Sinte Gleska High Tunnel & Gardens
Sometimes, we don’t know how we get where we are. And sometimes the mysterious universe lands us in a place that feels like home. For Carmelita Sully, Director/Head Gardener/Brains behind the Sinte Gleska Gardens, Greenhouse, and High Tunnel – gardens feel like home. She is the youngest of fifteen children. Yes, they had a garden – so they could eat. In 2010, Carmelita was offered a job at the gardens as a helper. The director had a stroke the weekend before she was to start and so she took the project over. She hasn’t looked back.
On Sept. 7, 2019 Carmelita welcomed individuals interested in learning how to grow food. There are a number of growing methods featured on the site. The high tunnel is the newest addition.
Carmelita has invested in a new covering for the high tunnel called Solex, which is meant to be more durable. She has used half of a 600- foot roll on the high tunnel and the rest she plans to create small coverings or cold frames to extend the season for some of the raised beds. Tomatoes and peppers are presently in the high tunnel where she has the lower wall panels off to improve air ventilation. They will go back up when necessary.
The Sinte Gleska Gardens are also home to a greenhouse where 7,000 petunias and 20 – 30,000 plants in total are grown and sold throughout the reservation communities each spring.
The gardens include a large pumpkin patch, various raised beds with vegetables, herbs, horseradish, rhubarb and strawberries. A Botany class from Sinte Gleska has also started two incubator plots to grow a variety of cool weather vegetable varieties into the fall. There is a small fruit orchard and an area with herb plots, and a couple healthy strawberry beds which were recently divided. Bins are present with compost in various stages of decomposition. There is a melon and squash bed with two varieties of watermelons and cantaloupes, Lakota, Hubbard, and Acorn squash. Up the hill a large fenced-in raised bed area produces potatoes and cucumbers.
She does not weigh the amount of food going out. She does know that 30% of the food produced goes to students at Sinte Gleska University.
To keep things growing, she utilizes a natural fertilizer made up of fish emulsion. Each Friday is fertilizer day, where a small percentage of fish emulsion is added to water and each plant is given a drink. Everything is growing including a watermelon that looks to be around the 65-pound mark.
As participants ambled along through the tour, Carmelita handed out various vegetables: a tomato here, a purple carrot there, and cucumbers. Upon arriving at a picnic table in the shade, she carved up two small succulent cantaloupes to share with the group. When asked what she has learned in the nine years she has been doing the job, she replied, “Different plants need different things. Each year is different. Don’t trust the weatherman. Be organized.”
Carmelita is not alone in the growing process. She utilizes volunteers and interns from the community and the University. Eight interns and volunteers helped this season: Taima Valandra, Harley Redfish, Karita Marshall, Jess Stands, Christy Bruce, Sannita Blue Thunder, Oskate One Star, and Keshena One Star. Tavis Birdinground was Carmelita’s assistant for four and a half years, but left this summer to pursue her career in law enforcement following graduation.
Carmelita knew she was right where she needed to be when she learned the story of the irises that were on the Sinte Gleska University grounds in the plot near the bookstore. They were overgrown and that first year she offered to clean up the plot by dividing the bulbs to get things healthy again. Iris bulbs were handed out and given away. When she asked who had originally planted the irises. Someone just said, “some lady who worked here years ago.” But after the irises spread throughout the grounds and throughout the community, a friend told her it was her sister who had planted the irises. Her sister had gotten the irises from the garden of their mother. Both had died a number of years before. At that point she knew she was home and was meant to keep growing herself and the gardens at Sinte Gleska University.
We appreciate the vision embedded in the gardens and growing at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, SD. Food is being grown and so is the community. Thank you to Carmelita and all the students. Keep up the good work.