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TAP uses monarch migration season to grow pollinator garden, landscaping know-how

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In and around Tulsa this week, people involved in the Tribal Alliance for Pollinators gained training from experts in horticulture, landscaping and entomology from across the country with the aim of improving Oklahoma’s lands for monarch butterflies and bees and other pollinators.

With spring migration of monarchs underway and gardening season in high gear, it was prime time to talk about action for pollinators and healthier landscapes, according to organizers.

Founded by Jane Breckinridge of Euchee Butterfly Farm and Orley “Chip” Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch and a Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology professor at the University of Kansas, TAPS aims to educate, supply and enable Native tribes to help lead the way for efforts to restore habitat important to beneficial insects.

 

“We need more habitat to support monarchs and all pollinators and all sorts of biodiversity,” Breckinridge said. “We’re here to give the tribes the training, tools and resources to go out and restore their lands and to make it as easy as possible to restore as much as possible.”

The group met for three days of training, hands-on work and seminars. Wednesday they toured Gathering Place to glean behind-the-scenes tips from Horticultural Director Stacy Martin, Thursday was a melding of seminars and in-the-field training, and Friday, the setting was larger seminars with experts on topics including creating a seed bank, making the most of grant programs and coordinating with state and federal agencies and other non-profit groups.

Breckinridge lauded the help of experts like Taylor, who travels often from Lawrence, Kansas, to work with Oklahoma tribes, Bruce Hoagland, director of the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory, presenters Pat and Cornelius du Plessis, of Rainbow’s End Farm in New York, and JoeAnn McCoy of North Carolina’s Appalachian State University.

“By partnering with tribes, it really works because they already have the infrastructure to do many of the things that need to be done, but what they lack is the technical training and the tools,” she said. “They have the environmental departments and the organized youth programs and acres and acres of land, so this is a really nice partnership.

“It’s valuable, being able to bring in people who can bring these skills to Oklahoma and be able to leverage those resources to disperse this information.”

With seven Oklahoma tribes involved, numerous projects are underway, the program already has more than 150 species of native plants in its seed bank and it has a “lending library” of tools for groups to use.

Like any grassroots effort, the growth of TAPS starts with programs like those held Thursday, with groups breaking up into smaller hands-on seminars. It starts with seeds of knowledge and experience, she said.

In the morning Hoagland trekked the Euchee farm area with students and identified native plants as well as non-native plants in the fields. He talked through the benefits and pitfalls behind each and how to encourage — or discourage — plants in any given environment, she said.

Taylor walked groups through the steps required to get a restoration site ready, depending on size and location, what native plants will be required, how to obtain and plant them, and he even weaved in added information about how to attract native bees by creating “bee hotels” from natural materials.

Taylor also walked the group through details of planning a monarch waystation, which can be anything from a community-size garden project to a backyard garden plot. Monarch Watch certifies such plots for groups and individuals when they are laid out to provide a mix of monarch host plants (milkweeds), cover plants and nectar sources that are available spring through fall.

“The backbone is native plants,” he said. “They need shrubs for places to shelter, and maybe for nectar as well, and nectar sources, flowers that span the seasons. So, several kinds of milkweeds and forbs and shrubs.”

David Correll, a horticulturalist with the Chickasaw Nation, introduced attendees to three must-have equipment pieces for tackling habitat restorations one plot at a time: a backpack sprayer for herbicide, a trimmer mower for clearing brush and dead weeds, and a gas-powered auger for planting those plugs grown in the Nation’s greenhouses.

“We were planting hundreds of plants in two or three days with shovels, and it was a ton of work,” he said. “With the augers, you’re planting a thousand in one day.”

In the greenhouse at Euchee Thursday, Rhonda Sellers, ecological resource coordinator at the Chickasaw Nation, helped attendees get their hands dirty with an introduction to the steps of germinating seeds and transplanting seedlings into pots to grow and, eventually, plant.

Volunteers dug their fingers in and under the dirt in trays with 2- or 3-inch tall plants growing thick as grass on their surfaces. The goal was to lift out a few plants, then separate a single stalk and root to transplant into its own plug container in a hole about the size of the person’s finger.

“That’s it,” she coached, “just poke your finger in to about the right depth, put it in and cover it so no roots are showing.”

“There are a lot of details,” Breckinridge said. “Soil mixes, fertilizers, which plants and seeds to choose and where they will grow best. We try to break it down and make it a little easier for people and to be here to provide the resources when they have questions.”

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