The Educational Garden at the Niobrara Conservation District Learning Center

JK/Kindergarten learning about the life cycle of a plant. Photo Heidi Sturman

With the coming of the cold temperatures, comes the winterizing of the Niobrara Conservation District Educational Garden.  The NCD has established an educational garden at their Learning Center in the Business Park. This garden includes raised beds, plowed ground, a pollinator garden and an insect hotel for pollinators.  This season the garden; was started by the kids in the After-School Program, supplied produce to at least 2 families/week for 8 weeks (through DFS), supplied produce to the Sr. Center for use/distribution, hosted the Cloverbuds 4H group, 3 classes of school kids and numerous local visitors from town.
Including both raised beds and plowed ground in the garden allows us to plant a large variety of produce plants for the kids to experience.  The list this year included; corn, melons, 2 varieties of pumpkins, winter squash, 2 varieties of summer squash, gourds, several tomato varieties, broccoli, 3 cucumber varieties, beans, green onions, 2 varieties of carrots, radishes, peppers, tomatillos, potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Sunflowers and other annuals are planted among the vegetables to attract beneficial insects to the garden for pollination and control of damaging insects.  This fall we are planting a garden cover crop once the vegetables are done for the season.  This is a mix of plants that will add nutrients and organic matter back into the soil when tilled in this spring.  This will help build the health and structure of the garden soil naturally.
The work in garden actually begins in late winter when the kids in the After-School Program learn about plants/plant needs, planting and growing the starter plants.  These plants are then transplanted to the garden later in the spring.  During the growing season we have local visitors tour the garden watching the progress.  As the harvest comes in, the produce is picked and packaged for delivery to the Department of Family Services (DFS). The DFS staff then distributes the produce to local families.  The garden supplied produce for at least 2 families a week from the middle of August to the 2nd week in October.  Additional produce is delivered to the Sr. Center for use and distribution among the senior citizens attending there.  The 4H Cloverbuds used the garden as a learning opportunity to “Pay it Forward”.  The kids toured the garden learning about the plants as they harvested the produce, then cleaned, packaged and delivered the produce to DFS.  The Jr. Kindergarten, Kindergarten and Lance Creek School classes came and spent a morning rotating through sessions related to; the plant life cycle, what parts of the plant do we eat, digging potatoes and investigating in the garden.  This field trip was a chance to see the pollinators “in action” that they had learned about a couple of weeks earlier with the Conservation District in the school.
The Insect Hotel at the garden is an “upcycled” trunk to provide various habitats for beneficial insects to overwinter at the garden.  The hotel was completed last spring by the kids in the After-School Program as they learned about insects and pollination.  You may have seen the Hotel in “The Winners Circle” at the Niobrara County Fair.  The District is looking forward to beginning the planning for the After-School Program and the educational garden for the next year!

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