Growing future conservationists: Pollinator plot nears completion in Minnesota
WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Approximately 15 acres of Nobles County-owned land was seeded Tuesday with the hope of growing future conservationists.
Around 260 Worthington Middle School fifth-grade students helped sprinkle 80 April through October blooming wildflower varieties on a preconditioned plot of land south of the Prairie Justice Center as part of a youth pollinator habitat tour.“They’ll be able to come back next year and the year after and see what they helped build,” said Scott Rall, president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever, a fundamental group of the pollinator project.
The fifth-graders also received an introduction to pollinators, such as honey bees and butterflies, and learned about the vital role they play in putting food on their plates.
Ocheyedan, Iowa beekeeper Marlene Boernsen also provided students with a hands-on demonstration of beekeeping and explained how bees use wildflowers to make honey. Boernsen, who will maintain six beehives on the pollinator plot and teach an annual youth pollinator event, told the students that a bee’s short life should be extended on the plot. The bees will have a shorter distance to travel to the wildflowers, thus preserving their wings.
Tuesday’s tour was one part of an approximately 18-month-and-counting pollinator project, which began when Nobles County Commissioner Matt Widboom approached Rall and the Nobles County Pheasants Forever group about potentially repurposing county-owned land.
Widboom said the idea originated after his involvement in a county parks tour and a Minnesota Soybean Growers meeting.
Realizing the county owned unused land — and taking part in a pollinators’ discussion at a Minnesota Soybean Growers Association meeting — served as the basis for checking into the potential for a project in Nobles County, Widboom said.
“I wondered where we could do it safely, on county park acres, without the threat of being sprayed and where the public can see it,” Widboom said.
The Nobles County Pheasants Forever group got to work and put together a formal proposal for the Nobles County Board of Commissioners to approve, Widboom said.
The result — an approximately $20,000, 15-acre pollinator project — is being supported and funded by Nobles County; Nobles County Pheasants Forever; national pollinator grants, administered by the national Pheasants Forever habitat organization; Round Lake Sportsmans Club; and Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness Committee.Ten acres of the pollinator plot are located at the Prairie Justice Center and five at Midway Park, seven miles west of Reading, Minn. The locations were identified primarily due to their high visibility, Rall said.
“We want as many people to be able to drive by them and see what we’re doing and understand the importance,” he said.
That importance, he said, is two-fold.
The primary purpose for the project is that many human consumed foods require pollination, Rall said.
“Without either native pollinators or honey bees, a lot of our food source is going to go away,” he said.
The pollinator habitat also encourages great pheasant hunting, Rall added, as the habitat draws insects — a baby pheasant’s main food source.
“Grasses, in and of themselves, do not create the insect life needed to benefit wildlife,” Rall said.
Rall said most pollinator projects are done half an acre to an acre at a time, making the current project, to his knowledge, the largest Minnesota Pheasants Forever-related project in the state.
Once the group received site approval, the ground was burned and sprayed with Roundup to remove the vegetation. A local farmer was also hired to work up the ground in preparation for the fall seeding.
Rall said the plot will officially be seeded later this fall after the ground temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Those seeds lay their dormant over the winter and the snow helps pack them to the ground to help you achieve best germination come spring,” he said.
The sites will be mowed two times in late spring and summer to eliminate sunlight and moisture competition, Rall added.
That method helps the plant concentrate on developing good root structures, Rall said.
Rall said it typically takes a pollinator site three years to grow to the height of its aesthetic potential, and he hopes local residents will take the opportunity to visit the site and watch it grow.
The pollinator project, as well as Tuesday’s youth pollinator habitat tour, were hopefully the first of many yet to come, Rall said.
While the project could be achieved without fifth-graders’ assistance, Rall said it was important to the project’s organizers to get kids involved in the project and disconnect from their electronic devices.
“We are hopefully creating, or planting the seeds, what will become future conservationists in Minnesota,” Rall said. “If young people’s introduction to that is pollinators, what a wonderful way of disconnecting from the outlet and reconnecting to nature and the outdoors.”