Though the name "solar garden" can be a bit misleading, the arrays erected in the Detroit Lakes industrial park will soon be surrounded by native grasses and forb plants, courtesy of a joint project between Detroit Lakes Public Utilities (DLPU) and the Becker Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD).
Workers from the Becker SWCD and the City of Detroit Lakes were busy this past week, preparing the soil and planting 1.4 acres of seed around the city's two solar arrays, located at 1426 Terry St.
According to the Becker SWCD's Marsha Watland, these particular varieties of grass and plant seed were chosen in order to provide habitat for the region's population of pollinators - those species of insects and animals that naturally provide assistance to certain types of plants in their reproductive cycles, like bees, butterflies, moths, wasps and beetles, as well as bats and birds.
"It's not just honey bees (that are pollinators)," Watland said - in fact, honey bees are not native to this part of Minnesota, although they can be bred here, she added. Bees native to this region are mainly of the ground-nesting variety.
DLPU General Manager Vernell Roberts says the pollinator project was the brainchild of Watland and his department's former energy services specialist, Josh Mason.
"Josh and Marsha put the grant application together," Roberts said.
Though the labor and equipment necessary to prepare the site for seeding were provided by the city's public works department, he explained, the equipment and seeds needed for planting were not.
Watland said the seed was provided by the local chapter of Pheasants Forever, at no cost to the city or SWCD. "That's about $1,600 worth of seed we're getting, free of charge," she added.
However, the equipment needed for the planting had to be rented from the nearby Otter Tail SWCD, which is where the grant funding kicked in.
"I worked with BWSR (the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources) on that," she said, adding that the Minnesota BWSR has developed a Solar Site Pollinator Habitat program.
To qualify, the applicant fills out a Solar Site Pollinator Habitat Assessment form, which is used for project planning purposes. "We're using their (BWSR) guidelines, and meeting all the requirements for that," Watland added.
She said that it will take about two years - give or take, depending on weather conditions - for the site to reach its full potential and "really start to look nice."
Roberts said that when Mason first approached him about the idea of a pollinator habitat on the solar garden site, he felt it would be "a good fit" for the city's renewable energy program.
"It makes sense to do something that's environmentally friendly there (for landscaping)," he added. "And it's low maintenance, which is great for us."
Watland added that the specific varieties of native grass and forb plants chosen to seed the site were selected to help pollinators in different stages of development.
"It's a really neat project," she said.