Community garden growing well

It is hard to imagine, just five months ago, there was not a single vegetable sprouting out of the ground at the new Bathgate Park School Community garden.

In October last year, the community gathered to celebrate the start of a new venture and plant the first seedlings in the well-planned garden beds, raised boxes and state-of-the-art bio-dome hothouse.

The garden still has a sense of order to it but the growth has been amazing and plenty of people have already had a generous helping of produce.

Teacher and garden co-ordinator Peter Buchanan said a lot of people still did not know the garden was there - tucked in behind the school, out of sight.

Word is filtering out in to the community though, and there have been plenty of volunteers at work days - open to anyone every second Sunday - with the standard rule that if you help out you can share in the rewards.

''On Fridays sometimes I come out here at lunchtime, pick a whole lot and put it out in the foyer, but it is the people who come along on Sunday afternoons who get most of it.''

Built on school land, the garden is a valuable resource for the pupils at Bathgate and for the community, with gardening workshops often conducted by GrowSouth Charitable Trust.

The garden is the first major project the newly formed trust has been involved in, with chairman Graham Copson and Mr Buchanan teaming up to create what they hoped would become a model community garden.

Mr Buchanan was a teacher at Forbury Park before it merged with other schools to become Bathgate Park School.

''There had been a garden there and when the schools merged and I met Graham we decided we can do [another garden] and do it better.''

The garden is far from finished, and extra planter beds and gardens are expected to evolve on the site behind the school over time.

The next project will be an ''edible forest'' that will include fruit trees and berry bushes and will be planted in the next few months.

Regular rain during the past five months, with the exception of a dry period before Christmas, has provided plenty of moisture for the new garden and it has only needed watering three times.

Right now the garden is flourishing with cabbages, brussels sprouts, lettuce, potatoes, kale, pumpkin, sweet corn and eggplants all developing.

The garden got the best possible start with tonnes of old, composted horse manure being donated and spread liberally around the garden beds.

The leftover pile is now called ''Pumpkin Hill'' and home to dozens of healthy pumpkins, many of which will find their way in to hangis around the city during Matariki celebrations.

A bio-dome, designed and built by Mr Copson's father Jeff is also adding another element to the garden, providing a tropical climate to grow different plants and extend the season for things like tomatoes.

''No-dig'' techniques have been employed across the garden with layers of pea straw and compost used to retain moisture, add nutrients and ensure the retention of the nutrients already in the soil.

Seedlings are just popped in to their own small hole, ensuring the soil is not disturbed too much and rotation techniques are used to replace what is taken from the soil and minimise plant pests and disease.

Mr Buchanan said the garden had not just been popular with people, as white butterflies seemed to like it, too.

He would be experimenting with some companion planting to see if that would solve the problem.

Many insects have their own beneficial attributes, and not just from a gardening perspective.

''We are doing a thing on mini beasts at the moment so it has been an endless source of insects.''

The garden also gets its fair share of sustenance from pupils, with fruit peelings and other scraps making their way back to the compost heap.


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