Liv­ing mulches very ben­e­fi­cial SOW ED­I­BLE GREEN MA­NURE CROPS


When vege beds sit empty over win­ter, it’s an in­vi­ta­tion for weeds to move in, and for the soil to wash out, which is why we sow cover crops in au­tumn. These liv­ing mulches – usu­ally legumes such as blue lupin – are ben­e­fi­cial on sev­eral fronts. They fix nitro­gen, pre­vent nu­tri­ent leach­ing, look tidy, pro­vide a habi­tat for in­sects and pro­vide valu­able or­ganic mat­ter to im­prove your soil when they’re dug in ahead of spring plant­ing.

This year I’ve de­cided to take a slightly dif­fer­ent ap­proach in my va­cant vege beds. I’m thickly sow­ing (one packet of seed per 2m x 2m bed) things I can eat – in soups, side dishes or veg­e­tar­ian meals – as well as dig back in.

I’m sow­ing liv­ing mulches of mesclun, peren­nial arugula or wild rocket (it’s frost-hardy, un­like an­nual large-leafed rocket), broad beans (you can steam or stir-fry their tops), kale and na­tive spinach. New Zealand spinach is an un­der­rated ground­cover – it’s fleshy and fast to sprawl over bare soil. Plus, once lightly steamed, it turns vi­brant green, so it must be good for us!


I’ve just had a flu jab (just in case) but my main de­fence against win­ter colds and chills is to crank up my vi­ta­min C con­sump­tion – and not by tak­ing pills from health stores.

The most ob­vi­ous home­grown source of vi­ta­min C is cit­rus fruit, and with the first man­darins start­ing to ripen, we don’t have long to wait for the on­slaught of zesty cit­rus.

Pick a mix of va­ri­eties and, in mild ar­eas, it’s pos­si­ble to har­vest fresh cit­rus al­most year round. Cit­rus trees are sub­trop­i­cal but you can pro­tect them with frost cloth, or use the or­ganic waxb-ased Liq­uid Frost Cloth (also sold as Va­por­gard). Spray this over the fo­liage ev­ery 6-8 weeks. It’s worth get­ting on with this task now if you live in an area where early frosts can strike with­out warn­ing.

The eas­i­est cit­rus tree for Kiwi gar­den is the hy­brid ‘Meyer’ lemon. It’s rel­a­tively hardy (com­pared to true lemons) and very pro­lific. My trees have fruit for 11

months of the year. Tahi­tian limes can be slow and shy to fruit but given how ex­pen­sive limes are to buy, they’re still worth it. The fruit starts to ripen next month.

If you’d rather drink your vi­ta­min C, plant tan­ge­los, Navel or­anges (for win­ter fruit) or ‘Har­wood Late’ or ‘Va­len­cia’ for spring and sum­mer.

You could also start your own patch of na­tive scurvy grass, ac­tu­ally a type of bras­sica. This is the lit­tle scrubby plant that Cap­tain Cook or­dered his men to chow down on when they landed here. Cook’s scurvy grass, Le­pid­ium ol­er­aceum, is en­dan­gered in the wild but seeds are avail­able for home gardens (or­der on­line from In the wild, this plant was fer­tilised by coastal guano (bird poo); use chook ma­nure to make it feel at home.

Sow miner’s let­tuce now too. This fleshy, hardy salad green (Clay­to­nia per­fo­li­ata, got its name dur­ing the Cal­i­for­nian gold rush, when min­ers ate it to pre­vent scurvy.


Rak­ing up leaves is a manys­plen­doured thing. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for gen­tle ex­er­cise, an au­tumn ex­cuse to prac­tice the art of Zen med­i­ta­tion, nec­es­sary hor­ti­cul­tural house­work and an im­por­tant task to stock­pile car­bon to keep your com­post heap chug­ging along. Do you en­joy rak­ing leaves? I do. Or at least I do once the job is done. We have a leafy drive­way lined with liq­uidambars, pin oaks, English oaks and horse chest­nuts and if we don’t keep on top of the leaves as they come down, they turn to sludge. But an hour’s rak­ing ev­ery few days from now un­til June makes it man­age­able.

If you have heavy clay soil or light sandy soil, scat­ter au­tumn leaves over it and cover with com­post to build a new layer of fertility. Or use the leaves as a weed-sup­press­ing mulch around fruit trees or win­ter-dor­mant peren­ni­als. I gave the dry soil where I’m try­ing to grow hostas a gen­er­ous 10cm-thick blan­ket of half-rot­ten leaves last au­tumn and it has al­ready made a dif­fer­ence.

Layer fallen leaves be­tween vege scraps and grass clip­pings in your com­post, or bag up leaves, tie off and let them rot for 6-9 months to make leaf mould.


Plant an olive tree to pickle or press for oil. No room for a tra­di­tional Mediter­ranean grove of olives? Choose a self-fer­tile va­ri­ety. In a larger gar­den try

vig­or­ous ‘Fran­toio’ for pick­ling, or for a more com­pact, shrubby tree in a small gar­den or large pot, ‘Koroneiki’ yields high qual­ity oil. ‘Koroneiki’ has small fruit but plenty of them.

Olives grow well in many parts of New Zealand but they don’t like wet win­ter soil. Plant in full sun in a warm, shel­tered spot with well-drained soil that isn’t overly fer­tile. Ir­ri­gate un­til the trees are es­tab­lished, then let them be.

This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get grow­ing, from New Zealand Gar­dener mag­a­zine. For gar­den­ing ad­vice de­liv­ered to your in­box ev­ery Fri­day, sign up for Get Grow­ing at: get­grow­

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