Monarch Watch Blog

The Milkweed Gamble

Friday, June 21st, 2013 at 10:53 am by Chip Taylor
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I’m not a gambler but I gambled this spring with milkweed production. The question/gamble was – if we produced 25,000 milkweed plugs, could we get people to buy them? I thought we could but, if we couldn’t, the money invested in the production of the plugs would be lost. I worried about it – a lot.

Our partner in this enterprise was Applied Ecological Services (AES). Working with Elliott Duemler, manager of the Kaw River division of AES in Baldwin, KS, we planned the production of milkweeds suitable for states from coast to coast. This production was enabled by the collection of seeds of numerous milkweed species from specific regions of the country by many volunteers. Tori Pocius, our milkweed coordinator at Monarch Watch, processed, cataloged and stored each batch of seed. When it came to making decisions on what to propagate and how many plugs to produce for each area, we checked the seed sources, decided which to use and then we guessed at the number of seedlings to produce for each region. Sometimes we over produced, sometimes we hit the mark and other times propagation failed or too few seedlings were produced to provide an adequate number of plugs. Propagation of milkweeds is not an exact science and some batches of seed fail to germinate under the best of conditions. Overall, production of seedlings was excellent and the next step was to transplant these seedlings and grow them out to the plug stage. Again, it was a guessing game – how many orders might we expect from each region of the country? We had no idea but gave it a shot and again, we over-produced and under-produced for some regions but overall, we did well.

Sales went well also. We sold over 19,000 milkweed plugs and at the end of the season distributed 5700 seedlings in bulk lots, mostly to people in northeastern states. Some 4000 plugs remain and most of these will be held over the summer for distribution in the fall to the following states, TX, WI, MI, MN, NY, PA.

We gambled and won! Wow! We wish to thank all of you who purchased these milkweeds – may they flourish and produce many monarchs. We especially wish to thank our partners – The Native Plant Society of Texas, Wild Ones, especially the Tennessee chapter, Nicole Hamilton and the Loudon Wildlife Conservancy for engaging their supporters and encouraging the planting of milkweeds. Special thanks also to Elliott and his excellent staff at AES. Their ability to propagate and grow milkweeds made all of this possible. And, I want to thank Tori Pocius for facilitating all the communications between AES, Monarch Watch and all the customers.

We learned a lot about growing and distributing milkweeds this year. We made some mistakes and have a list of dos and don’ts lined up for next year. So, what should our target be for next year – 30K, 35K or even 40K milkweed plugs? If you are interested in milkweed plugs for you area, contact us at milkweed@monarchwatch.org. Please consult the Milkweed Market for hard to find milkweeds in your area.

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