Saturday, September 15, 2018

To Be or Not to Be? A Monarch Raiser, That Is.


Nothing like a good controversy to get your butt in gear and finally start blogging again. I never intended to stop, but life just kept getting in the way, and Facebook has made it easy to microblog. But now something has caused such an uproar in the monarch community and beyond, that... well... here we are.

A recent blog post written by someone from The Xerces Society has been making the rounds in the last few days. It's one that has a lot of people really upset and threatens to divide those of us who love the monarch and are doing our darnedest to help them have the population explosion they need.



Lots of people raise monarch butterflies in their homes, and teachers do it in their classrooms. This practice has gone on for decades, but never more than the present, in an effort to bolster the monarch population. But now, in light of this article published just four days ago, lots of people have vowed that they will quit raising monarchs.

Take a deep breath, friends.

Whenever an alarmist article like this appears, I'm skeptical until I can find other information supporting it. I don't care who writes it - scientist or not. If there's one thing I've discovered in the 12 years I've been studying the monarch, even the major players in the scientific community can't agree on some things. The fact is, there are a LOT of things we all have yet to learn about this iconic butterfly we love.

I could probably add another chapter to my book, THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, on this subject, and certainly more than you want to read in a blog post. But here are some thoughts of mine to consider. It would be best if you read the Xerces Society blog post first, so that you understand what all the hubbub is about and why I say what I do here.


  • First of all, we can't "save" the monarch by raising them inside our homes. There are good reasons to do so, but that alone should not be the rationale behind doing it. It's not sustainable over the long run, not at the levels we're collectively doing it now, and it's not natural. We haven't really saved anything if this is how we have to do it.
  • Secondly, one of the biologists who co-authored the paper cited in the Xerces Society blog post, has come forth with a rebuttal and clarification of the talking points that have monarch lovers so upset. PLEASE read what Christopher Kline has to say about this. I can't stress this enough. Just read it.


This monarch caterpillar fell victim to
a spined soldier bug - a type of stink bug.
We raise monarchs in our homes mainly to protect them from predators. If you've observed monarchs for any length of time, you know firsthand how dismal their mortality rate is. That's not uncommon in the "eat or be eaten" world of insects. But monarch numbers are drastically down compared to just 20 years ago, for many reasons, mainly irresponsible behaviors by us humans.

So there may be something positive in humans taking it upon themselves to attempt to right a wrong that they committed in the first place. Is it natural or ideal to raise monarchs inside? No, but neither are pesticides, herbicides, urbanization, logging, mowing, and other practices that humans have done that have contributed to the monarch's decline.




An important thing to note when reading articles like the one from The Xerces Society

The Xerces Society raises some important points and things to think about. But their blog post is, for the most part, an opinion piece. So is mine.

Remember too, that The Xerces Society is one of the original writers of the petition to have the monarch added to the Threatened Species List under the Endangered Species Act. That decision is due to be announced in 2019, and the raising of monarchs will be greatly changed and curtailed if they are listed. The society certainly has a vested interest in the topic and this article may be speaking with that bias. 

Also, keep in mind that raising monarchs and breeding monarchs are two very distinctively different things. I have never bred monarchs and I don't advocate doing so. There are businesses that do this - some responsibly and some not - and I'm not talking about them here.

I also don't advocate raising huge numbers of them. Doing that requires an extraordinary amount of time, energy, space, and dedication. Not many of us are willing to do this in a way that avoids inherent problems.


Bottom line . . .

Please don't let yourself have a knee-jerk reaction to what the writer of The Xerces Society blog post has said. It might make sense to you right from the get-go, or it might cast doubts on what you've been doing in an effort to help the monarchs. In an ideal world, we wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place. But people smarter than a lot of us (me included) have made some grave mistakes in the past and our wildlife has suffered and is suffering for it.

Personally, I'm of the same mind as Chris Kline, who is qualified to speak on the situation, and I'm perfectly comfortable in continuing to raise small numbers of monarchs in my home. You may not be, and I respect that.

If you save just one female who has the potential to lay
400+ eggs, you may or may not be making a positive difference.
Think about that exponentially for just a little bit


Lastly, thank you to those of you who are doing your part to help the monarchs and other pollinators, whether it be by growing a little milkweed (or a lot), growing more nectar plants, using fewer pesticides and herbicides, contributing financially to those who are working on the monarch's behalf, or even by just keeping the conversation going.

The monarchs have had a banner year here in the Midwest (yay!), which may or may not have had anything to do with our efforts, but keep up the good work. Maybe 20 years from now, we can look back and see that we're making a difference. I believe that we are.




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https://amzn.to/2QywmRP
Kylee Baumle is the author of two books, the latest of which is THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. She is a speaker and writer, who won a 2018 Gold Award for her writings on the monarch.

She will be leading her third tour to the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico in February 2019. For more information on joining the tour, click here


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***Photo of female monarch laying egg is courtesy of Holli Webb Hearn, creator of The Beautiful Monarch Facebook group, which at last count, has 23,396 members.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Maple Syrup Season 2018 and a Taste Test


We didn't do maple syrup last year because Romie and I both went to Mexico to see the monarch butterflies as they overwintered there. That trip hit right smack in the middle of sap collecting, so we decided to just not do it. Oh, how we missed that wonderful homemade maple syrup!

I went to Mexico again this year, once again in the middle of sap collecting, but Romie was home, so he gathered it while I climbed a few mountains. I have to thank our daughter, Kara, for her help after I got home, because after one day to recover and repack, Romie and I both went to Florida for a week to visit my aunt and uncle. It truly takes a family to make this stuff.

This year, though we didn't keep track of how many gallons of sap we collected from our silver maple trees, we ended up with about three quarts of syrup. We would have had a little bit more (maybe a cup or so), had I not burned one small batch to a crisp. I blame Romie for this a teeny tiny bit, because we only had a small amount of sap, and he talked me into boiling it against my better judgement.

When you boil sap, it's always better to do a large batch at one time, because when it gets right down to the last few minutes of boiling, the sap can either turn to sugar or burn. Just. Like. That. With a larger batch, you have more play with it. I'm not sure why that is, but it just is. I didn't forget it, I just needed to check it in a few minutes rather than ten. Lesson learned!

This year, I used a hydrometer part of the time, for testing when the sap was of the right consistency for syrup. You pour the sap into a cylinder and then float the hydrometer in it. It's marked with red lines, and you want your sap to be thick enough for the surface of the sap to fall between the red lines. After a few seasons of doing this, I think it's just as easy to eyeball it.



Every year I make this, there are always a few who say to me, "Please keep some back for me." I cringe when I hear that, because there's no way we could do that for everyone who asks.  We can't even do it for a few, since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. With that ratio, you can see how much sap it takes to make a small amount and just how time consuming making syrup is. There's a reason it costs so much when you buy it in the store.

I'm kind of like fellow blogger Karen Bertelsen (The Art of Doing Stuff) when it comes to this. When someone asks her for some of her maple syrup when she's done making it, she answers, "Sure!" and then promptly forgets. She does put a couple of small bottles back just in case she needs to reward someone for doing her an extraordinary favor. And I'm not entirely selfish. A few of our bottles make their way to new homes, too.

This year I splurged and purchased special bottles for our maple syrup.
You can buy them here.

Back to this year's syrup making. The season always takes me by surprise. It starts just about the time I've had it with winter and am dreaming of crocus and daffodils and spring peepers. But I don't think I've ever gotten the spiles put into the maples early enough to get absolutely all the sap we could get.

When the maple buds look like this, maple syrup is drawing to a close.

The sap starts running towards the end of winter, when the temperatures are below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.  There are a lot of days like that between the end of January and when the maple trees start budding out. That's when the sap stops flowing, or at least stops being clear (instead of cloudy or dark). This year, we began collecting sap on February 9th and collected the last of it on March 21st.

A taste test

I haven't purchased real maple syrup since we started making our own, but this year, I heard about a brand that has gotten rave reviews and came to light as a result of being on Shark Tank. Parker's Maple Syrup didn't get the deal on the show, but it still helped the company just by being on the show. I bought some because I wanted to see how ours tasted in comparison.

The tin of Parker's arrived last week and when I tasted it, I sort of cringed. It wasn't cheap and I didn't like it. I bought the Grade A Robust, which is essentially the same grade as ours. But ours had a pure and strong maple syrup taste, without the smoky, somewhat burnt taste to it. Parker's had somewhat the same taste as Kirkland brand maple syrup I purchased from Costco a few years ago. I just don't like that scorched taste.

Our maple syrup is on the left.


I may have mentioned before that I'm a supertaster. This means, among other things, that I detect bitterness more than the average person. My tastebuds have receptors that many people's don't. My husband didn't think it tasted burnt at all. Okay, good, honey. You can have the Parker's then, and I'll just stick with ours, if you don't mind.

We also did a taste test with maple syrup made by the brother of our son-in-law. The semi-blind taste test involved five different syrups: Mrs. Butterworth's Syrup (not real maple syrup), ours, the brother's, a local commercial producer's,  and Parker's. Seven people tasted the five syrups and the results were incredibly varied. Three of the seven preferred our syrup over the others, and more than half rated Parker's the worst, even worse than Mrs. Butterworth's.

Do you have a favorite maple syrup brand? I've not found any that I like as much as ours. ❤






Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrating National Learn About Butterflies Day - A Giveaway!


Although any day is a good day to eat pie (I'll take Dutch apple, please!), March 14th is designated National Pie Day. Actually, it's "Pi" day – the day we honor the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. This unique number in math never ends.

So far, it's been calculated to 22.4 trillion digits with no pattern repeats, and named for the Greek letter π. We usually say pi equals 3.14, so that's why March 14th has been chosen as the day to celebrate this imaginary number. (This might help you understand imaginary numbers. Or not.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi

Now you understand why we are all eating pie today.

Today is also National Learn About Butterflies Day. That, I can get into, even more than pie. These days, I'm spending a good deal of time sharing information about butterflies, specifically, the monarch butterfly.

https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-learn-about-butterflies-day-march-14/


Monarchs are unique among their kind. They do things that no other butterflies do. You know, like travel up to 3000 miles to a place they've never been before – a very specific place – the same place their ancestors have gone for thousands of years.

Cerro Pelon monarch sanctuary, February 22, 2018

I just returned from visiting three of the monarch sanctuaries in Central Mexico, where these beautiful butterflies go to wait out the winter until it's time for them to make the return trip north. (They're heading north now!) As I stood high on the mountains in the sanctuaries (around 10,000 feet above sea level), I considered this insect and its story. I thought about just what it took for each of those thousands and thousands of monarchs to get to where they were at that very moment.

El Rosario monarch sanctuary, February 21, 2018

If you don't know about the unique life cycle (including the migration) of the monarch, you're missing one of nature's most fascinating phenomenons. I suggest that you pick up a copy of my book, THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, to learn about it. At a current price of $12.88 on Amazon, this 160-page hardcover book is a bargain, packed with facts, anecdotal stories, projects, plant and predator information, and resources for learning even more.


http://amzn.to/2pb3nYl


Today, in honor of National Learn About Butterflies day, I'm giving away one signed copy of my book. All you need to do is leave a comment on at least one of these places:


On this coming Sunday night, March 18, 2018, at midnight EDT, a random winner will be chosen from all the entries. You can enter on all three locations, which will increase your chances of winning, but only three total entries are permitted per person.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/FolioandFocusCo
If you don't want to take your chances on this giveaway, signed copies of THE MONARCH are also available for purchase in my Etsy shop, Folio and Focus Co. Signed copies of my first book, Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants, are also available, as well as a unique handmade butterfly bracelet (only one left!).


Enter to win now, and then go have a piece of pie.

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CONGRATULATIONS to Gail for winning the signed copy of my book! And thank you to all who entered here and on Facebook.

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