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Gardening: Cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes

One of the best times of the year is here:  the cherry tomatoes are coming on, little bits of ruby red jewels, sun-ripened and sweet, like candy from heaven.  I grew them myself and will demolish them myself, the harvest being slight from only six pots, but worth every little savory sensation.  The six plants were the only survivors of about a hundred I started back in March -it’s harder than you’d think to start tomatoes from seeds. I guess a greenhouse, rather than a small apartment would be in order.

Even though some don’t believe it, the Northern Cheyenne were once traditionally gardeners.  That was during the time they were slowly transitioning from the Great Lakes Area (yep, they were then fishermen too), staying for some time near the Mandan-Hidatsa Tribes, who were and still are great gardeners.  Then, the Cheyenne would plant the “three sisters”, corn, squash and beans, hardy plants that could withstand human absence or care while the people went on short hunting trips onto the Plains.

Of course, once the Cheyenne became full-fledged hunting nomads, constantly moving in pursuit of the buffalo, it became impossible for impractical to continue gardening, favoring the collection and preservation of wild plants and berries instead.  Perhaps because we are enamored of the Plains Culture, many Cheyenne no longer garden and indeed, some young people, not knowing any better, think it is beneath those of the warrior status

I beg to differ. Once the Cheyenne were placed on the Reservation, they had to stay in one place, many of their allotments, out in the country with a nearby water source and available land.  In the early reservation era, indeed until well up into the 70’s, there were many prolific Cheyenne gardeners.  One of them who is still going with a huge annual crop is Linwood Tallbull, a warrior is there ever was one. He even cans and shares the bounty.

As a child, my grandmothers ever had large gardens and flowers growing everywhere.  One of my first jobs was weeding and hoeing in the garden, once even stepping on a nest of baby rattlesnakes which were quickly sent on to garden heaven by a heavy hoe.  At that time, I was not a big fan of gardening until later in the summertime when I and a host of unruly cousins would raid the gardens for ripe watermelons, cantaloupes, fresh sweet peas and ‘maters.

Unfortunately, gardening for both fun and sustenance has fallen off among the Northern Cheyenne. Some of that may be due to the HUD housing sites, which barely provide space for a little lawn, let alone a garden.  Yet, hope is on the horizon: several local organizations such as the Prayer Lodge, 4H clubs etc. are promoting that with community garden spots, seeds and starter plants etc.  The more fresh produce we eat, the better, especially that primarily free of pesticides etc.

In the past, especially when married, I had a one-acre garden.  It is amazing how healthy and plentiful weeds are. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, there is no need to go that big.  After that, going through my career-driven nomad phase, often living in big cities, gardening was no longer practical, neither space or timewise.

But now during my retirement, I am a gardener again, though still somewhat space challenged. My landlord did allot me a small space where 23 pots of beautiful flowers, including a seven-foot sunflower started from a seed are brightening up both the neighborhood and my frame of mind.  And, the hardy little tomato survivors are doing well too.

Gardening has many benefits keeps you physically active, provides a purpose every day, for how would you like to be responsible for killing a beautiful plant, dependent upon you for water, fertilizer, etc. There is something about deadheading flowers, kneeling in the dirt, feeling the sunshine on your back, neck and face and getting dirt under your nails which must be healthy, both physically and spiritually.

Here is a quote to that effect by Luther Burbank, a famous gardener: “Flowers always make people feel better; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.”


(Clara Caufield can be reached at

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