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Backyard gardening and renting appliances

Backyard gardening and renting appliances

By Frank and Muriel Newman

Denise from Auckland has sent us this great letter about growing a backyard garden. She shows what can be done to transform a tough back-yard section into a productive garden providing fresh vegetables at little or no cost. Here’s her letter.

It’s easy to grow produce in NZ, but especially if you are in the North Island. If you don’t grow your own produce, plan for next spring now.

My Auckland garden has very poor soil, and a previous owner skimmed off the top soil when the house was built so we have been left with very heavy clay soil. That being the case I grow all my produce in containers.

I found a source where I could buy 200 litre barrels for $10.00, cut in half give me two 100 litre containers. I also buy containers from either Warehouse Stationary or the Warehouse depending on which has the best price. They are the type that has different bright colours and two handles. Just drill some holes for drainage underneath. Some of my containers are now 5 years old and they are still fine in spite of the Auckland sun.

In the 15 litre container I grow lettuces, parsley, coriander, basil, and capsicum. The larger sizes are 30, 42 and 60 litres. I use the largest for tomatoes and they will also hold 3 capsicum plants and potatoes in winter.

In summer I grow lettuces, herbs, silver beet, eggplants, beetroot, courgettes, strawberries, beans, chilli, tomatoes, capsicums, beetroot, snow peas, cucumber, bitter melon, rock melon and beans. I grow three types of tomato, Roma (acid free and great for cooking), cocktail (which has tiny salad tomatoes great to freeze), and beef steak.

In winter I grow silver beet, potatoes, broad beans, pak choi, coriander, baby carrots and lettuce. If you find a sheltered corner you should also be able to grow parsley.

The containers are too small to grow cabbages or broccoli so I buy them. I have a greenhouse so I can grow tomatoes including Sub Arctic Plenty, which was apparently grown in the poles so it is very hardly indeed, and also capsicums. I grow as much as I can fit into the greenhouse in the 15 litre, 30, and 42 litre containers.

I also have a compost bin and use that every 6 months to top up the containers. When on sale I buy bags of sheep pellets and blood and bone, usually it’s on sale in the off season, and I stock up for when it’s needed. I add both to the soil and only do a complete refresh every 3 years to stop any diseases. Potting mix is also stocked up when on sale.

There you have it - a very handy guide to growing in pots and containers. It’s a great scheme for renters; if you move you can take your garden with you! Pots are also very convenient in that they can be placed in full sun, semi-shade, or shade, depending on what best suits the plants. The downside is they will require more watering than would otherwise be the case, and as Denise mentions, the soil needs to be replaced from time to time.

One of the major newspapers recently ran a story about renting appliances. The bottom line is they came to the view that renting is a bad idea. We have done some quick numbers and have come to the same view – buying makes more financial sense than renting. Our quick, back of a soup-stained serviette calculation shows that those renting a washing machine would have paid the equivalent of a new machine (with warranties) after 12 to 18 months – and that’s for a new machine not a good second hand one which is likely to be what you will get from the rental company. We reckon a brand new washing machine is good for 10 years (depending on the use) but even assuming a five year life, the cost of the new machine is a fraction of what would be $2,700 in rental costs.

Putting the comparative costs aside, there may be situations where renting is preferred. An appliance rental company told us a lot of their machines go to flats where four or so flatmates share in the rental cost and there are no buying and selling hassles and no money issues when flat mates come and go. This does not stop an enterprising individual owning a machine and renting it out to their flatmates as part of the flatting agreement!

If you have a money saving tip you would like to share, send it to us by visiting - or by writing to us at Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.

*Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at


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