Gum trees felled to allow permaculture garden to thrive

Nearly 40 50-year-old gum trees are set to be removed from the 18-month-old food forest at the...
Nearly 40 50-year-old gum trees are set to be removed from the 18-month-old food forest at the Waitaki Community Gardens. Volunteer and site co-ordinator Ra McRostie (left) and general manager Sophia Leon de la Barra say the trees are drawing water and nutrients from the permaculture garden planted on the hill below. Photo: Hamish MacLean
Felling nearly 40 gum trees at the Waitaki Community Gardens will help set up a community resource to succeed, Waitaki Community Gardens general manager Sophia Leon de la Barra says.

The windbreak, understood to have been planted in the 1960s, was problematic for the gardens’ "food forest", Miss Leon de la Barra said.

The permaculture garden, established 18 months ago, was already producing herbs and vegetables, but to become self-sustaining the 36 gum trees, "notorious for sucking moisture and nutrients from the soil", along the southern boundary needed to go.

They would be replaced by native species grown at the gardens’ community nursery at the Oamaru Public Gardens, she said.

"Now that the food forest is well and truly established, it’s really important that we set the food forest up to succeed."

Waitaki Community Gardens volunteer and site co-ordinator Ra McRostie said removing the trees was "a bit of a heart-wrench", but the plan for the food forest, which grew a wide variety of complementary plants, from feijoas and rhubarb to rosemary, was that it would be "basically looking after itself" within a couple of years.

And the gum trees were standing in the way of achieving this.

"It’s not an easy thing to do — they’re magnificent trees," Ms McRostie said.

"When we did the earthworks for this food forest down here, the roots of these trees were coming out of the ground to the base of the hill and it was very, very dry compared to this section, which was much richer. In their own environment they’re wonderful, powerful trees. In this environment their leaves are toxic — we can’t compost the leaves; we can’t really do anything with them."

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