Give back on a bach break

By Meg Liptrot

Meg Liptrot finds there are opportunities to be had from the scraps of holiday-makers.

The writer deposited her food waste in Great Barrier Island community garden compost bins  in return for a day's watering duty. Photo / Meg Liptrott
The writer deposited her food waste in Great Barrier Island community garden compost bins in return for a day's watering duty. Photo / Meg Liptrott

The week before Christmas we escaped the city for Great Barrier Island. We regularly stay at a spot that has slowly become more populated with baches over the years, but the island is still isolated in a good way. There's nothing like a slow boat trip with dolphins to set the mood as the city skyline drops away over the horizon.

A pleasing recent development on popular Medlands Beach is a community garden that has popped up beside the local church. The garden was an initiative of the Aotea Family Support Group and developed in 2010 as a teaching garden for a sustainable rural development course by former NorthTec tutor and organic gardener, Caity Endt.

Formerly across the road, the new garden is on a vacant field owned by DoC. Designed with permaculture principles in mind, the garden comprises a network of paths and easy-to-reach plots and is bounded by a low, woven bamboo fence and espaliered fruit trees. Anyone can visit and pick a few veges or herbs in return for a donation.

While we wandered the garden admiring the companion planting and healthy veges in the evening light, a local with a charmingly appropriate name - Peggy Garlic - came to do her watering rounds for the day. Water is collected for the buildings and garden (and fire emergencies) in two large tanks, and Peggy waters the plants with a watering can in each hand. The field on the perimeter of the garden has new fruit tree plantings that bracket the main vege plot in curved semi-circles. Tall-growing bana grass and sugarcane provide shelter in this exposed site for hardy trees such as feijoa, fig and stone fruit.

Many baches don't have compost bins or wormfarms, and it really grated to think the food scraps we generated on holiday would end up in the local tip. I couldn't bring myself to throw the scraps away and kept them in a covered bowl while pondering what to do. I ruled out digging a hole and burying them, as I figured the next guests, like us, may also have a dog who'd enjoy digging the lot up. It struck me that community gardeners are always looking for free sources of organic nutrition to boost the health of their soil, and foodscraps are best of all. So after checking with Peggy, we deposited our scraps in the garden's covered compost bins, while offering to take over watering duty the next evening in return. The garden has a few conventional compost bins near the vege beds, and a quirky three-bin compost system made of bamboo with horizontal sidings near the orchard for larger material such as prunings and grass clippings. Many larger bin systems are made with untreated timber, but bamboo is a useful fast-growing resource when there are few hardware shops nearby. Bamboo, although strong, won't last as long as timber but will do the job and is easily replaced.

Caity and Gerald Endt have fashioned DIY bamboo compost bins for those taking her compost courses. The non-invasive, clumping Bambusa oldhamii is cut to length by Gerald, who harvests it from shelter belts surrounding their market garden called "Okiwi Passion". Before suggesting all the bach dwellers at Medlands use the community garden compost bins, I had a chat with Sue Daly, Great Barrier Local Board member and keen gardener who is one of four past students now caring for the garden. She said the public are welcome to come and deposit their food scraps, but they need to know what to avoid putting in the bins. Rats are a problem on the island, and the local pooch might enjoy wreaking havoc to get to a juicy ham bone. She recommends getting in touch for info about composting.

On our last day we got chatting to a couple over dinner who had recently moved to the island. They had enjoyed attending a Create Your Own Eden composting course Caity runs, funded by Auckland Council, and were now proud owners of a Hungry Bin worm farm, which is easily coping with the compostable waste they produce.

We mainlanders could learn a lot from those living in outlying islands such as Great Barrier and Waiheke. Many islanders already grow their own fruit and veges, in addition to collecting water and generating power via the sun or wind. Some residents, including Sue, Caity and our bach neighbour, keep chooks that lay eggs on a diet supplemented with food scraps. We enjoyed listening to the gentle cackles and trills of the hens as they queued to lay their eggs in the prime nesting box each morning. Hopefully, this story is food for thought for any gardener, chook or pig owner out there living near a holiday destination, who could make use of a free resource that would otherwise go to waste.

For info on food growing or composting courses on Great Barrier, get in touch with Caity at okiwipassion@farmside.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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