Oily Rag: Backyard gardens

By Frank, Muriel Newman

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Planting in movable containers can be very convenient - use anything on hand. Photo/Thinkstock
Planting in movable containers can be very convenient - use anything on hand. Photo/Thinkstock

Denise from Auckland has sent us this great letter about growing a backyard garden. She shows what can be done to transform a tough backyard 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, cut in half give me two 100-litre containers. I also buy containers from either Warehouse Stationery or the Warehouse depending on which has the best price. Just drill some holes for drainage underneath. Some of my containers are now five 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 three 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.

In winter I grow silver beet, potatoes, broad beans, pak choi, coriander, baby carrots and lettuce.

I grow as much as I can fit into my greenhouse in the 15 litre, 30, and 42 litre 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. 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 , 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. We have done some quick numbers and have come to the same view - buying makes more financial sense than renting. Our quick, calculation on the back of a serviette shows 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 $2700 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 flatmates 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 favourite recipe or oily rag tip that works well for your family, send it to us at www.oilyrag.co.nz, or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei, and we will relay it to the readers of this column.

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