Growing vegetables or fruit in your own back yard has made
a comeback. Rosie Manins learns how it's done.
Somewhere in Ray Williams' Mosgiel house is a gardening
certificate he received in 1948.
It was his last year of primary school and the Broad Bay
youngster's mixed vegetable selection won him second place.
''I can't remember if there were only two gardeners or not,
but it doesn't matter, it's still second,'' he jokes.
As a child he had a small section of the family vegetable
patch, which was a necessity for most households in those
''It was a compulsory sort of thing to have in a large
family, and it was a little bit compulsory that the children
had to play their part, whether by choice or by demand.''
It sparked his interest in growing vegetables and when he
married and had children of his own, it only made sense to
establish a vegetable garden.
Mr Williams and his wife, Ann, bought their quarter-acre
(0.1ha) section in Mosgiel about 55 years ago, when the
former farmland was divided for residential development.
''It was the place to come in those days. A lot of new growth
was going on in Mosgiel.
"I remember coming out here when the framework of the house
was being put in and I staked out an area for my vegetables
He has enriched the soil through his gardening ever since and
says most crops seem to flourish.
''You have your good seasons and your bad seasons with
growing vegetables. Some years you might get a good crop of
something and the next year it just doesn't work, but you can
generally plant most things in Mosgiel.''
His flat section used to be swampy riverbed, like much of
Mosgiel, so it needed regular doses of nutrient-rich manure
''You have to add to the soil and it takes time. If you keep
planting and putting nothing back, you're going to get what
Mr Williams used potatoes first in his vegetable patch, as
they grew well and helped break up the virgin ground.
Carrots, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli soon followed, and
he now has about 25 different vegetables growing most
seasons, including tomatoes, capsicums and cucumbers in a
He prefers cliff kidney potatoes for their flavour and
ability to grow quickly.
The early crop is usually planted about late August or early
September, depending on the weather, and is ready for eating
in early December.
''We always have carrots, peas and spuds for Christmas.''
Food scraps and most green waste is used in Mr Williams'
three-bin composting system, but never any material from his
wife's roses, which he says are more likely to carry disease
''The only spray that I use on my vegetables is pyrethrum, to
keep the aphids down. Occasionally I use a bit of seaweed,
and a bit of blood and bone doesn't go astray.''
Small bags of sulphate of ammonia and lime last in his garden
shed for up to four seasons.
Mr Williams has expanded his growing operation to make use of
some bare land on another Mosgiel section, and there he has
planted red and brown onions, potatoes and pumpkins.
''Those are the sorts of things you can put in and virtually
leave. Last year I tried corn there but it needs a bit more
attention, so I've brought that home this year.''
In his five small home plots he also has strawberries,
beetroot, rhubarb, garlic, lettuce, runner beans, broad
beans, courgettes, spring onions, leeks, dwarf beans, baby
carrots, radishes and an everlasting onion with a long
''It's from the family garden in Broad Bay and was planted
here in Mosgiel in 1959. It's like an overgrown chive and
multiplies under the ground. You just have to give it a
• Potatoes do well in virgin soil and break up hard ground.
• Regularly enrich soil with manure or compost.
• Rotate crops.
• Cliff kidney potatoes are sweet, tasty and quick to mature.
• Keep rose material out of compost.
• Pea straw keeps strawberries off damp soil.
• The occasional ''green crop'' like oats or mustard
• Potatoes don't like lime.