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Alex Dixon’s passion for gardening has paid off in spades.

The 7-year-old Hampden boy recently won the best garden in the child category of the Yates Spring Veggie Growing Challenge, receiving $500 plus a hamper of Yates products.

Educated at home and a first-time entrant, Alex was keen to learn more about gardening as part of his science projects and spent hours researching in order to create the optimum growing conditions for his vegetables.

“I learned about different soil conditions, micro and macro nutrients, pH testing of soil and climate effects on germination so that when I planted my seeds they would all grow really well,”said Alex.

He successfully grew a range of vegetables including lettuce, Chinese cabbage, spinach, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, cauliflower, spring onions, red onions and his favourite, courgettes.

Alex’s mother, Kirsten, said the competition had been wonderful for his learning and just for having fun.

“Alex got so much encouragement from the other gardeners in the competition through the online blogging and he also connected with another boy his age in Northland and they did a seed swap. The sharing of knowledge from the more experienced gardeners really helped Alex sort out a couple of problems he had along the way.”

One of those problems was every gardener’s nemesis – aphids.

“I had a big aphid infestation so I researched recipes for an organic solution and mixed up tomato leaves and grated soap into a potion which really helped. But then some rats ate the peas I got in my seed swap so they didn’t germinate,” Alex said.

While the challenge was running, Alex also enrolled in the 10-week Seed to Table course at the Waitaki Community Gardens, where he learned about successful fruit and vegetable gardening.

He then took these ideas home to try out in his own garden.

Mrs Dixon said Alex loved growing his own vegetables and he particularly enjoyed sitting in the garden and just eating some of his produce.

“Not everything makes it inside. He eats courgettes like they’re apples so getting those into the kitchen is always a challenge.”

The Yates hamper has been shared around neighbours and friends who helped Alex on his gardening venture and the $500 cash has been deposited in Alex’s bank account, ready for his next big adventure.

“I’m taking my family to Gemstone Beach at Orepuki for the weekend, where we can fossick for garnets, rubies, agates and other semi-precious gems.”

Alex was also one of the winners of two of the mini challenges – best scarecrow/bird scarer and best mini garden.

He made a bird scarer out of a potato that he stuck rooster feathers into. He used a carrot for the beak and hung it on a rope, which was quite effective in deterring the birds.

His mini garden was based on a dinosaur garden he had made for his younger siblings, Josh (5) and Louisa (4), which contained succulents, agate rocks, herbs, a water reservoir and, of course, dinosaur eggs!

Yates marketing manager Fiona Arthur said Alex had done an amazing job with his garden.

“It was wonderful to see Alex’s enthusiasm for not just growing vegetables but the learning that goes with gardening. It’s all about enjoying getting out into the garden, learning and having fun at the same time.

“There is nothing more satisfying than picking your own vegetables to put on the dinner table.”

Alex is very excited about signing up again for this spring’s vegetable-growing challenge.

“I can’t wait to do it all again and now I’ve learned so much, I hope I can grow even more veggies.”