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Oily Rag: 12 September 2011—Lawn is a lost opportunity

Oily Rag: 12 September 2011—Lawn is a lost opportunity

By Frank and Muriel Newman

Oily raggers are independent thinkers and could not be accused of being part of a reef-fish society. We believe frugality is something most people want to do but don’t because they don’t know how. The best place to start is with your very own back yard.

Frugality is a matter of degree so we would not expect everyone to transform their entire back yard into a food basket, but everyone can do something to recession-proof their food costs, and enjoy all of the other benefits that home-grown produce can provide. So here are a few tips on how to transform your back yard into a frugal foodies paradise.

We reckon lawn is a lost opportunity - turn it into raised gardens. Pretty much anything can be used as “boxing”, but it needs to be about 300mm high (otherwise known as 12 inches). Most people use timber (not that oily raggers fall into the most people category!). One oily ragger made a frame from 150mm x 50mm (also known as 6 by 2) timber, secured at the corners with 100mm x 100mm (4 by 4) posts cut flush to the frame. (Those who don’t like the idea of treated timbers in a garden should use macrocarpa which will last about 15 years.) Make each bed no wider than 1200mm so it is reasonably easy to reach into the centre without having to climb into the bed itself - or needing arms like a monkey!

Once built, lay the frame flat ground, or level the ground with a spade if it’s uneven. If the area is in grass, spray or remove the grass before filling the bed. Or better still use a thick layer of newspaper as ground cover.

Fill the frame with a mixture of half topsoil and half compost. Lighten up the mix with some sand or fine scoria for drainage.

Of the many things that could be planted try some of the following: Tomatoes, melons, sweet corn, pumpkins, potatoes, legumes, root vegetables and salad vegetables. Most things are dead easy to grow and now is a good time of the year to get started. For herbs and companion plants try basil, rosemary, lavender, chamomile, and marigolds.

That’s the veges taken care of, now add fruit trees. The biggest job is deciding which tree will grow and where to put it! Planting should be done between late autumn and early spring - preferably late autumn if the soil is free draining through the winter. Dig a hole about one and a half times deeper and wider than the root ball of the tree. Place slow release fertiliser in the bottom of the hole, place in the tree, and back fill the hole, making sure to compress the soil while backfilling to prevent any air holes. 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 hoeing - or best of all, by covering the area with mulch, which will suppress the weeds and keep the ground moist. Although garden suppliers will recommend you purchase fertilisers there are many gardeners who feed their trees natural products such as animal manure and home-made compost.

We reckon the perfect backyard orchard would have at least: One orange, grapefruit, mandarin (for school lunches and snacks), lemon, tamarillo, feijoa, plum, peach, passion fruit, grape vines and two apple trees - one for eating and one for cooking.

There are lots and lots of other fruit trees and those with space should add a lot more like avocado, kiwifruit, figs (which are delicious fresh), guavas (which make excellent jams - that’s if you can get to the fruit before the native birds do).

Some people say they don’t have the time to garden, yet they do have the time to be entertained with hours of television each night. How about turning off the TV and starting now!

We are on the lookout for new oily rag ideas - do you have any to share? Send your comments and tips by visiting the oily rag website or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei. The book Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag by Frank & Muriel Newman is available online at


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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