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Oily Rag - Spring comes early

Oily Rag - Spring comes early

By Frank and Muriel Newman

Even though the calendar is not yet sayings its spring, the weather certainly thinks so. That means it’s time to get serious about the spring vege garden.

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. 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 and an orchard.

Pretty much anything can be used as “boxing” for the raised garden, 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!

We recently saw one garden with raised beds that were about a metre high and 500mm wide. They had taken a ‘no bending’ approach which made gardening super easy. It was also a great way to ‘rabbit-proof’ their garden!

To build a raised garden, first lay the frame flat on the ground - level the ground with a spade if it’s uneven. Before filling the bed, remove or spray the grass, or better still use a thick layer of newspaper as ground cover.

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

Of the many veges that could be planted, why not try some of the following: tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, sweet corn, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, peas, beans, carrots, and salad vegetables. For herbs and companion plants try basil, rosemary, lavender, chamomile, marigolds – and borage for the bees! Most things are dead easy to grow, so now is a great time to get the beds ready for planting once the weather allows.

With the veges taken care of, it’s time to add fruit trees. The biggest job is deciding which trees will grow and where to put them! Planting should be done between late autumn and early spring. 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 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 the tree.

Keep the base of the tree free from weeds, by hoeing, spraying with a weed killer or best of all covering the area with a 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 with natural products such as animal manure and home-made compost.

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

There are lots and lots of other fruit trees to choose from of course, and those with space should think about planting avocados, kiwifruit, figs (which are delicious fresh), and guavas (which make excellent jam - 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 time to watch endless hours of television each day. How about turning off the telly and getting started now!

Do you have a favourite tip or recipe to share with readers? If so, please send it to us at or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.


© Scoop Media

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