A few weeks back, we planted about 170 plants along an orchard row. These aren’t just any plants. They’ll provide habitat for western Monarch butterflies!
The western Monarch has experienced a population decline of more than 99% since the 1980s. That’s from about 4.5 million down to just 30,000 counted in 2019. The Xerces Society leads counts each year around Thanksgiving and the new year, inviting volunteers throughout California to be on the lookout for these special insects. In 2020, they saw a continuation of this heartbreaking decline—only 2,000 monarchs counted throughout California. The drop is in part due to habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change.
Encouragingly, this most recent count in early December 2021 saw 200,000 monarchs overwintering in California, according to Western Monarch Count’s social media—a 100x increase! “It’s at least the best count in 5 years,” the post reads. “This year is a hopeful ‘bounce’ up and reason to double down on conservation efforts for the butterfly and many other species.” The numbers were up in the Central Coast and in northern areas of Southern California, but notably lacking were good numbers in the Bay Area. Even more reason for us all to get involved this year!
The plants in our new monarch habitat area are climate-smart and well-suited for us out in Brentwood. We planted lots of milkweed, which is the larval host plant for monarchs, and a variety of native nectar plants like Manzanita, Aster, and Wild Lilac. These species bloom early in spring and late in fall, which aligns with Monarch butterfly migration through California.
To help these plants get established, first our team prepared the area—clearing weeds so our dear transplants wouldn’t have to compete. Farmer Al timed the planting with the weather, waiting for the perfect moment before it rained to get these plants in the ground. The planting team spaced the plants a few feet apart along a nectarine orchard row. The team worked in an efficient assembly line along the row: Virgilio plotting out where each plant would go and placing them along the tape measure; Martin and Jorge digging holes for each one; Miguel shoveling a bit of compost into the base of the hole; and Isidro planting. Quietly in sync with each other, they moved quickly and impressively–planting all 170 plants in just a couple hours.
Isidro, Miguel, Martin, Jorge, and Virgilio planting monarch habitat
The habitat has been soaking up the rains since then, which is great for these newly established plants. In the springtime we’ll irrigate them by hand. They’re especially vulnerable in their first few years of life, so we’ll want to keep an eye on them.We’re grateful to the Xerces Society for working with local native plant and seed producers to provide us with these plants; the Contra Costa Resource Conservation District for connecting us with this grant opportunity; and the East Bay Times for featuring our project last month.