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Winter Gardening

Those living off the smell of an oily rag are usually keen gardeners, because fresh is best and it's a great way to save money. So let's head off into the oily rag garden, just to show it's never too cold to go gardening!

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

Those living off the smell of an oily rag are usually keen gardeners, because fresh is best and it’s a great way to save money! To many, it’s also a fulfilling leisure activity.  So let’s head off into the oily rag garden, just to show it’s never too cold to go gardening!
For most people the oily rag gardening year starts in winter. That’s a time to prepare the soil for the spring planting. Although this is not a busy planting season, there are some vegetables that will still produce for you – depending of course on the climate: broccoli, cabbages, cauliflowers, leeks, lettuce, spring onions, silver beet, and spinach. Rhubarb is also worth keeping in mind for those steaming winter pies – yum!
Once the soil warms up, towards the end of winter, try broad beans, cabbages, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, peppers, potatoes, and silver beet.
To protect plants that are susceptible to the cold, an oily ragger recommends making mini green houses by cutting off the bottoms of 1.5 and 2 litre drink bottles. Place them over young plants and push them firmly into the ground. They not only protect young and tender plants against cold air but also against garden pests like slugs and snails – and rabbits!
Another oily ragger says they use a hinged window frame that they picked up for a very reasonable price (nothing!). They boxed it in to make it draft proof, but this works well on raised gardens (just lay the window frame over the sides of the raised garden).

Winter is also a good time to start making your own compost. A reader has a simple method. “To make rich compose, place lawn clippings, weeds and other garden waste into a big black plastic bag (such as a big garbage bag). Seal the bag and leave. Turn it once a week and after three months you will have good garden compost.”    

Another reader has four black plastic compost bins. They fill them with household scraps and clean garden weeds. When bin 1 is full, they start bin 2, etc. By the time bin 4 is full, bin 1 is ready to use. If there is any un-composted material they transfer it to one at the far end of the line, and put it through another “cycle” until it eventually breaks down.

Oily raggers also have their own treasure trove of tips about manure. Here are some of the more “interesting” facts about the “science” of using manure in your garden.

  • Between 75 and 90 percent of the plant nutrients fed to animals are excreted in their manure. This is what makes it an excellent fertiliser.
  • Avoid manure from meat eaters as there is a risk of parasites or disease organisms being transmitted to humans.
  • Most manure is “hot” and must be composted before adding to the garden otherwise it will burn the plants. Cow pats are an exception and one of the best all-round manures. They are safe to apply liberally, especially when water is added to make a liquid fertiliser.
  • Rabbit manure has the highest concentrations of nutrients, followed by chicken, sheep, horse, and cow dung.
  • The best zoo doo is elephant dung – and it’s easy to pick up!

Well, there you go… who said manure was not interesting! Share your garden tips with others by going to the oily rag website and sending your in your tips.

* 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