While as recently as 2014 you would be forced to eradicate any of the monarch-friendly plants, you are now encouraged to grow milkweed to support the endangered insect.
Southbrook Vineyards is here to help.
The winery’s passionate proprietor, Bill Redelmeier, is offering milkweed seeds to any and all, for free. He’ll even mail them to you at no cost if you don’t live in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“My feeling about monarchs is that they are important, as the canaries in the coal mine of life,” says the crop sciences expert. He brandishes a children’s book proudly, and says, “My mother’s physiotherapist [Carol Pasternak] wrote this wonderful book, How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids. Once you’re interested in learning about monarchs, you start to want to learn about other things too.” He sees the showy insects as a gateway to saving the environment.
One of the problems for monarchs is the widespread use of neonicotinoids across North America, including Canada, where they remain legal, says Redelmeier. The insecticides have been banned in Europe. “When monarchs leave Mexico, they have thousands of miles of poison to get through before they get here.” He says he would like to ask anyone in power why neonicotinoids are still legal in Canada.
Redelmeier explains the “milk’ in milkweed is full of good alkaloids the monarch needs after a long migration. The sap is also extremely bitter, which birds find repulsive — thus protecting the monarch and its earlier forms (larva and caterpillar) from one of its main predators.
In Canada, monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed, which is in decline due to the use of herbicides and the elimination of hedgerows, as well as its former categorization as a noxious plant.
“I grew up on a farm. If my father knew I was planting milkweed he’d spin in his grave,” says Redelmeier. He goes on to say we didn’t have to plant it before, but now we need to replenish it.
At Southbrook there are several types of milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants in beds, as well as growing wild in the vineyards and surrounding fields.
Support for other pollinators abounds, including solitary and honey bees: there are 12 to 15 hives on site, despite grapes being wind- or self-pollinating. “But they are part of our statement,” says Redelmeier, pointing out the flock of hens that has recently been added to the biodynamic property, joining the sheep, and the newly-installed field of solar panels.
“On sunny days, our electricity meter actually rolls backwards,” he says. “It’s all about food webs, and food networks. We’re all about the diversity idea.”
Envelopes of milkweed seeds will be available at the winery and by mail as long as they last, and come with instructions for planting and growing it.