Monday, May 31, 2010

Urban Pantry Update

The twelve weeks since I launched my rooftop gardens project in Happyzine's Dream to Reality competition have flown by. Since then I've christened the venture Urban Pantry, spread the word about what I'm doing to hundreds of people, forged relationships with numerous people and organisations who can help me out in various ways, applied for funding, spent many hours researching rooftop garden design and construction, and plenty more besides. 

I have some exciting news to share with you. I've secured a roof that I can set up a garden on to demonstrate what is possible. 

We intend to position several large wooden planters around the edges of the space. The tenant is keen to try his hand at growing vegetables there, and if he's successful he intends to donate some of the produce to the City Mission. The next step is to secure funding for the tools and materials needed to set up the garden.

I'm having a blast, and hope to be able to share lots more exciting announcements with you over the coming months. There are a number of ways you can keep up to date with what's happening and opportunities to get involved. 
  • Join the Urban Pantry Facebook group.
  • Read my fortnightly updates on Happyzine.
  • Read about developments, vote for me and leave a comment on my Pure Futures page.
  • Sign up for Urban Pantry's monthly email newsletter. The first edition will go out next month.
Thanks for your support!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Produce Box Delivery Review: Eco-Organics

In a bid to make eating local, seasonal produce as easy as possible, I've decided to try out some of the produce box delivery services available in Auckland. Eco-Organics, a family business based on an organic farm near Kumeu, has been run by the same family since it was established more than 25 years ago. They are strong believers in the benefits of eating fresh, organic produce. They offer a large range of organic products for sale online, including a number of organic produce box options. I opted for the '$30 Organic Mixed Eco Box'. There's an additional $6 delivery charge for Auckland. The quality of the produce was high, and there was a good variety and quantity to feed us for the week. Eco-Organics guarantees the quality of their produce, so you should be able to get a refund or replacement if something is not up to scratch.

They deliver on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and require orders to be placed 36 hours in advance. Before you can place an order you need to register and receive a code for online shopping. Based on my experience, they must process registrations at least once a day, but make sure you factor in time for this if you're trying to arrange a delivery for a particular day. You can pay by internet banking, credit card or cheque (with postal orders).

Because Eco-Organics is a family-run operation, it has a nice personal feel to its communications. When you register, you get an email back from one of the owners containing your shopping code and some information on shopping with them. Then they send follow-up emails each week to inform you about the new produce available that week and remind you it's time to place your order. Since they're such an authentic family affair, this feels like a thoughtful service to me, rather than yet another annoying commercial invasion of my inbox.

Reviews of other organic produce box delivery services:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Setting up a Balcony Garden

My balcony planter box one week after transplanting seedlings

There are so many different options for growing food on your balcony. You could use a collection of different pots and containers to suit your space, hanging baskets, tiered systems, or a big wooden planter box like mine. Here's how I set up my planter box.

1. I lined it with black plastic to stop the soil from escaping out the gaps between the pieces of wood on windy days. I took the measurements of the box to a garden centre and bought the appropriate length of black plastic off the big roll they have there. I wasn't planning on lining the box, but when I initially started filling it with soil, a lot was falling through the drainage gaps at the bottom so I had to modify my plan.

2. I cut slits in the black plastic lining the bottom of the box for drainage.

3. I put in a layer of scoria (volcanic rock) that I bought from the garden centre to help with drainage. 

4. I added a layer of soil (vegetable potting mix I bought from the garden centre).

5. I tipped in the fermented contents of my bokashi bucket (not for the squeamish).

6. I filled it up to near the top with potting mix. It took three and a half 40L bags of potting mix to fill the planter (which is 130 cm long, 40 cm wide and 40 cm high).

7. I transplanted my seedlings. I tried to position them so they'd all have enough room to grow, but it's looking a bit crowded in there so I might have to put them through some kind of plant Survivor down the track.

I can't vouch for this being the best ever way of setting up a balcony planter box, but it was really easy and the plants are growing well so far.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Produce Box Delivery Review:

In a bid to make eating local, seasonal produce as easy as possible, I've decided to try out some of the produce box delivery services available in Auckland. This week's box is from, an online produce box delivery service set up because its founders were frustrated at how difficult it was to get their "5 plus a day". I find any claim that it's difficult to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day in New Zealand dubious, but I think it's great that people like are making it easier for us. They source, pack and deliver the produce on the day.

I ordered their Singles Fruit 'n' Veg Box for $32.00, including delivery. I live with my partner, but we still had some fruit and vegetables left from last week's box, and the photo on suggested the Singles Fruit 'n' Veg Box would be sufficient for us. It sure looks like it will be. The box contained a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including potatoes, onions and tomatoes, which you have to order separately from some of the other produce box delivery services. The produce came unwrapped, except for the salad leaves and mushrooms. It all looked fresh and in great condition, apart from one of the chillies, which was a bit squashed. is more of a slick, professional operation than the other Auckland produce box delivery services I've tried so far. They have their own branded cardboard delivery boxes rather than the reused banana boxes utilised by other companies. When I opened the box I found a little envelope addressed to me, which contained a welcome letter, order form, recipe based on the produce in the box and a flyer identifying the less common contents of the box. I found this really appealing. Recipe suggestions are really helpful to someone like me who's used to cooking with common vegetables, and I liked receiving the information about the contents in the box, rather than having to track it down on the website.

The website is easy to use. You can check out what will be in the next week's boxes on the preceding weekend. Then when you order, you can specify anything you don't want in your box and they'll substitute it with something else. Unlike some of the other produce box delivery services, there's no provision in the ordering process for customers to give delivery instructions. That meant the delivery guy had to call me when he got to my apartment to find out where to bring my box, which wouldn't have been ideal if I couldn't answer my phone when he called.

The big downside of is that the produce is not organic. Still, much better than buying your produce from the supermarket!

Reviews of other organic produce box delivery services:
All Good Food
Naturally Organic

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Produce Box Delivery Review: Naturally Organic

In a bid to make eating local, seasonal produce as easy as possible, I've decided to try out some of the produce box delivery services available in Auckland. This week's box is from Naturally Organic, an organic food store based in Albany. As well as a number of produce box options, you can order lots of other organic products from their website.

I ordered the two person mixed box of organic fruit and vegetables for $30, plus an extra 500 grams of onions for $2.50 (also shown in the box in the photo). There was a delivery fee of $6.98. This put it on the pricier side of the produce boxes I'm trying out. The box contained plenty of fruit, and all of the produce looked fresh and of good quality. My one complaint is that when I ordered the box I chose the option of having my produce delivered unwrapped, but when it came it was all wrapped. The fruit was all in paper bags, but I pulled it out before taking the photo so you could actually see it.

The Naturally Organic website was easy to use. During the ordering process you can specify things you don't want to receive in your box (handy when you are still trying to finish off a giant cabbage from last week's produce box). You can get an idea of what your box might contain by checking the seasonal lists on the site. You can get a box delivered (in Auckland) any weekday if you order before 10 am on the day.

Reviews of other produce box delivery services:
All Good Food

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Growing Vegetables on Your Apartment Balcony

I'm very excited to announce the arrival of the newest addition to my household... my balcony planter box!

I've made some half-baked attempts at growing herbs in my apartment before, but this time I'm growing as many vegetables as I can squeeze into my planter, so I feel like it's worth the time and money I invest. But I haven't just invested time and money into this; I've made an emotional investment too. I've raised the plants from seed and have developed a bit of an attachment to them. I'm not allowed to keep animals in my apartment, so those little green guys are my substitute pets. So, I must warn you at the outset, I'm probably going to be upset if they don't grow well!

What can you grow in a container on an apartment balcony?
You can grow quite a lot in a small space, as it turns out, using techniques like Square Foot Gardening. The most important factor is how much sunlight your balcony gets. Fruiting plants like tomatoes need at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day for optimal growth. Root and leaf crops don't need as much. You should start by working out how much sun your balcony gets, and then choose crops that like that much sunlight.

What am I growing?
It's autumn here in New Zealand, so I'm growing broccoli and cauliflower. I'm also growing basil, parsley and coriander to season the delicious dishes I'm going to whip up when my crop is ready.

Where did I get my gorgeous planter box?
My planter box is made of macrocarpa, a tree that is often used for windbreak hedges on farms in New Zealand. The wood is naturally resistant to fungus and rot, so you can use it untreated in gardens. It also looks good and smells amazing! A lovely Auckland hobby craftsman made my planter box. If you're in Auckland and want to find out about getting your own macrocarpa planter box, contact me and I'll put you in touch with him.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Produce Box Delivery Review: All Good Food

All Good Food box contents

In a bid to make eating local, seasonal produce as easy as possible, I've decided to try out some of the produce box delivery services available in Auckland. I've started with All Good Food because I liked the authentic feel of their website and how easy it was to use. The philosophy behind All Good Food is basically, "We couldn't find reasonably priced organic food and we figured others would be having the same problem, so we thought we'd start up an organic produce delivery service to solve that problem." As well as several sizes of organic produce boxes, you can also order a range of organic and free range meats, and free range eggs.

I thought the small mixed organic fruit and vegetable box (pictured above) was reasonable value for $30 (including delivery). All of the produce looked fresh and high quality. The bananas are Fairtrade All Good Bananas. They helpfully include a produce list on their website in case you don't recognise some of the less common contents of your box. They hadn't got around to updating it in time for box deliveries this week.

The service was  excellent. When you order you can include up to three "wishes"- items that you particularly want or don't want in your box. The night before the delivery I got an email telling me when (approximately) my delivery would take place. The delivery guy was very polite and asked whether it would be OK to drop the box by the apartment door if ever I'm not home at delivery time. They also have cute deals like if you place a four week order, you get a free bag of mixed herbs. It's very straightforward to add extras like potatoes, organic meat or free range eggs to your order. There's a recipe section on the website containing a token two recipes. Perhaps they are changed regularly to reflect the contents of the boxes?

All Good Food still hadn't updated the produce list by the end of the week, and it turns out they don't update the recipes on their site to reflect the contents of the box. Two weeks after receiving the box, none of the ten or so kiwifruit that came in it were yet ripe - not ideal.

Reviews of other produce box delivery services
Naturally Organic