Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman
We have been warned. Floods, famine, heat waves, and an ice-age type winter in the northern hemisphere are likely to have a big impact on the price of food in our supermarkets – so we are told. Add to that apocalyptic visions of birds falling from the skies and fish floating belly up onto our beaches and 2011 is off to a disturbing start. Never fear, there is one thing that we can reply upon to combat the perils before us and that’s to indulge in a little bit of the good life in our own quarter acre plot.
Before you venture into chooks, beehives and a humble house cow, it might be best to start with a kitchen garden! Now some people will get excited, start up the rotary hoe, and turn the kids’ cricket pitch into a corn patch. Others will adopt the precautionary principle and start more modestly – perhaps with a patio garden.
And that’s a lot simpler than you may think – a container, growing mix, and plants. In fact you could be into backyard gardening within a matter of hours and be dining on delicious and free home-grown produce within weeks! Here are some simple tips for a patio garden.
Almost any vegetable that will grow in a typical backyard garden will also do well in a container – and almost any container with drainage holes will do.
One reader says they use 10-litre paint pales (which they have collected for free of course). They drill drainage holes in the bottom, place about 25mm of coarse gravel in the bottom to prevent the holes from blocking then they fill with nutrient-rich soil. Others use flower pots, wire baskets, wooden boxes, nursery flats, old bath tubs, plastic bags, and sacks. One oily ragger from Whangarei says they use fish trays. He says they already have drainage holes and only cost a few dollars from variety stores.
The downside about growing vegetables in pots is the same as any potted plant. They need a bit more care and attention because they have limited soil from which to draw their nutrients and the soil dries out faster. It is therefore necessary to fertilize and water the plants regularly.
Here are some more tips for space-challenged oily rag gardeners.
- Don’t grow plants that take up lots of space – like Jack and the Beanstalk runner beans – or ones that have a long growing season. Small is definitely beautiful so go for compact veggies like finger lettuce, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, spinach, silver beet, and celery.
- Avoid using dark coloured containers – they absorb heat which may dry out the soil.
- The easiest way to add fertilizer to plants growing in containers is to prepare a nutrient solution and pour it over the soil. There are many good commercial liquid fertilizers available, but a reader has this tip. “Don’t throw away your plastic milk bottles. When they are empty fill with cold water. Place lid on and shake. There is a good milky residue. Use the contents to water your pot plants. It acts like a pick me up. My indoor plants thrive and it saves you from having to buy costly fertilisers.”
- Use a potting mix, not regular garden soil as some types of soil don’t drain well and can become heavy and a bit like concrete!
No excuses – beat the food price rise and start today!
The book Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag by Frank & Muriel Newman is available from all good bookstores or online at www.oilyrag.co.nz If you have a favourite living off the smell of an oily rag tip, share it with others by visiting the oily rag website or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, 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 www.oilyrag.co.nz. The book is available from bookstores and online at www.oilyrag.co.nz.