Sustainable backyard

March is Sustainable Backyards Month in the Western Bay of Plenty – see the Events listing for local happenings.

David Harricks first read about permaculture – a production system that can be applied to plots large and small – in 1978 “and I’ve been trying bits and pieces of it ever since”.

He’s had his Greerton garden for 10 years so has some permaculture systems in place, although they may not be apparent to the casual observer.

For instance, instead of carting clippings to a central compost heap, he prefers to make smaller piles around the garden and recommends the trenching method of composting for people who don’t have room for, or don’t want, a compost bin.

“Dig a trench in the garden, put in your vege scraps or lawn clippings, and cover it. The next time, dig the trench a vege row’s width from the first one. Plant in between the trenches so the crop’s roots can access the compost.”

David Harricks with one of his manure producers, a guinea pig. Photo: Sandra Simpson

David enjoys building up his soil by recycling what otherwise might go to waste – bags of hair from his barber, coffee grounds from a café and lawn clippings from a mowing contractor.

“Why put it in the bin and pay for fertiliser? These things are all useful soil conditioners as well as fertilisers. I try to do things in a sustainable way and that means being a pragmatist too.”

He grows oats for his wife’s pet guinea pigs and in return they provide fertiliser. David also has chooks for eggs and manure and a friend who supplies donkey manure for the garden.

As well as the summer staples of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, lettuce and cucumbers, David last year tried a crop of Austrian oil-seed pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) which has hulless seeds that are edible both fresh and roasted. In Austria, the seeds are mainly used to make a popular cooking and dressing oil, the flesh being fed to farm animals.

Austrian oil-seed pumpkins. Photo: Sandra Simpson

(Side note 1: The only advice my Austrian friend who brought me a bottle had was “don’t splash it on your clothes or table cloth, it will never come out”.

Side note 2: Gerard Martin, now owner of Kings Seeds, grew a crop for MAF in Levin many years ago but no one could find a use for the gourds.)

David has recently “fallen in love” with globe artichokes, has had Aspiring raspberries cropping from before Christmas (the secret’s in the pruning, he says), has heirloom Otago spotted runner beans growing in a neighbour’s garden and, after tasting kale last year in Australia for the first time, now grows that too.

“Just sprinkle the leaves with olive oil and salt and roast it in the oven and you’ve got kale chippies. Beautiful.”

David doesn’t believe in watering, reckoning that the cost of town-supply water is more than the vegetables are worth so makes no economic sense. He may lose a couple of plants in the height of summer but most of his vege garden survives without problem.

An Isle of Capri tomato – hardly any seeds and acid free. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Find more information on Isle of Capri tomatoes here. Seeds are available in New Zealand from ecoseeds, click on the down arrow at the end of the first product line.

Brought up on a farm in Australia and having had many different jobs – including owning a chook farm and working as a prison officer – David approaches his gardening in an intensely practical manner.

“I’m a hoarder and recycler from way back,” he says. “I came at gardening from a waste reduction angle. Sure, you can have a garden with nice straight rows but people become fixated about it.

“My dog died a couple of years ago so I buried it in the garden and planted a passionfruit over it and I’ve had heaps of fruit – nothing goes to waste.”

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated slightly.