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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: Welcome New Seed Savers & Ask Any Gardening Questions

The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition:  From Seed To Seed


Hello everyone!  So far there are 53 participants signed up for The Growing Challenge: From Seed To Seed. They are:


  1. Jules, The Garden of Plenty, Melbourne, Australia – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  2. Jena, Married To The Farm, Caro, Michigan – zone 5
  3. Amanda, You Reap What You Sow, South Central Pennsylvania – zone 6-7
  4. Jen, Toward Arcadia, Michigan – zone 5-6
  5. Deb G, Bee Creative, Pacific Northwest – zone 7
  6. Greeen Sheeep, Wisconsin – zone 4
  7. Kory, Kicking And Screaming, Central New York – zone 5
  8. Abbie, Farmer’s Daughter, Connecticut – zone 6-7
  9. Margaret, Margaret’s Ramblings, Nottingham, England – zone 8
  10. SusanB, Southern New Jersey – zone 6b-7
  11. Karin, Fleecenik Farm, Central Maine – zone 4
  12. Kelsie, Hobbit’s Feat, Kentucky – zone 7
  13. Monica, Northern Ohio – zone 5-6
  14. Jen, Aaron-N-Jen: Living Life Simply, Iowa – zone 5
  15. Di, Path To Greendom, Southern California – zone 10
  16. TomB, My Simple Home Garden, Central Massachusetts – zone 5b
  17. Judy, My Freezer Is Full, East Central Iowa – zone 5a
  18. Julie, Towards Sustainability, Newcastle, NSW, Australia – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  19. Dina, Hip Chick Chronicles, Portland, Oregon – zone 8-9
  20. Alana
  21. Milkweed, Milkweed Diaries, Swannanoa Valley, North Carolina – zone 6-7
  22. Melanie J, Ember’s Lighthouse, Jacksonville, Florida – zone 9a
  23. Risa B, Stony Run Farm, Western Oregon – zone 8
  24. Maureen, Fotos By Meg, Central Valley, California – zone 9
  25. Amy Crump, Crump Family Blog, Chapel Hill, North Carolina – zone 8
  26. Rob, Rob’s World, Burien, Washington – zone 8
  27. The Rachface, This Evolutionary Life, Virginia – zone 8
  28. Janice, Going Off Da Grid Janice, California – zone 8-9
  29. Green Bean, Green Phone Booth, Bay Area, California – zone 9
  30. Daphne, Daphne’s Dandelions, Winchester, Massachusetts – zone 6
  31. Briel
  32. Jimmy Cracked-Corn – zone 5
  33. Lisa, Domestic Accident, Southern Coastal Maine – zone 5-6
  34. Hannah, The Purloined Letter, Takoma Park, Maryland – zone 7
  35. Suzan, Scrub Oak, Rocky Mountain southern foothills (6,700 feet) – zone 4
  36. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener
  37. Onemotherslove, What’s He Up To Now?, North Central Texas – zone 8
  38. Red Icculus, Red-Icculus.comzone 5
  39. Jocele, Knitting On Call, Idaho – zone 6-7
  40. Matt, Florida – zone 9
  41. Sara, Mama Craft, Canada – zone 3a
  42. Tyra, Tyra’s Garden & The Greenhouse In Tyra’s Garden, Vaxholm, Sweden – zone 6
  43. Inadvertentfarmer, The Inadvertent Farmer, Western Washington – zone 8
  44. Lauren
  45. Melody, Merrie Melody, Utah – zone 6
  46. Melinda, One Green Generation, Seattle, Washington – zone 8
  47. Michelle, Alpaca, Chook, Garden, Travel and…., Hobart, Tasmania, Australia – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  48. Laurel, Nefaeria, North Bay, Ontario, Canada – zone 4a
  49. Mary, Freedom Gardens Journal: Mecar, Crete, Illinois – zone 5
  50. Susan, How Green In My Garden, Southern California – zone 8b
  51. Mary, Cat’s Fiber Adventures, Oregon – zone 8-9
  52. WIlla, Plants And Animals & Yumminess Ensues, S. Central Pennsylvania – zone 6A
  53. Jenn, Attempted Simple Life, Osgoode, Ontario, Canada – zone 5a


I’ve added everyone’s name, blog, location, and hardiness zone. Please check your info to make sure I have it right. Let’s all visit, support, and learn from one another!

 

Ask Any Gardening Questions!!


Tomorrow I’ll begin a series on How to Save Vegetable Seeds.  So hopefully you’ll find some of the seed saving information you need there.  But I wanted to open up discussion of any questions you all have about ANYTHING garden-related.  Last time we did this it was quite interesting!


Please feel free to chime in whether or not you are officially taking part in the challenge. Those who are new to all of this may find good information here. And those seasoned gardeners may be able to help some of us new to the challenge.


And The Growing Challenge participants, please feel free to check in here as well.


Leave links to your gardening posts, too, if you like. Chat away!


What Happens To Recycling After It Leaves The Curb?

I found this series of videos the other day, and I was transfixed.  I will warn you the narrator is a bit annoying at first, but the content is quite interesting (and each video is very short).  I never knew the intricate process of recycling!  Somehow I imagined guys in sweat suits and gloves, bent over and sorting our recycling.  Oh how wrong…   

 

Click “Continue Reading” to see the videos!

Continue reading What Happens To Recycling After It Leaves The Curb?

Me & The Weight Of The World

Me in Oakland with Raggedy Ann


Rob has tagged me for a meme.  (Thank you, Rob.)  I’m not a big fan of memes, though.  So I was thinking about ways to honor his recognition and interest in finding out some things about me, and I thought I’d delve into how I came find who I am and what I care about.


With the economy continuing on its downward path, and climate change now looking to be somewhat irreversible, there is a lot to be down about.  Sometimes reflection helps remind us who we are, and why….  Here goes!


(Note:  as always, mouse over the pictures for more information.)


Me Licking the Beater on My First Birthday


I was born in a lower-middle class family.  My mother was a first grade teacher when she was pregnant with me.  During those days (the early 70s) she was lucky to have a job, and she literally hid her pregnancy as long as she could so she wouldn’t lose her job.  But finally she could no longer hide her pregnancy and became unemployed.  


My father was in the Peace Corps in the 60s, and searched for a job where he could support his family but still do good for the world.  He settled into a government job, working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  He stayed there until retirement – long after the HUD scandals of the 80s, and after he came to the realization that as a government worker he was working a lot more with red tape than actually helping people.  This all made his life quite frustrating for him, which carried into our family life.


Shivering young me.  We still have this towel, now used as a “dog blanket”!


We lived in Oakland, CA, where a drought in the 70s forced us to take infrequent baths, all four of us bathing consecutively to reuse the water (taking turns being the last one, as that was always the coldest!).  The bath water was then used to flush the toilet. 


I can remember having a friend of the family over for dinner once.  He was staying in a hotel in San Francisco, and was surprised to hear that there was a drought.  He said he’d taken a 20 minute shower that day, not knowing about the drought.  We were all utterly horrified… and a wee bit jealous at the same time.  (Sometimes I think of this today, when I see others being frivolous with precious resources as I continue to work on reducing my impact.)


My sister (2 years younger) and I holding a doll my grandmother made for me for Christmas. It was my favorite doll for a long time.


While we were rationing water, we were also rationing gas due to the energy crises (and here).  I remember sitting in lines at the gas station for hours, my mom fretting that the gas station would run out of gas before we got to the front of the line.  We had to plan very carefully, because we could only buy on odd-numbered days and gas became very expensive for our family.


Me as a Brownie, Marching in a Community Parade


We almost missed the parade because we ran out of gas on the way there.  I was very sad that I didn’t get a chance to make a sign : ( .


But just so you don’t get totally depressed, we did have a good time during those days! I just discovered this photo of my parents, which I think is hilarious:


My 70s parents.  The hair, the clothes, the Michelob...


And then it all changed in the 80s.  We moved from the Bay Area to Seattle, to be closer to my grandparents.  I believe you’ve met this guy:


My grandfather at his 50th wedding anniversary, wearing a gift from my father (golden shoes for their gold anniversary, I believe).  That’s his Cadillac in the background, btw.


We moved to a house with a pool (that we never used), 


Our Seattle Pool


and we did a lot of traveling.  Life was good in the 80s… For us, anyway…


My grandfather went to Hawaii for a business trip, and he took us all with him. (From left to right: my grandmother, mom, me, my sister, and my grandfather.)


My life change considerably on two separate trips my family took.  The first was a train ride to the middle of Mexico, in Baranca del Cobre (“Copper Canyon”):


Fleeting Views From the Train: People Living in Old Box Cars Deep Within The Canyon

Girls Younger Than I, Selling Baskets


The second was a trip around the US in a tiny borrowed trailer we slept in.  Not only did we get to all sorts of tourist spots, like historic Williamsburg (that’s my sister in the guillotine, below):


Lori In Williamsburg Guillotine


…But we also stayed in trailer parks, rode public transportation through Washington DC, and drove through miles and miles of farmland.  I’d never seen severe poverty in the US, massive industrial agriculture, nor the many historic battlegrounds where we fought Native Americans, British, and each other.  (Interestingly, I have no pictures of those things that made the biggest impression!)


We also did crazy things occasionally, like learn how to build an igloo (we stayed one night inside – amazingly easy and warm!).


I’m in black on the left (in a “different“ phase of my life), standing next to my sister.


I think there’s a lot I can learn from my own history, and my own experiences, as we look forward toward an uncertain future.  I’m seeing cycles of economy, I’m realizing I’ve learned some useful skills to adapt to changing circumstances.  And somehow looking back at history grounds me within a wider scope of reality.


Things are not perfect right now.  Not by a long shot.  But we can – and must – work hard.  We have new and useful technologies that we can bring together with the skills we’ve had for decades!  We can adapt, but we can also improve as we move forward….


Now, that was only the first half of my life.  You’ll get the second half whenever I get another meme (no encouragement here!!).  Let me dissuade you with this lovely, lovely, 80s photo:


High School In The 80s


And now I turn it over to you:  is there anything you can remember from your past that would be useful in the current state of our world?


What Is Your Favorite Ecologically-Sound Way To Relax?

Seattle's Puget Sound


Last week several of us said that moving away from hot baths, long showers, and hot tubbing was one of the most difficult things to change on this path toward living a sustainable life. Most of the reasons were that it helps us relax, and it’s where we do a lot of thinking.


Now this is not about depriving yourself. It’s just about re-focusing your energies. Maybe there’s something else you can do that will give you the same satisfaction (or even better!). What else can you do that you love, but that doesn’t cost money or the environment? What do you do that is wonderfully guilt free?!


Here Are A Few Things That Help Me Relax And Think:


  1. Reading on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book.

  2. Going for walks in my neighborhood, where I get to see people around me, squirrels running up trees, new neighbors moving in or out, life! It also gets blood pumping through my brain and calories burning through my body.

  3. Meeting with a friend who understands me and can spark wonderful new thoughts and ideas.

  4. Doing something good within my community, that makes me tired but full of life.

  5. Getting a good night’s sleep. I know it sounds silly, but it makes a huge difference in how relaxed and thoughtful I am the next day!


Help Our Friends!


Please tell us all what you do, how you relax and find the space to think!


Because we’re all in this together, and that is much more powerful than trying to do it alone.


I Finally Found Local, Organic Dog and Cat Food!

Ellis and Raisin

 

I know it’s not a huge thing, but sometimes the little things make all the difference, don’t they?


I’ve been searching for a good solution to pet food for years. After the crazy pet food recalls in 2007, we switched to California Natural – it was a local company (when we lived in California) that boasted whole grains and “all natural” (though not organic) ingredients. Since we moved to Seattle, I’ve been eyeing other options….


I’ve thought about the raw diet (also lovingly named the BARF Diet – yes, a terrible marketing strategy). It would be the ultimate in sustainability if I could find local, organic, ethically-raised meat. But truly, it is too expensive for our budget and I’m not sure as a vegetarian I could handle the raw meat factor.


I’ve really wanted to find an organic option, too, because our animals are a part of our family and I really want to feed them quality food. And also because it seems inconsistent with my values to support organic agriculture when it comes to buying my own food, but somehow make an exception for my pet’s food. Unsustainable agriculture is unsustainable agriculture, whether it grows dog food or human food, right?


So, finally, the search is over. Wahoo!


Organix Organic Cat Food Organix Organic Dog Food


Organix dog and cat food is made with organic, free-range chicken. It comes from Castor and Pollux (named after their 2 pets) in Clackamas, Oregon, which is 189 miles from us (I think that’s probably the closest we’ll ever get). It costs more than our previous brand, but it is packed with protein so the servings are smaller (which means it lasts longer), and darn it – it matters enough to me that I’ll pay more. We don’t have a lot of money, so we are reducing our costs in other areas to compensate. Because it does matter: to our pets, to our farms, to our farmers, to our soil, and to the animals on the farms who are raised humanely because of our support.


And Castor and Pollux gives back to the community in several ways, so it matters to our neighborhoods, too!

 

Raisin With Toy Mouse


We’ve been feeding Raisin and Ellis with Organix for about three weeks now. They both LOVE the food. We’ve also noticed their fur looks healthier and they have a little more energy. It’s an amazing change really. A very worthwhile change. I’m pleased to have found this!


What do you feed your animals? Have you thought about local or organic foods? Has anyone tried the raw diet?


Finding The Willpower To Change Everyday Habits

 

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” 
—Ralph Waldo Emerson


When I tell people Matt and I have reduced our carbon footprint to just 10% of the American average, many people respond: “wow, how did you do that?” – while giving me a look as if I am so far out there and living on the fringe of society that they could not possibly do it, too. Or they say, “Gosh, I wish I could, but I just can’t give up xxx.”  


Truthfully, our lifestyle ebbs and flows, and some days we’re better at it than others.  But overall, we’re keeping up with our goals fairly well.  So I’ve been thinking about what has kept us to this path, in the hopes that I might help others to make similar changes…


1.  Focus On The Positives


I don’t think I could live a sustainable lifestyle if I were constantly thinking about what I’m giving up, how much I’ve “reduced”, and what I’m depriving myself of.  Instead, I need to create a positive spin in my mind:  I focus on how much good I’m contributing to the world, how much I’m helping others, how much money I’m saving, and how much happier and healthier we are.


There are little tricks that go along with this.  For instance, I might tell myself that if I don’t stop at Starbucks for a cup of coffee, I will be able to use that money to buy a book I’ve been wanting to buy for years (something that lasts much longer than a cup of coffee and has the potential to be truly life-changing).  Or I might instead transfer the amount that I would have spent on the coffee into our Savings account. Then not only am I keeping a coffee cup out of a landfill and avoiding a purchase of coffee that wasn’t fairly traded, but I am also contributing to my own financial well-being.  Plus if I really need the coffee I can wait until I get home to make fair trade, organic, locally-roasted coffee – that tastes better – for about 1/8 the price!


There are also health benefits upon which to focus.  For example, while the initial time cost of learning non-toxic cleaning methods might be tough, my health and budget will benefit substantially!


2.  Allow Yourself To Be In A Continuum Of Change


Change rarely comes overnight, though sometimes the inspiration for change does.  Which means you often have the will to change immediately, but lack the power and strength to make drastic changes to your lifestyle immediately.  This is how many get discouraged and simply give up on trying.


Do constantly work toward your goals. But at the same time, allow yourself to change as you grow, to conquer new obstacles with grace as you acquire the time, the patience, and the skills for them. In other words, harness the increasing strength you acquire from each accomplishment to catapult yourself to the next level of change.   


3.  Make Sure You Are Enjoying Yourself


Change can be uncomfortable from time to time, as you get used to new ideas and new ways of doing things.  But overall if you’re not having fun, if you’re not feeling good, if you’re not enjoying life, stop and re-evaluate.  What can you do to allow yourself pleasure while still working toward your goals?  How can you reward yourself for changes you make on a daily basis, while still adhering to your new lifestyle?


Don’t be afraid to turn to others and ask them for ways that they have accomplished things and had fun doing it. I’ve learned so much from all of you, and from other websites and blogs.


Also, remember that just because you might be addicted to buying stuff, doesn’t mean it makes you happy.  Having the accomplishment of not buying stuff, and saving that money or putting it toward things you really want or need, might actually make you happier!


4.  Allow Your Worldview To Change


When I became a vegetarian 20 years ago, it was a strange thing to do. People thought it was strange.  I had a difficult time going over to friends’ houses for dinner, or going out to eat.  But after a few years, I didn’t think much about it.  In my mind, meat isn’t part of my repertoire, so I don’t think about it.  I don’t really see it on menus anymore, my eyes simply glaze over those items.  My worldview changed, I redefined what is normal for me.  


Twenty years later there are more ways of eating sustainably, of course, and each of us must find their own way. But my point is that I feel healthy, good, and that I am contributing positively to the world. And once I became a vegetarian, I began working on my nutrition intake and changed even more the way that I eat.  Once I’d conquered that, I worked on finding better sources for what I ate.  And then cooking better. And so on…


5.  Remind Yourself Why You Set Out On This Path 


Sometimes this requires that you stop and look beyond your immediate situation (in which you may be tired, hungry, and cranky) and remember that your actions have meaning beyond the here and now.  


Buying that Starbucks coffee contributes to a system where farmers aren’t paid a living wage, where pesticides are sprayed – affecting farmers, soil, and wildlife along with your own immune system as you drink the coffee.  And it affects your budget, making it more difficult to pay off your debt, and further from saving for harder times ahead.  Buying that coffee means you perpetuate a system of agriculture that doesn’t work, and an economic system that doesn’t work.  The consequences of your actions go far beyond one immediate act.  And they even go beyond the person you inspire to change as you are changing.


So step outside of your immediate situation and remember why you do what you do, why you set out with goals of change.  And feel good about sticking to those goals.


How Do You Find The Willpower To Change Your Everyday Habits?


I need to admit to you that yesterday I was cranky, tired, and hungry and I walked all the way into the Starbucks (with a reusable cup in hand). And then I turned around and walked back out.  Because I have a book in mind that the library doesn’t carry, because I have a debt that I want to keep slowly paying off, because I don’t want to support an unsustainable agricultural system, because I don’t want to drink pesticides, because I have better coffee at home that adheres to my belief system, and because I want to feel good about my actions.


And as I walked out of that Starbucks, I smiled.


Does this happen to you?  How do you handle it?  What keeps you going in the right direction?


Gardening 101: How To Plant Bare Roots

Bare Roots Before Planted


Planting bare roots is one of the many gardening techniques that seem scary and very difficult when you first begin, but then become so easy you have no idea why you hadn’t done it before! Seriously, it is actually easier than planting a potted plant.


Why To Plant Bare Roots


There are several advantages to planting bare roots, including:


  • The tree or bush doesn’t go into shock because it’s dormant during the winter.
  • It’s cheaper to buy bare roots than to buy potted plants.
  • There are more varieties of different plants to chose from.
  • The shipping costs (to your budget and the environment) are significantly lower.


When To Plant Bare Roots


Late fall and winter are the times to plant bare roots. You can often find roots at your favorite seed company or your local nursery, though there are also online nurseries that sell only fruit trees.


Make sure to get them in the ground soon after they arrive home, or temporarily heel them in (ie, bury the roots in soil outside until you can properly plant them). Whichever you do, make sure the roots stay moist. You’ll want to plant them while they are still dormant, but when the ground is workable (ie, not frozen and not overly soggy).


How To Plant Bare Roots


The following is how we planted our raspberry, fig, and currant bare roots in Geyserville last year.


To the left, in the green patch, is where we\'re going to prepare for planting.


You can see by this first picture above that we started with a mess. To the right are beds soon to come, in the middle (already mulched) are garlic just peeking out, and the area just to the left of that is full of weeds. That’s where we’ll be preparing a bed for our raspberries and currants.


Matt breaking up the soil with a broadfork


First Matt used the broadfork to break up the clay soil. Developed by Eliot Coleman, we’ve found the broadfork to be perfect for such tasks, as it digs deep with its 5 tines. Unfortunately (or fortunately?!) I’m not quite heavy enough to use it very well – but Matt is able to use it quite well!


Matt bringing in mushroom compost


Once we broke up the soil, I dug a 6″ moat around the bed (this is called a berm), while Matt heaped in a wheelbarrow and a half of aged mushroom compost.


Me breaking up the soil and compost


I used the curved tine cultivator to mix in the compost and shape the bed, breaking up some of the clumps and removing the rocks by hand.


Compressing the side of the raised bed in liu of a wooden frame


Once I got the bed relatively formed, I did something highly technical (not really!). Since we don’t build wooden structures for our beds (don’t need them and can’t afford them), I compressed the side of the bed with my foot so it will hold its shape. Simple as that. The mulch also helps to hold the bed in place, and the height – and moat – allow for enough drainage that the bed remains together.


I did a final rake across the top to even out the bed, and broke up a few last clods with my hands. And voila – the bed is made.


The finished raised bed


We went for a much narrower bed than our others – the final bed is about 1.5′ wide by 16′ long. What you see in this picture is about half – after lunch we made the bed twice as long.


Bare root raspberries


Above is how the raspberries looked when they arrived via mail. (The flakey stuff is just wood shavings used as packing material.)


I gently untwined the roots and spread them out.


Then I dug a hole a little wider than the width the roots naturally lay, and slightly deeper than the depth of the longest root. I just did the digging with my bare hands, because we found that there were many worms – red worms and earth worms – in the soil. So I wanted to make sure we preserved our precious worms by only gently digging.


Burying the roots, bit by bit, as I hold the plant in place with the other hand


I then held the plant in place with one hand while I gently filled in the soil around the roots with the other, spreading the roots slightly as I went. Raspberries grow shoots along their horizontal roots, so keep this in mind. I also made sure there were no air pockets where the soil didn’t reach.


Bud union - do not cover in soil!


Important: make sure you do not cover the first bud union. You can see those in the picture above, near the soil – there are 3 of them on this currant plant. If you’ve planted too deep, you can gently pull the tree up to the desired height.


Bare roots planted and mulched, careful to avoid mulching at the base of the plant


I spaced each plant about 2 feet apart. Then I applied a straw mulch, carefully avoiding the trunk.


The finished raised bed of raspberries and currants


So here we have a bed of 5 Willamette Red Raspberries and 2 Dark Red Wilder Currants!


Specifics For Planting Bare Root Trees


Planting Bare Root Trees is very similar to planting berry brambles. Here are the steps:


  1. Instead of digging a raised bed, you want to dig a circle a little wider than the width the roots naturally lay.

  2. Amend the soil and build a mound that rises about a foot above the flat ground.

  3. Spread the roots atop the mound as evenly as you can while not forcing roots into a shape they don’t easily conform to.

  4. Cover the roots to just below the bud union (see photo with arrow showing this above).

  5. And dig a berm (ie, moat) around the outside of the mound, so that water will drain away from the base of the trunk.


One final note: when watering trees, brambles and bushes, water the entire width of the area where you planted the roots, and be sure to avoid the base of the trunk itself.