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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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What's Growing In Your Garden Right Now?

We just planted some new goodies in our community garden patch over the weekend.  From seed we planted beets, carrots, kale, nasturtiums, potatoes, and arugula.  It’s a wee bit early here, yet – it’s still pretty cold.  So this will be an experiment!

Doesn’t look like much now, but it will be flourishing soon enough!

We also planted 2 blueberry bushes, a lavender bush, and broccoli, kale, bok choi, onion, strawberry, asparagus, and cilantro starts.  Plus we planted two new types of herbs we haven’t tried before – Australian mint bush and purple shiso.

What’s growing in your garden?

Please share!

Also, if you haven’t signed up for the Growing Challenge this year, I welcome you to join us.  It’s easy and fun!

Giveaway: Kitchen Herb Garden Seeds!

As I continue burning the midnight oil at my office… let’s have a giveaway!

Hometown Seeds has graciously offered a free Kitchen Herb Value Pack to the lucky winner. They are a sweet little family-owned company – their seeds come in hand-packed bags with planting instructions.  And the seeds smell amazing

So Get Your Free Herb Seeds!

The only catch:  you have to tell us what you’re going to do with the seeds in your comment.  You can say anything, it’s just more fun to learn a bit about you!

So, where will you plant them?  Or who will eat the lovely herbs?  Or what does your garden look like?  Anything you can think of – just a little tidbit!

I’ll draw a random winner on Sunday.  You have until 6pm April 10th to enter. Don’t forget to say a few words about your garden!!


(P.S. In case you’re curious, I don’t receive money from these reviews and giveaways.  Free seeds and books occasionally, but that’s about it!)

What Fertilizer Do You Use for Tomatoes and Peppers?

Kevin’s Question…

Hi Melinda,

I appreciate the information you provided on your website about how to pollinate tomatoes and peppers.  Thank you.

Currently I am using Miracle Grow as a fertilizer… (I know…BOOOO!  HIIISSS!)…but I am hoping to move away from that once I feel more comfortable with my abilities as a gardener.

What is a more natural substitute and does this subsititute provide similar results to Miracle Grow?

I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.  Thank you.  :)

Take care,
Kevin

I just received this email this morning, and thought I could throw it out to all of us to answer:  As you’re planning your gardens for Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (or putting them to bed in the Southern Hemisphere)…

What Do YOU Use to Feed Tomatoes and Peppers??

 

How To Amend The Soil In Your Whole Garden For $20 Or Less

There are five very cheap ways to amend your garden soil.

1.  Create Your Own Compost Bin

If you have the space in your garden, for very little money you can compost your own kitchen waste, grass and garden clippings, and leaves.  In a 4′x4′x4′ container, include half “brown” materials – straw, leaves, newspaper and other dry things – and half “green” materials -  grass, food waste and other new materials.

Compost Bin

Add lots of water, turn occasionally (every 3 days to 3 weeks, depending on how fast you want it to decompose), and wait (2 weeks to 4 months, depending on the weather, how often you turn it, and what you’ve included in the pile).

2.  Create Your Own Worm Bin

A friend of mine is going to show me how to do this soon, so I’ll post about this soon.  But in the meantime, if you looking for a smaller-scale way to recycle your kitchen scraps into luscious soil-amending goodness, check out Patti’s video:

3.  Lasagna or In Situ Composting

In Situ Composting. This is the lazy gardener’s compost method.  Here’s what I do:  I line my garden paths with straw.  As I’m weeding and cleaning up the garden, I throw everything into the path, on top of the straw.  You can also add food scraps, but be aware that animals might come find them so choose cautiously.  The paths will begin to decompose, rain and excess water from watering will keep it moist.

By next year, the paths will decompose and you can turn in the soil a bit and move your path to a new spot.  Keep in mind that you can only use weeds that haven’t gone to seed, because this method doesn’t get compost hot enough to kill the seeds.

Lasagna/Sheet Mulch Gardening. Another lazy gardener’s compost method, essentially you create a 2′ tall compost pile all over your garden, alternating green and brown in each lasagna layer.  If you do this in the fall, by spring you should be able to plant in rich soil!  I looked for a good video to show you, but the above is the best I could find – it helps, anyway!

4.  Plant Cover Crops

Fall or spring, you can plant cover crops – there are a plethora of options.  Crimson clover (above) is one of my favorites, because it’s beautiful and brings a lot of nitrogen and organic matter into your soil.  Peaceful Valley has some of the best resources – their Fall catalog has an amazing grid listing all their compost crops with each one’s benefits.  However, if you find cover crops locally, you’re likely to happen upon ones that work best in your area.

5.  Let Your City Do It For You

Big Truck, Little Truck

A good portion of local municipalities now have compost programs that work with your regular garbage pick-ups.  Every Spring, we go get a truckload full for $10-20, depending on how big a load we want.

It is a lot of exercise to bring in a whole truck load of compost at a time – but with two people, a shovel and a wheelbarrow, you can unload it and mix it into your soil in 2-3 hours.  And you feel really strong and well-exercised the next day!

Which Method Do You Use?

How have you amended your soil in the past?  Will you try something new this year?

Hay Is For Horses, Straw Is For Mulch

I love using straw for mulch – it’s cheap, breaks down easily, provides a nice cushion along garden paths, and extra bales are wonderful seats in the garden.

Most feed stores will sell both hay and straw, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the feed store and questioned myself about whether or not I was getting the right one.  I’ve noticed that many garden blogs use the two terms interchangeably, but they are ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY NOT THE SAME.  Gardeners beware!

Hay Is For Horses by Montanabw on Wikipedia

Hay? No Way! Hay Is For Horses!

Hay.  Hay is for horses… and pigs and cows and goats.  In the store it’s often a bit greener than straw.  Hay has SEEDS in it.  So unless you want to grow hay all over your garden, don’t buy hay for mulch.  Hay?  No Way!

Straw by Adamantios on Wikipedia

Straw Is For Mulch

Straw is a by-product of the wheat, oat, rye, or barley industries.  After the seeds have been threshed and sold, the dry husks are bundled up and sold as straw.  Straw, therefore, is without seeds.  Straw saves seedlings.  Straw is for mulch!

Any Questions?

Have you made the mistake of using hay?

Our New Garden!

It seems like we are destined to have a new garden every year!  Each year for the last several years, we’ve taken over old, unloved land and nourished it.  We leave behind for others gloriously fertile soil and beds just waiting to be planted.  The bad part? We leave behind a lot of blood, sweat, and tears – and planning, too.

Sigh.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know we moved from Los Angeles, where we had a potted garden on concrete, to Geyserville, where we had a 2,000 square foot garden.  Then we moved to Seattle, and I started a garden with my mom and we gardened on our fire escape.  Then we got a community garden plot (aka “p-patch”), a couple miles away.  Then we moved to a neighborhood closer to work, and the p-patch became 3 miles away.

And now I’m sooooo excited to say we have a new plot just down the street!  Hooray!

Ok, here’s what we did last weekend….

Our New Community Garden Patch

Here we are, with loads of work to do.  A very unloved patch of land, full of horrible, horrible weeds (morning glories, among others – they have long, long roots and seem like they pop out every where).  There were several weird wire cages and fences, and numerous old metal and wooden poles and posts, plus raspberries all over, and clearly pretty poor soil.

The pots you see are garlic and rhubarb from our old plot.

So we dug and carted and weeded and dug and carted some more.  Brutal work!  But alas, we moved the raspberries to one place in the plot, rescued some beautiful chives, and cleared our new land.

Baren Land

Then we went with some friends down to Cedar Grove Compost, our municipal compost location, where we bought a truck load of “Booster Blend” (compost mixed with aged manure) for $11.  It’s great for us city dwellers:  we compost at home, it goes to Cedar Grove, they mix it with microbes and age it, and we buy it back for a small amount of money.  Not bad!

Several hours later...

After wheeling and dumping and digging and raking in several barrels of compost, voila!  We have a plantable garden!  I transplanted the garlic and rhubarb, and we now have a blank slate of good, nurtured soil.

This weekend we will plant!

The space is about 15 by 20 – almost twice as big as our old plot.  It doesn’t seem like much, probably, to those of you who have large garden spaces.  But it is a good amount of space if you use it well.

So… What Shall We Plant?

Currently, we have rhubarb, raspberries, chives and garlic.  What else shall we plant?  What’s your favorite unusual vegetable?  What space-saving varieties have you found?  Please help us maximize our garden space!

An Interview With Melinda on Living Sustainably!

BizyMoms Top Blogger

I’m still working away on some amazing projects that are keeping me beyond busy.  I’ll be back soon!!

In the meantime, I’ve been interviewed by BizyMoms as one of their Top Home and Garden Bloggers of 2010.  So cool!  I’m honored to be in the midst of  Ronda Hetzel and Susan Harris, both wonderful bloggers I admire.  Here’s what they’ve said about us:

Meet some of the world’s most exclusive bloggers on Home and Garden issues

Bizymoms has chosen some of the world’s top-notch bloggers who are maintaining hugely popular blogs to discuss everything related to home and garden. Bizymoms recognizes these wonderful men and women for their great endeavor to reach out to humanity using the extraordinary power of blogging in such a positive way. This is an exceptional series of interviews with these bloggers to get an insight into their bright minds, and to understand what they stand for when it comes to home and garden. This series comes exclusively from Bizymoms for its reader community. Check it out and learn something new and unique from each of these world-class bloggers.

It’s awesome to me that they’ve included a representative that writes about sustainability in their Home and Garden top blogs.  I do believe that is a bit of redefining normal, don’t you think??!

Anyway, please go check out my interview!  I’d love to hear what you think (comments there don’t seem to be working – sorry, they’re working on it, some tech problem – so until they fix that feel free to comment here).