Alaina Sims with a variety of winter vegetables like cabbage, leafy greens, and beets planted in the garden.
The Pahiatua Community Garden on Huia St has recently experienced a revitalisation. Now organised and managed by a subcommittee of the community group, Explore Pahiatua, the garden has plans to branch out into education as well as continue to provide a source of food security for the local community.
“I’m a horticulturist and avid organic gardener. Last year, when my family moved to Pahiatua, I was interested in getting involved in the community garden in town,” says committee member Alaina Sims. “I found out there was a fantastic space not being used to its full potential, so I asked around and was directed to Emma Elliott from Food Secure Communities.
“Emma and I were both keen to get the garden up and running again, and our vision for the garden perfectly aligned with those of Explore Pahiatua. We are excited that with the assistance of Kathy Braddick at Help-n-Hand and our fellow garden committee members Louise Powick and Rhys Punler, the garden is once again up and growing,” she said.
“When we were first granted access in mid-December, the weeds were waist-high. We could see the potential, though, so Emma and I started hand-digging the first of the five garden beds. I grew the capsicum and beans from saved seeds and propagated the laterals off my tomatoes. We fertilised with seaweed, watered regularly, and watched the garden slowly come back to life, one row at a time.
“Currently all five of the garden rows, as well as the newly added front and back herbaceous borders, are in use and servicing the members of the community and organisations like Help-n-Hand and the Trust Tararua.
“We currently have a variety of winter vegetables like cabbage, leafy greens, and beets planted in the garden, and we regularly do drop-offs to our local food distributors. It’s been amazing to be able to supply fresh vegetables and fruit for projects like the trust’s Covid relief parcel.
“It’s also really rewarding to see people coming into the garden to donate their plants and time and then pick their own food. My hope is that anyone who wants to drop in, regardless of how much or how little they can help out, can take whatever they need and leave the rest for others to enjoy.
“While food security for everyone in the community is a priority, the garden’s new mission is to provide a beautiful and nurturing space where members of the community can come together to learn to grow nutritious, organic food.
“We want our community to know that the food they are eating is safe and healthy, and the best way to do that is to opt out of using chemical sprays and synthetic fertilisers. At the supermarket, organic food is more expensive, but I don’t believe it’s any more difficult to grow organically if you know how to do it.
“People automatically assume chemical sprays sold in stores are safe, and that’s simply not true. We want to teach people that they don’t have to use glyphosate to kill weeds. Natural and living mulch is highly effective. For example, in spring I planted nasturtiums under my berries, and I didn’t have to weed that area all summer long. It doesn’t get easier than that.
“In the community garden, we have opted for a variety of mulch including living mulch, leaves, grass clippings, pea straw, and alpaca fibre.
“In place of synthetic fertilisers, the garden is fed with a combination of seaweed, comfrey, compost, and manure to amend the soil and nourish the plants.
“The garden also focuses on companion planting, crop rotation, and the creation of healthy soil. This season, we have converted one entire row to a lasagne bed. We layered cardboard, horse manure, sawdust, and grass clippings.
“We continue to add new grass clippings to that and will keep it well-watered. Over the winter, it will break down and improve the soil structure. You don’t need to weed at all with this process, and the outcome will be beautiful, healthy soil.
Flowers have also been a new addition to the garden and will serve as food for the bees in the upcoming seasons. “Attracting pollinators into the garden has been another huge goal,” said Alaina.
“When we first started working in the garden, the soil was in poor condition and there were very few birds and bees. I’ve added flowers like calendula, comfrey, borage, and chamomile to the beds to attract pollinators and repel the pests. Every time one of our committee members sees a worm or bee, we celebrate!”
In early spring, the garden committee plans to introduce a variety of workshops, including composting, no-dig gardening, seed growing, companion planting, and seed saving.
Classes for children are also on the list. “It’s important for the community to see and learn about these alternative ways of growing,” says Alaina. “If we teach people of all ages how to do things, like grow food in limited spaces, or how to make compost, it’s so much better for them and the environment; they get homegrown food, and they gain knowledge and pride from the process as well.”
The garden has been supported by its committee, members of the community, and organisations like Explore Pahiatua, the Pahiatua Saturday Market, Help-n-Hand, and Mitre 10.
The garden also recently received a $6900 grant from DIA to assist with the installation of a rainwater collection tank. “Rainwater collection will be a huge benefit for us during summer water restrictions,” said Alaina. “This past summer was extremely difficult. For quite a while, I had to water the entire garden with a bucket. That took a long time and is something I don’t look forward to doing again next year.”
DIA funding will also go toward projects that make the garden more user-friendly. “A fantastic new picnic table has just been built for the garden, and four raised beds will also be added in time for early spring planting.
“These will make gardening easier for people that have a hard time getting down on ground level. We also want to add a tunnel house and new fruit trees to the mix as well.”
“Our goal for the garden is that it will continue to serve the community for many years to come. The garden is there for anyone who needs food,
knowledge, or just a place to relax and reconnect with nature. It’s important for the community to take ownership of it and be proud of it. Everyone is welcome to come in, have a look around, and grab something yummy,” said Alaina.