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Spring Gardening

It's spring so its time to think about planting for the summer harvest.

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

It's spring (not that the temperature gauge is aware of it yet given the recent snows!) so its time to think about planting for the summer harvest.  Did you know that gardening is the fourth most popular leisure activity in New Zealand?  (The top three are: watching TV, reading, and socialising with friends). Every household should have a garden – it's actually dead simple for those who don't want to get too fancy, and we reckon it's a better use of ones time than blobbing out in front of the tellie adding inches to the waistline. Even renters can have a pot plant garden that they can take with them if they shift. All it takes is a get-up-and-go attitude, and a few tips from oily rag gardeners.

Canny Scot from Christchurch writes, "When planting my strawberries I have given them a mulch of wet shredded paper from my shredding machine. It matts together nicely keeping light out to prevent weeds and I should have nice clean strawberries to eat. It makes use of your old bank statements and junk mail is very colourful when shredded. It will break down eventually and feed the worms, which helps the soil."

Our Canny Scott from Christchurch also has a way to recycle ice cream containers. "Next time you think about throwing out your old ice cream containers cut them into strips and make little plant markers with them. Make sure you use a waterproof marker when writing on them."

TXMA from Glenfield has this tip for using kitchen waste. "Instead of buying blood and bone for your Garden, get a fisherman's heavy duty meat grinder (burly maker) and grind up the bones to use as fertiliser. Dry the bone meal in the oven as you cook your next roast, or just dig it straight in."

Also on feeding your plants, D.B. says, "Don't throw away your plastic milk bottles. When they are empty fill with cold water, place the lid on and given them a good shake. Use the milky residue to water your pot plants – it acts like a pick me up. My African daises thrive as do my many other indoor plants. It saves you from having to buy costly fertilisers."

The Manawahe School in Whakatane has this tip to share about seeds. "Place seeds such as peas, beans, luffa, etc in warm water for two days then plant. We are having a gardening competition so we are looking for ideas like this." (Do you have ideas we can pass on to the Manawahe School?)

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 in due course plant out the whole tube. The plants will not suffer any transplant shock and the cardboard will rot away quickly."

And K.S. from Morrinsville says, "Go to an organic shop. Purchase lentils, chick peas, haricot beans (navy) etc and come home and pop them in punnets. They will grow for you. Plant them in the garden as normal and harvest when ready."

Now to the oily rag questions department. K.C. from Wellington asks, "I have been looking for a good home made shampoo… any one got any recipes? I have a liquid hand soap recipe but find it gets very thick and hard to pump out. Also… I can find "Washing soda crystals" but not washing soda, any ideas, or are these the same thing?" Let us know if you have any suggestions for KC.

If you have gardening tips to share then log on to our 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 The book is available from bookstores and online at