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Back Yard Orchard

As oily raggers know, when it comes to fruit trees, its really easy and very little needs to be done to produce significant rewards!

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman

There has been a lot of chatter recently around the oily rag community regarding turning your backyard into an eternal food basket – one that costs you nothing and just keeps on producing deliciously fresh and healthy food for the family. As oily raggers know, when it comes to fruit trees, its really easy and very little needs to be done to produce significant rewards!

The biggest job is deciding which trees will grow best in your conditions – and then figuring out where to put them. It’s almost as simple as giving instructions on how to open a bottle of milk!

Planting should be done between late autumn and early spring – so it’s not too late! 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 back-filling 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 fruit trees 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 prefer to feed their trees natural products such as animal manure and home-made compost.

There are lots of trees that could be planted (books full of them!) but here are some thoughts about apples and citrus which are the most essential and obvious.

When it comes to apples there are lots of options. By having a couple of varieties their availability can be staggered over a number of months. Royal Gala is a very popular eating apple that is also used for salads because it is sweet and crispy. It comes into harvest from mid February through to late March. New Zealand Rose is another good eating apple (it’s a cross between gala and splendour varieties). It has a very sweet flavour with crisp and juicy flesh. Harvest in April.

Granny Smith is the classic cooking apple used for sauces and pies, but is also suitable for eating. It has a bright green skin and pure white flesh that has a tangy tarty flavour. It ripens in April and early May.

Citrus trees like warmth and free draining soils – which probably explains why they grow well in places like Kerikeri. If they are planted in heavy soil conditions the trees should be planted on a mound to prevent root rot.

The oily rag orchard is likely to have an orange, a mandarin, a grapefruit and a lemon tree. You can’t go too far wrong with the well tried varieties. Valencia oranges are sweet-tasting and excellent for juice making. For a mandarin try Satsuma. It’s sweet tasting and easy to peel, which makes it excellent for school lunches. Golden Special grapefruit is juicy with few seeds, and for a lemon that produces all year round try Eureka. These four trees should provide for all of your citrus needs.  

That’s how simple it is to start an oily rag orchard in your back yard. There’s no excuse for not having fresh fruit in the house when these favourites are so easy to grow.

Do you have an oily rag idea 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