Gardening- Good for the soul! May 15 2017

In this fast paced and convenience obsessed world where supermarkets stock every type of produce (in or out of season!) why should we spend our precious time growing our own vegetables and tending to a garden?

Ironically, the slow pace and gentle rhythm of gardening can be the perfect antidote to the daily stress of western life. Research has proven time and time again that gardening has a positive effect on our mental health*. Some would even say it's the cheapest form of therapy!

I know for myself I am a better person after a few hours in the garden. I have removed myself from the hustle and bustle to spend time outdoors and connect with nature, planting new life and encouraging growth by pulling out weeds and dealing with pests. My head is clearer and life is somehow simpler. My body may ache at the end of the day but I always sleep well that night and wake up the next morning with a sense of satisfaction. However, the real icing on the cake is using the vegetables I have grown to make a meal or share my bounty with neighbours and friends. Not only is gardening good for the soul but it creates community.

For many, and especially for those who live in the city, having a vegetable garden is often put in the too hard basket due to the assumed lack of time, space and skill. As a once daunted gardener with a small vege patch (still going strong after four years!), I can now testify that it wasn't the major undertaking I thought it would be.  Plug a few seeds into a finger-sized hole in the dirt, add some water and leave nature to do its thing. It couldn't be easier really!  Admittedly my vegetable garden isn't the tidiest, I'm busy with my kids, work, running a house, and although I would love to spend more time weeding and pruning, for now, this is what I can manage and its good enough. 

A raised garden bed is the perfect solution for those who need an easy option to get started and are short on space and reluctant to dig up their lawn. Urbanmac garden boxes are not only small and compact (from 1 metre x 1 metre) but are easy to put together with holes pre-drilled and even the screws are supplied! All that's then needed is some good quality soil and a few easy to grow veges like spinach and lettuce and you're on your way.

So why not give it a go? Spring is a few months away and the perfect time to get started. Your body, mind and soul will thank you for it!

*For a great article on the mental health benefits of gardening click here.

Your winter crop sorted - our tips May 01 2017

On a cold winter's day nothing beats a hearty home-made soup packed with home-grown veges freshly picked from your garden. With winter just around the corner now is the time to get your vegatable garden ready for this next season.

What to plant
Although the elements may be harsher there are still a wide variety of vegetables that you can enjoy over winter including carrots, leeks, spinach, brussel sprouts, silverbeet, broad beans, parsley, broccoli, coriander, cabbage, cauliflower and peas.

If you live in a relatively frost free zone you have a few more options including beetroot, celery, chives, spring onions and hardier varieties of lettuce.

Stock up on the staples
Kitchen staples like onions and garlic can also be planted during the cooler months. Autumn is the perfect onion sowing season – a dedicated raised garden box makes growing onions easy, and you can always plant lettuce inbetween the rows to make the most of space. If you're a fan of tradition garlic is historically planted on the winter solstice (shortest day of the year) and harvested on the summer solstice, however feel free to plant garlic anytime during autumn or winter to ensure your summer stock is sorted.

Give your soil some love
Before planting give your soil a nutrient boost with a good dose of compost or fertilizer like blood and bone. And remember to rotate your crops! Avoid planting the same vegetable in the same place to keep your soil healthy and pest free.

Location, location, location
When considering the location of your winter garden the two vital ingredients are sunshine and shelter. That's where a raised garden box comes in handy - simply move it to a sunny spot sheltered from the wind. Also consider using pots and planters that can be placed under covered patios and easily moved into the the midday sun. Whether it's an old wheelbarrow, wooden crate or a recycled tyre - get creative and use what you've got for a sustainable solution.

A final tip
For a great winter crop use a layer of pea straw to help keep the roots of your winter vegetables warm and to ward off weeds. This will also give your garden lots of mulchy goodness to set you up for replanting in spring!


What Vegetables to Plant in October September 30 2016

We are in the middle of spring and this is the time to get your vegetable garden cranking! There are a range of seeds and seedlings that can be planted to ensure you enjoy a bounty of vegetable crops over the summer. Labour weekend is the traditional time to plant tomatoes in New Zealand, and its great for planting cucumbers and capsicum in the northern parts of New Zealand (where its a bit warmer).

Keeping seeds and seedlings well hydrated over the next few months is improtant to ensure they don't dry out.  Most of us enjoy salads over the summer and lettuces are so easy to grow so plant out a selection!


To plant in October:
Runner Bean


The Goodness of Compost June 15 2016


My first thoughts are its gross.  It smells, its wet, its manky, its crawling.  Rotting food in a pile kinda does that!

All disgustingness aside, I have come to appreciate the benefits of compost.  Here are the best bits I have found.

1. Creating compost is an ideal way to reduce your household waste, and reduces your families environmental footprint.  We find that around 1/4 of our household daily waste is made up of food scraps!  Thats crazy!

2. Our yard is currently ankle deep in leaves. Post autumn shedding of our copious array of trees has meant we are constantly sweeping PILES, and I mean piles, of brown leaves.  What the heck to do with these?!  Compost I say!

3. Compost is an amazing fertiliser for your vegetable garden.   Adding it to your garden improves soil quality, enabling it to better retain air, nutrients and moisture and resulting in healthier, thriving plants.

So how do you create this garden gold?

To create your your own compost, just layer organic materials -- garden cuttings, dry leaves, kitchen vegetable and food scraps, shredded paper/newspaper, and some soil to create the ideal concoction that turns into humus, the best soil builder around.

You can buy one of our epic kitset compost bins here 

Growing from seed February 16 2016

Growing vegetables from seed is so much easier than it sounds, and saves SO much money when growing a thriving garden. Leaving vegetable plants to "go to seed" means you have the power to either collect seed and replant them in an organised space, or let nature have its way with seeds spreading around where the wind blows it, allowing vege plants to crop up all over your garden in a crazy pattern... kinda fun to throw away the rule books sometimes! (admittedly I am of the plant in rows/orderly type!).

Green bean seeds

We have been collecting a bunch seeds from our recent harvest of green beans, ready to replant again next Spring and are stoked on how easy it is to score a whole 'nother round of growing for free from last years pickings.  Shove your finger in the dirt, plop a seed in, cover it over lightly, give the garden a water and you're done! Nek minit.... seedlings!


Plant your Tomatoes this Labour Weekend! October 18 2015

I say Toe-may-toe, you say Toh-mah-toe

Tomatoes are an amazing “superfood”, full of vitamins and minerals, as well as lycopene (a carotenoid) which has incredible heart-disease and cancer-preventing benefits.  They can be eaten in so many ways; raw, cooked, fried, boiled, mashed, whole, sliced. In fact, tomatoes can be eaten in so many ways I could write a book about the usefulness and benefits of the simple tomato.

Tomatoes are an absolute top pick for home gardeners, due to their versatility in cooking, but even more so as the cost saving benefits of growing tomatoes are huge.  If a plant is grown properly, it can produce a whopping 10kg of tomatoes!  In fact I met a young man recently in Auckland who had grown 2000 tomatoes last year! Incredible!

Choosing which type of tomato plant to grow can be mind-boggling, as it turns out there is a huge range of tomatoes, with a variety of sizes, flavours, shapes and names; from ‘Purple Passion’ to ‘Porter’ to ‘Cream Sausage’ to ‘Hillbilly Flame’.  Personally, I would like to meet some of the nutbars that have branded these breeds with such odd names!  Awesome stuff.

To break it done simply for you, if you after a big mother of a tomato, I have discovered the heirloom ‘ox-heart’ tomato is a winner, as well as the ‘Big Beef’, the ‘Roma’ and the ‘Grosse Lisse’.  Not only does it have double the lycopene as other tomatoes, it also is tasty, big, and has few seeds.  Perfect. Also, cherry tomatoes are easy and cute when tossed in salads. Nice.

Tomatoes are red treats which need 3 months of frost free weather to thrive, and are ideally planted in the warmer spring months of September or October.  November is a bit late. Labour Weekend is the ideal time for planting particularly in the Auckland area.

To plant, find a spot in your garden which has good drainage, and plenty of sun.  If you lack space, like myself, you can plant your tomatoes in pots or planters, as they grow quite happily in a 12 inch pot. The ‘Tiny Tim’ is a good option.  They will need good drainage, and enough space for their roots to spread.  This can be ideal for urban gardeners with limited space, or those who may be not be staying in one place for long.  Also, a wind free zone is necessary, or create one by boarding up a wind barrier.  Before you plant, ensure your soil is up to scratch, full of organic rich soil, and a mix of compost.  Smaller dwarf plants will produce great fruit if kept in containers or planter bags, as long as they have good drainage and water.  Soil must never be allowed to dry out.

In your garden, plant seedlings around 35-50cm apart.  Dig a small hole for your plant, and carefully place your watered plant into the hole, without disturbing the roots.  Pat the soil firmly around it.  When your tomatoes are planted, add some basil herbs, and a border of marigolds to keep out the moth and pests.

As the plant grows, it may need a stake or trellis to hold it up high, so the tomato does not touch the soil.  The PH levels in the soil will rot and damage the fruit.  Also, as the plant is producing fruit, water the plant less, so the taste stays strong in the actual tomato.  Organic fertiliser should be applied in the first fruit stage, and repeated every month as the plants continue to grow.

When your tomato plant has finished harvesting its delicious fruit, do not assume that’s it.  Keep feeding them, as they will carry on producing fruit, throughout the following season.

Enjoy the upcoming long weekend in the garden!

Holly Jean Brooker

(as posted on The Breeze)

The Dirty Lowdown- Filling your garden beds with goodness August 31 2015


Image source: www.instructables.comThe dirty lowdown
It is widely known in the gardening world that the key to a successful crop-producing garden is the dirt. Good soil consists of a combination of minerals, organic rich matter, water and air and the trick is to get the balance right. Protect, maintain and improve.

Regularly removing weeds, adding compost and fertilizers as well as regular doses of water are essential.   Plants strip nutrients from the soil over time so it is necessary to replenish dirt with adequate nutrients to compensate for this and to maintain that ideal combination of growing conditions. A powerful soil enhancer which can add much needed nutrients is Organic Blood and Bone.  This is made of waste products and is high in slow release nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus giving soil a fertilizing boost. Seaweed is another popular soil enhancer which has become a top pick for keen gardeners.

Turn your trash into treasure
Compost adds excellent rich matter to your garden and improves soil structure with the added environmental benefit of reducing rubbish waste. It is usually added in spring or summer when most growing occurs and should be mixed into the top four inches of soil. Organic compost can be sourced from your local garden center or do your bit for the environment by reducing rubbish and reusing food waste to create your own. Composting is the ultimate recycling scheme.

Source recycled plastic compost bins, reuse an old container or make a compost bin from untreated timber.  Simply throw in all of your vegetable/fruit/bread food scraps each day, while regularly mixing in sprinklings of water, sawdust, grass cuttings and leaves to keep your compost cranking. Leave out any fats/oils, meat, bones or dairy products.

If collecting rotting piles of smelly food scraps isn't your cup of tea, make your own leafy organic compost for free. In Autumn rake up a pile of leaves and grass cuttings from your lawn, placing them in a big black plastic bag. Add some water, seal it up, then slash a few small holes in the bag and leave it to fester. Three to six months later you have nutritious compost to add to your organic vegetable garden, without the smell.


Worms are your friend
Worms are an ideal garden dweller so make them feel right at home with rich, welcoming soil. They will pay back the favour tenfold.  Worms dig tunnels, aerating the soil and allowing moisture to flow.  Worms digest soil and plant matter and then excrete castings, a fertilizer filled with beneficial plant growing bacteria. If your lacking in the worm department, worm wee (organic liquid fertilizer) can be purchased by the bottle and enriches your soil naturally. Otherwise you can create your own worm farm easily at home to ensure you have a constant supply of fertilizer for your garden. The Zero Waste New Zealand Trust offer great ideas on how to set one up at home (  We have an amazing Hungry Bin for our worm farm, which is a great way to reduce food waste and creates amazing nutrients for our urbanmac garden beds.

Spring is coming! Get your garden ready for action August 18 2015

Spending a little time, and money, on setting up a sustainable backyard will provide an abundance of fresh organic food and a visually aesthetic space; not to mention pure satisfaction and reward as the fruits of your labour are eaten and shared with others. Regardless of gardening experience anyone can establish a vegetable patch and learn the art of growing green.


Prepare Prepare Prepare
Preparation is key. It is crucial to find a suitable home for your garden bed, preferably a spot with good drainage, some solid morning or afternoon sun, wind protection and a space sized to suit your lifestyle. If you are new to gardening, it may be wise to start with a small patch so you don’t feel overwhelmed and over-committed time-wise. Too big a space for a novice gardener will simply lead to a neglected backyard mess!

Types of Garden
Dig in gardens are literally dug into the ground, requiring a solid and secure spot alongside some serious muscle work. Loosen the topsoil and dig at least 30 centimeters deep to aerate the soil and allow for unaffected root growth.

Raised garden beds (like our urbanmac Ltd beauties) sit on top of the ground and are great for bad backs as they do not require much digging. Simply place the garden box in your chosen location, fill with soil and you’re ready to get started.  Use untreated timber such as plantation grown macrocarpa, which naturally resists insects and rot. A layer of thick newspaper or untreated sawdust on the bottom can be helpful in a weedy area to prevent stranglers from growing through the soil.

Pots or planters are ideal space-savers and are perfect for small yards and apartments. Make sure you allow for drainage by placing stones in the base of the pot to enable water to flow through without getting trapped and flooding your plants. Get creative with old containers or discarded wine barrels for a sustainable option.

Whichever type of planter you use, the results will be worth it!  Keep an eye out for our next blog post on the importance of good soil and compost. 

Good luck!

Holly Jean Brooker



 Image source:

The Atkinson Garden July 15 2015

Alongside running urbanmac Ltd as a joint venture with my husband, I am a writer and marketing consultant, and owner of The Media Project.  As part of this, I am really lucky to be able to meet amazing people and families and spend time in their homes to showcase in magazine features.  A few months ago I spent time in the gardens of Dave and Phoebe Atkinson and boy, was I blown away! An Auckland city pad, completely transformed into a green wonderland! You have to check out the story as featured in Homestyle Magazine for some serious inspiration.  From upcycling, to vegetable gardens, to chickens, to handmade glass houses, an outdoor fireplace, the water catchment.. ah! These guys have got it going on!  Much respect Akky's.

x Holly Jean


The Brooker garden features in Homestyle Magazine October 22 2014

Over the past year Rico and I (and Hudson!) have transformed our overgrown tiny yard in Auckland's city fringe suburb of Morningside into an edible oasis.   As part of this project we extended our back deck and surrounded it in Macrocarpa raised garden beds, filling them with the best soil possible, Living Earth organic vege mix! As a regular feature writer for Homestyle Magazines "the good life" section, I documented our journey from sad to rad which featured in Homestyle earlier this year.  Our good mate Johnny Davis took some great shots of our patch. We are so pleased with the result and love growing our own veges in our small urban yard.