Community Garden of the Year!

Wow, a few years down the line and our community garden is a well-established feature of our street. Some new families have moved into Rainbow Court, some families have left, we farewelled Jon Green after a battle with terminal illness took its toll, we’ve celebrated two weddings, and we’ve welcomed three new babies to our street family. Glenda’s  has taken the community garden from strength to strength, providing a focus for the street through Sunday afternoon working bees, an annual Spring Fair to raise funds, and occasional get-togethers just for fun.

And in the latest news, our garden has won NZ  Gardener Magazine’s “Best Community Garden” award. Fantastic work everyone! The prizes will go a long way towards keeping our garden in seedlings and pea-straw.

But there’s more – NZ Gardener (http://nzgardener.co.nz/) has an overall prize decided by public vote on their website. Another whole bunch of prizes could be ours if you go to the website and vote for us, so please do! (and a little bird told me that the answer to the question is ‘page 98’…)20130928_105104

Our legendary Nanny Pamela

Photo courtesy of Kapiti Independent News

The great thing about getting to know your neighbours is discovering some wonderful people tucked away behind the tidy front lawns.

One such gem is Pamela, known to my kids as “Nanny Pamela”. Nanny Pamela is my 4 year old son’s very special friend and if you hang around our place much you’ll soon hear things like “Well, if you don’ be nice to me I not gonna let you come to Nanny Pamela’s house wiv me,” and “Nanny Pamela is MY special person an’ only I allowed to go to Nanny Pamela’s house!”

Once a week Gabe goes and has afternoon tea with Nanny Pamela and he glows for days afterwards. This little boy doesn’t make friends easily and Pamela’s willingness to be his “special friend” has made a huge difference in his life. But he’s not the only one. Pamela helps out a young boy who’s being homeschooled, and my older son loves sneaking down to Nanny Pamela’s house to take her gifts of plants he’s potted, or to help watering her garden.

In addition to having a wonderful way with children, a fine ear for music, and making the best sponge cakes I have ever tasted, Pamela is our local activist for a little-known service that’s doing its bit to green our neighbourhood: the Shoppers’ Bus.

In mid 2009  the bus service in Kapiti was reviewed and drastically reduced.
The daily run from Paekakariki to Coastlands and the off-peak runs to Jeep Road were two of the routes which were cut. But concerned Paekakariki and Raumati South residents supported by some Community and Town Councillors
banded together to fight the decisions and a compromise was reached.

The Paekakariki/Raumati South Shoppers’ bus continues to run and on three days of the week it calls into Raumati South on its way to Coastlands.

Pamela has used the Shoppers’ bus once a week for almost a year, including a period of a few months when she didn’t have a car.  Although she is very grateful to friends and neighbours who kindly stepped in with offers of transport, Pamela appreciated the independence that the Shoppers’ Bus allowed her.

“The drivers are always kind and courteous, and they load your shopping on the bus and carry it to your front door,” she says. Pamela can’t understand why more people don’t make use of this wonderful service.

The Shoppers’ Bus is available to residents of Raumati South from Kainui Road southwards. It comes through Raumati South at about 10am Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and returns from outside Pak ‘n Save at 1.30pm. Passengers are picked up at, and returned to, their front door.

The service is free for Supergold card holders, others pay a small charge.
To book a seat phone Paraparaumu Taxis before 9.am 04296 1111  or 0800 508 294

Mulching the rainbow

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One initiative that has been particularly successful for our street has been contacting local landscapers and providing them with a place to offload shredded leaf and wood chippings that would otherwise be taken to the dump.

Originally we did this as a way of getting large quantities of free organic material for our community garden and we scored two 6m3 truckloads about six weeks ago which had just been sitting cooking away on our original garden site. Subsequent to that we got another few loads on our new community garden site and because these were more conveniently situated we hadn’t been using the old ones much.

When the owner of the original garden site decided to clear the blackberries off the section in preparation for selling we needed to get the mulch moved within a day or two and the call went out to the street offering free mulch to any takers.

Even though this mulch was pretty woody and not particularly well-aged, we had on good advice that it could still be useful for:

  • mixing with nitrogen-rich material like lawn clippings and veggie scraps, with a bit of chook poo/seaweed/lime to to make compost
  • garden paths – to be used later as compost
  • suppressing weeds and retaining moisture in gardens, but not used directly up against plants
  • layered in raised gardens with a bit of lime thrown in to help it break down quicker

So barrow by barrow the piles began to make their way onto gardens and compost heaps up and down the street. Once we got into those piles we were amazed to feel how warm they were, and how much of the woody stuff had already broken down into crumbly brown stuff in the centre of the pile.

We had dinner guests on Saturday night who were so enthused at the prospect of free mulch that they left early to go and get a trailer and we ended up shovelling mulch before coffee. And we weren’t the only moonlight mulch raiders. Al and the boys were wandering the streets with a wheelbarrow too on Sunday night. I’d had my doubts about whether we’d be able to make much of a dent in the pile before the digger arrived on Monday morning to clear the sections, but I shouldn’t have worried. Rainbow Court rose to the occasion again.

So now not only do we have a well-supplied community garden but our household gardens and compost heaps have been topped up too. All for free, and doing our bit to save the local landscapers some dump fees, and recycling too. Gotta love it!

Radio time again

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Our resident radio star Rachel decided to spread a bit more of the Rainbow love around in our second radio slot so I got to go too this time, along with baby and a big basket of homegrown produce from our street.

We chatted about the community garden, the Rainbow Harvesters, the Rainbow Rabbiters, our struggles to get carpooling and the walking school bus off the ground, and the generally great feeling it is not only to know almost everyone in your street by name but to have met up a few times and done a few things together as well.

Being a Cantabrian and with most of her family still in Christchurch Rachel was also acutely aware of the importance of living in a sustainable community, since these are the links that are most critical in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

As for baby, he chirped a few times but despite being a bit under the weather was mostly happy teething on Stacey’s necklace. And Beach FM radio host Nigel was duly impressed with our fragrant bundle of herbs and other produce – which served triple duty later that night both as dinner and a homemade hair rinse. Go greenies!

What a difference a week makes…

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Last week this time I was in an advanced state of panic. The kids were sickening, I was tired, work was ramping up, the house was in its usual state of chaos, and I was weeks behind with my studies. Fun and all as this whole Greenest St thing is, I needed a few weeks off to hide behind my suburban picket fence and crochet, or watch the baby sleep, or do housework (not).

But as the Kapiti Council’s Green Gardener Hannah reminded me, “there’s nothing like a deadline to make things happen”.

And thanks to that inspiring synergistic thing that happens when the too-busy, overloaded, pre-occupied members of a suburban street reach beyond their picket fences and each person takes that small and otherwise insignificant step that they CAN do, our community garden is now a great leap forward!

Yesterday as all the kids returned from school and the commuters returned from work we gathered in the street around the piles of baking left over from the day. The IT boys from BNZ in Wellington were wrapping up after a hard day’s graft breaking down pallets and rebuilding them into raised garden beds, the kids were shovelling mulch into wheelbarrows and ferrying it from our old garden site to the new one, and the big people were layering mulch and horse poo and lime and twigs in our flash new gardens.

As I staggered upstairs at the end of the day it was hard to believe what we’d achieved. So many little pieces that all came together somehow. For some of you this might be everyday stuff but for me it bordered on miraculous even though I’d had the privilege of being on the inside as it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, time and time again, and yet it did. But more than that, what was so amazing to me was how each person somehow came forward and contributed their bit at just the critical moment. That – I reckon – is community.

And for those who want to know how you get a community garden kick-started in a week, here it is:

I should start with a word for our sponsors:

– the BNZ boys: you rock! Shane and his team of self-proclaimed “coneheads” put in a solid day’s work breaking down pallets and turning them into raised gardens for us.

– Mike and Mike and Mark from Placemakers, Kapiti, for donating timber, pallets and screws

– Craig from Monkeyman Services (0800 466 659) for a ton of mulch and hedge clippings.

– Don and Nigel from Carpet Court Waikanae for a load of recycled carpet

– Mulch4U for piles of mulch

– Stan Goodman from Goodman Transport for being willing to loan us a truck to transport an 8.5 tonne loader when that looked like being the quickest and cheapest way to deal to those darn blackberries (go figure!)

– Charlotte from Composting NZ for compost and wood shavings

– Nga Uruora for the loan of their loppers and machetes

– Adrienne and Tristan Embury for stepping in to give us the use of their land for our community garden when an estate agent knocked an “Upcoming Auction” sign into our previous venue

– Jake, Stacey and Hannah from the Kapiti Coast District Council for all their support and practical assistance through the project.

– The man on Hillcrest Rd who spotted me raiding his recycling bin for cardboard boxes and donated 3 passionfruit vines to our cause.

And from the street…

– My kids for watching Darkwing Duck on repeat and missing out on bedtime stories for a week while I worked the phones and sent a gazillion too-long emails.

– Steve for donating 40kg lime and the use of his precious power tools to the cause, for keeping our household afloat while I was preoccupied, and for stepping in to clean up after everyone left

– Vicky, for providing her home and garage as a base for the BNZ team, supplying tea and filter coffee, making sandwiches and a fruit platter, phoning around chasing pallets and grass-clippings, doing countless trips to pick up old carpet in Waikanae, and for being on the ground all of D-Day to make things happen.

– Glen for organising ground-clearing machinery and a trailer for us, fetching a mountain of old carpet, and staying focused on finding a solution to our blackberry problem through what became a very convoluted process

– Glenda and Chris for shovelling ten or more garbage sacks of horse manure, paying for it, loading it up and driving it home, supplying tools, helping mark out our gardens, and baking muffins.

– Prue for making sandwiches and muffins, driving to Paekak to collect machetes and loppers, being on the ground all through the day, and for being the last person left tidying up at the end of the day.

– Renee for putting her trailer-navigating skills to work doing a heap of trips to pick up carpet, loading it up, bringing it back, and laying it all out on the section. The girls for getting all the kids motivated to move barrowloads of mulch.

– Bonnie for recruiting Aiden and Lance to the cause and putting in some hard graft moving mulch and laying carpets.

– Sam for being the first person to step up, supplying us with a heap of timber, tools and bikkies for the troops

– Rachel for organising lunch in between looking after a 3 month old, and allowing her garage to become base camp for the day, supplying power and food for the team. Clinton and Iain for doing the trip to Placemakers to pick up donated wood, screws and pallets.

– Kelly for offering to do lunch for everyone, supplying food and tools, being on the ground with two preschoolers in tow, and sacrificing family time with Iain so that he could put in an afternoon’s hard graft with the BNZ team making the raised beds.

– Dora for supplying pallets.

– Pamela for supplying baking, making food for my family, and looking after my snotty two year old for the morning so I could be on the ground.

– Angie for rounding up a pile of cardboard for us and supplying baking and tools – as well as for son Joe, who inspired us to build our garden from recycled pallets.

– Gytha for organising coffee grounds.

– Anne for phoning around for free mulch to add to our collection.

– Rachel and Brendan for making their trailer and tools available to the street throughout the whole process. Brendan for getting to work with a scrubcutter clearing the section before the BNZ team arrived. Maya for moving mulch, and yummy baking from Rachel too.

– Shona, Paora and Tama were all over the day. They connected up with Composting NZ, organising us 4 loads of compost and an unlimited supply of wood shavings. They spent hours ferrying and shovelling compost and then filling the raised beds. They tracked down pallets, supplied tools and polythene, did baking, and the boys put in some hard graft too.

– Matiu and the boys for moving mulch and compost to fill the beds.

– Charity and Shanon for tools, baking and delicious home-made lemonade. Charity’s expertise with layered gardens kept us on track as we filled them up, and we’re promised artichokes and strawberry plants from her garden to get ours started.

And that’s just what I can remember now. I’m sure there were countless other contributions that aren’t listed here, along with the back-stories about how people rearranged their lives to make this happen. I never lose sight of how new this all is to us. We’re wired for community but suburbia has somehow bred it out of our day-to-day lives. It’s no easy thing to shuffle our comfy routines on a moment’s notice and to give priority to something that will take a little time to show benefits to those immediately within our own four walls.

It’s just the beginning but what a beginning it is. I am truly proud to be a Rainbow Courtier. (And if any of you want to become Rainbow Courtiers, there are some sections going real cheap on 24 March)

BNZ “Closed for Good” lends a hand

A while back I was looking at our scary community garden site and wondering how on earth we were going to coax veggies out of all those brambles. Then I saw the “Closed for Good” ad at the bottom of our website and read how BNZ would be closing all their branches on 9 March 2011 so that their staff could invest time in worthy community projects.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I applied and guess what folks – they said yes! Shane phoned me from BNZ this morning to say that 9 or 10 enthusiastic workers would be turning up next Wednesday to help us get our community garden off the ground. How cool is that? We provide lunch, loos and materials and they dig in to help wherever they can!

But just between you and me, I’m terrified. With only a week to make it happen we need to see if we can get those blackberries cleared, find and stockpile pallets, old carpet/cardboard, mulch, grass clippings, seaweed, coffee grounds, horse manure and whatever else you put in a raised garden (a shout out here to Kakariki St again for your tips on “lasagne gardens”). If you see small Jurgensen children wandering the streets, please take them in and feed them. I’m probably on the phone.

But seriously, isn’t community an awesome thing? Already the Rainbow Courters are rallying with offers of lunch for the workers, tools, time, and trailers. Props to Don and Nigel from Carpet Court in Waikanae who didn’t hesitate to offer us pallets and a big jobload of old wool carpet (to suppress those blackberries). Lembas Cafe around the corner is collecting their coffee grounds for us. Organic hair salon Capelli Experience (902 5577) on Poplar Ave is collecting hair clippings, and Lawson from Mulch4U (0800 935 372) is donating trailerloads of mulch.

If anyone else knows of businesses or organisations who could contribute to this community project, we’d love to hear from you. At the moment we’re looking for more pallets or timber, a donation of some 4×4 posts and nails, and if our digger is unable to make it at such short notice a bobcat or similar would be most appreciated.

Greenbacks for a green goal

One of our goals for this competition is to keep all our organic waste on the street, minimising the volume of garbage we send to landfills and helping to use the valuable nutrients available in our lawn clippings and veggie peels and leftover food to enrich the particularly poor soil in our backyards.

Practically speaking, for us this means making sure every household has an organic waste recycling system that works for them, whether a compost bin, or a worm farm, or a bokashi bin, or a chicken coop.

Now we know that it’s technically possible to make any of these things from scratch, but since most of us are pretty average suburban householders with pretty backyards (ours excluded) and not a lot of handy bits lying around we needed a bit of a leg-up to get going.

When we heard about the Kapiti Coast District Council’s Waste Reduction Grants, available to businesses or groups of five or more households, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to further our goal by applying for funding to enable each household to get themselves sorted with at least one aesthetically pleasing, fully functioning, minimal outlay required, organic waste recycling system.

And we got it! Wahoo! Yaaay! $5000 to equip all of us with an organic waste recycling system of our choice!

Some of us knew just what we wanted, others needed to take a bit of time to investigate the options. But the great news for the planet is that from some time in the very near future, our street’s parched sands will be treated to weekly doses of nutritious organic matter. And for the rest of us, we will be able to tick off one of our big goals for this competition.

We feel like we’ve won already!

The Rainbow Harvesters

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In the interests of getting more of us eating “fresh, local food”, and with an eye on that blackberry patch soon-to-be community garden, and yes – we must admit – inspired by the gardening club operated by our worthy competitors on the very green Kakariki Street, we decided to call an inaugural meeting of the “Rainbow Harvesters”.

The weather was glorious, the Green Gardener graced us with her company, and we set out on a Sunday afternoon to scope out what was happening in the backyards of Rainbow Court.

And wow! Talk about an inspiring afternoon. So much for neophyte greenies – the Green Gardener barely got a word in edgewise as all these green-thumbed Rainbow Courtiers escorted us through the productive patches that they’re cultivating in an incredible variety of less-than-ideal situations.

We saw edibles tucked in narrow strips beside garages, a fruit orchard shoe-horned next to a driveway, container gardens, a picket-fenced paradise perched on a steep slope, and a lush oasis in a windswept sea of sand. One back lawn has vanished under an extensive garden that owes its existence to the Greenest St competition, another keeps a vegetarian family in food with a whole series of raised beds.

At no less than three houses we saw the work of a leprechaun known only as “Joe”, who (despite working his way up to getting married on Saturday) has been singlehandedly greening our street by collecting pallets, taking them apart and rebuilding them into raised beds for the grateful citizens of Rainbow Court. So far Joe has taken over two back lawns and has another in progress. It was amazing to see what can be achieved with hard work and a pile of seedlings in such a short time!

The session wound up in front of our community garden where we eyed the fading blackberry harvest and the wonderful pile of mulch donated to us by Mulch4U and pondered the simplest way to get growing. With some input from Hannah, the Green Gardener, we concluded that in the absence of a friendly digger, slash-and-burn followed by a thick layer of recycled carpet and layers of whatever organic matter we could source in large, free quantities was probably the way to go.

But the great news is, folks, this morning Vicky and Glen secured us the services of a digger!! Wahoo!!

 

Introducing: The Rainbow Gardener

Glenda is Rainbow Court’s secret gardening weapon. She’s spent a few years battling our street’s special conditions of high winds, steep contours and 100% sand and has managed to nurture a remarkable landscaped garden out front of her place with an amazing veggie patch tucked away at the side.

Next week Glenda and Rachel will be hosting our street’s inaugural meeting of the Rainbow Harvesters, whose mission will be to turn our sandy backyards into green veggie oases and fulfill our dream of a community garden. Glenda will also be helping out along the way with a column from Rainbow Court’s gardening frontline.

So without further ado…

Kylie says please write a garden column for the blog….me?……gardening?  When I plant out lettuce seedlings the slugs send out mass emails to their friends saying come on over for a party.  The bees in my garden need suction pads on their feet in order to pollinate the tomato flowers in the wind, and as for soil, well I haven’t really got any – it’s sand pure and simple.

So, perhaps it’s the same at your place and maybe we can share some ideas on what grows well and what doesn’t in our little patch of paradise called Rainbow Court.

A few vegie plants have managed to survive in my patch this summer.  Some of the ones that have done best have been planted into tyres – it keeps the compost in place around the plants and the tyres warm up really well to give the roots an extra boost of heat.  I’ve got rhubarb leaping out of one big tyre with nice fat pink stems and leaves the size of dinner plates.  One green and one yellow zucchini are doing ok in their tyres and strawberries in another have been good although not enough for more than a taste on any one day.

The sole capsicum on my plant is growing fatter daily, although I think I paid $2.50 for the plant so it’s going to be an expensive one unless the plant gets cracking with a few more fruit.  The cherry tomatoes are doing OK as well and turning red on one plant, but not the other….and the bush tomatoes are also getting going now and I have great hopes for them if the weather stays warm.

Silverbeet (or actually yellow, red and white stemmed beets) are probably the winners in the ‘what’s growing best’ competition:  we have eaten heaps already with more coming along nicely.  Lettuce has been good too (when the slugs left them alone) only I don’t always get the timing right so there are feasts and famines in that department. Basil, thyme and flat leaf parsley are producing well and the runner beans have reached the top of their frame and are marching down again!  The beetroot is fattening up well but the carrots were a disaster! The seeds came up, waved their little leaves in the air for a week or two and promptly died!  Maybe I just didn’t water them enough.

I have doubts about the sweetcorn too:  it’s a bit stunted and only just beginning to form tassels on top.  Matiu’s corn is doing better – I peeked over his fence the other day and it looks tall and lush – I’m coming for dinner when that lot is ready!

Soon there are going to be gaps to fill as the lettuces come out and while the weather is still warm I want to get a lot more greens growing including trying some broccoli and a few more sugar snap peas.  Next summer I’m going to try growing Florence fennel because it tastes divine but you can’t often buy it here.  It’s crisp, a bit like celery texture and with a sweet slightly aniseed flavour.  Yum in salads and stirfries.  Has anybody tried growing it here?

I am hoping there will be a big group interested in our backyard garden tour workshop on the 20th Feb.  I need all the help I can get and I am sure collectively we can discuss lots of ideas and solve some of the problems so we can all be Rainbow Gardeners!

Greening the airwaves

It was a wild, wet and windy day last Tuesday but a small, hardy crew of us gathered around the wireless to listen to our resident radio star introduce our project to the region on Beach FM.

When a bit of date shuffling pushed our timeslot out of Rachel’s window of leave, she ended up having to do her interview by phone from work but you’d never have guessed it from her clear, confident delivery.

Rachel talked about our street’s utter average-ness on the eco-footprint front, my “aha” moment at the beginning (I liked how she put that), and the difference that getting together has made already to us as a community. She talked about how we’ve been able to support each other in lots of small but significant ways that probably wouldn’t have been possible a few months ago: looking after each other’s gardens over Christmas, Nanny Pamela’s caring for the local kids, Kelly organising meals for Rachel and Clinton, Vicky and Prue getting the Christmas Party going, and sharing resources like surplus food, hired equipment, and unwanted “stuff” through our mailing list. She mentioned some of our upcoming initiatives: the solar heating project, the project to keep all our organic waste on the street…I’m having a bit of trouble remembering what else was on the cards back then. I do remember though that we were all mightily proud of Rachel and of our street.

The interviewer concluded by suggesting that we should put our property prices up since everyone was going to be wanting to move to Rainbow Court. Ha, we thought, but none of us wants to move anywhere else!

And it was very special too to share my warm and less-than-perfect infallible microwave chocolate cake with its icing melting off the sides and subsiding into a puddle around it, to catch up with each other’s news, to meet some more of the neighbourhood kids while others were banished outside in the rain and told to “go and play at someone else’s house” for making too much noise. We were hoping to meet a new family who have moved into the street so we could give them a warm Rainbow Court welcome too, but the weather squashed our hopes on that front.

And we should also give a special shout out to Stacey, one of the competition organisers, who magically appeared on air after our interview and turns out to have the sweetest, golden radio voice we’d ever heard. Who’d have thunk it? Stacey, if you get sick of your job you’ve definitely got a bright future ahead of you in radio!

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PS Please excuse the blurry photos – obviously I had the camera on the wrong setting