Our desire to look after our planet, live self-sufficient lifestyles, and reduce our grocery bills is benefitting Taupō Community Gardens as growing your own fruit and vegetables is becoming more popular.
“Financially times are tough for a lot of people,” says Silvia Mutton, Taupō Community Gardens’ Administrator. “Even if you can’t completely live off the land that you’ve got available, more people are keen to grow their own food and try and live a bit healthier. They want to get away from store-bought and imported foods as well and see what is available in the area that we live in. I’ve definitely seen a shift towards those attempts in the last two or three years.”
Silvia, who is a young mum herself, says it’s important to educate children about how food is grown and pass knowledge on. “If we don’t, that knowledge will get lost. People do have it easy these days. You can go to the supermarket and just buy everything off the shelf. But we don’t know if that’s going to be the case forever.”
BayTrust has granted $6000 to Taupō Community Gardens this year which will be used to pay two part-time coordinators and organise more workshops for the public. “We’ve seen there’s a need for hands-on learning – even in times of YouTube where you can learn stuff online – and especially when it comes to hands-on tactile things like gardening,” Silvia explains.
The community gardens currently have 30 or so regular volunteers, many of whom are extremely knowledgeable and keen to share their tips with locals. “Gardening in Taupō is quite different to gardening elsewhere. So much changes with the seasons here. We want to share that knowledge with the Taupō community as much as we can.”
Residents are often keen to learn about composting and workshops are regularly held in conjunction with Taupō District Council. A recent fruit tree pruning workshop was also well received, with a dozen people learning how to prune apple, pear, plum and cherry trees. “There were lots of questions asked and answered, and lots of knowledge shared. Even our instructor who held the workshop was able to learn a few things from the people who were there. So it was just great sharing all the information that everyone brought in.”
New workshops are being planned for later this year and will cover the gardening ABCs, Silvia says. “It’s going to be a crash course in gardening. We will try to cover everything from soil preparation through to planting seedlings, how to choose a good location for your garden beds, right through to troubleshooting in your garden when it comes to pest control and things like that.”
Understanding the local conditions and planting accordingly is key to success, Silvia says.
“People try to grow things that they like – oranges, mandarins, nectarines and peaches. But they are not fruit that can be grown very well here. They do need a lot of sun and long dry periods as well. With our frosts that we can get in winter, a lot of those trees just don’t survive.”
Instead, Silvia suggests local residents focus on apples, pears, plums, berries, nuts (such as hazelnuts) as well as zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers and kamo kamo. “Green things grow really well like spinach. Coriander grows incredibly well here over the spring and autumn months; kale is always a favorite and silver beet you just cannot kill.”
Sharing The Love
Once people get involved, they can use a garden bed space to grow and experiment with their own veggies, herbs or flowers. Most of the Richmond Avenue property is devoted to communal growing and the produce harvested is regularly donated to local kai pantries, hospice and a large group of pensioners living in social housing units on Spa Road.
“It’s transformed the way they live together,” Silvia says. “They have set up an area in their common kitchen/dining area and they prepare food together and share it out. It’s giving them a whole new sense of purpose and a whole new sense of community living in those social housing flats.”
Local residents often pop into the gardens to collect some parsley, seeds or seedlings for their home gardens. “We would really like for people to come and have a look. You don’t necessarily have to get involved, but just see what we’re doing. Bring down your food scraps and put them into our compost bins rather than putting them into your rubbish bins where they’re going to end up in the landfill. We can make use of that; we can turn it into new soil and then we can use it to grow more veggies for the community.”
Green fingers aren’t an essential requirement, just enthusiasm and a desire to contribute to a greener planet and a caring community.