20 years and growing!

 The Bayfair Community Garden is celebrating its 20th birthday on May 31 with a dinner for all past and present volunteers and sponsors at the Mt Maunganui Club. For details phone the Hillier Centre, 07 575 9709, or Jo Stock, 021 647 676.

The Bayfair Community Garden was the first of my six years of weekly articles for the Bay of Plenty Times, so it was fitting that it was also one of my last …

Jo Stock at the Bayfair Community Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In the 12 months to February volunteers at the Bayfair Community Garden have donated 393 boxes of fresh vegetables to Tauranga’s Foodbank, continuing a tradition that started 20 years ago.

Up to 16 volunteers turn out in summer and about 10 in winter twice-weekly – Tuesdays are picking and packing banana boxes of produce and Fridays are work days.

Volunteers are all ages, although mostly retired, and include American Beth Cocchiarella who spends half her year in Mount Maunganui and half her year in Washington State, and a couple of young women who bring their children along. Smoko (morning tea) is a good chance for a chat and laugh, although laughter never seems to be far away, even when the garden’s at its busiest.

Donnas Mitchell (left) and Beth Cocchiarella get to work digging a new bed. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden project is co-ordinated by Jo Stock, a retired secondary school teacher, who joined the volunteers 18 years ago and oversaw the garden’s move from a site needed for development to its present location in 2000.

“This was a paddock on February 2 and by March 31 we had the last bed planted,” Jo says. “The soil looks good today but it’s sitting on a bed of a sand – and that’s what we started with.”

Jo, who plants by the moon because “it causes less trouble”, grows seedlings at home so the garden is always productive and is careful to choose veges that food parcel recipients know. (See a New Zealand moon calendar here.)

“New Zealanders aren’t very good at so-called gourmet veges,” she says. “I’ve only had half-a-dozen aubergine plants in this year because people don’t know what to do with them and aren’t willing to try.”

The former teacher of food and nutrition has tried including recipes with certain veges but has been and sat at the Foodbank and watched people choose their vegetables. “They like the bog standard stuff, even bok choy is too hard for many of them and all you have to do is steam it.”

Barney Quaddel of Maungatapu in Tauranga weeds the red onions. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Unsterilised sheep manure is believed to have been the source of club root, a fungal disease that destroys brassica crops, which has infected half the garden for nine years (the sheep had been grazing an infected crop).

“Five weeks after the manure went on, we had it,” Jo says. “We’ve tried every darn thing  – if anyone tells you they know how to get rid of it, they don’t. It’s terrible stuff.”

Something that has been helpful when planting is to mix half a teaspoon of potassium permanganate and 2 dessertspoons of salt in 9 litres of water. “We put 3 cups of that in each hole when we’re planting and it seems to help protect the seedlings,” Jo says. Read some organic control suggestions here.

People passing between the two sides of the garden use a foot bath and tools are sterilised to prevent its spread (so far, successfully). Jo has “given in” in the affected end and started using raised beds to isolate crops from the ground – each bed is lined with polyurethane and has a gravel base to assist drainage.

The garden has a five-bin compost system, a worm farm and its own water bore, although needs to find cash for repairs after problems this summer, suspected to be both the pump at the top and the bore needing to go deeper.

“We grow everything here for $1000 a year,” Jo says. “It’s nothing, but we have no cash so I’m always scrabbling round trying to raise a bit.”

Her father was a World War 1 veteran living in Colville on the Coromandel Peninsula  –  his wounds won him a war pension but not much else.

“There were six children and we were always very poor,” Jo says, “but we never went hungry because we always had vegetables from his garden.”

Keri Seuseu of Mount Maunganui and Sally Quaddel of Maungatapu enjoy a cup of tea. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated.



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