Milkweed and Monarchs – Oh My!

Ben Leffew, Preserve Manager
Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

Monarch butterfly in the Shaker Village Preserve

Entering the summer months marks not only a transition in the seasons on the calendar, but also a transition in the species of blooming plants which act as sources of nectar, pollen, and sites for insects to lay eggs.

Spring forest wildflowers offer a food source for pollinators as early as February, when they can take advantage of sunlight hitting the forest floor before the trees start to shade the understory. As spring ends, most forest plants have finished blooming and the show picks up out in the prairies, where wildflowers can thrive throughout the warm months without having to compete for light with large trees.

Of the many diverse, vibrant wildflowers of summer, milkweed stands out from the rest as both an excellent nectar source, providing liquid energy for wide variety of insect species, as well as being the only plants monarch butterflies lay their eggs on.

Five species of milkweed have been confirmed in The Preserve at Shaker Village: common (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly (Asclepias tuberosa), green (Asclepias viridis), swamp (Asclepias incarnate), and four-leafed (Asclepias quadrifolia). Not surprisingly, common milkweed is the most abundant on the property as it is large, extremely tough, spreads itself easily and responds well to our prescribed fire regime.

Pipevine swallowtail on butterfly milkweed

The relationship between monarchs and milkweeds is one of the most famous examples of specialization in the insect world, and dates back millennia. Milkweeds produce a thick, sticky, toxic sap reminiscent of white latex, and have small hairs on the leaves to deter insects from taking a bite. Despite these physical and chemical defenses, several insects have evolved the ability to not only consume milkweed, but consume it exclusively. Monarchs are the most famous of these, requiring milkweed to lay their eggs.

Swamp milkweed

If it seems like monarch butterflies are getting a lot of attention these days, it’s for good reason. Monarchs have become an ambassador species for both large-scale prairie habitat restoration and small, backyard pollinator gardens and waystations. Providing good, milkweed-rich habitat for monarchs also benefits hundreds of other insect species that thrive in the prairie and in turn feed our many birds.

The Preserve at Shaker Village has miles of trails crossing through native prairies for you to explore! If you would like to learn more about monarch butterflies first-hand, you might enjoy our Monarch Butterfly Tagging workshop in September!

Old Buildings, New Tricks

Sustainability through Geothermal Systems

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

Shaker Village is on a mission to be good stewards of our resources. One way we do this is through the Geothermal Heating and Air Conditioning systems in the East Family Dwelling, West Lot Dwelling, Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House.

Geothermal supports our stewardship in two ways.

First, geothermal heat pump systems are more than three times as efficient as the most economical furnace. Instead of burning a combustible fuel to create heat, a ground-source system uses the earth’s energy as the heat source. Geothermal systems provide three to four units of energy for every
one unit used to power the system’s compressor, fan and water pump. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency identify geothermal as having the lowest environmental impact of all heating systems.

Secondly, geothermal systems are able to reach very high efficiencies. For example, geothermal heat pump can be up to 600% efficient on the
coldest days of the year—a normal air source heat pump will only be 175-200% efficient on cool days—meaning the geothermal system is using far less electricity than a comparable heat pump, furnace or air conditioner. Thus, this installation will help us save financial resources in the long run
on our purchase of electricity.

Our goal is to prolong the lives of these buildings for the next generation to enjoy. Guests now have a better experience inside the buildings during hot or cold days—regulating the temperature and humidity inside the building help us preserve the buildings and allow us to display furniture and
textiles that are too fragile for non-climate controlled spaces.

I hope you enjoy these images of the geothermal installation during the recent preservation of the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling!

October 2017. Laying out the well field.
October 2017. Drilling wells and placing pipes.
November 2017. Connecting the geothermal piping to the Centre Family Dwelling.
May 2019. Completed geothermal well field for the Centre Family Dwelling.

Preservation work is never completed! Ongoing repair, maintenance and upkeep is critical for the sustainability of our historic village. Thank you to everyone who has visited, donated and contributed to make projects like this possible!

Hidden Harvest

J. Michael Moore, Farm Manager

As you drive the countryside and croplands of Kentucky, there’s something new appearing on the landscape – industrial hemp. While for many Kentuckians this may seem like a new development in agriculture, hemp was once an important cash crop for the Commonwealth and has a long history of being grown for its valuable fiber.

1920. Cutting hemp near Wyandotte, KY. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers built their first hemp mill in 1811, just five years after the community formally organized. The Shakers would have relied on hemp as a resource to support many of their industries, as seen in the hemp twine used to bind their famous Shaker Brooms. The Shakers of Pleasant Hill were famous for their trade, and hemp rope would have been used to strap down cargo on flat-bottom boats that traveled along the river banks of Kentucky River and beyond. Indoors, the Shakers even relied on hemp cord to suspend the mattresses on their beds!

Records show that in 1883 the Pleasant Hill Shakers sold 40,000 lbs. of hemp (for just $2,000!)

1920. Hemp in shocks, in a large Kentucky hemp field, near Wyandotte.
Courtesy of Library of Congress

Hemp has deep roots in the history of our state, and of the Kentucky Shakers. This summer, we have an opportunity to bring that history back to life.

In December 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included legislation that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, legalizing the crop nationwide. After nearly 50 years of prohibition, farmers are now free to grow hemp once again.

A few details you should know as we discuss hemp:

  • With less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol), the intoxicating component of marijuana, hemp can’t get you “high,” but it can get you healthy.
  • The hemp seed is considered a “super-food”, packed full of many nutrients and minerals needed by the human body.
  • Hemp fiber can be used to make thousands of sustainable products, from building materials to natural fabrics, that are less toxic and better for the Earth.
  • Hemp flower produces high amounts of cannabinoids, with therapeutic benefits.

This year, hemp will return to Shaker Village for the first time since the 19th century, as part of the Kentucky Hemp Program. We’re excited to feature hemp as part of our “Kentucky Cash Crop Garden” which will highlight crops like Sorghum, Industrial Hemp and Burley Tobacco.

Guests can learn about hemp, and other Kentucky cash crops, during our $5 after 5pm program: Hidden Harvest: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Hemp at Pleasant Hill which runs from June through August, every Friday and Saturday evening at 5:30 PM.

Hemp History Week is June 3-9, 2019

Shaker Village joins more than 20 other historic sites and locations across the Bluegrass featured on the Heritage Hemp Trail, a journey through the Kentucky hemplands.

The trail is an initiative of the Kentucky Hempsters, the Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance and its affiliates across the state dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the state’s rich hemp history. Including the Farmington Historic Plantation in Louisville, Hopemont, The Hunt-Morgan House in Lexington and others, the Heritage Hemp Trail highlights the pioneers, places, and pieces of hemp history that build the foundation for the crop’s revival.

We hope you will join us this summer to learn about the fascinating history, and important future, of hemp in Kentucky!