It’s mid-March and the 45 participants in the Oyate Teca Project’s Medicine Root gardening program on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation have been planning out their gardens for several weeks, including where on their property will they locate it, what vegetables and fruits they will want to plant, and in what numbers.
Throughout February, the students have been developing their planting schedule, understanding how to plant their seeds, companion planting, reviewing their garden plan and conducting seed germination tests.
During the first two weeks of March they made soil blocks for starting seeds, toured Oyate Teca’s greenhouse where they learned about lighting, heat, and taking care of their seedlings, as well as attending two classes in financial literacy.
“They have worked on their garden plants, what they want to grow for their family and if they were going to sell for the farmer’s market,” reported Oyate Teca director Rose Fraser, a member of the Running Strong for American Indian Youth® field staff on the reservation.
After reviewing the class’s gardening plans, Rose said “Everyone wants to grow tomatoes, onions, peppers, potatoes, corn, green beans, snap peas, watermelons, and summer and winter squash. Some are going to grow herbs, a few will have flowers.
Head gardener Doug Pourier has started some lettuce, spinach, broccoli, radishes and cauliflower and will be starting more plants soon in the greenhouse.
“We are eating the lettuce and spinach from those trays,” commented Rose.
The classes follow what is known as the Mittleider system for gardening which takes a very structured, scientific approach to gardening factoring in “The Six Laws of Plant Growth” which include light, temperature, air, water, nutrition and competition in order to produce higher yields per square foot than traditional gardening methods.
Rose noted that this spring Doug will be attending a boot camp training course to become a certified Mittleider master gardener.
“As the presenter for the class, I find it very rewarding to see the students interact with one another, sharing and just talking amongst each other… listening to the passion each one has sharing their successes and failures.”
Although Rose has been organizing this class for the past several years, she is always open to suggestions from the attendees who this year told her they would like to take more field trips such as a visit to a small farm on the reservation, a grow house they’ve heard of about two hours away in Alliance, Nebraska, and the Black Hills Farmer’s Market in Rapid City together as a group.
This year, with the past successes, she is considering the possibility of creating a co-op, saying, “We need to have our own co-op truck so we can purchase compost and mulch by the tons.”
And for Rose, it never gets old for her as she welcomes a new class of budding gardeners year after year.
“You can hear the excitement for another year of growing,” says Rose. “It’s great, I love it.”