‘Pocket prairie’ grants awarded in Austin area

 In the spur of the moment last fall, Jaimie Timm decided to take out her family’s backyard flower bed consisting of a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs and random plants.

She didn’t have a new plan for the roughly 75-square-foot flower bed at her home overlooking Austin’s Skinners Hill and the Cedar River. She just knew she didn’t like what was there.

“I just felt like I wasn’t doing my green-thumb family members any justice and wanted to start from scratch,” Jaimie said, referring to the beautiful yards kept by her mother and grandmother.

Jaimie and her husband, Ryan Timm, now have a plan and state funding to recreate and possibly expand that spot into a plot of native flowers and plants. They are one of 31 local applicants to get Lawns to Legumes funding approved by the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources to start a “pocket prairie,” a small, pollinator-friendly planting of native plants.

This month, BWSR selected 2,000 Minnesota residents to get grants through Lawns to Legumes, which has led to about 3,000 planting projects in previous years across the state. All but three of the 31 local grants are in the City of Austin. Two are just outside of town; one is in the City of Brownsdale.

With the grants, residents are reimbursed for up to $350 in costs related to planting pollinator habitat in their yards. Grant recipients, who also get access to workshops, coaching opportunities and gardening resources, are required to give a 25 percent match by purchasing materials, hiring contractors or spending in-kind time planting and maintaining their project.

Another 84 applicants from Mower County, mostly from Austin, did not get funding this round but there’s optimism that the state Legislature will approve more funding this session for Lawns to Legumes.

Austin and its surrounding area became a priority area for Lawns to Legumes thanks to the discovery of the rusty patched bumble bee a few years ago in the southwest Austin backyard of Luke Reese, director of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

Jessica Bulman, conservation technician for Mower Soil & Water Conservation District, said it was great to see the large, overall number of local applicants to the program.

BWSR partners with Metro Blooms and Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water to run Lawns to Legumes, which is funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Lawns to Legumes, which already is accepting new applications for fall, seeks to combat declining pollinator populations by creating new habitat and habitat corridors that provide food sources and nesting space for pollinators. Minnesota is home to about 500 native bee species.

All Minnesota residents also now have free access to Blue Thumb’s online learning series – www.bluethumb.org – that offers two courses: Resilient Yards and Turf Alternatives. New, live workshops also will be added throughout the spring.

Pollinators also include moths, beetles and native flies. All play a key role in pollinating many food crops and native plants but pollinator populations have declined greatly worldwide in recent years. This can be attributed to habitat loss and lack of related nutrition for pollinators as well as pesticide use and pathogens.

Many types of fruit trees are good food sources for bees. Many fruiting varieties also need bees to produce fruit.

For the Timms, they have helped support pollinators by caring for raspberries and two plum trees in their yard.

Ryan Timm, a teacher at Austin’s Southgate Elementary School, also worked in spring 2022 with his fourth-grade class on a student-led project to plant a community orchard along a public bike trail a few blocks south of Skinners Hill. They planted two apple trees, one plum tree and one apricot tree for the project that was featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

 “Ryan would like nothing better than to have the entire yard filled with fruit trees so anything that we can do to help the local bee population and improve the pollination efforts was an easy decision,” Jaimie said of Lawns to Legumes.

She expects their daughters, Hailey, age 8, and Lucy, age 5, to be involved with their pocket prairie. The girls are interested in flowers and have looked through the Lawns to Legumes plant list to help their parents plan the pocket prairie.