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North Hills Monthly

Celebrate this Earth Day by Doing Something Good for the Environment

Mar 31, 2015 09:55AM ● By Denise Schreiber
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
—Margaret Mead

Earth Day is not just another day on the calendar to be marked by a parade or fireworks. It is a day to remind us that this planet is entrusted to our care, and we have to participate in that care. It has been said that our next world war will be fought not over politics or religion, but over food and water. Already there are cities in the world that are running out of water, and many places—including California, where much of our food is produced—have suffered from extreme droughts for several years. But what can we do?

Water wisely and only when necessary. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are much more efficient than doing magic-wand watering where you hold the hose, going back and forth, wasting water and barely reaching your target. Water early in the morning or late in the afternoon for best results, and mulch your landscape for moisture retention.

Start a compost pile. You will keep hundreds of pound of garbage out of the landfills and after being ‘cooked,’ it will be ready to use in the garden.

Grow a vegetable garden, even if you just have a pot on your deck filled with herbs. You get the freshest food and have a low impact on the environment because there are no transportation costs involved—and you know nothing has contaminated your food.

Preserve bird and bee habitat. Pollinators are an integral part of the food chain, especially bees, which pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables we eat. Seventy-one of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of our global food supply are bee-pollinated. The value of pollination of food crops by bees in the U.S. alone is estimated at $16 billion, and insect pollinators in general contribute $29 billion to U.S. farm income. Fewer bees lead to lower availability and potentially higher prices of fruit and vegetables, and fewer bees means less fruit, less honey (which is also used as food for bees), less coffee and less alfalfa hay available to feed dairy cows.

The beautiful orange-and-black Monarch butterfly is one of the most threatened butterfly species in North America; according to some of the latest surveys, more than 90 percent of the population has disappeared in the last decade, mostly due to loss of habitat. The life cycle of the Monarch is complex; first, the female lays her eggs on the underside of the leaves of a milkweed plant, and after three to five days, the eggs hatch and the larvae (or baby caterpillars) feed on the leaves. Over the next nine to 15 days, the caterpillars will molt five times, before pupating and spending nine to 14 days as a chrysalis. When fully developed, the adult butterflies emerge and feed on the nectar of many different flowers as they fly north. Then the process starts all over again.

The Monarchs that emerge as adults at the end of the summer are different from the adults that emerged earlier in the summer. Instead of mating, they spend all their time and energy feeding on nectar, flying south and catching air currents which enable them to migrate up to 2,800 miles to central California or central Mexico. When they reach their destination, they hibernate in trees through the winter, and when the weather warms up, they move northward again and females lay eggs for their first summer generation.

Unfortunately, sprawling urban development results in fewer uncultivated areas where the milkweed species can thrive and provide habitat for the Monarch during its egg and larvae/caterpillar stages. When the females cannot find suitable habitat to lay eggs, the life cycle is interrupted and the overall population plummets.

To help this species, you can plant Asclepias incarnate, A. tuberosa and A. speciosa as part of a pollinator garden to attract these ‘flying flowers.’ These plants are vital to their survival, so even if you plant just a few as part of a pollinator garden, you are helping to ensure their survival. To encourage pollinators to visit your garden, plant herbs and flowers including parsley, dill, fennel, chamomile, salvia, penstemon, verbena, painted tongue, cosmos, coneflowers, yarrow, lantana and zinnias (which are especially favored by butterflies), to name a few. By planting these flowers, you also encourage predatory insects that will take out other pests, reducing your dependence on pesticides that harm pollinators.