Hundreds of milkweed plants and Monarch larvae are on their way to classrooms in Michigan.
They are part of kits that elementary teachers will use for a lesson about life cycles.
“Students can watch the larva grow as it eats the plant. They can watch it turn into a chrysalis,” said Steve Scheller.
Scheller owns King Berry in rural Waupaca, and a variety of milkweed grows in one of his greenhouses.
About 750 plants were shipped from King Berry to the Battle Creek Math and Science Center on Monday, April 28.
It is one of several shipments taking place this spring and then again next fall through Monarch Magic.
Monarch Magic is a business partnership of Scheller and Kate Zdroik.
Like Scheller, Zdroik is the owner of a farm market.
Her market, Wisconsin Territories Farm Market, is located in rural Rosholt.
Prior to the two of them becoming business partners, Scheller was already familiar with Monarch Magic.
That is because Jon and Jenny Hobson previously owned the business and asked Scheller about 15 years ago if he had greenhouse space for them to grow the necessary milkweed plants for the Monarch Magic Life Cycle kits.
“For three or four years, I grew the plants for them,” he said.
When the Hobsons decided to get out of the business, Scheller looked for a business partner and found one in Zdroik and her late husband, Mark.
“I was a teacher,” Zdroik said. “The reason he thought I was a good match is I know what teachers need. I would know the education side. I’m the business manager, and he does the productions, and then we do the rest together.”
“When we bought it, we streamlined it. We started having a UPS driver come here to pick it up,” Scheller said of the kits. “It actually turned a better profit.”
Before selling the business to Scheller and Zdroik, Jenny Hobson had done most of the sales for Monarch Magic and had established a website for the business, Scheller said.
About six years ago, a building was constructed at King Berry for the packaging of the kits.
“The vast majority of our kits go to Michigan – 90 percent,” said Zdroik. “All are the four-kit system. There are four plants in each of these, and they will get six larvae.”
The larvae in their Monarch Magic kits are from a breeder in Florida.
They have a contract with the Battle Creek Math and Science Center.
“That group coordinates for all the participating schools in Michigan. They buy them all in four packs, and then each school buys them for their classrooms. These are usually for first or second-grade classrooms,” Scheller said.
While the majority of their kits are shipped to Michigan, Monarch Magic also ships kits to schools in Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.
In Wisconsin, kits go to schools in the Milwaukee and Madison areas, as well as to schools in Stevens Point.
He said they would like to work with more schools in Wisconsin.
They would also like to see more states come up with arrangements similar to the one in Michigan.
“We time it, because we want the schools to be successful,” Scheller said.
That means shipping takes place early in the week, so kits do not arrive at a school on a weekend.
Zdroik said daycares and families also order kits.
“We can ship anywhere east of the Rockies,” she said. “We have a permit through the USDA.”
The reason why they cannot ship their kits west of the Rockies is because the Monarch butterflies in that part of the country migrate to southern California, she explained.
“Ours go to Mexico,” she said.
Monarch butterflies from this part of the United States spend the winter in Mexico’s Oaxaca Mountains.
“Part of the reason for the declining population,” Zdroik said, “is because of the winter conditions there. Plus, the locals are logging the forest, so it’s exposing the butterflies.”
She said they are susceptible to disease and predators.
“Monarchs are a very fragile butterfly. They are much more difficult to raise because they are so susceptible to the conditions. They don’t like high moisture,” she said.
Temperatures also affect them.
“If it’s too cold, they die. If it’s too hot, they die,” Zdroik said.
She said some of the Monarchs are now migrating to Florida.
“The population of the Monarch kind of goes up and down,” she said. “Because the winter of 2012-13 was harsh and the spring of 2013 was cold, the population was low (last year).”
Scheller said Monarchs are part of the pollinating cycle.
The only plant the larvae eat is milkweed, and Scheller said that is why it is important to include milkweed plants in perennial gardens.
“That is where they will lay their eggs,” he said.
“They go for the first tender pieces first,” Zdroik said of the larvae. “When the leaves are gone, they eat the stems, too.”
Scheller said there are three milkweed plants in each of their pots, which is enough food for one larva for its life cycle.
“Usually, they eat for two weeks or so until they get big enough. They’ll go up and attach themselves to something – the top of the cylinder or a plant.
They form what looks like a ‘J,’” he said.
Observation cyclinders are included in kits.
That process can last a couple days.
“Then someday, within 10 minutes, they’ll start wiggling all over the place. Their skin peels off, and you have a soft chrysalis,” Scheller said.
That stage lasts about a week.
The chyrsalis darkens before the butterfly emerges.
“You’ll see the black and orange wings,” he said. “The outside starts to get clear. It all happens in about two days.”
When the butterfly emerges, its wings are wet and have to dry. Soon they are ready to be released.
“Usually, it’s about a three-week cycle if everything is healthy,” Scheller said.
With plenty of milkweed plants this year, he said they will have extra kits available for purchase.
Visit Monarch Magic’s website at www.monarchmagic.com or call 715-677-3242 for information.
“It’s just one more part of diversifying on the farm,” Scheller said of the partnership.