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Gardening with Dr Compost

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Dr Compost aka Ben Elms is a permaculture and gardening expert who’s been operating in the unusual Central Otago climate for over 20 years. Funded by QLDC and delivered by Wanaka Wastebusters, the Dr Compost project aims to reduce organic waste going to landfill.
Got a question? Check out @drcompost on Facebook or


You’d be mistaken for thinking this is the time of year when we forget our veggie gardens while heading to the slopes or hibernating till the sun comes back. Only 12 weeks till spring, only a gardener would yell such blasphemous words in a ski town.
Yet this is some of my most productive times of year. The more we do now the more productive our spring gardening will be.
I don’t want to be maintaining pathways in the spring and cutting back Berry bushes. I’m just not going to have the time to be pulling weeds out and I don’t want to!!
There’s a few things we can be getting on with that’s perfect for this time of year.


So here’s the to do or not to do list for the coming weeks

  1. Plant that Garlic. Now is the time, do it this week. Put a handful of quality compost or vermicast in each hole and then one on top for luck with every clove. Size matters, small cloves small bulbs, big cloves equals bigger bulbs. Mulch the bed well with some straw. This will insulate the ground allowing the garlic to get even more growth over the winter months. It will also avoid weeds, soil compaction and your valuable nutrients being flushed away.
  2. Give all those crops your harvesting with the ‘cut and grow’ again method (rocket, broccoli, spinach, silverbeet etc) some love with a handful or 2 of compost around them. 
  3. Berry bushes can be planted now as most are in a dormant state. The love you give them now will pay dividends for years to come. For raspberries; dig a trench and backfill it with manure/compost and then add soil on top, planting the raspberries at 30 cm intervals. Add more manure and mulch on top keeping it away from your plants. You can get Raspberry plants for free off friends as they grow and spread like weeds. Consider using some reclaimed roofing iron to create a root barrier either side to stop them spreading far and wide. The same ideas can be applied to Loganberry, Boysenberry and other berry bushes. Cut to the ground second year canes of established berry bushes. Manure and mulch already established berries too.
  4. Apply manure and mulch to veggie gardens. Don’t hit spring with weedy beds. If they’re weedy already, cover them in cardboard, put some compost on top and straw mulch ready for spring. This is a great way to get your soil fertile especially the first few years. Be wary though manure and straw mulch can bring in weed seeds..
  5. Fruit tree pruning. Young fruit trees are pruned in winter to encourage growth and shape. Choose a sunny day, the sun solarises your pruning cuts. Older established fruit trees are pruned either in spring or after fruit drop. (peaches and apricots can be pruned at various times in the growing season ideally not winter though to avoid disease)
  6. Pathways. It's the groundhog day part of the article. But there's nothing worse than the groundhog day of weeding pathways!!! Woodchips, old carpet, pavers….. What are you going to do to stop the headache?
  7. Applying compost and mulch in autumn and early winter. There is no better time.
  8. Tidy up your compost heap. Give it a turn into the next bay or lift your plastic Dallic off and turn it back into it. This is an opportunity to observe how your compost is going. What are your moisture levels like? Does it need more carbon or nitrogen?
  9. New to composting. Dig a hole in your veggie patch or anywhere with access to bare soil. Chuck in your food scraps and cover with 20 to 30 cm of soil. If you like this method, pre dig a trench and start filling from one end covering up the food scraps as you put them in day to day.
  10. When was the last time you applied rock minerals and lime to your veggie garden. Gardeners mine the soil of minerals, we need to replace them to grow healthy nutriticous food.
  11. It doesn’t have to cost a lot with free resources everywhere. There’s horse manure that owners want taken away, there’s piles of leaves blowing away, free wooden pallets to use for your new compost bays that businesses want taken away(ask first). Cabbage tree leaves, flax flower stalks, wild lupins…. don’t forget all that peeing you do!!! Capture it and use it in your gardens.  Store in sealed containers. Dilute 5 to 1.

Happy Composting and Gardening!