Written by Marnie Klassen

Several years ago, I was on a road trip through California with my parents and older sister. We love road trips, but in the middle of a long day of driving, stopping for food and a break from the road becomes necessary, and being outside becomes a relief. That is how we found ourselves stopped at a taco stand off Interstate 5, somewhere between Monterey and Fresno. As the four of us sat eating outside, my dad made an observation which quickly became a teaching moment for me.

“Notice that there are no bugs,” he said between bites of burrito. It was a startling realization, that after driving through miles and miles of one crop, and then miles and miles of another, there was nothing natural about the place we found ourselves in.

Fast forward a few years, and I recently found myself walking around a very different agricultural space here at Brooksdale Environmental Centre.  As Tim Friesen, resident soil enthusiast and pollination visionary, explained to me what makes a pollinator garden special, bees, bugs, and birds paid visits to the special space.

Hands working in Brooksdale's new Orchard

Essentially, a pollinator garden is a garden that has a wide variety of plants that flower throughout the growing season, and that have an array of shapes and sizes to accommodate diverse types of pollinators.

Pollinators move pollen from plant to plant, fertilizing them so that they can produce seeds, which are often contained in fruit. Unfortunately, with a rise in monoculture, native pollinators are in decline, and many large-scale farmers have to rent bee hives or even hand pollinate. In an area that grows a lot of fruit, that’s a big deal! According to Tim, promoting native pollinators will help food production in the long run.

It’s been a long-time dream to grow fruit trees at Brooksdale, though a tough one to realize. When A Rocha Canada received an education grant, the dream took a new form. We now have two areas specifically designated to attract pollinators of all kinds.

The pollinator garden, next to the herb garden, is designed as an educational space. It has six apple trees, surrounded by plenty of other flowering plants, including lupines, yarrow, and saskatoons. Tim hopes that the garden will help people see the connection between pollination and the food they eat.

Tim Friesen Plants a Tree in the Orchard

Across the lane is the orchard. Funded by TD Friends of the Environment Fund and Tree Canada, it functions to produce fruit in an ‘integrated agroforestry system,’ which essentially uses the same piece of land for multiple types of food production. The Association for Temperate Agroforestry says this type of system “utilizes more of the productive capacity of the land and helps to balance economic production with resource conservation.”

“The goal for the orchard was to start to develop some of our ‘pasture’ space, into a more productive and diverse land use,” Tim said. In order to accomplish this, the conservation team is working on changing the soil type from grassland to forest soil. This involves introducing smaller woody plants first, which then drop leaves and branches to mulch the soil and provide food for fungi, the core of healthy forest soil. This means that over time, the soil will be able to fully support the hazelnut, Asian pear, and European pear trees that populate the orchard.

While these two projects are well under way, there are more changes to come. For the pollinator garden, the hope is to provide habitat for some specific pollinators, such as mason bees, which live in small tunnels drilled into wood. And for the orchard, eventually our flock of Silver Appleyard ducks will relocate there.

In this new space where education, agriculture, and conservation converge, I hope that kids and adults alike will be able to discover the importance of pollinators without a roadside lesson in California.

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