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Oily Rag Column: Spring planting

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Oily Rag Column: Spring planting

By Frank and Muriel Newman

It’s spring so its time to think about planting for a long summer harvest. Most oily raggers are keen gardeners, not only because it saves heaps of money, but also because home-grown produce has more flavour and is better for you. Gardening is also a fulfilling leisure activity - in fact it’s the fourth most popular leisure activity in New Zealand - so here are some great gardening tips from readers.

G.B. says, "If planting large seeds like beans, use the inners of toilet rolls, part fill with seed mix, put in the seed and top up. You can get about 12 of these to stand up in an ice cream container. And once they have sprouted and are doing well, plant out the whole tube. The plants will not suffer any transplant shock and the cardboard will rot away quickly."

Glenn from Wellington writes, "I always had a problem with composting, until at a night class I was told to simply wrap vegetable peelings and food waste in newspaper before putting in the compost. The newspaper provides carbon and so balances the green nitrogenous waste."

For garden mulch, use shredded paper. Soak before spreading around the base of the plant so it forms a matt. It will keep the ground moist and when it eventually breaks down it will add goodness to the soil.

K.S. from Morrinsville says, "Purchase dried peas and beans from an organic shop, and pop them in punnets. They will grow for you, and soon be ready to plant out as normal."

Grandma from Christchurch writes, "On my 1/8th acre section I have a feijoa hedge, raspberries at the borders, and apple, nectarine and lemon trees. Herbs are in a small above-ground garden by the back door, and beans and peas climb up fences on wire mesh. Asparagus is in a plot and yams are in an old barrel as they spread into anything. Plus there is a small plot for cabbage, broccoli, red onions, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower and many other seasonal vegetables. I plant veges that are more expensive to buy and live well."

Dorothy from Whangarei says, "If you lack gardening knowledge, do so some research. Go and ask the elderly - grandparents, neighbours, oldies groups about how to go about it."

Shane from New Plymouth has this idea. "When raising seedlings, put old tea bags in a dish of water and sprinkle or place your seeds on top. When they shoot and grow up a bit, transplant them to potting mix in raising cups with tweezers. This way you definitely get only one seed per cup."

Trixie has an interesting way of making a cheap "glasshouse". "I made mine by purchasing clear plastic shower curtains and attaching them to the inside of my balcony with curtain hooks. Apart from the easterly breeze which blows them around, I have managed to keep my plants warm and sprouting nicely."

Here are some tips for growing potatoes. Cut a potato into pieces with two or three shoots (eyes) on each. Leave the pieces in a warm place for a couple of weeks to allow the cuts to dry and shoots to sprout. Seed potatoes are cheapest at garden centres, but some oily raggers use leftover spuds rather than toss them out. Being a root vegetable, spuds do best in loose soil, planted about 50mm deep with the sprouts facing up. Lightly cover with soil or a mulch. As the plants grow, mound the soil or straw over the rows to form a raised bed about 150mm high. This provides a loose medium for the roots to spread and makes it easy to dig out the mature potatoes. Water regularly and harvest about 3 or 4 weeks after flowering. Dig up the main crop after the tops have died down. Store the spuds for at least 10-14 days in a dark, well-ventilated place. You should get between 1 and 2 kilos per plant.

Do you have a favourite gardening tips that you would like to share with others? Let us know by going to or writing to 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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