Southwestern Manitoba will soon be crawling with more weeds but these weeds are for a good cause.
Assiniboine Community College is creating a weed identification garden with financial assistance from the defunct Manitoba Zero Tillage Research Association (MZTRA).
“The garden will provide students in multiple programs with tangible and real learning opportunities and has the potential for extension to the community,” said agribusiness instructor, Danielle Tichit. “I am looking forward to having this resource to enhance the understanding and skill set of our students.”
The identification garden will be developed at the college’s North Hill Campus, near its existing sustainable greenhouses.
“It is going to be a combination of raised beds around the outside of the site and that will be for all of the annual weeds. The centre of the garden will have culverts dug about six feet down, which is where our perennials will go in order to minimize any root spread,” said Tichit.
Construction and planting is to begin this fall and ACC will work with Manitoba Weed Supervisors Association to find weed seeds and planting stock for the garden.
“The weed supervisors have agreed to give us a hand, and so we should be able to start transplanting some root stock this fall,” said Tichit. “We will then look to get the annuals started in the greenhouse this winter and transplant them first thing in the spring.”
The site will serve as an outdoor classroom and will house more than 80 of Manitoba’s most common annual and perennial weed species.
Tichit says that having an on-site identification garden will aid in teaching her students proper identification of weed species, a crucial skill when making sustainable weed management decisions.
“Having this garden is really going to elevate what I am able to demonstrate. In the past we have spent time out in the fields identifying weeds but it has always been whatever we could find,” she said. “This garden will give me the opportunity to expose students to so much more.”
The garden will be used as much as possible in the college’s programs, but will also be open to the public.
“We will be using this site in a number of our programs but will also be looking to bring in producer groups, retailers and anyone who is interested in training their staff, or customers. It will also be open to the public, for local producers, but also urban residents, as we will have some common garden weeds included,” said Tichit.
MZTRA, which is winding down, decided to contribute $57,000 towards the project. The non-profit, producer-directed organization was established in 1992, and ran a research farm, north of Brandon, where it hosted demonstration activities related to zero-till practices.
“We have had a great relationship (with ACC) over the years,” said MZTRA board chair Brad Lewis. “We think this garden will be great for students, producers, and ag-related individuals and groups across the province.”
After many years of research, the MZTRA board of directors has decided that the organization has fulfilled its original mandate and will discontinue its operations.
“We have really fulfilled what they had set out to do,” said Lewis. “And, interest in zero-till practices has seemed to have fallen off in recent years, but I think that is just because it has become a common practice in this area now.”
The MZTRA has allocated its remaining operational fund to leave a legacy in southwestern Manitoba, through this project.
“Having this garden will allow us to see these weeds as they progress through the various growing stages and this will definitely be helpful when trying to identify weeds in the field as well as getting a better understanding of when and how to deal with them,” said Lewis.