Memories of the good old days and the happy times, now a different world: above: Scorching Bay, Wellington in the summer of 1960; below: the typical backyard vege garden. (Te Papa collection)

by Wally Richards


Having lived for nearly four score years I can recall what things were like 50 odd years ago and relate that to a comparison of what has happened since then.

I often have telephone discussions with people my age and older and sometimes the subject of gardening leads to other things and one aspect that has a common agreement is that back in the 1950’s and 1960’s this country was a great place to live in — we used to call it ‘Gods Own’ and be very proud to be Kiwis.

Sadly those times have long gone and many people of our age say that our advantage is we don’t have long before we are gone out of here, but have deep concerns for our children and grandchildren.

It is a very sad situation.

When I was a young fellow, like about 10 years old, I was lucky to experience two situations which are very vivid in my mind today and I would like to share both of them with you.

One was a schoolfriend named Henry Nom, his father was a Chinese market gardener in Palmerston North and his mother was a Maori lady.

In the weekend I used to go to their market garden and help harvest produce for the market on Mondays. My reward would be to have a meal at their house at the end of the day. One week it would be traditional Chinese food and next time Maori kai.

I learnt that the only fertiliser used to produce the crops was Blood & Bone along with some animal manures when available.

Back then the meatworks would produce vast quantities of Blood & Bone and sell it in ton bags.

The blood and bone back then was rich, not like the blood & bone today because the products are now used to make animal foods and animal biscuits so the inferior product we now have is a lot of chalk and only a little blood and not much bone if any.

Garden Lime was the other product used and the land which market gardeners used was rich anyway been river silt.

Vegetables grew at their own speed and were healthy and free of most diseases and pests. The soil was rich in earthworms and microbes so every thing was very natural.

This meant we had a highly nutritious food chain and when you cooked a cabbage back then it would stink out the house.

A few years ago I met up with another Chinese market gardener who had a few acres of land growing vegetables for the market.

His family home was on the same land and his back yard was fenced off from the rest of the land.

In his backyard he has a vegetable garden which I asked him why as he had tons of vegetables on the rest of the land?

His reply was he grew at home vegetable for himself and family cause they were healthy and safe to eat.

I asked why not the stuff he grew for selling and his reply no good too dangerous for health of family.

His produce for selling used manmade fertilisers and forced to grow with lots of nitrogen such as Urea. Thus the plants were not healthy and in fact weak which means the cleaners in Nature, being the insect pests and diseases, would attack the weak plants to make way for healthy plants.

Thus numerous chemical poison controls are sprayed on a very regular basis and those chemicals are in the produce we buy and consume.

Commercial growers whom I feel sorry for as they have high overheads and low returns and to make ends meet, need to grow as many crops on their land in a year as possible.

To do this they force plants to grow with nitrogen fertilisers. Their land after a few years of cropping is infertile having lost all soil life and its only by large amounts of man made fertilisers that any thing grows at all.

My other experience was spending many holidays on my uncle’s farm at Bell Block in Taranaki. He had about 100 acres and ran about 100 dairy cows on it so normally the animals had ample naturally-grown grass and in spring after the spring growth a few acres would be left to grow; in summer it was harvested for hay to supplement the grass which is slow growing in winter due to the short daylight hours.

Now back in those days, a farmer with a hundred acres and a hundred cows was considered a wealthy man. The urine and manure produced by the animals feed the grasses because the soil was rich in earthworms and microbes breaking down the animal manure/urine into rich food to grow the grass.

If you turned over a cow pat (dried manure on soil), underneath one would find lots of Tiger Worms breaking down the pad.

The stock was healthy so no costly vets for sick animals and the only outlay was lime for the paddocks to keep the pH right for the soil life and grasses.

In the corner of the farm there was a stream that flowed through; the water was crystal clear and it hosted what was called mountain trout that were a metre long when mature.

The farm also had a pig sty and a large flock of chickens.

My auntie had a big vegetable garden and orchard so all in all they were fairly self sufficient.

Later on farming changed with the advent of superphosphate and manmade chemical fertilisers.

The hundred acres could now host say two hundred cows that doubles the income but at what cost?

The soil life disappeared along with the earthworms, the manure and urine were no longer broken down to feed the grass; instead they became pollutants leaching into waterways destroying the water life.

The grasses are forced to grow and no longer have the high carbs and nutritional goodness so the cattle also suffer and get sick needing drenching (more chemicals) and vet care. The milk is inferior along with the meat which is what you buy in the supermarket.

I have tasted meat from a certified organic farm and it is very different from supermarket meat. Very rich and you can’t eat much of it in a sitting.

Another thing I remember is that very few people died of cancer back then (sometimes called wasting disease) and it was unheard of for babies being born with cancer, it was also very rare in children.

Seldom did you see an over-weight person and if you did it was usually caused by health problems.

The food chain back when I was a boy was very healthy and contained high nutritional value.

Nowadays the only economical way to have great tasting, healthy food to grow your own, naturally.

I saw on TV One news the other night that diet drinks which use an artificial sweetener, Aspartame, have been deemed to be a possible carcinogen by the WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). I read about this aspect a number of years ago and finally it has been officially stated. I recall reading also that a scientist in Monsanto when developing a new weed killer happened to put a finger to his lips and noted the chemical was sweet. Hence Aspartame came into being as a sweetener in drinks and food. I also read it did not help with diets because when taken regularly it helped put weight on.

Well that’s one truth that has finally come to light: let’s hope truth is on a roll and more hidden truths are revealed. In case you are interested have a look at

You can see this happening in New Zealand as well as elsewhere in the World.

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