Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe

Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe:
The last event was “Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe” which took place on Saturday, the second last day of the festival. Unfortunately, the weather forecast suggested rain, and the skies were cloudy most of the day. The workshop began with Carla Kennedy, a local First Nations scholar, telling of her experiences about her great grandfather and her grandmother and how they managed the prairies. Carla noted that the purposes for managing the prairie had modified from one generation to the other, and hence the practices had. Her great grandfather was still a part of the tradition of Frist Nations management – different areas of the prairies would be burned, early in the spring while the ground was still wet, and ground nesting birds had not yet nested. The purposes would have been multiple: pushing back the woody shrubs that could have taken over, and limited the grazing and food plants; rejuvenating prairie growth; killing ticks (!); limiting the fuel that could contribute to devastating prairie fires later in the season when the weather was dry. Carla’s grandmother lived with close neighbours in built homes. Fires would have pushed back the shrubs and trees, as well as controlling the fuel for potentially fatal grass fires. Also, the burning would release nutrients for her garden soil, as well as controlling for ticks and mosquitoes. Without Indigenous peoples managing our prairie ecosystems, likely this land would have looked very different (and perhaps less hospitable?) to white settlers. Indigenous peoples were necessary in the prairie ecosystem, and we have much to learn about living on and in this land from Indigenous peoples.

Although the weather was not conducive to a large turn out, we had about 8 to 10 people, and were able to identify and move many of our native plants from the area we had decided needed to be mowed and tilled, and covered with plastic to kill the weed seeds and rhizomes. About one third of the garden is in good enough shape as far as invasive species go that we can weed in amongst our valuable plants. Eryn Tomlinson presented on the invasive foes we have, one of the most worrisome being European buckthorn. Meewasin is going to return in late July or August and help us to remove them.

Eryn taught us about the integrated management plan that Meewasin has developed for maintaining the native prairie in their authority. Invasive exotics are removed by hand, through grazing (sheep and goats), controlled burns, and, when nothing else is working, strategic and careful use of chemicals. Grazing (by bison and pronghorn antelope) and controlled burns controlled native invasive plants in the past, and these methods would likely be all that was needed by Meewasin if exotic invasives had not been brought into the country.

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Building a Bee Hotel

Building a Bee Hotel:
The second workshop was to build a bee hotel. The garden had a commercially produced bee home, but this “hotel” will provide for a greater variety of bees and allow for easier cleaning to ensure viruses and bacteria and other pathogens do not build up. Two students from the EcoJustice grade 8 program contacted me, asking if the Prairie Habitat Garden would be willing to host the bee hotel. I enthusiastically responded, and invited them to teach an elementary school class how to do this simultaneous to building the hotel. The students, Emma and Connor, provided two wood palettes, and firewood. I provided straw (with hollow stems, from last years plants), clay pots and clay bricks. Sarah Godson’s grade 4 class from Brunskill School walked over to the garden to participate. The workshop began with a power point lecture on what is a species, what is a niche, what is a habitat, and also addressed the great variety of kinds of bees there are in the world. Then Emma and Connor took over, taking the children outside to play two games and to build the hotel. While one group built the hotel, another group played a “virus-infection” simulation (the virus-infected bee was “it”, and anyone tagged joined the virus-infected team until every one was infected) or a biodiversity simulation” (children were bees and had to seek ten different kinds of flower in the Prairie Habitat Garden, and then ten different kinds of flower in the soccer pitch – guess which location provided greater biodiversity of flowers!) The students rotated through the different activities.

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Building a Sun Effigy

Building an Earth-Sun effigy.
The first workshop was: Building an “Earth – Sun” effigy with First Nations (Cree) elder, Joseph Naytowhow. Prior to the activity, the children who were to be involved generated their lists of words that they associated with the sun. Joseph translated the words into Cree, and the words were written onto cards. Each child would thus be able to take home a new Cree word, one that they had chosen that related to their environments. As well, prior to the activity, we ordered soil, sculpted the soil into a sun shape (circle – with four rays, each pointing in a different cardinal direction) to prepare for the workshop. We left some soil at the side for the children to move to the sun shape. Kelly Fineday’s Grade 3 class from Sutherland School and children from the University of Saskatchewan Campus Day care participated in the activity. The activity began with Joseph telling the children a story and then teaching them a Cree song. They all sang the different verses / choruses of the song together. Then, they talked about the sun, and each child was given his/her card with his/her sun word(s) on it. Lastly, Joseph smudged the sun, and the children brought more soil, smudged the rocks they had brought and placed the rocks onto the sun. We now have a beautiful sun in the garden – there rain or shine!

The tradition of building these shapes is not necessarily a Cree tradition. Joseph is an artist and draws his art from teaching and learnings wherever he is. He has traveled extensively and spends time with various different Indigenous groups. The sun is the third “Earth” feature he has created in the garden. The first was the Earth Turtle (from Anishinabe traditions) and the second was the Earth bison, from Plains culture traditions.

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Nature City Festival Prairie Habitat Garden events

The Prairie Habitat Garden had a number of successful education events during Saskatoon’s Fourth Annual Nature City Festival. For those of you who have not yet attended any Nature City Festival events: the festival is held annually in the last week of May – the time when saskatoon berry bushes are most likely to be flowering. The festival features a week of presentations, seminars, workshops, activities, that engage people in nearby nature, revealing the wonders of nature and many little known natural places in Saskatoon. This year’s (2016) theme was “Reconciliation” – with the land as well as with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Last year’s theme (2015) was “Healthy by Nature”, addressing the advantages being in nature provides for people. The website for the Nature City Festival is:

As part of the festival, three events were planned for and in the garden. Two were part of the “education” calendar of events, which meant the Prairie Habitat Garden hosted children from Saskatoon schools to support outdoor learning in nearby nature. The workshops were: Building and Earth-Sun effigy; building a bee hotel, and Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe.

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New Vision for Prairie Habitat Garden

The Prairie Habitat Garden is going through a major renovation. In 2014, Meaghan’s blog addressed the issue of brome grass, but, in actuality, our pest grass is crab grass. It likely invaded on the wheels of trucks that drove across the garden when a different administration, one that did not consider plants and land as important. Now, however, before any interruption is made to the garden, we are consulted! This is wonderful.

The renovation includes making the garden more natural in the sense of having fewer (as few as possible) invasive species. Some species which are invasive are indigenous to Saskatchewan, but without the management practices that took place prior to settlers arriving, these species can take over much. So saying, another aspect of the renovation will be to feature Indigenous peoples, and ways of knowing. Visitors to the garden should know that there were people here, and these people are still here, prior to the university being built, and now that the university is in operation. Thus, there will be features that show historic concepts from Indigenous peoples, and there will be features encouraging and supporting teaching about Indigenous perspectives and attitudes towards the land. The third part of the renovation is to make the garden an exciting and enticing play space for young children. Much research has shown that being outdoors in “natural” spaces benefits children physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and creatively. We hope that the garden will become a beautiful model for other urban parks.

The workshops that were originally scheduled, and that are posted on the most recent blog, have been postponed. What has slowed us down is that I (Janet) was slow to get the university approvals for the hard scaping that need doing in the garden. We now have the lines that run under the garden (electrical, communication, irrigation, etc.) located, and will soon have the Buildings and Grounds crew come to mow the crab grass and till the soil. Then, the part that has been mowed and tilled will be covered with plastic for about two weeks. With lots of sunshine, the temperature under the plastic will be high enough that the weed seeds and crab grass rhizomes will die. Then, we can continue with the plans to build a dry stream bed, a low wall for blocking some weed seeds from entering the garden, and planting the wonderful indigenous plants we have ordered!

Please follow our blog to keep on top of the work / volunteer schedule. We appreciate all the help we can get!

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Prairie Habitat Garden Renovations – upcoming workshops!

EcoFriend or EcoFoe? Invasive Species Plant Identification and Removal Workshop Saturday, May 28, 9:00am-4:00pm (with an hour lunch break – lunch not provided) at the Prairie Habitat Garden. The Prairie Habitat Garden is located along the west side of the … Continue reading

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