The Badlands are known for their dramatic rock formations and soaring spiers – not so much for their fertile soil.
The Badlands’ unique terrain is referenced in the name itself, historically referring to the rocky terrain, lack of water, and extreme temperatures.
For Nancy Horton, an avid gardener and retired nutritionist, the terrain was no obstacle. Your green thumb has managed to spring from the soil of Badlands life for the past 40 years.
Horton has worked near the Badlands since she’s lived there—since 1980. Her garden produces everything from tomatoes, broccoli, and onions to what she calls her soul garden, where she plants flowers to “feed her soul.” .
Flowers don’t usually grow well in the badlands, Horton said, so she chooses ones that do. One of her favorites is called “Four O’Clock”, named after its heyday, also known as the Miracle of Peru.
While flowers feed her soul, vegetables feed her belly, and she has managed to thrive in the soil of the badlands. This year alone, their offerings include lettuce, spinach, potatoes, onions, peas, green beans, carrots, Swiss chard, sweetcorn, summer squash, winter squash, cucumber, broccoli, watermelon, green peppers, tomatoes and celery.
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The planning process begins in winter, with a seed catalog usually arriving in December. The catalog, she said, is a good place to gather ideas and “get your head spinning.” She compares what she planted last year with what she wants this year, along with the layout of the garden.
“You don’t want to plant the same thing in the same spot every year,” she said. If it’s something she likes to eat, she will plant it. Except for okra – which she plants for the beautiful flowers.
Once she has tilled her seeds, she will till the garden – usually once in the fall and once in the spring.
The planting season can start as early as April, with harvest starting as early as May and in some cases lasting as late as December. Between planting and harvesting, Horton tends. This includes pulling weeds and protecting the plants from the area’s unique elemental dangers.
Frost is always a problem for gardeners in South Dakota, but in the Badlands the wind presents an additional obstacle. Horton combats the high winds by using cages that she covers with garbage bags.
She also uses rugs to protect herself from weeds and puts down blankets when a frost comes.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of gardening in the Badlands, however, is the soil. Horton has a good spot by a creek, but she’s still doing what she’s doing to improve the soil. She brings better soil, which she usually gets from composted hay and straw.
“I bring it in and just stack it,” she said.
Raised in Armor, gardening has been a part of Horton’s life since childhood. She grew up on a farm and helped her mother in the garden.
She said she’s always loved tomatoes, she said. And weeding.
“A lot of people don’t like pulling weeds, but I like it because you can definitely see that you’ve made progress,” Horton said.
She also had the joy of watching her four children continue with the gardening skills they had learned from her. Even her husband Rick gets involved, diverting the hot water from their deep well so it’s cool by the time it reaches their backyard.
“It’s pretty neat,” she said.
While Horton has been exposed to gardening her entire life, she broadened her gardening knowledge about 20 years ago when she completed a master’s gardening course at South Dakota State University Extension.
The program included a commitment to service by volunteering her time as a resource for gardening issues.
“It was just wonderful and they know so much and I loved everything,” she said, recommending the course to anyone interested in gardening.
Gardening has fed Horton’s soul, mouth and even her calling. As a Registered Dietitian, she said gardening influenced her professional endeavors.
“Because I like food,” she laughs. “I like everything to do with food. And so of course I know that fresh is always better.”
The benefits of gardening are stacked for Horton — in addition to feeding her soul and mouth, she gets to be outside and it’s “great exercise.” She would also tell you that it teaches patience — something she claims is in short supply.
“But God shows me that every day,” Horton said.
There’s one thing Horton would tell anyone unfamiliar with gardening: “If you don’t plant, you won’t get anything.” The seeds don’t grow in the package, she said. “You’re discouraged and all — you still have to try.”
She will continue to fight the wind and pray for rain. Every year she says she won’t plant as much, but this year it isn’t. She even added fruit trees for apples and pears. She joked that her SDSU Master Gardner instructors said if you live in the Badlands you should just buy your fruit.
Not Nancy Horton. She prefers to work the badlands soil, nurture her body and soul, and do so for as long as possible.
– Contact Laura Heckmann at firstname.lastname@example.org –