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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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Great Reading

What's Your Favorite Crop to Plant In the Fall?

Scarlet Runner Beans

Hello everyone!  I’m so sorry I’ve been out.  Lots going on with me of late – I look forward to having some time soon to write about it!

In the meantime, I’ve had several questions via email about what to plant in the fall.  So I thought I’d open up the question to all you gardeners out there.

What’s Your Favorite Crop to Plant In the Fall?

I’d love to know, too!   So – what do you plant in the fall?  What is your favorite plant to harvest in winter?

Back In Time: 3 Spring Gardening Posts

As I take a step away to rejuvenate at a retreat called “Media That Matters”, I thought I would revisit some old posts that some of you may have missed.

Since there are some brand new gardeners to The Growing Challenge, I thought I’d start with basic gardening.

Tomato Seedlings On WindowsillScarlet Runner Beans

My Top 12 Easy Vegetables To Grow From Seed

Learn what “in situ” vs. “ex situ” are, and why one might be easier to grow than the other!  Plus beautiful photos of my top 12 favorites to grow.  AND see a beet as big as my mother’s head – can’t beat that!   My Top 12 Easy Vegetables To Grow From Seed

Baby Lettuce

Gardening 101: Seed Starting For Beginners

I go over a few different ways you can start seeds, and try to make it as easy as possible for new gardeners.  Let me know if you have any questions via email or comment!  Seed Starting For Beginners

    The First 5 Steps To Growing a Vegetable Garden

    How I make choices about what to plant where, and when.  Planning Your Garden Your Own Way

      Please Share Gardening Resources for Those Of Us Just Beginning!

      Where did you first turn for gardening information?  What was most helpful for you?

       

      Are You Ready To Grow Yet???!!

      Hi everyone – I hope you’re enjoying your spring!  The weather is just warm enough to start planting tomatoes here – I’m finally getting excited.

      I wanted to cast another net out there to see if there might be a few of you lurking in the shadows… maybe you’re a little bit afraid to comment on a blog, let alone take a challenge.  Maybe you’re shy, maybe you’re new to this green thing, or maybe it’s old news and you don’t think you need a challenge?

      Why Not?

      You have nothing to lose except a few gloriously aching muscles and a little garden knowledge!  Come on, don’t be shy – I dare you to try.  Just try!

      I promise to write about gardening, remind you to garden, get you excited about gardening, and help answer your gardening questions.  I also promise to help you get over any fears you have of growing from seed.  It’s surprisingly easy!

      Put Your Name Down In the Comments… It’s Simple! Pretty Please?

      The more people who sign up, the more fun this becomes.  A couple years ago we had over 200 people signed up!

      And I know there are friends of mine out there who are aching to try these things but haven’t got up the nerve.  Now’s your excuse – I’m putting a big cherry on top with a big warm smile and saying “pretty please.”  :)

      The Easy Guidelines

      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. (So at least 4 crops from seed this year – one for each season.)  If you’ve never grown anything, 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 on occasion, and maybe tell someone else about 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 – because it’s a great thing for the world to have more people eating from the land.  (Psst, this is one of the fun parts of gardening:  becoming a part of a gardening community.)
      3. Sign up in the comments below. Include your Name, your location, and your gardening zone (U.S., Australia, CanadaEurope, South America, China) – plus any other details if you like.  For example:
        • Melinda, Seattle, WA, zone 8. In addition to growing a four season garden, I’m going to try saving seeds from at least one crop in the fall.

      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 – You Know You’re Intrigued!

      And if you’ve already signed up, or you’re already gardening, or you just want to check in and say hello – I invite you to comment about your garden – how’s it looking?

      Giveaway: THREE Great Gardening Books!

      The folks at BetterWay Home Books have generously offered a giveaway for 2 sets of these 3 fabulous gardening books!  That means 2 of you will be the lucky winners of these 3 books.  Yay!

      I Garden: Urban Style

      The photos from this book are completely inspiring, and make me want to grow from every nook and cranny in my apartment.  If you’re growing in small spaces, or trying to get the most out of the space you have, or you want to give your garden a fun urban twist, this is the perfect book.

      It covers all sorts of things in a very short amount of time:  lasagna gardening, companion planting, identifying your soil type, seed starting, creating a terrarium, guerrilla gardening, vermicomposting, and even planting to make your cat happy.  A really nice addition to a gardener’s library.

      Composting Inside & Out

      If you are at all like me, you might be a tad bit afraid of composting.  It’s a bit mythical, isn’t it?

      This book does a great job of telling it to you in easy to understand terms.  It’s also the first composting book I’ve read that is written by a woman, which I really enjoy.  It’s written from a very conversational tone, covers indoor and outdoor composting (including worm bins), goes over all the equipment as well as how to test if it’s done.  I’m impressed.

      Rx From the Garden:  101 Food Cures You Can Easily Grow

      I have a dream to one day be able to have this scenario:

      Good friends Angela and Alex are over for dinner, and Angela complains that she has had a headache all day.

      “Oooh,” I say.  “Wait one minute!” I say as I disappear into the garden with some scissors.

      Moments later I return with a handful of herbs, heat up some water, and 15 minutes later Angela is headache free and enjoying are home-cooked meal together.

      It’s a dream for now, but I’m constantly looking for great tips and books to add to my future remedy garden (I’ve started planting a few herbs already).  This book is another piece to that puzzle.

      It’s much more of a “how to” gardening book than I expected, given the title – the first half to shows all the different remedies (not just herbs – also vegetables and fruits!), and the second half gets you out in the garden with gardening basics.

      Want To Win 3 Great Gardening Books?

      Tell me so – leave your name in the comments!

      If you want to leave an extra tidbit about your own garden (or future garden), that would make me happy – but it won’t adversely affect your chances of winning.

      I’ll draw TWO winners on Sunday, May 15, at 6pm PST.

      Both winners will receive all 3 books.  Good luck!!

      How To Plant, Grow, and Prune Blueberries

      I just planted two blueberry bushes in my community garden plot. When I was researching how to care for them, I found this fabulous video I thought some of you all would enjoy.

      More Blueberry Information

      Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, fabulously tasty, and the plants beautiful in summer and winter (look for varieties whose leaves and/or turn yellow or red wood in the winter). Here is a blueberry growing guide (PDF) for additional information, a great post on how to prune blueberries, and more detailed instructions for pruning (PDF).

      April: Food Garden Tending

      In January I focused on a cleanse.  In February I focused on yoga. In March I focused on money management. In April I have focused on gardening.

      On the 6th of April, I received a horrifying email from our community garden coordinator, that went something like this:

      Hi Melinda,

      I’m wondering if you are planning to garden this year?  According to the P Patch guidelines, all plots are supposed to be planted by April 1.

      Please let me know if you have changed your mind about gardening this year, so that we can get someone off our waiting list and into the plot.

      Thanks,
      H

      Gasp.  The Growing Challenge queen almost lost her garden plot! It’s true.

      I could make excuses – I have plenty of them.  But truthfully?  I was a bit lazy.  Lazy. Yep, I take full responsibility for my laziness.

      So needless to say, I jumped.  Matt and I planted all sorts of things, I went to the community garden meeting last weekend, and I’ll be doing a photo essay of some of the local garden patches for this season’s P-Patch Post (if you want to check out my past article, the issues are in PDF form in the right side bar of that link).

      As it’s currently planted:

      All in all, this has been fabulously fun and renewed our excitement about growing our own food.

      In fact, it has been so fun that we took it a GIANT step further…

      Surprise!

      In June, it looks like we might be moving.  A result of March’s focus on money management and April’s focus on gardening, we’re likely going to move to a new apartment that is cheaper and across the street from our garden patch.

      Assuming all goes well with our application, we’ll be attempting to grow more intensively in our little garden plot.  Something more like this (click to enlarge):

      Where To Find Your Last Frost Date

      It’s about time to plant your garden for summer crops!!  Well, in most places in North America, that is…

      If you’re planting seeds or starts, you’ll need to know around when your last frost might be. Planting out too early can mean a disappointing beginning of the season.

      There are things you can do to protect hardy seedlings and plants from frost.  However, if you plant seeds too early your seeds and/or seedlings likely to rot from cold and wet, die in a frost or freeze, or at the least take a very long time to germinate – and with low rates of germination.

      Where Do You Find Last Frost Information?

      United States

      For the United States, the most comprehensive information comes from the National Climatic Data Center. There, you’ll be able to download a PDF showing many cities in your state, and the probability of light frost, heavy frost, or freeze (36, 32, and 28 °F).

      They also have the same information in map form, if that is more helpful.

      Other resources:

      Weighing The Risks

      Each of these resources will have different dates (as the Cheap Vegetable Gardener points out), plus this is the average last frost date – which means sometimes it happens earlier and sometimes it happens later, and there are always outlying years.

      As a result, you’ll have to weigh the risks and decide for yourself.  But at least these will give you more information upon which to measure those risks!

      If you’ve taken a chance and planted a bit early, you can monitor any frost/freeze advisories on Weather.com or your local news station.

      Other Areas Of The World

      I had a tough time finding information for other areas, so if you have a resource please let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

      Do You Have Other Resources?

      Please share – thanks!