We’re ruled by technology these days, and it takes a lot to impress us, yet the fluttering wings of a monarch butterfly have the power to stop us in our tracks. When was the last time you saw a Western monarch butterfly? Chances are it’s been a while. Since the 1980s, the monarch population has declined by 99.9 percent. These delicate insects that migrate up to 3,000 miles each year are endangered, and habitat loss, pesticides use and climate change are to blame, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
But at Frog Hollow Farm, monarch butterflies are making a comeback. And with the help of Farmer Al, Farm Operations Manager Rachel Sullivan, and the farm crew, they are finding a safe place to live.
Our monarch habitat story starts with Derek Emmons from the Contra Costa County Resource Conservation District. Derek knows our farm values and has seen how we cultivate hedgerows to attract pollinators. He encouraged Rachel to apply for habitat kits from the Xerces Society that contain native plants that monarchs love, like milkweed and nectar plants. At the end of 2021, we planted 170 native plants from the Xerces Society. The farm crew dug up the soil that borders one of our orchards and planted everything in a few hours, surrounding the plants with nutrient-rich compost.
Monarch Joint Venture biologists visited the farm after the planting, looking for signs of life on the leaves. Month after month, they had no news to share. There were no eggs on the leaves, and no adults.
This summer, everything changed.
Biologists drove up to the farm in August and saw an adult monarch fluttering around our native plant area. Their jaws dropped. Success! They also found FIVE monarch eggs on our milkweed.
“Since we saw the monarchs towards the end of August, it is likely that they are making their way back towards the overwintering sites along the coast from their summer breeding grounds,” says Eric Bastidas, Monarch Joint Venture habitat monitoring technician. “It will take about a month (give or take) once the egg is laid for it to become an adult monarch butterfly. Along the way it will have five instars (stages) of being a caterpillar, getting larger each time. The adult that we saw was most likely looking for a mate and hanging around the milkweed to find another butterfly.”
Monarch Joint Venture recorded the eggs they found at Frog Hollow Farm for reproduction measurements for Western monarch populations.
Milkweed is on the menu
We are officially hosting monarch reproduction, and biologists are congratulating us! But we’re not stopping at 170 plants. In late-October, Rachel received 170 more plants from the Xerces Society and farm crews planted them on the same line, extending the row of monarch-friendly plants.
We learned from Monarch Joint Venture that one of the largest factors causing drastic declines in the monarch populations is the impact of habitat loss by agriculture. We are excited to be part of the effort to increase habitats for our native pollinators. Our goal is to have as many diverse, native pollinators as possible, and create a healthy, pesticide-free environment where they can live and thrive.
Thanks to the Contra Costa County RCD and our connection to the Xerces Society, Frog Hollow Farm is a place for monarchs to start their lives, or stop on their journey. It took a few years for them to find us, but that’s ok. We’re very patient.
To learn more about monarch migration, visit Monarch Joint Venture.