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Oily Rag column: A lawn is a vegetable opportunity

A lawn is a vegetable opportunity

by Frank and Muriel Newman
Week of 18 August 2014

It seems like the coldest week of the year so we through we would cheer things up by thinking about spring gardening - which is just a few weeks away.

But first, here's a question from oily ragger Noreen. “Has anybody any tips on how I can prevent pukeko from destroying my veggie garden? I have tried netting but they just trample over it or pull the veg out between the holes in the netting. I would appreciate any suggestions.”

A lawn is a vegetable opportunity! An oily rag family from Northland has been using the cold winter days to prepare for the spring. Last weekend they had a family working bee making and preparing easy-care raised gardens.

They used some free timber - 150mm x 25mm for the side boards and 100mm x 50mm for the posts. To make their “no bending” garden they raised up the sides by 750mm instead of the usual 300mm. The overall dimensions of each garden bed was 2m by 1m to make it easy to reach into the centre without having to climb into the bed itself – or needing arms like a monkey!

To dress the garden up and make it more arty, they lined the outside with corrugated iron - also free, which just goes to show that when you’re living off the smell of an oily rag you should never throw anything away because the day you do is the day you will find a use for it! A 25mm capping was put on the top so the sides of each bed can be used as a seat.

Once built, it was placed on the site of the garden and a thick layer of newspaper was used as ground cover. The bottom was then filled with seaweed – also free from a local beach. The rest was filled with a mixture of soil and home-made compost.

With that done, the garden is now ready for spring planting.

There are lots of easy care vegetable plants for the back-yard gardener. Try some of the following: tomatoes, celery, courgettes, peppers, sweet corn, pumpkins, potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, lettuce and silver beet. For herbs and companion plants try basil, rosemary, lavender, chamomile, marigolds, and borage for the bees.

That’s the veggies taken care of - now to add the fruit trees. The biggest job is deciding which trees to grow and where to put them! Dig a hole about one and a half times deeper and wider than the root ball of the tree. Place a slow release fertiliser in the bottom, put in the tree, and fill the hole, making sure to compress the soil while back-filling to prevent any air pockets. Stake and tie the tree to prevent root trauma, but not so tight as to strangle it!

Keep the base of the tree free from weeds by covering with mulch, which will also keep the ground nice and moist. Although garden suppliers will recommend you purchase fertilisers, many gardeners prefer to feed their trees with natural products such as animal manure and home-made compost.

We reckon the perfect backyard orchard would have an orange, grapefruit, mandarin (for school lunches and snacks), lemon, tamarillo, feijoa, plum, peach, two apple trees - one for eating and one for cooking – as well as a passion fruit and some grape vines.

There are loads of other options and those with space may like to consider figs (which are delicious fresh), guavas (which make excellent jams if you can get to them before the native birds do), and an avocado tree.

Some people say they don’t have the time to garden, which is why busy oily raggers like ‘easy’ gardening.

Frugality is a matter of degree so while we would not expect everyone to transform their entire back yard into a food basket, everyone can do something to recession-proof their food costs – and enjoy the benefits of home grown produce.

Don’t forget to send your money-saving tips to us so we can share them with others, by visiting or by writing to 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

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