Starting A Vegetable Garden
You can eat healthier and avoid toxic chemicals by growing your own vegetables. Learn about varities that will grow well in your zone, dig holes based on seed packet instructions, and keep the soil free of weeds.
Greg and Gill Miles’ self-sufficient edible oasis is a must on the Taranaki Garden Festival trail for growers wanting to learn how to pipe home-made worm cast and compost to the roots of their plants, and protect vegetables from blistering winds.
Their 24 vegetable boxes, fruit orchards, microgreen glasshouse and livestock paddocks (sheep, cattle and chooks) have allowed them to be self-sufficient since moving to the Mangorei farm, 5km from New Plymouth. They’re able to feed themselves and three teenaged children as well as supply local markets (copious microgreens are currently being harvested from their glasshouse, where they also propagate all their vegetables, including 100 tomatoes about to be planted out).
Their 1.9ha property is one of three gardens with a focus on fruit and vege – including edible flowers – during the 10-day festival that features 42 gardens around the Taranaki maunga from October 27 to November 5. The vegetables occupy a third of their site – and then there are the avocado, plum, apple, pear, nashi, feijoas and recently planted tamarillo trees.
They jokingly say the only thing they have to buy is alcohol – but they’re also entertaining ideas of making cider or feijoa wine.
But it is their composting systems and methods of protecting their property from the howling Taranaki winds that are of most interest. Carefully thought out shelter belts protected their plants from major damage during the near record winds in the lower North Island this week – a blessing considering the festival is only weeks away.
When they first moved on to the property 10 years ago, they built shelter belts that are still taller than the avocado trees, which then protect the apples, pears and plums from the cold southerly winds. Wind breaks are also used to protect an estimated 100 tomatoes that are about to be transplanted, including 10 differing varieties. Some of their favourites include capri because they are sweet and have less acid, ‘Black Krim’, red and yellow cherries, 100s and the unique pear-shaped yellow and reds. There’s another with a golden stripe, which Greg says is delicious.
Gill says the locale has a microclimate as it is lower than the surrounding land and a lot of the wind blows over the top of the farm. “It can be howling in town but when people come out here they find it is quite sheltered – and that microclimate is one of the keys – we’ve got a little oasis.” The other key to growing success is the composting systems.
One of Greg’s worm farm composting methods involves piling cow dung into home-made boxes. “The boxes are dug into the ground and I fill them up with cow manure and about three months later it’s just loaded with worms, and they digest the manure and turn it pretty much into a soil,” says Greg.
Another compost makes use of lawn clippings and chook poo. “When I start a new box, I usually give the chook house a good clean out.”
A separate area is used to pile weeds and this is turned about once a year.
Compost and fertiliser are the secret to growing strong healthy fruit trees and a vibrant vegetable harvest. But it is the way he applies it to the tomatoes, pumpkins and fruit trees that works best.
“The secret with any fruit tree or favourite tomato or pumpkin is to dig a hole, put the worm compost down the hole, and especially with the fruit trees, put a lot of good stuff, blood and bone and slow release fertiliser at the bottom of the hole.
“Then I put a (vertical) plastic pipe on either side of the plant before planting. The pipe only has to be about 300-400mm deep, long enough to reach the root ball. You leave this high enough out of the ground, so you can see it, maybe about an inch (25mm) or more. Its diameter can range from 15mm to 100mm and really you can make use of any sort of waste pipe or even electric conduit.
“You can then fill the pipe with worm compost, water or liquid fertiliser, and it will go straight to the roots. This is especially important in summer.”
Greg says when planting fruit trees he makes the hole twice as deep as usual before “piling in the good stuff”, then covers this with soil so the roots won’t be directly on top of all this food.
“Once the roots go down about a year later, they find all that good stuff that you’ve put under the hole and the tree just bolts.”
While the couple are busy getting ready for the festival, Greg has two big jobs to do in the next couple of weeks. “The bird netting is up, but it’s flapping around a bit because of all this wind, so I need to secure it.” Netting is also used to keep out possums and rabbits.
And then there is the irrigation system for the tomatoes. He has installed the wire network and now has to attach the irrigation hose, a dropper system. Get this done before you start planting, so you don’t knock around the plants, he says.
This is the third time the couple have been involved in the festival and Gill says it is rewarding to show people how to grow their own plants and be self-sufficient. “You start to measure wealth differently.”
Greg adds that gardening is easy once you have your systems in place.
“We’ve got 24 garden boxes – each 2 square metres – that all ramble down the hill, but it’s just all neat and tidy, and you can just chip away at one box, you know, weed one box as you go, you don’t have to do the whole garden at once.”
Gardening by the moon
October 1-3: Weed, cultivate and prune, but don’t plant now. October 4-5: Sow root crops, especially carrots. Make sure they don’t dry out once they have been planted. Cover to retain moisture.
Gardening by the maramataka
The first of the planting months for most regions. Long-term crops which include kūmara, kamokamo, kānga (Indian corn), taewa, pumpkin and watermelons should be initiated and/or planted now. Whiro falls around the 14th so the period from 10th to 15th is best focused on seed sowing indoors, grafting or softwood cuttings. Near the end of the month is the full moon and aligns to Te Rākaunui phase which brings together the influences of several atua including Rongo (crops and wellbeing), Tane (trees, bushes and forest as well as wild foods) and Tangaroa (foods of the sea) so it is the start to a season of plenty. Beyond this take the cues from the perennials around you for signs of temperature gains in the soil (new weed seedlings of summer species or the new buds on fruit trees) and the presence of some related species such as the pepe tuna (pūriri moth), emperor gum moth or tunga rere (beetle of the huhu grub) – all signs that spring is fully embracing the garden. Dr Nick Roskruge