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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?????

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.


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!

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!!

How To Save Vegetable Seeds - Part 1

Alright, I’m flat out admitting it:  I took on a bit too much the past few days!  So in light of our new Growing Challenge Evangelist Edition, I thought I would syndicate an oldie but goodie here.  Which reminds me that I never did write a How To Save Vegetable Seeds – Part 2.  I’m on it… Next week!

Magic Beans:  Runner beans and lima bean

Since those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are beginning to order our seeds and plan our gardens, here is a list of things you need to know about each of your crops if you’re planning to save seeds this year.


This is probably the most important bit of information you need to know when seed saving. Generally speaking, cross-pollination can occur between different plants from the same species.

What confused me in the past was that within a Family, there may be several species. For instance, in the Leguminosae (ie, Legume) Family, there are 12,000 different species. So I can simultaneously grow pigeon peas, runner beans, and lima beans, for example, and save seeds from each of them – they will not cross-pollinate because they are different species! As you can imagine, learning can considerably widen the breadth of what you can plant at the same time.

Pollination Method

  1. Insect-pollinated plants are generally plants that have male and female flowers on the same plant. Squash plants are easy illustrations of this: you have the female flowers that have a mini-squash (“ovary”) at their base, and male flowers that do not. Depending on the species, these crops can be pollinated by honeybees, bumblebees, other bees, moths, butterflies, wasps, flies, and/or hummingbirds.
  2. Self-pollinating plants have male and female flower parts within the same flower – these are called “perfect” flowers (ha, if only we were all so perfect!). Generally you only need one plant to create seeds from these plants. However, some of these are self-incompatible, which means they can only be pollenized by an insect or wind that carries pollen from another plant. And some of these, such as tomatoes and peppers, are greatly aided by wind- and insect-pollination.
  3. Wind-pollinated plants are plants that rely on wind for pollination, such as corn, spinach, and many grains.

All three of these have the potential for cross-pollination. This means if you want to save seeds from these plants, you must isolate them from other plants in the same species.


  1. Physical isolation. Isolation distance is the distance a plant needs to be away from another plant of the same species in order to keep from cross-pollinating. However, in many instances you can isolate plants artificially by putting one plant in a greenhouse or wire cage, or covering the flowers with plastic, cloth, or wire mesh. In this case you must hand-pollinate any wind- or insect-pollinating plants.
  2. Temporal isolation. If you want to grow more than one variety, plant the first one as early as you possibly can. When that plant starts to flower, you can sow seeds for the second variety. This works only if the second crop reaches its flowering stage after the first crop has already set its seeds and stopped shedding pollen.

Population Size

Always attempt to grow as many plants as you can in your garden, in order to preserve a wide range of genetic diversity within each crop. If you can only plant a few plants, you can hand-pollinate between your most vigorous plants in order to maintain maximum diversity within your crop. Make sure that when you are saving seeds, you save seeds from several different fruits.

Even if you are selecting for certain characteristics that you’d like to bring out within your next crop, a good rule of thumb is to focus on the plant, not the fruit.

Annual, Biennial, or Perennial

  1. Annuals produce seed within the same year that they are germinated. Once the seed is produced, the mother plant dies.
  2. Biennials produce seed the year after they are germinated. Once the seed is produced, the mother plant dies. These can be the most difficult seeds to save – particularly in the North, as the plants have to be overwintered. Mulch can protect them, but if your area is particularly cold you may have to bring your plant indoors, cover it in a cold frame, or dig, store, and then replant the roots in the spring.
  3. Perennials generally produce seed every year, and live several years before the mother plant dies.

Important Books

How do you learn all of these qualities of your seeds? Read. Read the packets of seeds, read nursery websites, read Master Gardener information, read blogs and forums, read your gardening books, and read seed saving books. It’s an incredible experience to save seeds and grow them the following year, but it’s only incredible if you do it with the knowledge you need!!

Other Great Resources

Please, if you know of other resources, add them in the comments below!

Where To Buy Seeds

Lots of information here:

Challenge Yourself:

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

Please share any additional knowledge you have in the comments below!!