SHIPROCK — Armed with plastic bags stuffed with newspapers, attendees at the Yéego Gardening workshop on Wednesday hunted for prairie dog holes.

More than 30 holes were blocked by the bags and then covered with dirt. And then the holes were fumigated with aluminum phosphide tablets in an attempt to eradicate a colony of prairie dogs that lives on an acre of land across the Healing Circle Drop-In Center in Shiprock.

The area is also home to a community garden planted in May with corn, squash and tomatoes.

The problems prairie dogs cause and how to control them was the focus of Wednesday's second session of Yéego Gardening, which is being presented this summer in Shiprock and Crownpoint as part of a project by New Mexico State University and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Lanley Harvey, a summer intern student from San Juan College who is helping with the Yéego Gardening workshops, holds aluminum phosphide pills on Wednesday
Lanley Harvey, a summer intern student from San Juan College who is helping with the Yéego Gardening workshops, holds aluminum phosphide pills on Wednesday at the Healing Circle Drop-In Center in Shiprock. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

The workshops present information to community members so they can develop a better understanding of gardening and how to either start their own gardens or establish gardens in the community, said Desiree Deschenie, an agriculture research assistant with the project.

Another focus of Yéego Gardening is to promote growing fresh fruits and vegetables on the Navajo Nation, Deschenie said.

Jeannie Benally, an extension agent with the University of Arizona's cooperative extension office in Shiprock, presented Wednesday's workshop.

"In this case, we are trying to get rid of these prairie dogs because they are doing damage," Benally said, adding a similar method was used a few years ago to control the prairie dog population at the Shiprock Chapter house.

She also talked about the habitats, food habits and biology of prairie dogs, as well as the damage they can cause to vegetation.

Prairie dogs prefer areas of low vegetation and openness because they communicate by seeing each other, she said, explaining if there are tall plants, then they cannot converse.

"They don't know fences," she said when talking about control methods.

According to Deschenie, each workshop is taught by a member of the extension offices from NMSU, Arizona State University, Diné College and the University of Arizona.

Workshop topics were formed by focus groups, who requested classes that center on soil building, pest control and developing drop irrigation systems, Deschenie said.

Lanley Harvey is a summer intern student from San Juan College who is helping with the project.

Harvey, along with another intern, conducted a survey to identify the biggest burdens for gardening in the Southwest.

"Majority of the participants answered that 'prairie dogs' and 'pests' were that main concerns and the biggest barrier for gardening, so this workshop does tie into that," Harvey said.

The next class will be about drip irrigation. The class is at 10 a.m. on Aug. 8 at the community garden located near the Healing Circle Drop-In Center in Shiprock.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.