Composting & organic gardening: Notes from a New Zealander

Image from Unsplash

Endlessly Green is pleased to publish this informative article on composting and organic gardening written by Dunedin, New Zealand-based Cloe Matheson. Composting in cold seasons is something you might want to pay attention to.

Organic gardening has taken off in New Zealand as gardeners across the country choose to minimize their use of pesticides and practise their environmental values. If you’re planning on starting your own organic garden, check out the following tips:

Starting your garden:

If you’re new to gardening, you might like to try a raised garden. These are relatively simple to get started, and the existing soil on your property won’t be able to negatively affect your plants or vegetables, as it can often do in cities or heavily polluted areas. Also consider the location: for example, vegetables need about six hours of sunlight a day while they’re growing, so you’ll need to pick a spot that allows access to the sun. Each plant has different sunlight needs, but as a general rule, north-facing patches work best.

Once you’ve decided where to start your garden, you’ll need to choose which types of compost to use. You might like to try sandwich gardening, in which various compostable materials are layered to create an organic plot. Sandwich gardening is best for small to medium patches and doesn’t require digging or weeding, so it’s great for beginners. This way is most often used to plant vegetables.

Image from Pexels

You can use all sorts of diverse materials in sandwich gardening. You’ll first want to create an edge that will serve as the border to your garden – try driftwood from your local beach or firewood for a natural look and feel. You can then use cardboard or newspaper as natural weed matting, before finally adding your compostable material. The general rule is to use green and brown materials, which come in diverse forms: lawn clippings, nut shells, animal manure, and kitchen scraps, to name a few. A layer of well-rotted compost at the very top ensures the best growth conditions. Make sure you water between each layer!

If you don’t have the time or resources for sandwich gardening, you can buy bags of organic compost from local suppliers, to mix with your own soil. There are plenty of types of organic compost to choose from; different types are best suited to different plants, so don’t be shy about emailing a supplier to ask what will work best with your garden. Modern New Zealand companies offer gardeners plenty of organic options, so you won’t have any trouble finding something that you love.

How to choose the right kinds of plants for your climate and area:

Plants will grow better in some areas than others, and New Zealand’s weather varies widely. For example, if you’re in Auckland and want to add a tropical feel to your garden, try Clarke’s Hybrid, a beautiful pink hibiscus flower, or Gardenia, a bright white bloom. If you’re in Canterbury, try planting daffodils in spring or hardy vegetables like beetroot and onion in winter. You’ll be able to find online guides and calendars with more specific instructions for your area, but know that across the country, springtime is the perfect time to head back out to the garden and start planting crops that’ll then be ready when summer rolls around.

How to compost during cold seasons:

Image from Pixabay

Some parts of New Zealand reach very low temperatures in winter, especially in the South Island, so it’s important to know how to compost in cold seasons. Be prepared to chop your materials into smaller pieces than usual so they decompose more quickly. One of the major keys to successful winter composting is layers – leaves can act as insulation, so after adding your usual materials, cover them with a layer of dried leaves to trap the heat. You may also like to insulate your garden by placing hay bales around it – and don’t forget to water regularly.

Ways to fend off pests and bugs without using chemical pesticides:

Try using coffee grounds to ward off pesky slugs and snails, which are a common problem in New Zealand gardens. You might like to make your own garlic spray to deter aphids and mites, which are prone to showing up unannounced. Another solution is to attract other, more welcome insects that will eat the unwanted visitors – Californian bluebells and Michaelmas daisies are particularly efficient in attracting insects that will help you to regulate pests.

More tips:

Keep your patch close to your house and near a tap so you always have water on hand. You might also like to collect rainwater; plants tend to prefer it over treated tap water.
Cover your garden with netting to avoid birds ruining it when you’re away.
Share your produce with your friends and family! You might even encourage them to start their own patches.


Cloe Matheson is a freelance writer from New Zealand who gladly advocates an organic and healthy lifestyle. In the past, she has written for New Zealand companies such as Jumpflex. You can find Cloe’s published work on her Tumblr.

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