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Horticultural workshop host Ben Elms, also known as Dr Compost, of Wanaka, talks to The News about his love of the industry and how others can make the most of their garden, too.
Q) How long have you been sharing your gardening knowledge?
Mmmmmm, not sure. I’ve been experimenting for 22 years here in Central Otago’s challenging gardening conditions.
Q) What do you aim to achieve throughout your various workshops?
Primarily it’s to get people to give it a go or to tweak what they’re doing all ready.
Q) Who attends your workshops and what feedback have you had?
We get all ages attending. It takes a while to get into gardening in this region, especially if you’ve gardened elsewhere before.
Our unique climate and its ability to throw a frost at you any month of the year, the hot days and cold nights we often get, many vegetables don’t know what they’re meant to be doing.
Making and using compost is very satisfying.
Especially when you turn food scraps into a biological natural fertiliser. Win-win!
Q) How satisfying is your work and why?
It’s the best job. You get to talk and share ideas with fellow aspiring gardeners.
We’re all gardeners at our core. We’ve all been doing this for a millennia or two.
I love it when I get to learn new tips.
A couple of years ago, a local Wanaka gardener, Paddy, gave me a top tip to beat carrot fly. I’d tried everything.
It was as simple as mulching between the rows with freshly cut grass. Boom, no more carrot fly!
QWhat are some of the most common misconceptions people have about gardening?
I might answer this with the best approach to a vegie garden in our environment is to think of your backyard as a microclimate.
How can I enhance the microclimate? How can I even out the high and low temperatures? How can I extend the seasons? It could be as simple as using some hoops and frost cloth.
Q) What are two key elements to growing a bumper crop of vegetables?
Well, the answer from the last question along with water and compost.
Compost is full of billions of microbes that give our soil life.
We’re adding loads of organic matter at the same time, which in turn improves the waterholding capacity of our soils.
For years I tried different watering systems. Now I have [an] overhead sprinkler system that has made a huge difference coupled with a timer.
Take time to observe what is going on in your garden. It’s this time we get to learn the most.
Q) Based on Wanaka and Central Otago climate, what are some of the vegetables that have the best success rate locally?
My favourite is the random silverbeet plant that is in full leaf when nothing else seems to be growing in your garden.
Others are a zucchini in a warm spot. It just keeps on giving.
Kale keeps on growing as you pick those leaves all year round.
Garlic, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, potatoes — they can all do well here.
Most years you get a crop that didn’t do well for some reason.
It gives us the impetus to learn and try again next year.