those naturally grown and slightly more tender. We recommend stratification as the most controllable and predictable way to grow and protect the seedlings. Feel free to experiment! One baseline however is that these plants do not like peat!

Get your envelopes in, for your free seeds.

Getting free seeds will cost two stamps - one on an envelope addressed back to yourself, and one on the envelope you mail to us with the first envelope inside (aka SASE 'Self Addressed Stamped Envelope'). One stamp each way is all you need. UNLESS it is a very large amount of seed (more than ten portions worth, in which case 3 stamps would do it, or contact us and we can weigh out and calculate the postage precisely.

 Please mail your SASE to:

Monarch Mail
PO Box 2304
Hillsboro, OR 97123

For those of you without access to post offices or mailing materials:

Due to the generosity of some folks donating stamps, we can send out a limited number of envelopes directly to you. Don't hesitate to ask if you fall in this category. We are happy to get seeds out to those willing to plant.

Plant seeds we are offering at this time: 

Asclepias speciosa aka 'Showy Milkweed'
It is the predominant native to much of the Pacific North West area (predominant in areas where they still exist anyway). They can get up to 3-4 feet tall, and have lovely silver green fleshy leaves. Takes two-three years to mature/bloom size. Drought tolerant once established.
    Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed)

Asclepias fascicularis - aka 'Narrowleaf Milkweed'
Another PNW native, it can tolerate arid conditions a bit better than speciosa. In addition, since it is a smaller plant and fairly fast growing under the right conditions, it may bloom at the end of the first year, definitely in its second. 

Asclepias fascicularis (Narrowleaf Milkweed)

 Asclepias incarnata - aka Rose or Swamp Milkweed 
 We consider this plant an 'ornamental' as it is not native, but ideal for those with wetter growing conditions, and for those who want a plant that does not send out rhizomes/runners. It grows in a tidy but large shrub-like clump and has beautiful deep pink flowers. It can tolerate partial shade (will be leggier in these conditions).
Asclepias incarnata (Rose Milkweed)

Asclepias tuberosa - aka Butterfly Weed 
This is a classic east coast native, and thus an ornamental out here. It has a compact and tidy growing habit with bright orange flowers - a good alternative to the Mexican/tropical milkweed. Will not spread.

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Asclepias syriaca- aka Common Milkweed 
This is the east coast cousin of Asclepias speciosa. The plants look very similar, however syriaca is *very* vigorous. We generally do NOT recommend growing this plant unless you have a fairly large amount of acreage so the plant will stay on your property and the plants are kept on a close watch to prevent spreading. This means removing seed pods, and perhaps even a physical barrier. Generally, we recommend not planting this in the PNW at all ! 

Happy Autumn everyone, get those envelopes in!

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