Last weekend was busy. The 8th Pro-Am Classic was back in OKC for 3 days. The bicycle races were all criteriums, or crits as they are affectionately called. Bike riders line up, start in unison at the whistle, and hope to finish after riding a multitude of laps on blocked off city streets. Throughout the day various levels compete for the coveted top positions.

Last weekend was busy. The 8th Pro-Am Classic was back in OKC for 3 days. The bicycle races were all criteriums, or crits as they are affectionately called. Bike riders line up, start in unison at the whistle, and hope to finish after riding a multitude of laps on blocked off city streets. Throughout the day various levels compete for the coveted top positions.

Races were held at a different site each day. The Midtown races Friday night had dozens of food trucks with hundreds of people milling around by the racing track. On Saturday, the Capitol Hill Pro women’s race was interrupted by an afternoon thunderstorm that blew through clouds of dust and rain. Appropriately, on Sunday the sun ushered in the Film Row races.

The Film Row race can be dicey. Riders are tired after two days of competition. In two separate years my son’s bike was practically destroyed and two other years he received concussions, various bruises and wounds. He had lots of company.

The Australian women’s team was super strong this year and won practically every race. Peta Mullens put together the professional women’s cycling team. Last year I watched Peeta gulp down large slices of bread smothered with Nutella before she raced. Each racer has his/her energy source since the races may last up to 75 minutes of sustained cycling in all kinds of weather.

Not only were we entertained by racing and Mother Nature but the air show at Tinker Air Force Base. During the races we took turns watching the sky for planes loop-de-looping, colored smoke trails, paragliders and performances by the Blue Angels. Awesome.

Earlier in the week, on a stormy Wednesday, the Monarch Butterfly Workshop was held in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation South Reunion Hall in Shawnee. Dr. Carol Crouch, Oklahoma Tribal Liaison Officer, gave the introduction and kept the program flowing smoothly. Jane Breckinridge, Euchee Butterfly Farm www.nativebutterflies.org, introduced us to the Monarch. From a high of over 900 million in 1996, its numbers plummeted to less than 45 million by 2013. Too many post-dust bowl grasslands had been converted to fescue and Bermuda in Oklahoma along the Monarch migratory route. Much of the land was under tribal jurisdiction. Seven tribes banded together, made a commitment and developed an infrastructure to save the Monarch. Technical training in Lawrence, Kansas, proper site selection and preparation were key elements.

Currently, 350 acres have been planted with 50,000 milkweed plugs and 30,000 native nectar plants. One hundred fifty-four species of plant seeds have been stored in the seed bank after being cleaned, weighed, and catalogued. The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators hosts 29 different tribes in Oklahoma and others out of state.

The 13.5 counties of the Chickasaw Nation have 40 butterfly gardens. The biggest difference has been through Education Outreach.

The National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), represented by state biologist Michael Sams, offers technical and financial assistance programs to landowners. There is a ten state Monarch pilot project which includes the Cornbelt and Southern Great Plains. From spring to fall, 4-5 generations of Monarchs leave, camp out in the US, then fly back to Mexico. The primary milkweed in OK is the green milkweed (Asclepias viridis). It well tolerates grazing and fires. Fall nectaring plants are a must, but restoration of acreages is best accomplished through seeds, not plugs. The focus: good management to create healthy rangeland habitats where the Monarch plants already exist. The goal: to have a minimum of three species always in bloom stretching from early to late in the season. Consider additional plantings of trees, shrubs and native warm season bunch grasses for nesting and overwintering habitats. One half acre per 40 acres set aside will work and fits into most farm landscapes. Might consider planting rice. The thunder, lightning and rain are having a field day outside.

The Farm Service Agency of Oklahoma specializes in micro-loans for small facilities that produce $1000 of product. The organization supports the conversion of grass lawns to prairie sites, education of Homeowners Associations, minimizing disturbances of the soil while increasing plant diversity and “Okies for Monarchs.”

Since 2017, the Choctaw Nation has been in a 5-year commitment with NRCS. To date: ten pounds of pollinator seed/acre (which included yellow sweet clover, alfalfa and wildflowers) have been used in 32 plots and eight habitat sites in 10.5 counties covering 63 acres were twice burned. To establish pollinator habitats, Green Cover Seed from Nebraska was used. Quick delivery. A 30’ x 40’ butterfly garden has been installed in Durant. Soil test sites were planted with 250 tomatoes at Lehigh in Coal County. A melon garden is growing in Hugo.

The National Agricultural Statistical Service produces over 400 reports/year concerning demographics of the economy, wheat and livestock production, etc. Every 5 years a census of agriculture is taken (last census 2017.) Average age of all producers is 57 years. The percentage of young producers (below 35 years) has risen. In the field of conservation, cover crops have increased, as have no tillage and internet usage. Strangely, pollinators are not yet considered agriculture! Good data leads to good decisions. We might think about a boat. The rain continues to fall in thick sheets.

The Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project provides small farms with information and workshops to help access available United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. They received the USDA Conservation Innovation Grant 2017-2019 to develop solar powered water well systems. Introduction of the unique solar water wells to Native Americans and disadvantaged small farmers, complete installation of 4 systems for demonstration projects and establishing a baseline of agriculture production the first year of the solar well project are objectives.

Pottawatomie County Oklahoma State University (OSU) Horticulture and 4-H Extension Educator Carla Smith presented pictures of the Extension Butterfly Garden established 2014. No chrysalis sightings have yet been made, but the milkweed last year was stripped then regrew several times throughout the growing season. Examples of good forage plants are dill, fennel and parsley; nectar plants are Lantana, Salvia, coneflowers, buckwheat (abundant blossoms) and yarrow. Provide a shallow water source such as wet sand and gravel (hint: use drip emitter) since butterflies can’t manage deep water.

Speaking of deep water, Flash Flood Warning issued at 12:39 pm. Several cell phones in the room went off simultaneously.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) is required to maintain visual right of way at a certain height for safety. ODOT is re-thinking the mowing schedule to strike a balance between maintenance and pollinators.

OSU Extension provides options for organic, natural and conventional gardening. Many resources are available: Fact sheets, Monarch Watch, National Wildlife Federation, the USDA Plant Data Base.

Lunchtime. Super tasty slow-cooked pork by Troy was accompanied by sauces and buns. Various types of grilled hot dogs, chips, mini-oranges and drinks rounded out the workshop. The rains stopped long enough for us to leave dry.

Speaking of pollinators….

The Tulsa Master Gardeners Garden Tour theme is “Pollinators R Us”. Gardens are open today from 9 to 5 and tomorrow 11-5. Three Tulsa and two Broken Arrow gardens. Entrance fee: $15. These are great gardens. For more info: www.tulsamastergardeners.org

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.