LAWRENCETOWN, NS - Katie McLean holds up packets of seeds – Milkweed, Echinacea, Black-Eyed Susan.
Students at Lawrencetown Education Centre listen as she explains each plant and how they help protect rivers, lakes, and streams when planted in rain gardens.
McLean is with Clean Annapolis River Project and no stranger to the alternative school in Lawrencetown. In fact working with these students is high on her list of things to do. The kids love Katie too and hang on her every word as she talks to them about science in a way they find interesting. It’s not a lecture. It’s a conversation in which they take part with the full knowledge that when McLean imparts all the necessary information, they’ll fill egg cartons with soil, plant those seeds, and help save the environment. It’s not some vague concept in a textbook. It’s them learning by doing.
“This project that we’re starting today is pretty exciting for us here because it includes every one of the three courses I’m teaching this year.”
-- Teacher David Ross
“This project that we’re starting today is pretty exciting for us here because it includes every one of the three courses I’m teaching this year,” said teacher David Ross. “So what we’re doing now is we’re starting to grow some plants to help with coastal zone management for our Oceans 11 class. While we started the seeds and those are growing, we’re going to be building some cold frames for our entrepreneurship class, and through that we have to use our measurement and building skills for our math class.”
Storm Water Project
“The plants are going to be grown for our storm water project, and one of the components in that project involves developing rain gardens which are used to capture surface water runoff and hold that water and let it filter through the soil,” said McLean.
She explains to the students how creating rain gardens can help the ground absorb rain water that might otherwise flow unstopped into rivers, taking with it pollutants and debris that would contaminate waterways.
Oil and gas drip from cars on roads or parking lots and rainwater carries those contaminants to rivers where they can harm fish and fowl. Even silt can be carried by storm water runoff and clog and smother habitat.
“What we have is a mix of seeds that are suitable for most rain garden sites that we anticipate building in the Annapolis watershed area,” she said. “They can handle water, are drought tolerant, they can deal with full sun because they tend to be exposed sites.”
There are a couple of side lessons as McLean talks about Milkweed as the only breeding place for the endangered Monarch Butterflies and how Echinacea helps fight colds.
Soil and Seeds
Students grab their egg cartons and markers and print their names and what seeds they selected on the carton tops. Aylissa and Amy stand across the table from each other as they work, carefully putting soil in each eggcup, figuring out how deep to plant the seeds, and then using a tablespoon to water each one.
“The students are going to handle all our seeds – germination and propagation,” said McLean.
This isn’t some token gesture to the school or the students. She really needs their help. CARP is working on a major project in two counties and the students are key participants.
“Instead of having to go out and buy nursery stock we’re going to have a good supply and variety of plants available,” she said.
Ross is as excited as the students.
“We’re going to transplant our seedlings into the cold frames and hopefully be able to plant them in the ground later to help the coastal zone management project through CARP,” he said.
Elijah plants Pink Asters. Hannah plants Black-Eyed Susans. They’ll be responsible for those seeds as they germinate and all the way through to transplanting them and thinning them as they grow. Eventually they’ll be planted into those rain gardens.
“We’ll have a whole supply to go into these sites,” said McLean. “Samantha Hudson is our storm water project leader and she’s been working on the site plans through the winter and there are a few that will be ready to be built this spring.”
She said the first rain gardens that will be ready for planting are in Digby, and then they’ll be working with the County of Annapolis on a few of their properties, and the Town of Middleton as well.
“The second component, the cold frames is just an opportunity to extend our growing season and we’ll have them available as a resource every year,” said McLean. “We almost always need plants, but we have a pretty short growing season so we’ll be able to use those and start plants again in future years.”
The old windows they’re using to build the cold frames came from Annapolis Royal.
“We’re reclaiming some old windows from the old Annapolis Academy,” said Ross. “We’re going to repurpose those into cold frames.”
The windows differ in size, but mostly they’re 30-inch by about 36-inch.
“Our math class is going to measure up and drill our wood and assemble them in the entrepreneurship class, take them out to CARP and transplant seedlings over,” he said. “We have an order for 10 already, so we’re excited by that. Hopefully we’re going to have some ready for the Middleton Farmers Market at the end of May. Anyone looking for a cold frame we’d love to supply you with one.”
McLean said the cold frames could extend their growing season by a month or so.
“Depending on how things go we may have a food security-related project that’s going to start in the spring or summer and they may actually double in for that project.”
-- Katie McLean
“Depending on how things go we may have a food security-related project that’s going to start in the spring or summer and they may actually double in for that project,” she said of the cold frames the students are building for CARP. “It’s an opportunity for food growing, especially when it comes to extending the fall growing season. Hopefully we’ll have multiple purposes.”
Ross describes McLean as a great partner to Lawrencetown Education Centre. “We’ve done a lot of projects together and it’s been really good so far,” he said.
Both Ross and McLean believe in the kids.
“I love working with the students in this school,” McLean said. “They’re awesome. Whenever possible I’ll come up with projects to work with them on.”