Opportunities bloom in 4-HWORTHINGTON — Ecological awareness and educational opportunities are growing along with the native prairie sage, meadow rose and yarrow in the prairie garden at the Don and Lorna Buntjer farm, thanks to the efforts of the Ocheda Beavers 4-H Club.
WORTHINGTON — Ecological awareness and educational opportunities are growing along with the native prairie sage, meadow rose and yarrow in the prairie garden at the Don and Lorna Buntjer farm, thanks to the efforts of the Ocheda Beavers 4-H Club.
The Ocheda Beavers and Dan Livdahl, district administrator of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed, worked together to plant the garden on May 8, and since then the prairie flowers have taken root and blossomed into a riot of green leaves, healthy blooms and sweet scents.
“We learned how to take care of the plants and how to treat them,” said Andy Lira, 11, one of the Ocheda Beavers who helped plant the garden. “… It’s kind of like taking care of a pet.”
Planting native grasses and flowers can help improve water quality as well as provide habitat for wildlife. The project will help educate the Ocheda Beavers and visitors to the garden about what native prairie flowers look like, how they grow and what benefits they have for both wildlife and people.
In the wild, none of the 16 varieties of prairie flowers would be labeled, but in the prairie garden on the Buntjer property, each flower’s name is posted. The Ocheda Beavers have already learned to identify compass plants, milk vetch and the aromatic prairie sage, among others.
The selection of flowers was made based on the type of soil as well as what plants would be most suitable for a garden.
“We’re happy to work with agricultural associations (such as 4-H) in areas that will get people appreciating these practices that will also promote good water quality,” Livdahl said. “We believe a part of the landscape needs to remain as grasses, shrubs and wetlands in order to protect water quality and stabilize shorelines.”
Every week, one of the eight families in the Ocheda Beavers 4-H Club comes to the garden to pull out weeds, water the plants, add mulch and ensure all the flowers are healthy.
“It’s hard work,” commented Alyssa Lira, 9, one of the Ocheda Beavers working on the project.
When the flowers mature, the students will collect their seeds, which will then be planted on watershed property or Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land.
The Beavers and Livdahl also worked together July 17 to build eight wood duck houses and 10 bluebird houses, which will serve as wildlife habitat in the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed area.
The birdhouses are made of cedar lumber, with metal poles donated by Les Johnson. Marv Rall of Pheasants Forever cut all the wood prior to the project so students just had to assemble the birdhouses with simple tools.
“It’s fun to tap the nails in,” Alyssa said of her work on the birdhouses.
“It’s kind of difficult, but it’s enjoyable,” Andy replied.
Chad and Hunter Buntjer, also members of the Ocheda Beavers, agreed.
“That was very, very fun,” Hunter said, though he wasn’t certain the birds would go for the new homes or not.
“Wood ducks were part of our prairie landscape, but with people’s tendency to cut down dead trees… we don’t have natural nesting for them,” Livdahl said.
The project went very smoothly, thanks to a shady spot for working, volunteers Les Johnson, Brad Wehr and parents of the Ocheda Beavers.
So far, two bluebird houses and one wood duck house have been placed in Lake Bella Park. The others may be given to the 4-H’ers, who would have to be responsible for clearing out old nests each year so new birds could move in. They may also be placed around Lake Ocheda or in other bird-friendly locations.
Together, the two projects cost $1,000, with $600 in funding coming from the Minnesota 4-H Foundation, $100 from the watershed, $100 from the Pheasants Forever of Nobles County and $200 from the Ocheda Beavers.
“So many kids today don’t get out of the house. This is taking ownership and getting out of the house” said Julie Buntjer, co-leader of the Ocheda Beavers. “That’s the reward, seeing the kids take some pride, take some ownership in the project. … I see them learning.”