Plants are growing at Pukehina School, and while the concept of their distribution is called chaos, there is method behind it.
The school’s back field is currently being used as a trial which, if successful, could point the way to improving food resilience in the wider Te Puke area.
Pukehina and Maketū schools’ pupils were joined by a number of home-schooled students at a special chaos garden planting day last month that also showcased Pukehina School’s involvement in the Garden to Table programme.
Marty Robinson, who is part of the Te Puke Kai resilience group, oversaw the preparation of the area, ordered the seeds and guided the chaos garden planting on the day.
“One of the current concerns in Te Puke that the Te Puke Kai resilience group, along with COLAB have pinpointed, is the cost of fresh produce, so we were looking for low cost ways to produce food that did not require lots of time or money,” he says.
COLAB is a multi-member organisation that works across the social sector.
The idea of chaos gardening, or polyculture was suggested.
“The idea was to use local farmers’ machinery to prepare the garden then sow it. This allows for large areas to be prepared and planted quickly at a lower cost than market gardening or small gardens.
“The plants are allowed to grow wherever the seeds land and chaos ensues as differing plants develop and are harvested.”
The plants and soil work together to not only produce plants that can be eaten, but also to develop the soil as different plants provide differing minerals to the soil and other plants.
The trial encompasses 1200 square metres in three beds focused on different products to harvest.
One bed will focus on leaves that can be harvested, so contains lots of green leaf plants like mesclun, spinach, lettuce, peas and cabbage. The second bed focuses on root vegetables like carrots, onions, beetroot, radishes and celery.
The third bed is more focused on a mix of herbs, flowers and corn.
“The chaos garden concept has been around for a long time,” says Marty. “Basically it is mixing many differing types of plants together in a garden and seeing what grows.
“There are classic examples through history of this type of companion planting and the ‘three sisters’ is often cited, where Native Americans would plant corn, beans and pumpkin together. The corn would provide the trellis for the beans to grow up and the pumpkin would provide the ground cover for weed suppression. The mixed plants also work together to improve soil health and sequester carbon.
“It is hoped that this year’s trail will prove the concept and that in future years areas of land that are not currently productive around the rohe will be able to be used as large gardens suppling our community with seasonal fresh produce.”
The school is also part of the Garden to Table programme and at the same time as the planting, the fruits of that initiative were showcased.
Principal Indra says this is the third year Pukehina School have been part of the Garden to Table programme.
“We needed to find programmes that supported the direction of our kura in terms of sustainability, learning outside the classroom, looking after Papatuanuku, planting trees, recycling and growing and using our own vegetables and fruit to feed others,” she says.
“We created a two-year overview based on the needs and wants from our community. This overview is being used to drive our Garden to Table programme. We are very proud to say that this is now a part of our Marau-ā-kura [localised curriculum].”
Indra says her school was fortunate to share its story.
Garden to Table is a national food education charity that aims to empower children across New Zealand to grow, harvest, prepare and share great food. Its principal sponsor is Rabobank.