Submitted by: Billy Allen



As a child, I remember my father’s uncle and aunt being early risers and working in their Casa Blanca garden. Ka:k keli’s prize was ha:l mammad (baby squash). I helped too—working the garden was training for farming: laying canvas across the vaika, digging “gates” to direct the water, changing water to the next row. 


Historically, O’otham farmers grew abundant crops. Their success helped others too, like our Tohono O’odham hahajun/cousins, Spanish explorers, and missionaries, then the early-day Beverly Hillbillies headed to California to find gold in “them thar hills.” Nowadays, seems like large-scale farming in our community is mostly for animal feed. 


So, I wondered are we still home gardeners? We put the question out on Facebook and some GRIC members responded with a loud, HA’O or HEU’U! I enjoyed learning their experiences as they shared the “sweat of their brow.” Maybe these GRIC gardeners can be “influencers” and encourage more of us to grow our own way.  


Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” – Rudyard Kipling, famous author.


From about the age of 7, Clinton Kalka helped his father prepare, plant, and maintain the family garden in Upper Santan. Almost sixty years later, the youthful gardener is still at it. Basic plants included summer O’otham melons, squash, and ha:l mammad. Clinton follows himdag by sharing his bounty. Clinton was also taught to keep an eye on the water. Allowing water to overflow or go beyond the garden was/is a big no no. 


Gardening is a humbling experience. –Martha Stewart, lifestyle expert and Snoop Dog’s pal or navoj. 


Ya gotta love technology! Facebook inspired Lana Allen to start a garden. Photos of potatoes, squash, pumpkins, chiles, strawberries must’ve made her really hungry. Her inspiration became a family project—some did the actual garden work, while others made lunch to power them on. 


First efforts of green beans, carrots, and eggplant didn’t fare well, but when sunflowers opened up, it was a heartfelt reward. There were other humbling setbacks like when gophers feasted on all the young sprouts. Heartfelt became heartbreak, but sitting in the shade wasn’t on the agenda, pia/no. They replanted watermelon and squash. Diligence was upped, checking for ants and various bugs, particularly underneath squash leaves. Getting out there early in the morning was challenging, but serenading birds brought smiles. 


 “It’s a learning experience, so be prepared for anything,” Lana said. Her best advice may sound discouraging — “not all plants will survive,” so her experience this year is moving her to use containers for some plants next time, and to plant more squash. Lana added, “Having your own food at your backdoor and knowing there are no chemicals or pesticides in your veggies was extremely satisfying.” 


“Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning.” – Helen Mirren, British actress and Academy Award winner.   


Angel Marie Blaine’s wosk/vosk sparked an interest in agribusiness. She didn’t know much about gardens, but wanted to grow some of her own food. Taking advantage of free O’odham seeds from Native Seeds of Tucson, she began by potting plants early in the year. Early spring, she dug up the ground allowing the sun to warm up the soil. Jegos — NOT “monsoon” —arrived with nourishing rainwater that softened the soil. A three-sister planting method was used with O’odham corn, tepary beans, and squash. Sunflowers, cucumbers, watermelon, and gourds added color. As blossoms opened, winged helpers— bees and butterflies—came to assist. Soon family began to help and the work became therapeutic. Another bonus was having her children learn living cultural/agricultural history.


If veteran gardener Clinton and rookies Lana and Angel have you thinking about starting a garden, December would be a good time to get your soil ready for spring. Three other gardeners will drop more knowledge in the next GRIN. Stay tuned.