Te Rito Gardens plans its next move

A community garden that supports people unable to get paid employment is starting again – from the ground up.   

Te Rito Gardens has been operating for nearly 10 years from the grounds of the old Porirua Hospital and has so far supported more than 240 people – many with intellectual disabilities – to gain practical and life skills. But Te Rito is on notice to move to make way for a housing development. It has been offered a new location with a long-term lease, but this is a bare site and the volunteers must now build the infrastructure needed to get their organics cooperative up and running again. 

Te Rito Gardens Coordinator Steve Wilson and his team of 24 volunteers plan to work out of two converted shipping containers until a more permanent building can be erected, and to set up a large covered area that will be used for plant propagation and workshop facilities. The gardens will be powered off-grid by a solar-powered system. 

The IHC Foundation has contributed $20,000 towards the installation of the solar panels and battery bank to run the propagation house and irrigation pumps. 

As hard as it is to uproot themselves and their plants, the Te Rito volunteers see many opportunities at their new flat and sunny site bordering Mitchell Stream in Raiha Street, Kenepuru, where they have a chance to build an even more sustainable enterprise. They are hoping that earthworks on the site will be completed by March 2019 and they will be in their new location by September 2019.  

The mains power at the Porirua Hospital site has already been disconnected so Mike Scaife of RM Software volunteered to install the off-grid power system at the current site so that they can continue to provide services until the shift. 

This is a small temporary solution to provide immediate low-storage AC power to the existing site. Stage two will involve fitting the remaining batteries, along with associated electronics and control systems. 

The solar-powered system, being paid for by the IHC Foundation, will power the irrigation pumps, control systems, lighting, fridge for seed storage, and a small office with tea-making facility. These will be run from a 24/48-volt bank of lead carbon battery cells and charged by solar panels mounted above the propagation structures. A small petrol-powered generator will be on hand for extended periods of insufficient sunshine. 

Te Rito’s main business is to supply local eco-sourced native plants, particularly for planting along riverbanks and in wetlands. It grows many thousands of plants from seed or by propagation. It sells these to local councils, environmental groups and is involved with the Enviro-schools programme, supplying plants to 10 local schools. 

Until recently it has been growing organic vegetables for sale, and this part of the operation will be resumed after the shift.