Community garden takes root

Formerly unused land at a Dunedin school has been turned into a productive community garden. Gillian Vine reports.

In 2010, the board of trustees of North East Valley Normal School raised the possibility of turning an underutilised part of the school grounds into a community garden.

Residents formed a steering committee, which gained formal permission from the Ministry of Education in February 2011. The ministry gave the group an initial five-year lease with a rolling arrangement that should see the deal continuing for as long as the community garden operates. Then a grant was obtained from the Ministry of Health through its Healthy Eating: Healthy Action (Heha) campaign.

''And away it went,'' says volunteer Richard Tozer, described by one group member as ''the grunt behind it all''.

On the flat area above the school where the garden was to go there had been a principal's house, but it burned down some 60 years ago and the ground was grassed and kept mowed.

Because of concerns that there might be lead paint and other residues, the soil was tested but no unseen nasties were found.

However, there was another issue that needed to be tackled before planting could begin: although the site looks level, it actually is a shallow basin that drains very slowly so drainage was a priority.

This was achieved mainly by digging ditches around the garden and, so the soil would not be soggy, raising beds by edging them with railway sleepers. The group bought the sleepers but other materials were donated.

''The drive was put in by generous contractors and Logan Park Quarries, a lovely gift,'' Mr Tozer says. ''Then we scrounged a lot of soil and compost and stuff like that.''

The school had a shed that was surplus to requirements and advertising in a local newspaper brought in offers of two more sheds, both given without charge.

Members refurbished the sheds and now they house garden tools, some of the 1400 heads of garlic harvested this season and seeds for next year.

Another generous gift, this one from Kraft, was the tunnel house, now chock-full of tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, chillies and a tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), the latter a Mexican plant related to the cape gooseberry.

Fruit trees on a bank were planted by members of Transition Valley 473, which also maintains them.

''They're thriving,'' Mr Tozer says of the trees.

The community garden has a couple of fruit trees of its own, an olive and an apricot.

The olive, awkwardly placed by the drive, was wrenched, cut back and moved to the southwest corner where it seems to have settled in well near a busy beehive. It is thought the olive was given to the school to mark some occasion but no record exists. Perhaps a former staff member or pupil could shed light on this, Mr Tozer says.

The apricot tree was grown from a stone by a migrant from Vietnam, Thuan Lam, who owned a fish and chip shop in North Rd. When he sold the shop, he offered the tree to the community garden and it was brought in on a front-end loader.

Thuan Lam described the tree as being rather like his move from Vietnam - putting down roots in one place, then moving to another and putting down fresh roots.

The garden is run on organic principles, without the use of chemicals and weeds from the well-tended beds composted and returned to the soil.

The outdoor plots are now in full production with 600 or 700 leeks, kale, rhubarb, cabbages, cauliflowers (including purple and orange-headed varieties), corn, oka (yams), parsnips, runner beans and strawberries all thriving. Onions and leeks are being left to seed to provide seed for next season.

Weekend sessions keep the gardens in tip-top order. Helpers take home produce and surplus is shared with school families and others.

What is remarkable is how such a young garden has become so productive so quickly, a tribute to the large group involved and an inspiration to others wanting to start a community garden.

 

  From this . . . The Northeast Valley Community Garden site in March 2011. Right: The garden gets under way. The olive tree (foreground) is believed to have been presented to the school some years ago.

PHOTOS: SUPPLIED/GILLIAN VINE

Garden takes root
INSPIRATION FROM SOUTH AUSTRALIA
To this . . . Dunedin Vegetable Club and NEV Community Garden members chat over a cuppa during the club's visit to the garden last Saturday.

Undercover crop . . . Tomatoes, courgettes and chillies in the tunnel house.

Young worker . . . Shayden Mercer (8) does his bit at a working bee.

 

In 2010, the board of trustees of North East Valley Normal School raised the possibility of turning an underutilised part of the school grounds into a community garden.

Residents formed a steering committee, which gained formal permission from the Ministry of Education in February 2011. The ministry gave the group an initial five-year lease with a rolling arrangement that should see the deal continuing for as long as the community garden operates. Then a grant was obtained from the Ministry of Health through its Healthy Eating: Healthy Action (Heha) campaign.

''And away it went,'' says volunteer Richard Tozer, described by one group member as ''the grunt behind it all''.

On the flat area above the school where the garden was to go there had been a principal's house, but it burned down some 60 years ago and the ground was grassed and kept mowed.

Because of concerns that there might be lead paint and other residues, the soil was tested but no unseen nasties were found.

However, there was another issue that needed to be tackled before planting could begin: although the site looks level, it actually is a shallow basin that drains very slowly so drainage was a priority.

This was achieved mainly by digging ditches around the garden and, so the soil would not be soggy, raising beds by edging them with railway sleepers. The group bought the sleepers but other materials were donated.

''The drive was put in by generous contractors and Logan Park Quarries, a lovely gift,'' Mr Tozer says. ''Then we scrounged a lot of soil and compost and stuff like that.''

The school had a shed that was surplus to requirements and advertising in a local newspaper brought in offers of two more sheds, both given without charge.

Members refurbished the sheds and now they house garden tools, some of the 1400 heads of garlic harvested this season and seeds for next year.

Another generous gift, this one from Kraft, was the tunnel house, now chock-full of tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, chillies and a tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), the latter a Mexican plant related to the cape gooseberry.

Fruit trees on a bank were planted by members of Transition Valley 473, which also maintains them.

''They're thriving,'' Mr Tozer says of the trees.

The community garden has a couple of fruit trees of its own, an olive and an apricot.

The olive, awkwardly placed by the drive, was wrenched, cut back and moved to the southwest corner where it seems to have settled in well near a busy beehive. It is thought the olive was given to the school to mark some occasion but no record exists. Perhaps a former staff member or pupil could shed light on this, Mr Tozer says.

The apricot tree was grown from a stone by a migrant from Vietnam, Thuan Lam, who owned a fish and chip shop in North Rd. When he sold the shop, he offered the tree to the community garden and it was brought in on a front-end loader.

Thuan Lam described the tree as being rather like his move from Vietnam - putting down roots in one place, then moving to another and putting down fresh roots.

The garden is run on organic principles, without the use of chemicals and weeds from the well-tended beds composted and returned to the soil.

The outdoor plots are now in full production with 600 or 700 leeks, kale, rhubarb, cabbages, cauliflowers (including purple and orange-headed varieties), corn, oka (yams), parsnips, runner beans and strawberries all thriving. Onions and leeks are being left to seed to provide seed for next season.

Weekend sessions keep the gardens in tip-top order. Helpers take home produce and surplus is shared with school families and others.

What is remarkable is how such a young garden has become so productive so quickly, a tribute to the large group involved and an inspiration to others wanting to start a community garden.