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FONTANA PARK – Naturalist Sondra Cabell was the presenter for the Independence Garden Club on a picture-perfect day at Fontana Park on September 22, 2020. Sondra led a discussion on conditions that impact the monarch butterfly population in the Midwest.

The monarch, unlike most Lepidoptera, is a migratory species. The monarch is one of the few Iowa insects in the classification of butterflies and moths that travels to a warmer location over the winter months rather than remain locally. Monarchs typically start their annual travels down the Monarch Corridor in September and October, beginning to arrive in central Mexico around November 1. Their flyway route roughly runs along Interstate 35 through the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Seventeen club members had an opportunity to tag a few monarchs before the butterflies would begin their southerly journey. The University of Kansas provides tiny identification stickers to place on the butterflies’ wings. These tags help researchers learn about the migratory habits of the species, and will assist in conservation efforts to support and protect their habitat during the butterflies’ reproductive cycles. Spraying farm fields, mowing ditches, parasites, and climatic changes such as storms and droughts are factors that have contributed to population declines.

Milkweed is the food of choice for monarchs. Sondra offered club members packets of various milkweed seeds to disperse. Autumn is the ideal time for seeds to be sown, as the seeds’ exposure to cold temperatures and moist conditions during winter will stimulate germination. Sondra provided samples of four of the most common milkweed seeds: swamp milkweed, whorled milkweed, common milkweed, and butterfly milkweed.

Sondra encouraged members to subscribe to The Otter Creek Quarterly, a newsletter of the Buchanan County Conservation Board. This publication is now available online.

The Independence Garden Club appreciated Sondra sharing her knowledge and presented her with Seeds Move!, a children’s book written by Robin Page, for use in the nature center. The club also voted to support Fontana Park with a monetary donation.

Club members commenced their business meeting by reciting the Conservation Pledge and answered roll call by naming a butterfly. The secretary’s and treasurer’s reports were presented and approved.

Ruth Crawford delivered this month’s tips and tricks suggestion of spreading broken eggshells around the base of an outdoor plant to add calcium to the soil. In addition to providing nutrients, the sharp edges of the eggshells protect plants by keeping away damaging cutworms and slugs. Ruth also shared that adding alkaline baking soda around tomato plants will raise the pH level of the soil, thus making tomatoes taste sweeter and less acidic. Ruth also described how to create “compost tea” to add needed fertilizer to garden plants.

A suggestion was offered about washing down pumpkins in either a bleach or vinegar solution to remove some harmful bacteria and allow the pumpkins to last longer.

Joellen Yeager presented the conservation and ecology report by sharing about the works of the Living Lands and Water organization headquartered in East Moline, Illinois. The group hosts river cleanups, watershed conservation initiatives, workshops, tree plantings, and other key conservation efforts. The volunteer crew guides efforts to restore and preserve rivers by removing more than 10 million tons of trash from 24 different rivers. Living Lands and Water has a goal of planting one million trees along banks of rivers.

Additionally, Joellen shared a recent newspaper article about Danielle Youngblut, an Iowa State agriculture student, who is growing a large plot of sunflowers on her grandparents’ farm near Rowley. Her business, Gravel Road Sunflowers, is open seasonally for cutting and tours. Danielle has invited the garden club to come for a visit.

Shirley Bergman, co-district director, presented information about landscaping grants available through Plant America. She suggested that applications be made to help in planting around the Blue Star Memorial marker that was installed on the Buchanan County Courthouse grounds. Roger Allen has asked the Independence Garden Club and Master Gardeners for suggestions for low-maintenance plantings around the veterans memorial. A committee comprised of Mary Steuben, Nancy Weber, Shirley Bergman, and Cindy Walton will assist in the process.

Shirley also shared district meeting information about clarifying Blue Ribbon requirements, insurance coverage, and chairman’s duties. The state Federated Garden Clubs has presented $2,000 to the state arboretum located in Madrid to assist in tree planting following tremendous storm damage from the recent derecho winds.

Sets of three children’s books – Are You a Bee? (Judy Allen), A Seed is Sleepy (Dianna Hutts Aston), and Eating the Alphabet (Lois Ehlert) – were selected to be donated to both the Independence Public Library and the Jesup Public Library. The Independence Garden Club will be the sponsor of a scarecrow named “Dewey Decimal.” This scarecrow will be part of a Buchanan County-wide scarecrow scavenger hunt. Entries are available through the Iowa State Extension office at Heartland Acres. Contact them for further information on the contest that begins October 1. See if you are able to locate the scarecrows and answer the trivia questions.

President Cindy Walton asked club members to review club by-laws Article 3, Section 3 prior to next month’s October meeting.

A loose-change offering was passed around to assist in the Penny Pines program that promotes and helps keep our nation’s forests green and growing. The club will continue to support this cause each month following the devastating wildfires that have destroyed millions of acres of timber.

The upcoming meeting will be held at 11 on Tuesday, October 27, at the shelter located at Dan and Becky Albert’s home, 1182 Carter Avenue, Fairbank. Carpooling will gather from the Methodist Church parking lots in Independence and in Jesup at 10:30 a.m. The program, “ Growing Garlic” – Not Just for Keeping Vampires Away!” and the craft activity of creating lighted fall leaf Mason jars, will be presented. Members should bring sack lunches, fresh colorful fall leaves, and a lawn chair.

Meeting adjoined with members cleaning up and grooming the peony beds for winter at Fontana Park.

Independence Garden Club welcomes new members and guests. Please contact Cindy Walton ( for more information.