Seventh graders from Century School joined personnel with the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District on Friday, Oct. 29 to plant habitats for pollinators and wildlife.

Science classes taught by Caitlin Djonne, Lee Skajewski and Morgan Marcussen turned soil, dug holes, planted shrubs and scattered seed with guidance from SWCD staff. Meanwhile, they also learned about scientific techniques they will use throughout the school year to study the progress of the prairie garden.

Claire Hansen, an SWCD conservation technician, said the goal was to establish a pollinator prairie alongside the community garden, south of Century School and west of the Rotary Fitness Park.

“We’re gonna loosen up the dirt, and we’re gonna put down, like, a mixed seed of wildflowers, grasses and fescues,” she said, adding that the vegetation will provide nectar and habitat for birds and insects.

Meanwhile, Hansen said, a row of mostly fruiting shrubs along the garden’s fence line, including elderberry and nannyberry trees, would form a “green fence” and provide food for wildlife.

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Some of Caitlin Djonne's seventh grade science students use hand tillers Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 to break up the soil before seeding a blend of wildflowers, grasses and fescues for a pollinator-friendly prairie garden south of Century School.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
Some of Caitlin Djonne's seventh grade science students use hand tillers Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 to break up the soil before seeding a blend of wildflowers, grasses and fescues for a pollinator-friendly prairie garden south of Century School. Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

Crystal Mathisrud, the Hubbard County SWCD district manager, said the project started with grant through the National Association of Conservation Districts.

“This is federal funding to get urban agriculture and pollinator habitat going on within Hubbard County,” she said. “So, we are doing projects with the schools as well as in some community locations. We worked on the one in Depot Park and 8th Street and also at Calvary Lutheran Church.”

The church project, she explained, was to put in a pollinator garden between a new section of parking lot and the street, where a lot of water tended to flow toward the Fish Hook River.

“What we did was work with Calvary Lutheran Church to smother the grass in that area this summer and to plant prairie seedlings and some shrubs also,” said Mathisrud. “That garden will really start to grow in next year.”

As for the school garden project, there is more to it than creating pollinator and wildlife habitat. They want it to be “more of a learning project,” Mathisrud said, “where we get the seventh grade science students involved in implementation and then some observation tasks throughout the year. So, we’ll keep coming back to work on the garden and to make sure that it gets off to a good start throughout this year and into the spring again.”

Toward this goal, SWCD water quality resource technician Jake Shaughnessy showed seventh graders how to use 1 meter square transects, or quadrants, to observe how the garden is going.

Jake Shaughnessy with the SWCD explains to seventh graders in Lee Skajewski's science class how to use 1 meter square quadrants to study the biomass and diversity of a pollinator prairie just south of Century School on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
Jake Shaughnessy with the SWCD explains to seventh graders in Lee Skajewski's science class how to use 1 meter square quadrants to study the biomass and diversity of a pollinator prairie just south of Century School on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

“We use a method called the plant diversity-biomass study through a series of quadrants, along with a robel pole method,” he said.

Skajewski explained it in terms of what farmers call tonnage, measuring how many plants, and what kinds of plants, are growing within a few square meters and averaging that out over the entire area.

Over time, Shaughnessy said, students can use this technique to estimate how much their garden has grown and whether it is doing better or worse than the previous year.

It’s about “kinda getting an idea of the health of the garden,” Shaughnessy said, “and then we’ll be doing some focus on the invertebrates and insects there, to get a better idea of how much habitat (the plants are) providing.”

Hansen said that by spring, students will be able to identify the types of plants and insects living within a 1 meter transect and record them scientifically. “They’ll also be able to start measuring plant growth to maintain the prairie,” she said. “It’ll be fun.”

Mathisrud said the SWCD also has kits for 25-square-foot backyard gardens that the kids can take home for their families, if they want to.

“We can go help to install those gardens,” she said. “Those are available for the community, if there are other people in the community who would like to do a 25-square-foot garden in their backyard. They just have to call our SWCD office and we’ll get them to them.”

For more information, call the Hubbard County SWCD at 218-732-0121.