Most of us try to pull weeds out of our gardens, but at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Man., students have gone to a great deal of trouble to collect and cultivate 78 species of weeds indigenous to the province’s southwestern region.
The Manitoba Zero Tillage Research Association (MZTRA)-ACC Weed Identification Garden opened to students and the public in the summer of 2016, but wild plants such as stinkweed and storkspill don’t grow as easily as you might think, says Danielle Tichit, an instructor in the agribusiness program, which covers agriculture, business and technology training. “The difficulty is in establishing them where you want them. Some like shade, some like sun, and they steal from each other,” she says.
A legacy grant of $57,000 from the MZTRA—a non-profit run by farmers—made the garden possible. “Instead of students having to learn the weed species from pictures, they get a true hands-on experience,” with access to different growth stages and comparative varieties, says Tichit of the outdoor classroom. “It gives them a chance to really examine the weed characteristics and how the plant grows, which is often lost in books.”
In terms of outreach, government agencies and private agricultural companies can bring in staff for training in weed identification in the garden, located on the North Hill campus. Local residents have been bringing in weeds from their gardens and lawns to try to figure out what they have and what to do about it. Proper identification, says Tichit, helps with the larger concern for weed resistance, commercially and residentially.
Plus the weeds are surprisingly pretty, making it a pleasant space for students and the public to stroll through, identifying weeds by signage on a self-directed tour.