Prairie Restoration and Community Garden
Our project is to create a pollinator/native garden that would also be used as an outdoor learning space at our school. This space will be open for anyone in the community to use. Through this project, we want to address the lack of adequate green spaces in the Maples neighbourhood. Maples Met School-Maples Collegiate is the only high school in the Seven Oaks School Division which doesn’t have a prairie restoration program. Although there are plenty of green spaces, such as parks, throughout the neighbourhood, these green spaces aren’t sufficient because they don’t contain any native species and pollinator-friendly plants. It’s important to have native plant species in a green space because they are vital to preserving biodiversity. Biodiversity ensures a safe and sustainable environment for many rare and endangered species. The land we’re planning to use is tilled up but not currently in use. There are garden beds as well that we can use to plant additional plants. The benefit of planting native species is that they are low-maintenance as they are already adapted to the local environmental conditions. They require less water and weeding. The plants we’ll be planting are perennials meaning that they will return again in the spring, so the space won’t go back to its old state prior to planting.
Our vision is that this green space would impart the importance of repurposing spaces for the betterment of the community and environment. We would like this space to be a source of inspiration for others to start their own prairie restoration project or take action in ways that would be beneficial to their own community.
Our project has a few different working components. One of them is the native and pollinator-friendly garden. Secondly, a vegetable garden which would be accessible to the community. And finally, native trees. These three parts make up our project. They all serve different purposes, but ultimately the one goal is to provide the community with a space to connect with the natural environment in their own ways, whether it would be to enjoy some of the vegetables from the garden or to learn about native species and their importance. The space would be able to serve multiple purposes. Although all native plants have their benefits, we are specifically planting native plants that attract pollinators, basically, those that create nectar. We have an ongoing list of native plants we are interested in. These plants are wildflowers and prairie grasses. The wildflowers we selected include Yarrow, Whorled Milkweed, Purple Cornflower, and Prairie Rose. We specifically chose these plants based on their pollinator interactions which were mainly bees and butterflies. For example, we chose Whorled Milkweed because it is the only plant that attracts monarch butterflies. For the grasses, we are thinking of the Big Bluestem, Canadian Wild Rye and Green Needle Grass. There were a few factors we had to consider while creating this list. This included what we thought would be available at the Aki Centre and the conditions these plants are suitable for.
In our grant proposal, we described an adequate green space as one that comprises Indigenous and native species which are beneficial to the ecosystem. Native species are beneficial to the ecosystem as they attract a variety of pollinators that are endangered. They are crucial parts of an ecosystem. We identified that most of the green spaces in the neighbourhood of Maples aren’t adequate according to our definition because they don’t have native species. As we mentioned earlier, native plants have many benefits. Along with the ones mentioned above, they are vital to preserving biodiversity. Biodiversity is important because it ensures a safe and sustainable environment for endangered and rare species and this includes pollinators.
For this project, we are repurposing an existing space which would impart the importance of repurposing spaces for the betterment of the environment and community. The plants we’ll be planting are perennials meaning that they will return in the spring so the space won’t go back to its old state before planting. Another goal we have for this project is for this space to be a source of inspiration for others to start their prairie restoration project and other climate action projects that would be beneficial to their community.
This project has come a long way since we applied for the grant. The plan we’ve made to accomplish our goals is currently in progress. After applying, we decided to plant our vegetable seeds to get them ready for harvesting season. We planted our seeds indoors using germination trays covered with a plastic lid. We used a grow light to simulate the light from the sun, which was placed just above the lids. Later on, we managed to set up a timer for the plants. The purpose of this was that the plants got a regulated day and night cycle, as they normally would if they were planted outside. Later on in our project, we encountered a challenge with this because initially, we had set up our plants in a germination tray with a plastic lid where we rested the grow light, but after we transferred some of the seedlings into large pots, we needed to cover a larger area. We thought about different ways to overcome this challenge. In the end, we decided to mount the grow light on the bottom of the table.
Another component of our project was the native trees. We spent most of our grant money on buying the trees and making sure they were protected. We got our trees from Ron Paul, a garden centre located in the south-central part of Winnipeg. The two trees we got were Manitoba maple, also known as boxelder maple. We picked out Manitoba maple because it’s the largest maple native to the prairies. We’ve planted our two maple trees in the space we were allowed to use. Young trees are much more vulnerable to being damaged compared to mature trees. Lots of small animals like to give newly planted trees attention by snacking on the bark. To prevent the trees from getting damaged, we bought 72-inch posts and chicken wire to protect the tree.
The biggest delay to this project was the quackgrass that is present in the ground. Quackgrass is a perennial invasive species which spreads by seed and underground rhizomes. The rhizomes of the quackgrass release a toxic substance which decreases the growth of surrounding plants and results in the quackgrass outcompeting. We decided to meet with Alexis Nazervich to discuss our project and the challenges we were facing. During our meeting with Alexis, she highlighted the process of eliminating quackgrass from the area. The amount of time it takes to get rid of the quackgrass is what has caused the delay since Alexis recommended that we tarp the area and solarize it and plant it next spring. It’s important to get rid of the quackgrass because it could take over if we don’t properly eliminate it. This would cause the area to go back to how it was previously.
As of right now, we have tarped up the area we will be planting the native plants in the springtime. This will result in weeds not being able to germinate, and any weeds already present there would be killed off because of the lack of light. We have also planted all our vegetables which include tomatoes, peppers, and spinach in the garden. To go with the tomatoes, we planted marigolds because they are companion plants. For example, marigolds keep certain pests away, which benefits the tomatoes. and in the long run, when planted together have lots of benefits for one another.
Since we weren’t able to plant the native plants because of all the delays, we will be continuing this project into next year. We will start ordering the specific native plants that we would like from the Aki Centre in the winter and then plant them in the spring. We would also like to involve others in the community and the school to partake in maintaining the space and engaging with it. Another goal with this space is for it to be a resource for teachers to use while teaching about the natural world, the history of the prairie and the importance of native plants. Along with this, we hope for it to be a space for community that facilitates a social opportunity for them to interact with each other, which they could use to build connections and learn from each other.
Reflection & Celebration
We are really proud of the work we have done so far and are excited to continue it into next year. We hope for students, staff and community members to engage with the garden. This will increase the feeling of community in the Maples Neighbourhood. We also hope for the garden to provide fresh produce to those who need it. As well as this, next spring when we have planted all the native plants, we wish to see an increase in pollinators.