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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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The Growing Challenge 2011: 4 Season Garden!

Join Us!

Several of you asked for it… So here it is – the new Growing Challenge!

This year, I need to work on my four season gardening.  I keep neglecting to plant winter crops early enough in the fall.  As a result, my garden gets put to bed for the winter.  It’s so sad, because greens, root vegetables, and all sorts of other tasties could be feeding us over the winter.

So this year, I’m taking the challenge.  I will have harvestable fruits and/or vegetables every season of the year. I will plan ahead.  I will plant some things from seed.   And I will eat gloriously!

I know there are garden neglecters out there, and new gardeners thinking about doing it for the first time.  So please join me!!

I’ll do my best to remind you all to think about the next season in time to plant, to give you tips for interplanting and succession planting, and to finally write “How To Grow A Four-Season Garden Part 3.” Plus I’ll write “How To Save Vegetable Seeds Part 2,” for those who are more adventurous (it’s not required).


  1. For each of the four seasons of 2011, grow at least one type of fruit or vegetable that you’ve never grown before, and grow it from seed. (That is, at least 4 crops from seed this year: one for each season.)  If you’ve never grown anything, well, grow one thing! If you’ve never grown beans or carrots or lettuce or strawberries, try one of those…. And if you don’t have a garden, you can grow in a pot or on a window sill!
  2. Check in here and evangelize gardening. Checking in here allows us all to learn from one another – I won’t post all the time, but will try to do it once a month at least.  Ask questions, share stories, whatever you’re thinking about regarding your garden.  And tell others about gardening if and when you can.  It’s a great thing for the world, to have more people eating from the land!
  3. Sign up in the comments below. Include your Name, your gardening zone*, your location, and your pledge (you can add extra challenges for yourself if you like).  In other words, if I were signing up, I’d write:
    • Melinda, USA zone 8, Seattle, WA, and I’m going to grow a 4 season garden this year!  To give myself an extra challenge, I am also going to try to save seeds from at least one crop in the fall.  Good luck everyone!


  • Grow at least one crop from seed to seed.
  • Evangelize on your blog, or in your local newsletters, PTA meetings, community gatherings, or even just talking with your friends and family.  Inspire at least 3 others to garden!
  • Substitute growing your own for buying produce from a local farm year round.  If you don’t have a garden, this is a great alternative.
  • Others?  Please add them!


This little doodad can go on your blog, or the larger one above can be printed out and put on your fridge as a reminder.  Feel free to tell others about the challenge – the more the merrier!!

To add a button to your blog, right-click on the image and save it to your desktop. Then upload it to your blog as you would any other image, with a link to:

Oh, and once you’ve uploaded the image, just check to make sure the link works and the image loads correctly.

Who’s In?

  1. Barely beautiful girl, Ohio, US – zone 6
  2. Judy, Eastern Iowa, US – zone 5a
  3. Deb G, Bellingham, WA, US – zone 7
  4. Green Bean, Bay Area, US – zone 9/10
  5. Ken Toney, West Virginia, US – zone 6
  6. Angie Harding, Southern Highlands, Australia – zone 3 Aust, zone 9 US
  7. Rue, Perth, Australia – zone 4 Aust, zone 10 US
  8. Lyndsay, London, UK – zone 8
  9. Michael J. Church, US – zone 5b
  10. Andrea, Cape Cod, MA, US – zone 7
  11. Andi, US – zone 4
  12. Rob, WA, US – zone 7
  13. Mark Ruhl, US – zone 6
  14. Kim, Long Island, NY, US – zone 6b
  15. Lynda, Sacramento Valley, CA, US – zone 9
  16. Jennifer
  17. Peggy, Denver, CO, US – zone 5/6
  18. Helen, Catonsville, MD, US – zone 7
  19. Marianna, Greece – zone 9
  20. Kory – zone 5
  21. Eryn – zone 5b
  22. Melissa (Bee Girl), Santa Fe, NM – zone 6-7
  23. Elizabeth, Australia – zone 8-10 US
  24. Christie Mandeville, Washington, DC – zone 7
  25. Grace, Atlanta, GA and Greenwood, SC – zone 8
  26. Heather Adkins, Louisville, KY – zone 6
  27. Catherine, Texas – zone 8
  28. Barb, Pennsylvania – zone 6-7
  29. Jeanine, Lost Coast, CA – zone 9-10
  30. C Robb – zone 7-8
  31. Melinda, Seattle, WA – zone 8
  32. Jody, Eastern Iowa – zone 4-5
  33. Shell, Eagle, PA – zone 5-6
  34. Dorothy, Southern California – zone 9-10
  35. Katherine, SE of Atlanta, GA – zone 7b-8
  36. Carrie, Newark, NJ – zone 7
  37. Brandi & Terri, Mankato MN – zone 4-5
  38. Guru and Giri, Bay Area- zone 8b
  39. Stacy, Indiana – zone 5
  40. Frances, Bermuda – zone 10-11
  41. Jonathan, Yakima, WA – zone 6a

Sign Up Below!

*Find your zone:  U.S., Australia, CanadaEurope, South America, China. For other regions, I don’t have links so give it your best guess.

This is the  fourth annual Growing Challenge. For a peek into past Growing Challenge history, visit the original Growing Challenge.


Kathy reminded me that it has been an awful long time since we’ve talked about all the challenges!  So… spill it everyone – how are you coming??

The Growing Challenges

The Growing Challenge New! The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition – From Seed To Seed! The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition

I planted seeds in my new p-patch 2 weeks ago.  I’m experimenting with peppers and tomato seeds directly in the ground.  Who knows if they’ll come up!

My mom and I spent Saturday morning at the Seattle Tilth and Master Gardener plant sales, stocking up on seedlings for her garden and our balcony garden.  Neither of us had the ability to do seedlings indoors this year – due to travels or too much work.  But I’ll grow lots straight in the ground, and supplement those with organic seedlings!

Evangelizing wise, I’m here and pumping away on the blog, hoping to reel in a few more gardeners here.  I also spoke at Sustainable Capitol Hill a few weeks ago about urban gardening, I’m regularly writing for the city’s Community Garden Post (comes out quarterly), and every time I garden at my p-patch plot I talk to about  10 different people passing by!

Accomplish Your Dreams and Walk 10,000 Steps

Accomplish Your Dreams Challenge

I walk to and from work every day, and I now walk to my garden patch, too!  I very rarely drive now – it’s getting easier and easier to walk everywhere.  I’ve also lost several pounds, and shrunk from a size 12 to a size 6!  :)

As far as accomplishing my dreams, I’m pushing my new business forward and really really really trying to make that work for me financially, socially, and environmentally.  It’s growing, we’ve hired 6 employees with a couple more on the way soon, plus a few sub-contractors!  Each job we take on is more exciting than the one before.  On the path!

Green Your Insides and Buy Sustainably

The Buy Sustainably Challenge! I\'m Green Inside

Buying sustainably took a turn for the worse when I started working so many hours and Matt started graduate school.  I continue to find more and more locally-sourced products – there are very few things we buy regularly that don’t come from Washington or Oregon.  But… I’m eating a fair amount of packaged, organic food for lunches and even – gasp – dinners!  I can’t wait until the local farmer’s market opens up again – I think it will help considerably because I can eat a lot of raw fresh foods again.

As for greening my insides, I think I’m pretty much green inside and out.  That’s the one I’ve done pretty well for a while now, due to my asthma.  Soap, moisturizer, deodorant, shampoo, dish soap,… all our body products are low-impact on our bodies and our world.  Yay!

So How About You?????

My Favorite Children's Gardening Book: Review and Giveaway!!

Kids in the Garden

I receive a lot of requests to review products, and I’ve seen a lot of children’s books that relate to sustainability, gardening, or other green ideas.  But this one is different.

It’s so good, I wanted to keep it for myself – there are an amazing number of tips and recipes I’ve never read before!

But alas, I have a heart.  So… if you have children or little ones you care for in some way, please let me know if you’re interested in having this truly lovely book in the comments.  Next Wednesday at noon, I will draw a winner who will receive this fabulous book!

Those who don’t win and can’t find it in the library, I have a 40% discount for you – I’ll give you the details on Wednesday.

Kids In The Garden - detail

Review: Kids In The Garden

I read this book from front to back in one sitting and loved it.  No kidding!  I was mesmerized and actually learned a lot myself.  It is full of incredibly easy and useful gardening tips, and it’s even quite useful for small space gardeners.

The pictures and illustrations are lovely and fun, and intermixed with a few terrible veggie puns.  :)  Q: “How do you fix a flat pumpkin?”  A: “With a pumpkin patch.”  Duh!

Kids In The Garden - detail

Within this short 100-page book, there is an amazing amount of information.  I learned how to take cuttings, jump start seed starts with aluminum foil and a cardboard box, and build a worm bin.  Plus the recipes look fabulous and unique.

AND did you know runner beans are the only edible plant that twines counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere?  I will be watching my beans this year!

Beetroot Brownies

by Kids In The Garden

  • 10 oz melted chocolate
  • 10 oz melted butter
  • 10 oz sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 6 oz self-rising flour
  • 8 oz cooked beetroot, peeled and grated
  1. Put the beetroot in a colander to drain.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease an 8×10″ cake tin and line the bottom with baking/parchment paper.
  3. Mix chocolate and butter together.
  4. Cream eggs and sugar together in a bowl until likght and fluffy.  And chocolate mixture and stir until smooth.
  5. Fold in the flour, then beetroot, until just mixed.
  6. Pour mixture into the cake and bake in the oven about 30 minutes, until a knife pushed into the middle comes out clean.

I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds so interesting, doesn’t it?


Interested?  Leave your name and a comment below.  I’ll draw a winner on Wednesday 21 April.  Good luck!

All Come Free! All Challenge Check In!!

Ok, I’m going to leave this post up for a couple of days as I turn it over to you all:  Is anyone out there still challenging themselves?  And are you enjoying it or is it a pain in the butt?  Is it changing the way you think about things?

We have a lot of challenges going on and I would love to hear about all of them!  So please, check in and say a word – share how you’re doing!

The Growing Challenges

The Growing Challenge New! The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition – From Seed To Seed! The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition

Accomplish Your Dreams and Walk 10,000 Steps

Accomplish Your Dreams Challenge

Green Your Insides and Buy Sustainably

The Buy Sustainably Challenge! I\'m Green Inside

Do Tell!

Come, don’t be shy!  Whether you’re formally signed up or not, come share a word.  Tell me – what’s working, what’s fun, what’s awkward, what makes you want to run??

Vegetable Seed Giveaway!!

Survival Seed Giveaway!

Apparently all I had to do was host a giveaway, and more would come to me – I had no idea!  Well, I will share the wealth with you all as much as I can, starting with….

A 16 Seed Pack Giveaway!

Hometown Seeds is a small seed company in Utah, whose biggest claim to fame are their Survival Seed Packs.  The seeds come in a vacuum sealed pack that will last at least 5 years.  So that means you can use them as a starter pack for your garden now, or you can hold onto them in case of an emergency – in the freezer they will last up to 10 years!

What’s In The Survival Seed Pack?

The pack contains 16 easy to grow varieties of non-hybrid seeds (ie, you can save the seeds from your crops and plant them again the next year):

  1. Lincoln Peas (5 oz)
  2. Detroit Dark Red Beets (10 grams)
  3. Kentucky Wonder Brown Pole Beans (5 oz)
  4. Yolo Wonder Peppers (5 grams)
  5. Champion Radishes (10 grams)
  6. Lucullus Swiss Chard (10 grams)
  7. Black Beauty Zucchini (10 grams)
  8. Waltham Butternut Winter Squash (10 grams)
  9. Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach (10 grams)
  10. Scarlet Nantes Carrots (10 grams)
  11. Long Green Improved Cucumber (10 grams)
  12. Rutgers Tomato (5 grams)
  13. Golden Acre Cabbage (10 grams)
  14. Romain Paris Island Cos Lettuce (5 grams)
  15. Golden Bantem Sweet Corn (5 oz)
  16. Yellow Sweet Spanish Onion (10 grams)


The seed packs come with a very comprehensive instruction booklet – very cool.  The seeds are also housed in double water tight packaging with optimum water content to increase storage life, and contain a total of 1.5 lbs. of GMO free seed – enough to plant 3/4 of an acre.

Too much for yourself?  I’m sure you know another gardener who would love to share!


Enter Your Name In The Comments For The Drawing!

I will randomly select a winner next Sunday at noon.  Good luck!

Spring Is In The Air: Growing Challenge Check-In

The Growing Challenge New! The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition – From Seed To Seed! The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition

Can you feel it?  Can you smell the warm air on the horizon, see the little buds coming up, oooooh… Spring is almost here!

So all you Growing Challengers….

Come Check In, Say Hello, Talk About Your Plans!

I’m still laying low from a virus I’m fighting, and I would absolutely love to hear all about your spring garden plans.  Will you humor me?  Also would love to hear from all you new gardeners, whether officially joining the challenges or not!  Come say hello!!

The First Five Steps To Starting A Vegetable Garden

We have a lot of new readers, and several new gardeners signed up for the Growing Challenge Evangelist Edition, so I thought I’d make it easier for you new gardeners to begin!

The First 5 Steps to Starting A Fruit and Vegetable Garden

1.  Liberate yourself from what you think you’re supposed to do. This is your garden.  Yours! So rule number one in planting your garden is to forget what you’re supposed to do and do what you want to do.

2.  Make a list of the things you and your family love to eat fresh. Don’t limit yourself for this task, just write them down.  First on my list is actually fresh fruits like raspberries and peaches, followed by tomatoes, carrots, salad greens, and peppers.  So write down what you really enjoy eating when you buy it fresh from the market.  And also add fresh foods that you love to eat that are often too expensive for your budget.  I’d add blueberries, basil, and maybe fennel bulbs or saffron.

3.  Research the things on your list. A little knowledge now will make a HUGE difference later.  Look up:

  • Can you grow it in your area?  If so, is it easy to grow or really temperamental?
  • Can you buy the seeds, bulbs, or starts of the plant?  If not, maybe you can find an open pollinated variety at the farmer’s market or a local farm?
  • How much space does it take up?  If you have a limited space, are there smaller varieties or dwarf options available?

Let yourself cross off things that just seem too difficult, temperamental, or require too much time, space, or money to grow well.  You can spend some time at your local library, look everything up online, or buy a good gardening book or two.

4.  Plan your garden. First take your refined list and divide it into when you need to plant each crop:  research whether you plant it in the fall, winter, spring, or summer.  Many plants can be planted in several seasons, but some have a specific need for lots of warm days, or lots of cool days. Here’s a very fancy version:

Last Frost Date

You’ll likely find that most seed catalogs and gardening books will tell you to plant a certain number of days after the threat of last frost.  If you’re in North America, you can find your last frost by visiting Victory Seeds, Farmer’s Almanac (here for Canada), the National Climatic Data Center, calling your local master gardeners, or perusing your local newspaper archives.

Sketch Your Garden

Then draw a sketch of your garden.  It can be quite simple – you just need to know how much space you have, so you can fairly accurately plot out what will fit in your space.  And then start plotting!

Take into account size and how much light it needs when you’re deciding where to plot things. Again, here is a very fancy version which I created last year with some online software:

But really all you need is a pencil and a piece of paper.  It’s possible you’ll not be able to fit everything on your list, and that’s ok.  You will have to prioritize this year – you can always try it next year!!

5.  Begin to Buy Your Seeds and Plants! The more local you can source your seeds and plants, the better adapted they will be to your specific soil and weather.  I’ve created a list of my ten favorite catalogs (be sure to look at the recommendations in the comments as well), or you can visit your local nursery, farm, or farmer’s market.

Challenge Yourself!

The Growing Challenge New! The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition – From Seed To Seed! The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition