Living Acres

Living Acres Butterfly Garden at Farm Progress Show

October 28, 2016

Butterfly Garden

At this year’s Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, attendees were greeted at the front gates with an unusual site: a patch of weeds. Not just any weeds, but milkweed, the plant needed by monarch butterflies to reproduce.

Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars, or larvae, will consume as they grow to become adult butterflies. This makes it a necessary part of their reproductive cycle. BASF is encouraging farmers to plant milkweed in their non-crop areas through its Living Acres initiative to help stimulate the monarch butterfly population.

Many farmers are leery of planting milkweed because it is a weed that has plagued corn and soybean fields in the past. Thanks to new herbicide technologies, that is no longer a concern and milkweed can safely be grown alongside fields to provide habitat for monarchs. Living Acres provided an example of what this habitat could look like on a farmer’s land.

Show attendees did not soak in a manicured, well-maintained garden landscape, but rather a patch of native prairie plants in the first year of growth.

“Many farmers are disappointed in their first year of native plant growth,” said Luke Bozeman, Director of Research and Development, BASF Crop Protection, North America. “It takes about three years for these plants to really establish and become a beautiful stretch of native prairie.”

It is easy to establish native prairie grasses from seed, though wildflowers and milkweed take a little more effort. Wildflowers do best when there is less competitive grass in the seed mix and milkweed has an extremely low and inconsistent germination rate. Growers will see more success planting milkweed root sections with an active bud rather than directly seeding it. Mowing these habitat areas at the end of each season encourages wildflowers and milkweed to return as stronger plants the following year.

Though the Living Acres Butterfly Garden at Farm Progress Show was more grass than flowers, it was teeming with insect life. Bumble bees, honey bees, butterflies and even a handful of monarch caterpillars were spotted in the garden throughout the show.

“We wanted to show farmers that even if the first year of growth seems disappointing, they will be contributing to biodiversity on their farms,” Bozeman said. “Increasing plant diversity in those marginal regions of land will lead to more insect and animal diversity.”

Learn more about how to successfully establish milkweed here.


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