Shannon Dyck and I, Janet McVittie, have been very fortunate to have received financial support for renovating the Prairie Habitat Garden, over the spring, summer, fall, winter of 2016-2017.
It is through their financial support (and their enthusiasm) for the project that has carried us through. All renovations are due to the financial contributions of this amazing organization.
The Committee for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is funded by the federal governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. They support communities working to make their environments healthier, through funding worthy projects. We really appreciate the time that they are able to give us to support our work.
Saturday, September 10, a group of committed Prairie Habitat Garden friends spent the day in the garden. Landscape fabric was put on the path, and three yards of red shale was moved by wheel barrow to cover the path. With the red of the shale and the white-grey of the swale, the garden looked very artistic!
While some folks loaded wheel barrows, others wheeled the barrows, and others raked the shale into place, other folks weeded, and planted the last of our plant order from Blazing Star Wildflowers. As we worked, Josh of Q Ecosolutios, our steady fast contractor, dug holes for the piles for the bridge.
Josh managed to locate some original growth Douglas fir, that had served during WW2 as an airplane hangar in a small SK town, then, post-war, served as an arena. Recently, the town decided to build a new arena, and the well seasoned fir became available. Josh built the bridge in his garage.
The red shale was lovely, but not wheel chair friendly. Consequently, the next weekend, another group of people came to move four yards of crusher dust, putting it on top of the shale. The red shale will move to the surface, but the crusher dust will make the path more even, so that those with strollers, using walkers, or in wheel chairs, should be able to navigate the trails. There is one more area that needs to be redone on the trail – the area on either side of the bridge. The bridge was installed on Saturday evening, September 19! It is beautiful. Thank you to all our committed friends of the Prairie Habitat Garden.
On Sunday, August 7, Josh, Sofia, Zee, Natalie worked to build the cedar wall. The cedar poles came from BC, cut to be used as utility poles. However, for some reason, they did not make the utility pole grade, so we were able to get them at a reasonable price. After treating them with an ecologically friendly preservative, they were cut to lengths, and put into the trench that had been dug along the edge of the garden. Gravel was added first, and more was put into the trench along the edges to hold the logs upright.
The purposes of this wall are: to stop windblown seeds (the heavier ones will not go over); to be aesthetically pleasing with its different heights; to be a route for children to walk along.
None of the posts is more than 45 cm high. Soil will be added on top of the gravel for planting some native forbes – showy flowers would be best! On Tuesday, August 9, Josh, Sofia, Zee and Theo worked more on the wall, and again on Sunday August 14.
Thank you to our volunteers for building the wall!
Josh is our contractor; we rented a Bobcat E-35 mini-excavator, and (after the appropriate line locates, to determine where all the many different kinds of “lines” for infrastructure were), Josh got to work, digging for the Swale.
The Swale is a “dry stream” bed. The reason one builds a swale is to capture rain water and release it gradually to the ground. Swales in nature do much the same thing, having capacity to hold large amounts of water, and allowing the water to slowly seep into the surrounding soil.
In some cities in Europe, people are not allowed to let water run off their properties (within reason – sometimes, one has no choice with a flash flood), and this has led to people using swales as common features in their landscaping. Josh has a swale at his home.
The swale has been designed to run from the highest point of the garden to the lowest. It is almost entirely flat, in three sections, giving the water time to seep into the soil. If there is a lot of rain, the water will flow out of one nearly flat section, over a little waterfall, to the next, and so on. However, the swale should have the capacity to hold a lot of water, without overflow from the lowest pond.
Although Swales will not necessarily hold ALL the water from a significant rain event, this is what they are best at! They will hold a lot of that water, thus diminishing the effect on urban infrastructure, as well as the effect on the environment. If water runs off my front lawn, onto the street, into the storm sewers and then into the river, it picks up pollutants along the way, washing chemicals into the river to kill the life that grows there. Thus, there are three good reasons for building swales in your yards: to ensure you don’t have to water your garden as much (because the water goes into the ground), to save the city’s infrastructure (which was not built for the number of rain events we have been having), and to keep our rivers healthy. Plus, they are fun to play in and good looking as well.
Janet wants the wild roses (even though they are native plants) out of the garden. They take over, crowding out many other plants, and make moving through the trees difficult, and they grow tall where we want prairie. Without grazers and fire (we cannot have fire, but surely we could have grazers), the roses get out of control
Sofia uses clippers to cut back the stems and then digs out the roots. Wild roses spread mostly by sending out roots under the ground, and popping up, sometimes far away.
But, while cutting into one immense bush, she noticed she had cut a stem/trunk with a bird’s nest on it. A tiny nest with four little eggs. Very traumatic! A female yellow warbler was hanging around, looking very upset. So, Sofia dug a hole and planted the stem/trunk of the wild rose in the hole.
The warbler parents were content with this arrangement, and continued to sit on their eggs, and the eggs hatched into four charming little birds – naked and mostly mouth, but still …
See the picture.
Over the week, Sofia noticed that when she was near the bush, and might have caused a bit of a rustle in the leaves, the wee birds would throw back their heads and open their mouths.
Spending time daily in one nature location offers so many opportunities to come to know the ecosystem and the different relationships there.
We both worried about the babies over last weekend, when there were several hard rains, one associated with wind gusts. But Sofia checked first thing Monday morning and there they were.
But after lunch, they were gone. Sofia noticed that the stem/trunk had been bent over a bit, something the parents did not have the weight to do. We suspect a larger animal had found the wee birds, and turned them into a food source.
We are now thinking of what kind of bird house, what height and what kind of location to put it in for the survival of yellow warbler chicks. Not that they can all survive – ultimately, I suppose that two chicks should survive to replace their parents …
Still, one gets attached.
Rain Rain Come Our Way: Building a Swale Workshop
Sunday, July 10
9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (come and go)
Includes an hour lunch break from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. (lunch not provided)
Location: The Prairie Habitat Garden is located along the west side of the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education building. Closest intersection is Diefenbaker Ct. and Campus Drive.
At this workshop, participants will complete the last phases of the swale installation (but will be able to see the early phases) at the PHG. The swale will capture and guide rain water naturally through the garden, as well as provide children with a rock pathway for exploring the garden.
Participants are asked to wear long sleeves and long pants (for sun and mosquito protection), closed toe shoes, gloves, hat, and sunscreen, as well as bring their own water, snacks, and lunch. If possible, please bring a shovel and wheelbarrow as well.
Please note that this workshop will require lifting and moving rocks and gravel.