Thirteen years ago, David Colyer was signing up with Christchurch Polytech to study horticulture.
“The first thing the tutor told me when I came for the interview was: it doesn’t pay very well,” says David. “He was right and I don’t work in horticulture any more for that reason.”
David now uses his horticultural skills caring for Kaputahi Orchard, a community orchard being run by volunteers in Marshlands, Christchurch.
“I remember coming here as a kid in the 80s,” David says. “Marshlands Road had a long history of orchards and market gardens. Everyone heading into or out of town would stop off here to buy their fruit and veggies.”
A combination of improved storage technology and new countries exporting apples caused a price crash and places like Canterbury stopped being economically viable apple growing areas. Many orchards in the area began to disappear.
COUNCIL CALLS ON THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
The Christchurch City Council bought this strip of abandoned orchard to lay a new sewage pipeline, but after consultation decided the trees should be saved. A public meeting was called to form a group to care for it as a community orchard.
“I was working for City Care,” says David, “but was looking for work in a totally different sector so was keen to get involved with the fruit trees. I didn’t have the opportunity to grow my own trees at that time.”
The council helps out with pest control, mowing and provides a few essentials, but there is no funding, tools or chemicals so the orchard is now organic – by principle as well as necessity. Volunteers bring their own tools and ladders and they rely on donations of fruit trees and grafts.
“There’s more than 200 trees now.” David says, “A lot of the trees are in pretty rough condition so we do need to remove some as they succumb to various fungal infections.”
There’s a lot more to Kaputahi than just apple trees. There are plums, pears, nashi, peaches, mulberries, persimmons, walnuts and elderberry.
Interested in food forests?
An important part of the orchard is their heritage section which is being developed as an archive. Scion wood (a shoot used for grafting) is produced here, which will be used to propagate more trees.
“The long term plan at this stage is to establish the archive so it’s producing scion wood as well as fruit and then to develop that area into a food forest. We’re putting a whole bunch of stone fruit in there so we can increase the types of fruit we have.” David says.
“I’ve been in the red zone finding strange and wonderful varieties of pears, and leaf curl resistant peaches to propagate from. I’m looking at what is surviving in the red zone, thriving on neglect, and what’s dying.
A COMMUNITY SPACE FOR THE FUTURE
“We did a survey of our volunteers – asked them what do they like about this place and what do they want to see happen? And one of the main things was to preserve it as a beautiful space to be. We’ve got this vegetation, a stream and it’s a relatively quiet space. You get a little bit of traffic noise but the bird song is just as loud.
“Also to preserve the open areas for our shared times. There’s a few open spaces and we’ve got some picnic tables that the council brought down for us.
“There was a wedding held here once. Some people heard about it and were looking for an orchard to hold their wedding. That was in March so there would have been fruit on the trees. That kind of idea, where it’s an area people can enjoy, that’s the vision for the future.”
If you would like to visit Kaputahi Community Orchard, come down to 581 Marshlands Road, Christchurch. Volunteers meet most Sundays from 1.30pm.