Building a Monarch Waystation
“A Monarch Waystation is an intentionally-managed garden that provides food and habitat for the struggling Monarch butterfly population. As a rule, a waystation must include at least two types of Milkweed, which are the ‘host’ plants for Monarchs.” -American Meadows Blog
I was reluctant to get on board with the idea of the Monarch Waystation. I like civic projects that engage people with citizen science. I am an environmentalist at my core and believe the fight for one species is important and has a trickle affect that builds awareness and helps to protect other species. All of this I was aligned with; the part that was hard was the knowledge that most of this species had been decimated by chemical and GMO (genetically modified organisms) farm practices and are most likely facing extinction. Saving Monarchs felt hopeless. It was hard for me to believe that we could do anything to save the Monarchs, so why bother?
A Hopeful Act
What I came to see as I did more research and started learning from other folks that built Waystations, is that this was important to the vitality of our community. Creating a Monarch Waystation is a hopeful act; in the face of intense environmental changes, creating a garden for all the butterflies shines light on a bleak situation. The three Monarch Waystations I installed in Tulsa this year built my confidence and showed the young people and adult volunteers I crafted them with that we could do something for the earth.
Caring for butterflies, moths and bees directly relates to us caring about the food we put in our bodies and the health of our communities. Something I found myself repeating in this process was, “No pollinators, no food.” A pollinator is an animal that moves pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower. Without pollinators, plants don’t reproduce and grow. Examples include butterflies, moths, flies, bees, beetles, bats, and birds. This is a holistic health approach that means cleaning up our environment as a part of meeting our own personal health goals.
I started in March with my backyard, the campus for my afterschool program “Under The Canopy.” I studied the best practices for how to sprout milkweed. I bought several varieties of milkweed seeds and made lists of the pollinator plants to buy from local plant nurseries. I then created a presentation to do with the children ages K-5th about the great Monarch Migration, the butterfly life cycle and how to create a Waystation.
I presented my findings at the Mayo Demonstration School for the 1st graders whom I was helping construct a Monarch Waystation. The third station I built from the ground up at B’nai Emunah PreSchool, where I worked on the project with children between the ages of one-four, but especially the five-year-old Pre-K class. I tailored my presentation about the Monarchs for the very young pre-school audience that included using puppets who talked about the butterfly life cycle and a reading of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” It was great fun doing this class with the babies at the school and playing with the milkweed seedpods. I passed out seedpods that turn to fluff when they are split open.
We sprouted our milkweed after the presentation using pre-soaked seeds on wet paper towels in baggies. The seeds germinated over a few weeks. When they had officially become tiny sprouts, we planted them in peat pots to let them mature. This was a very gentle task, removing the tiny milkweed sprouts and transferring them to the dirt. I particularly remember doing this task with the pre-K students at the B’nai Emunah Preschool. We worked four at a time at a table and successfully transferred all of the sprouts without killing them!
It was amazing to see these very young children so delicately handle the sprouts with tweezers. I was really proud of them and was once again floored by the capacity of very young children to handle such difficult fine motor skill tasks. The experience was a reminder to me as a teacher and parent that children can do a whole lot more than what we expect them to be able to do if given time, patience and the opportunity.
Throughout April we watched our sprouts grow into tiny plants. We also worked on the clearing away of the grass to lay the foundation for the different stations. In my backyard that meant clearing out new beds that would be dedicated to milkweed and flowers that attracted pollinators. I already had some of the flowers on my list growing, so it was just a matter of growing more species of plants. I had goldenrod, Echinacea, yarrow, fennel, parsley, lavender and three varieties of mint growing in the yard. I added Mexican Hat Flower, zinnias, Shasta daisy and sunflowers. All of these plants attract pollinators.
At Mayo we were also already adding to a garden that had flowers ready for the pollinators. At B’nai we were starting from scratch in an existing fruit, veggie and herb garden. We cleared a grassy, over grown area that used to have a chicken coop on it. From there we added weed barrier cloth, mulch and eventually all the plants. I designed a circular bed that created one middle circle filled with milkweed and an outer ring that included other pollinator plants. In the end, it was a beautiful and functional design that I want to repeat in the future.
The Joy of Planting
Planting day was the most fun part of the whole process in all the gardens. To supplement the milkweed we sprouted at Mayo we also filled out an application to get free milkweed starter plants from Monarch Watch, a non-profit organization that helps people make Waystations. Thirty-five plugs (tiny plants) arrived in the mail at the end of May.
It had been several months since the first presentation, so I did a refresher course on Monarch butterflies and their life cycle. We then got out all our hand tools and set to work planting milkweed and marigolds in the beds surrounding Mayo’s fruit trees. I love seeing a child make their first connection with the earth by planting a flower.
By the end of the spring I had reached 250 children and 25 adults with the message that if we care for the pollinators, we care for our own health and the food chain. Some of these children had never planted a flower before, many did not know the word pollinator before this project or had ever seen a seed grow into a flower and then be able to plant it. I think it brought our community a little closer to thinking about the global affects of a migrating butterfly population on their city and why it matters.
Maintaining a Monarch Waystation
Volunteers, staff and teachers of the different schools now maintain the stations. After the gardens have established themselves over a year, we can re-plant as needed. We can also track how many butterflies come to the stations and even participate in tagging Monarchs as they come through the garden to follow the migrating populations.
These gardens are a knowledge bank available for teachers and the community to tap into. I could not have done it without all the staff, volunteers and teachers that make Mayo and B’nai such awesome communities to be a part of. I think having a Monarch Waystation should be a requirement in every school and park in the city. These gardens are a part of a growing movement already established to make Tulsa a Monarch city.
More Information About Establishing a Monarch Waystation
If you want help starting a Waystation at your home or school contact “Under The Canopy” to set up a consult. mailto:Info@underthecanopy.org
You can check out the requirements and more info about building a Waystation on the Monarch Watch website.
American Meadows Blog: americanmeadows.com/blog/2016/06/17/how-to-create-a-monarch-waystation/
Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997. She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy. She is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek. You can learn more about the programs she teaches at underthecanopy.org