Compost is the key to success

Growing vegetables or fruit in your own backyard has made a comeback. Rosie Manins learns how it's done.

David Jaquiery has many mouths to feed, so it is a good thing he loves to grow vegetables.

The 81-year-old keeps five families supplied with a variety of fresh produce year-round from a patch he has established on a relative's Highcliff Rd section.

Crops are planted in their hundreds over about 800sq m of gently sloping land, which Mr Jaquiery discovered was a former rubbish tip.

He started developing the section in 2008, having admired the lush grass growing there.

But it has taken years to dig out rubble which was piled on the site by contractors re-kerbing, channelling and sealing Highcliff Rd.

''They bulldozed over it and spread a thin layer of soil over the top. Even now I still uncover things.''

The nutrient-deficient soil has since been built up with copious amounts of stable manure and compost.

Mr Jaquiery initially sourced sterilised sheep manure from Balclutha and switched to horse manure only when the supply ended.

''I make all my own compost and all of my garden gets huge amounts of it and quite a lot of stable manure. I do the compost on quite a large scale - I have seven bins - and I don't have the time or energy to turn it the way you should, so I carefully layer green waste and stable manure, which works pretty well.''

A tiny amount of artificial fertiliser helps Mr Jaquiery's seedlings, of which he establishes up to 1500 each year.

''I can never grow anything like enough, only about a third get planted and I buy the rest.''

In the glasshouse with seedlings are berry toms and sweet 100 tomatoes, capsicums, chilli and courgettes.

Mr Jaquiery also has tomatoes and courgettes planted outside in sheltered spots, as well as corn, black, red and white currants, gooseberries, blueberries, passionfruit and raspberries.

About 200 leeks are planted - double last year's crop - and there is a thriving patch of artichokes.

Up to 100 red onions, hundreds of spring onions and plenty of garlic are in the ground, as well as lettuce, silverbeet and spinach.

A large brassica patch comprises eight rows, each containing about 36 cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprout plants.

Grown in between are radishes and pak choi.

Mr Jaquiery has constructed a large timber and netting cover over the entire plot, to keep out his arch enemy, the white butterfly.

''They are the worst - my biggest nemesis.

About 50 strawberries are planted next to a mass of runner beans and a pumpkin patch filled with ''little oranges''.

Carrots are one of Mr Jaquiery's staple crops and he first plants a row of Chantenay, followed by the main crop of Manchester and a third sowing of white-tops.

He is most proud of his potatoes, and plants early Swifts followed by Purple Passion and his main crop of Desiree - in total about 500 plants.

Frost is not a problem on the Shiel Hill section, where potatoes are affected only by too much or too little moisture, and Mr Jaquiery always has new potatoes for Christmas and Easter.

He also grows yams, beetroot, white stone turnips, swede turnips, parsnips, peas, horseradish, rhubarb, mint and masses of broad beans.

''I would say I'm lucky. I love it out here, it's just like being in the country.

''The gardening keeps me fitter and healthier than I was 10 years ago.''

Top tips

• Desiree is a good all-round potato, mature after four months.

• Cut silverbeet leaves off plants ready to seed, so they produce more.

• Use netting instead of sprays to counter white butterflies.

• Layer green waste and horse manure to make compost.

• Bury carrots, swedes and parsnips in sand to make them last longer. ''Before they start their second growth at the end of winter, dig them out, cut most of the top off, don't wash the soil off and put them in sand. Unless you freeze them, it's the only way to keep them.''


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