A local food security and edible ecosystem organization is encouraging Winnipeggers to join them in learning how to plan and plant a garden that will yield successful harvests.

Ecosystem Solution Institute is an organization that aims to educate the public to use ecosystem-based solutions, meaning to make the most of underutilized space and to learn about the benefits of turning those spaces into edible ecosystems and at the same time promoting wellness and food security.

Vera Banias and Zach Loeks are the co-founders of ESI and created this institute during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Banias first knew of Loeks by reading his books and she really connected with his view of permaculture and market gardening. Banias was working on her own project and she met Loeks somewhere down the road.

"The interesting this is that I'm a real practitioner and I also do some day work for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and it's all related to food security and fisheries," says Banias. "So, when we combine our expertise, the passion really flows because I think a lot of people are now realizing how important it is. During COVID, we've had lots of lockdowns, and we've had supply chain issues. Those people really realize what their backyards could offer them or their cities could offer them in terms of food and we're here to help make that happen because we do projects. Zach does design and install, I do a lot of the back work on this school to help people be educated and learn how to do it themselves. Between the two of us, we've got quite a good thing going on here."

Banias says that it's important for people to know that there is support for them if they wish to learn how to grow a garden, ESI provides the information they need to receive the fundamentals of creating a successful garden. ESI is also putting an emphasis on local projects which makes this information easily accessible to the public.

"Lots of people like flowers and beautiful things in their gardens, so we talk about maybe using ones that are more edible. Violets, for example, you see lots of them in the spring because they're great in the cold, all of the violets are edible and they're a little sweet. One of the two species of phlox is edible and also kind of spicy. Nasturtiums that people plant are very spicy, it's like adding pepper...and they're gorgeous. One of the ones that I see commonly that people don't realize are edible are daylilies. So, there are all kinds of things you can put on your yard that will satisfy all these different needs that we have, you know, and it's just about looking at your goals and then having a little advice to kind of lead you through that and get you started on the right path."

Banias reveals that the entirety of daylilies is edible. She pickles the buds, but they can also be sliced and fried or deep-fried. The roots are edible as well, and she compares them to potatoes and says that the leaves can also be consumed.

Despite winter approaching quickly, Banias says that there are still measures that gardeners can do to tend to their crops.

"You can plant things that are easy to store. For example, we just brought in all of our squash and pumpkins and those will store here in the house well until January, or February if you treat them right, if you learn the skills, and store them properly. A lot of the things that you get out of your gardens can be either preserved in a certain way or kept in a certain way to really extend your harvest and those are also skills that we talk about. Planning for that, knowing how much you're going to grow and actually being able to predict through using like the date to maturity and actually technical information that comes on seeds to know when these are going to be ready so you can prepare for that and then preserve them properly."

There are also different techniques that Banias and Loeks teach, such as row covering to extend the beginning and the end of the season, frost-reducing spaces, and indoor gardening.

On October 22, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. ESI is offering a workshop in Winnipeg that focuses on garden and garden planning. It will be a three-hour session at 1390 Loudon Road. 

"The winter sometimes can be dreary, we're not thinking necessarily about gardening. It is the perfect time to plan for the next year and when you do it right the efficiency of your work goes up. So, planning in advance and learning the techniques, and how to read a seed packet so you know when your harvest is coming. You can now start to plan those things if you know those skills and that's the kind of thing we're going to go through at this workshop is how to plan that garden real tight. Then what kind of tools and techniques you need to really optimize whatever vegetable or fruit that you're going to want to grow."

To learn more about Ecosystem Solutions Institute, visit its website.