How’s it growing in Humboldt?

With a new director, the Humboldt Garden School is exploding with vegetables, fruit and flowers. Local preschoolers are attending classes to learn about where food comes from. It's a good start, but for Diana Holmes, it's just the beginning.

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July 8, 2022 - 2:52 PM

Diana Holmes, director of the Humboldt Garden School, has been teaching preschoolers how to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. The Growing Place students started growing sunflowers, then transplanted them into the garden. The sunflowers are now taller than the students, and some are even taller than Holmes. Photo by Vickie Moss

HUMBOLDT — Oh, what a difference a few months can make. 

In April, the Humboldt Garden School looked inviting and bright — but bare. Wood planting boxes contained only dirt. A small garden cottage stood pristine, with nary a smudge.

Now, the garden is teeming with life and delightfully “smudgy.” 

Butterflies and bees flit from flower to flower. 

Vines wrap around wood and wire trellises, sprouting gourds, beans and peas.

Tomato and pepper plants hang heavy. Herbs crawl over each other. The potatoes are nearly ready for digging.

Squash bugs feast on a bounty of leaves and stalks. Rabbits take advantage of the free buffet. 

And every so often, groups of preschoolers come to the garden to learn about fruits and vegetables. They staked their names next to sunflower plants, watching the stalks grow above their heads and burst into brilliant yellow, red, orange and brown blooms. 

The Humboldt Garden School. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
The Humboldt Garden School in April. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
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SUCH is the vision Diana Holmes had in mind when she took over as director of the community garden earlier this year and renamed it the Humboldt Garden School.

It’s been a learning experience not only for the children, but also Holmes. 

“The weather is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’m not used to Kansas weather,” Holmes said.

She’s a native of Ireland and a former Californian who moved to Humboldt in June 2021 to be closer to her daughter and son-in-law, Alana and Paul Cloutier. 

The “pizza garden” is where pizza ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers and basil are grown. The flowers help keep insects from munching on the herbs and vegetables. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
The Humboldt Garden School pizza garden in April. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
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Holmes has practiced gardening all of her life, but never on the scale of the Humboldt garden. 

“I’m getting lots of lessons on what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “Everything has grown really well. I’m excited about that. It does meet my expectations.”

She planted quite a variety of vegetables. The zucchini was attacked by some sort of squash bug that killed the plants. Every day, she checks the squash for bugs. Those plants are struggling a bit.

She plans to install cameras to find out what sort of critter has been stealing tomatoes. She finds discarded green baby tomatoes all over the garden. 

She hasn’t seen as many bees, caterpillars or butterflies as expected. They can be cyclical, someone told her. Maybe next year.

Nova Eaton, a preschool student with The Growing Place, visits the garden. Courtesy photo
Jensen Carlson, a preschooler with The Growing Place in Humboldt, helps plant a tiny sunflower. Courtesy photo
Wyatt Wall checks out strawberry plants. Courtesy photo
A child waters a sunflower plant. Courtesy photo
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So far, the garden has welcomed students from The Growing Place preschool and a local daycare. An outdoor classroom is ideal for lessons, but most of the visits have been more hands-on. Students helped plant some items for the garden school, particularly the sunflowers, and enjoy checking their progress.

It can be challenging to wrangle 14 preschoolers at one time. They have a short attention span, so she tries to keep the lessons short. 

For example, she played a “Find the fairy” game where she hid a tiny character in one of the vegetable boxes, and gave clues to direct the students to the right box. 

A bee checks out one of the flowers in the pollinator garden.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

The important thing is to introduce them to a love of gardening, to help them develop a lifelong appreciation for where food comes from. 

Next week, local beekeeper and Humboldt City Administrator Cole Herder will bring an “observation hive” to show students. That’s a small glass box filled with a small section of honeycomb, so the students can learn about the home life of bees. 

“The kids get so excited” about their gardening lessons.

“Sometimes when I’m at the grocery store, one of them will see me and call me ‘The Garden Lady.’ They bring their mothers to see the sunflowers.”

Soon, the students will help her dig up potatoes.

When vegetables are ready for harvest, Holmes gives the produce to The Growing Place. Students can literally enjoy the fruits of their labor.

So far, they’ve harvested lettuce and cucumbers. 

Diana Holmes points out flowers in the pollinator garden.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

AND THOUGH the garden’s inaugural year has proven a success, Holmes has even bigger plans for next year.

Working with A Bolder Humboldt, Holmes has applied for a grant that would allow the garden to continue and expand next year. 

If successful, the grant would allow for construction of a windmill and solar panels that could power water pumps. It also could help pay for teachers to offer more classes, such as to the community.

Holmes wants to involve more children, perhaps by working with Humboldt schools. 

Though Holmes and other adults planted most of the garden this year, she would like to see kids get involved in every aspect.

The garden’s explosion of growth has attracted a lot of interest from residents and passers-by. 

“When people stop by, I tell them to come on in. It’s your garden.”

The garden is located at 13th and Pecan streets in Humboldt. 

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