Frey Vineyards Native Plant Garden
By Carolyn Brown, Lead Gardener at Frey Vineyards
Some of the most engaging aspects of gardens are the visiting butterflies, birds, and other wildlife they attract. About ten years ago our friend and neighbor, Cathy Monroe, inspired and educated us about the importance of gardening for monarch butterflies with her California Naturalists capstone project. Katrina Frey has been an adamant supporter of establishing native milkweed plantings and providing habitat for these regal fluttering beauties and we have planted out several small pilot project gardens in the Frey vineyards. In the winter of 2020 and ‘21 we built a greenhouse and shade house and began propagating California native trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and bunch grasses for our one-acre butterfly and pollinator garden.
The garden is located at our new winery on a 12’ tall berm. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, trees and woodland shrubs, it will provide a living privacy screen for our neighbors and the chaparral plantings on the sunny southern side will create a seasonally changing landscape for the winery. The garden has plantings of three of the four species of milkweed that are native to Mendocino county. Milkweeds are the sole food of monarch butterfly caterpillars. As the successive generations of monarch butterflies make their annual northern migration they rely on finding stands of milkweed to rear the next round of caterpillars. In addition to milkweeds, the adult monarch butterflies need a seasonal supply of floral nectar and pollen to fuel their long journeys.
Our garden has a wide variety of drought-tolerant California native plants that bloom throughout the season. The garden also provides habitat and forage for native bee species and other beneficial insects. Many species of these insects are, in turn, foraged by birds such as swallows, chickadees, and bluebirds who rear their young in the dozens of vineyard nesting boxes. A few years ago, Nathaniel Frey began building and hanging birdhouses in the vineyards and hundreds of birds have successfully fledged in them. Both of these projects exemplify the Frey family’s commitment to fostering biodiversity in their vineyards. Farming in ways that support biodiversity is a foundational premise of both Biodynamic and organic farming. Biodiversity creates a complex web of microorganisms, insects, and animals which contribute to a fertile and resilient farm ecosystem. Biodiverse farms are better able to withstand environmental stressors, pests, and diseases than conventionally farmed mono-cropped systems. Also, they are so much more fun to visit and work in!
In 2015 the National Wildlife Federation launched The Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, a national campaign asking mayors and heads of local governments to commit their cities to specific actions that support habitat for monarch butterflies and other wildlife. At the program’s inception, Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said, “If we all work together — individuals, communities, farmers, land managers, mayors and local, state, and federal agencies — we can reverse the monarch decline and ensure every American child has a chance to experience amazing monarchs in their communities.” Ukiah’s former mayor, Juan Orozco, signed the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge in 2021. Frey Vineyards has donated many of our plants to several local monarch garden projects. When you come out to our new winery, plan on taking some time to walk through and enjoy our butterfly and pollinator garden. You may even get some ideas for creating your own monarch sanctuary at home.
Mayors and other heads of local and tribal government are taking action to help save the monarch butterfly, an iconic species whose eastern populations have declined by 90% and western populations by 99% in recent years. Through the National Wildlife Federation's Mayors' Monarch Pledge, U.S. cities, municipalities, and other communities are committing to create habitat for the monarch butterfly and pollinators, and to educate residents about how they can make a difference at home and in their community.
Andrew, Carolyn, Monet and Jessica – Gardeners extraordinaire at Frey Vineyards!
A central focus of Bio Dynamic Farming is to keep in or restore to at least 10% of a farm’s native vegetation. This provides habitat for wildlife and insect species that together create a healthy and resilient ecosystem. In turn, the presence of these animals, insects, plants and microorganisms help protect the crops from harmful predators, parasites and diseases. Frey Vineyards is working to reestablish native vegetation on a large berm at the new winery. The berm will be part of a nature trail where visitors can enjoy the beauty of our vineyard nestled in the surrounding oak woodland, learn about key plant communities and the wildlife that they support.
The plants chosen for this project will provide habitat and forage for pollinators and birds; create a landscaped backdrop for the winery; and provide privacy and a shield for our neighbors. These plants are being propagated and grown out in a shade house and hoop house at the new winery site. Last fall, acorns were collected from favorite heritage oaks growing at the original winery site and were planted on the berm with the first rains. This summer these pioneering trees are now a few inches tall. They will be the backbone of the new plantings on the berm. Oaks are the superfood of the plant kingdom. “A mature oak supports thousands of caterpillars, making it a foraging heaven for birds and other animals. In 87% of U.S. counties, oaks feed more moth and butterfly caterpillars than any other type of plant.” (From “The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening“ by Doug Tallamy).
Native flowering shrubs are being grown out in 1-gallon pots and are ready to be field planted with the coming fall rains. The plants selected are those that will provide an extended period of bloom throughout the growing season, giving our insect visitors an abundant and varied source of nectar and pollen. We are also growing out three species of milkweed native to Mendocino County. Milkweed is the only host plant of Monarch butterfly larvae and it is also a favorite nectar and pollen plant for many insects. This fall we will seed flats of perennial bunch grasses native to Mendocino County. The grasses will be interplanted with native wildflowers to create meadow areas. Together, the grasses and wildflowers will provide displays of color and visual interest throughout the seasons. The grasses will help stabilize the bank and protect it from wind and water erosion and they also provide overwintering shelter for many species of bees, bumble bees, other insects, as well as nesting materials for birds.
When we talk about protecting pollinators and butterflies, perhaps the first species that come to mind are the European honeybee and the Monarch Butterfly. These two beloved species have seen devastating losses over the past several decades; however, California has over 16,000 identified species of bees and over 1,177 species of moths and butterflies. Many of these fragile creatures are suffering from the same environmental threats as the honeybees and Monarch butterflies. The European honeybee is essential for the pollination of many of our food crops, especially those grown in large monocrop systems, because the hives can be moved into a crop during flowering and fruit set and moved on to another crop after the bloom has passed. The pollination services of the European honeybee in large agricultural systems are necessary because the native pollinators are unable to survive in these mono cropped systems. There is not an ongoing source of nectar and pollen in weed free mono crops environments to support and sustain their populations and the pesticides used are as toxic to beneficial insects as they are to the target pest. However, our reliance on the European honeybee has caused significant stress to these essential creatures. Bees, like us, need a balanced and varied diet. When they are moved from crop to crop, they are getting mostly one type of food at a time which leads to nutrient deficiencies. Also, there may be toxic pesticide residues on the crop, in field irrigation water that the bees drink, or in adjacent fields that the bees fly to. These toxins can be fatal on contact, diminishing the population of foraging bees. Sub-lethal doses are brought back to the colony where they may build up in the wax honeycomb, in much the same way as they build up in the fatty tissues of mammals. The accumulation of these toxins cause ongoing stress to the colony. The bees also go through a stressful period of reorientation each time they are moved to a new field throughout the pollination season. They need to learn where the flowers and water sources are and must slowly reorient themselves to the new landscape so they can find their way home. Also, some foraging bees are often left behind with each move, diminishing the foraging workers. Finally, colonies of bees are transported into crops for pollination services from great distances and diseases and parasites can spread rapidly between colonies during these concentrated situations.
In the same way that our attention has focused on the plight of the honeybee, so too have we focused on the loss of our exquisite Monarch butterflies. These remarkable creatures make up two groups. The Western Monarchs migrate from the coast of central California throughout states west of the Rocky Mountains. The Eastern Monarchs migrate from central Mexico up to the northern plains of the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Loss of habitat, loss of milkweed species, climate change, pesticides and diseases, have all contributed to the devasting decline of these magnificent butterflies.
How can we farm and garden in ways that protect and nurture these essential pollinators? At Frey Vineyards we strive to create healthy, viable ecosystems on the farm. For example, many bird species rely on insects to feed their young, so over 100 bird nest boxes are distributed throughout our vineyards. Blue Birds, Tree Swallows, Ash Throated Flycatchers, among other species, use the boxes and they help keep insect pest populations down. Planting local, native plant species also helps to foster healthy farm and garden ecosystems. Insects have evolved with specific plant communities, using a variety of plants that are native to one’s region and choosing a selection of plants that provide a continual bloom throughout the growing season will provide the best food source to attract and sustain these beneficial creatures. Making a commitment to not use pesticides or using only the least toxic methods possible at only the most vulnerable stages of a pest’s lifecycle is also essential. At Frey Vineyards, farming practices follow the strict USDA Organic Farming and Demeter Biodynamic Farming standards. Regulations governing pesticide use in both organizations prohibit the use of any synthetic compound and best practice guidelines further require that judicious monitoring take place before any control measures are taken. If it is determined that there is a significant threat to the crop then the least toxic and least broad spectrum measures available to organic growers are used to control a pest.
U. C. Davis has an informative website to help you make the decisions about these least toxic pest control options. Provide safe, undisturbed habitat for these insects. Many bees and bumble bees build their nests in the ground. Leave bare patches of soil, in areas that drain well, for them to nest in. Some bees lay their eggs and provide a nest for the developing larvae in the hollow stems of plants. Leave these plants standing over the winter and cut them back later, during the following year. This will give the developing larvae time to mature and emerge as adult bees. Provide a year-round source of drinking water. Place stones in a shallow basin so the insects can safely drink without falling in and keep their water fresh and clean. Learn which species you have in your area and focus on providing habitat and food sources for them. There are many excellent websites to help you learn about plants and pollinators native to your area.
The California Native Plant Society has information on plants and their respective communities and the wildlife that they support.
The Xerces Society has a wealth of information on gardening practices that support butterflies and pollinators.
Butterflies and Moths of North America is a data base that has photos to help you identify moths and butterflies in your area as well as helpful information on host plants you can plant for each species.
We look forward to having you visit when we are once again open to the public. Until then, happy bee and butterfly gardening!
Lead Gardener, Frey Vineyards Ltd.
Carolyn Brown, Lead Gardener, Frey Vineyards
Plants in the nursery next to the BioFiltro water purification plant.
California native plants in the Frey Vineyards nursery.
Carolyn Brown on the berm.
Young native oak tree, one year after acorn!
(Written by Carolyn Brown, landscaper and gardener at Frey Vineyards.)
In 1924 Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Bio Dynamic Agriculture, discussed in his Agriculture Lectures how we must view the soil as being alive and full of life-giving forces. Also, how a living soil is akin to a plant and how plants themselves are an extension of the soil. This vitality is passed on to us through the energy contained in foods grown from healthy, living soils. That wellspring of life energy is not to be found in soils that have plant nutrients applied in a synthetic, chemical form. Steiner also stressed the importance of making a farm so self contained that it becomes self sustaining; its soil’s fertility is generated, conserved and recycled and the farm becomes its own entity. Creating and applying compost made from spent plants, cover crops and animal manure produced on site is the best way to realize this. The farm’s soil fertility becomes individualized to the land. How different this is from relying on importing soil amendments from different regions or even from different countries.
Current scientific research is discovering how very complex the living soil is. There is a complex relationship between soil mycorrhizae – bacteria and fungi – and the plant kingdom. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis. These sugars are exuded from plants’ roots into the surrounding soil, which feeds the soil fungi and bacteria. In turn, these soil borne microorganisms help dissolve minerals and nutrients essential for plant growth and make them available in a form that plants can use. The end result is that we get food which is much richer in vitamins and minerals than vegetables grown with synthetic fertilizers. These microorganisms also allow plants to communicate with one and another! Mycorrhizae form a giant underground web connecting plants together. Plants that are being attacked by harmful insect pests pass the word on to other plants, which may protect themselves by making bad tasting chemicals, or chemicals that mimic predatory insect pheromones. These pheromones draw the plant allies into the farm or garden and they keep the bad bugs in check. What a great system! Bio Dynamics means “life engenders life” and healthy living soil creats vibrant, healthy ecosystems and people – a wonderful testimony to this way of farming.
The new winery site on West Road in Redwood Valley
At Frey Vineyards we are looking forward to breaking ground at our new winery this spring, and several of us are enjoying these rainy winter days making plans for the landscaping. The site is surrounded by oak-forested hillsides and reflects the incredible natural beauty of Mendocino County. In the middle of the vineyard is an irrigation pond fringed with cattails, which hosts an abundance of frogs, birds, insects and other wildlife. Garden themes will bridge the exquisite natural landscape with the art of winemaking and culinary pairings. The garden will include edible foodscapes as well as plantings of drought-tolerant California natives that are host plants for pollinators, beneficial insects, and Monarch butterflies.
At this winter’s Biodynamic Farm and Garden meeting I learned about Jail Industries, a two-acre nursery in Sonoma County that produces a wide variety of ornamental nursery stock including many California natives. It is the perfect plant resource for our new project. The nursery is part of Sonoma County Jail’s vocational program and provides low cost trees to cities, counties, schools and public agencies. In addition, it has provided over 50 schools with free vegetable starts and seeds. Their nursery is open to the general public by appointment and during their three plant-sales each year. All of the revenue goes toward funding the Agriculture Vocational Education Program for the inmates.
We are looking forward to working with this innovative project, which aims to help individuals gain practical life skills, as well as helping to preserve and protect the environment. To find out more go to: scoe.org/jailindustries
We look forward to having you visit our new winery in 2018!
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