You have all heard of Johnny Appleseed, the pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to the Midwest and became an American legend.
Well, in this part of Maxatawny Township we have Marina Milkweed. Yes, I’m talking about my daughter. She’s been living in Belgium for the past two years, but her legacy is showing up in our asparagus field, our strawberry patch, under the basketball hoop, and in the meadow.
Ever since she was a barefoot scamp, Marina was drawn to milkweed pods growing along our stream. Her favorite thing to do at summer’s end was to pluck the teardrop-shaped pods from the plant, pry the sticky, milky shells open with her fingers, and then scatter the hundreds of seeds with their silky parachutes into the breeze.
After 10 years of spreading milkweed seeds, her handiwork is evident everywhere I look. And that’s a good thing, especially this year, which is thought to be one of the worst for the monarch butterfly.
The monarch butterfly, with its beautiful black-and-orange wings, is one of those select creatures that lays her eggs on one type of plant, and one type only, the milkweed. There, the eggs hatch into larvae, and the larvae feed on the foliage.
This past winter, hailstorms in Mexico left 2 inches of ice on the trees where the monarch butterflies spend the winter. This was followed with 15 inches of rain. Scientists from Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, estimate that more than 50 percent of the monarchs were killed, and the monarch population was already small to begin with.
As spring came to Mexico, the remaining female monarchs began flying north, depositing eggs on milkweed leaves. The migrating monarch mommas die, the eggs hatch, and the offspring continue the migration. It takes three to four generations for the monarchs to reach Canada. In the fall, the final generation migrates back to Mexico.
It isn’t just the severe weather that hurt the monarch population. Illegal logging in Mexico has destroyed its habitat and the use of genetically engineered corn and soy in the Midwest has also had a deleterious effect. Farmers can spray herbicides on the genetically modified corn and soy without killing the crops, but the herbicides kill the milkweed.
So, if you would like to help the monarchs this summer, stop by Fleur-de-Lys Farm and I’ll dig up a milkweed plant for you. Plant it in a wild spot on your property and you will create a much-needed habitat for the beautiful monarch. Special Note: Our milkweed is called common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and is considered invasive, i.e., a weed. There are two other milkweeds, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), both good for the monarch and the garden. Laurie Lynch
This Week at Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market: Eggs, asparagus, sorrel, chives and other spring herbs, and a 19th-centruy French heirloom lettuce called Sanguine Ameliore. A photograph of this butterhead-type or “cabbage” lettuce caught my eye in this year’s Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog. The catalog calls it by its French name, “Sanguine Ameliore” or “strawberry cabbage lettuce”. As you know, my knowledge of the French language is extremely limited but I was curious. To me, “sanguine” has something to do with blood, and that is the color of the “sprinkles” of red on the chartreuse leaves of this lettuce. So, I Google-translated “sanguine ameliore” to “blood improves” and double-checked it with my French-speaking Marina Milkweed. I guess in seed cataloguese, “blood improves” translates into “strawberry cabbage”.
Sweet Potato Slips: They should be arriving any day. When they arrive, I will send out emails to everyone who pre-ordered. If you’d like to reserve slips (12 slips for $10), let me know. We still have the following varieties: Carolina Ruby, Centennial, Yellow Jewel, Red Japanese (white flesh), White Triumph, and Nancy Hall (white flesh).
Llama Bean Bonus: We are attempting to spread goodwill and llama beans throughout the Lehigh Valley and Berks County, one bag at a time. Mix these llama beans (AKA llama manure pellets) into your compost pile and you won’t be sorry. Free!
While the Cat’s Away: This weekend Paul will be getting a much-needed break sailing on the Chesapeake. If you are in the Fleur-de-Lys neighborhood, stop by for a glass of refreshing elder-blossom cordial and give me a much-needed break.