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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!
Two years ago, I designed my large 2,000 square foot garden space using Microsoft Excel. It worked out ok, as I know the program pretty darn well with all the strategic planning, grant writing, and budgeting I’ve done over the years. Anyway, my plan looked like this (click on the images to make them larger):
Last year, we moved during the late Spring, so I didn’t bother to plan the garden much – my mom and I did some in-the-moment planning, and that was about it.
This year, I did it a little differently. As one of the perks of blogging, I often receive offers of free “green” stuff – which I usually turn down because I don’t need more stuff and I don’t like reviewing products. It’s not what this blog is about. But I have made a couple of exceptions lately. This one was a free annual pass to GrowVeg.com, an online Garden Planning software.
Here’s our new garden plan, using the GrowVeg software (click on the images to make them larger):
I must say, it was easier, and more fun than Excel! Basically, it’s a simple tool, where you can drag and drop each item into your plan. As you drag and drop, the crop takes up a given amount of space. You can see in the Back Yard Plan, they’ve given me more space for winter squash and less for cucumbers, for example. That feature is more or less accurate. For some things I thought it was more accurate than others.
Unfortunately, there is currently a fairly limited selection of mostly fruits and vegetables, with just a few herbs and no specific flowers nor ornamentals. For a backyard gardener, that becomes a bit limiting, though they do have 3 sizes of “Misc” plants – you can see quite a few in our Front Yard Plan. My guess is that the software makers will add more items as they go.
A great feature, though, is this: you type in your zip code, and it creates a planting chart based on your hardiness zone.
The next step for GrowVeg would certainly be to allow one to edit the variety of each species, but this is a good start! If you’re interested in trying it out, GrowVeg.com is running a 30-day free trial right now.
The Front Yard
First off, did you notice that we are expanding our edible garden into the front yard???!!!!! Most of you know, but some of you may not: Matt and I live in an apartment, in an area where there are waiting lists of up to 3 years for community garden plots. So, I’m gardening with my mother at her place a couple of miles away. Last year, we grew only in the backyard and on the upper deck in pots. But this year, it was my mom’s idea to tear up some grass!!!!And replace a few of her old ornamentals with fruits and veggies!!!!!
In the Front Yard Plan above, you’ll see that we’re building a new fruit and herb garden in the upper left corner. And we’re infiltrating the ornamental beds. Very exciting!
The Back Yard
There was quite a lot of construction happening all fall and winter at my mom’s. Subsequently, many of our herbs, flowers and other perennials were destroyed. My mom also hired a man to come dig out a couple of old rhododendrons, and, well… he misunderstood her and leveled the entire backyard! A few things are coming back, but most are gone for good. Somewhat a blessing in disguise, of course, because now we have almost a blank slate.
Our New Plant List
Artichoke, TBD (start from local nursery)
Bean, Purple Pod Pole
Runner Bean, Sunset
Runner Bean, Scarlet
Broccoli, Di Ciccio
Brussels Sprouts, Long Island
Swiss Chard, Five Color Silverbeet
Flower, Black Velvet Nasturtium
Flower, Ladybird Nasturtium
Flower, Empress of India Nasturtium
Herb, Purple Dark Opal Basil
Herb, Genovese Basil
Herb, Greek Basil
Herb, Mammoth Dill
Herb, Rosemary Prostrate
Herb, Rosemary Roman Beauty
Herb, Bay Laurel
Herb, Lavender Grosso
Herb, Tarragon French
Lettuce, Mesclun Mix
Melon, Noir des Carmes
Pepper, Alma Paprika
Pepper, Chervena Chushka
Pepper, Joe Parker
Pepper, Little Bells
Pepper, Pepperoncini Greek
Pepper, Sweet Chocolate
Potato, Organic Yukon Gold
Potato, Red, Yellow & Blue Mix
Potato, Mountain Rose
Potato, French Fingerling
Potato, La Ratte Fingerling
Rhubarb, Victoria Cherry
Squash, Table Gold Acorn
Squash, Wood’s Prolific
Sweet Potato, Carolina Ruby
Tomatillo, Purple di Milpa
Tomato, Alaska Fancy Cherry
Tomato, Amish Paste
Tomato, Aunt Ruby’s Green Pole
Tomato, Silvery Fir Tree Bush
Tomato, Chocolate Cherry Tomato
Tomato, Japanese Black Trifele
Tomato, Roma Paste
Tomato, Sun Gold Cherry
And knowing us, there will probably be a few more fun things we squeeze in!
During Earth Hour 2008, we ate a homemade dinner by candlelight, we watched the stars, and we talked as we sipped local wine. Our hour turned into an hour and a half. It was peaceful, relaxing, and we were saving power. And we were doing it along with millions of other people. In fact, we had such an amazing time that we continued to do this once a week for two months afterward!
Just as our life and lifestyle here in Seattle has been incredibly different from our life in the country, so was our Earth Hour this year: we turned out our lights and then took Ellis for a stroll through the neighborhood, checking out all the lights that had gone out for the event.
We can see the Space Needle from our street corner, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it dark before. It was intriguing to see. There’s an expensive restaurant at the top, and it, too, had it’s lights turned off – we could see tables lit by candlelight alone. Several downtown buildings also turned off their exterior lights. Though truthfully, it wasn’t as dramatic as I’d expected.
Then we walked through the business streets of our neighborhood, to see if we could see evidence of Earth Hour – we envisioned apartment buildings darkened, restaurant lights dimmed, people huddled indoors by candlelight… But we didn’t see a single sign of the event during our entire hour-long walk.
That was a bit difficult for me to take. Millions and millions of people are taking part, but here in a very environmentally-friendly city, in a particularly aware neighborhood, there was very little evidence it was taking place.
This reminds me of the feelings I have some days, where I leave my home and enter a world where people don’t care very much about their energy usage, their waste, their spending, nor the climate as a whole.
Do you ever feel isolated in your actions, in the changes you’re making in your lifestyle?
We have found solace in our community here on the internet, we have lifted each other’s spirits, we have all pushed one another harder to do more, and we are a wonderful community. So let’s keep bringing people into our world: the one that cares, the one that is mindful, the one that is trying to make a difference, big or small.
Let’s make our community bigger and stronger. And let’s help it spread throughout our neighborhoods!
How? It’s a good question, and I think it’s answered differently for each of us. We are all different, living in unique places and having unique talents. So let’s use each of our talents to bridge awareness and spark action!
I’ve written some about how to build and strengthen communities, and I will continue to write more about this. I would love any ideas you all have – as well as any questions we might be able to help answer.
And to be sure, there were some wonderful things that happened on Earth Day. Check out the photos and videos if you’d like to see a snippet.
So… I walked, fretted, pondered, and looked for solutions during Earth Hour….
It’s not going to change the world overnight. It’s not going to save so much electricity in one hour, that we’ll stop the course of climate change. It won’t even change the way most people go about their everyday lives.
But just like this blog, our daily actions, and our annual votes, it will change some people. It will do some good. It will make me think about my life for an hour, it will show me what my city looks like only half lit up at night, it will probably change the way some companies light up their buildings at night, it will make some people think a little bit about their electricity usage, it will show a few politicians that their constituents care, it will bring some new people to the sustainability movement, and it will be one more voice in a growing chorus of positive change. …
Tonight at 8:30pm. (No matter where you are or what time zone you live within, it’s 8:30pm your time.) Try turning off your lights, try turning off all your electricity. And spend that time thinking about what else you can do, talking with your children about what this moment means, how you can do more…
Be deliberate. Have fun. And talk about it with your friends, family, and coworkers afterwards. Spread the word of positive change. Each little step gets us going further in the right direction!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sustainable gardening plan we created at Sustainable Capitol Hill. Well, we have begun! On Tuesday six of us got together and walked the neighborhood, seeking a roundabout to adopt.
If you’re looking to do this yourself, try calling your city or town department of transportation – if it’s not through them, it’s likely they’ll know who to talk with. If you’re in Seattle, you can find all the information you need to start here. They call them “orphan” traffic circles here. How sad!
So we began with a map of the neighborhood, and set out to look for an orphaned roundabout. We also thought we’d get some ideas from those that are well maintained. Keep in mind that it’s still winter here, so they are not as beautiful as they will be in spring and summer, but here’s what we found…
We gathered around the first one, and admired. Clearly it’s not orphaned.
This one is my favorites in the summer – full of towering cardoon flowers and beautiful bushes of sage.
Unfortunately it’s not so beautiful in the winter!
This one is quite beautiful. We also talked about how to discourage graffiti.
You’d never know, but this one beautifully disguises a manhole cover in the center.
Here’s where we realized we looked a little odd to passers-by!
Have you ever noticed the trees in roundabouts? These are gigantic!
And they got bigger! Note the tiny humans and cars.
And then, as the it began to get too dark to take pictures, we happened upon an orphan…
And after talking and planning for a bit, we walked down the street, and found one twice as big and even more orphaned!
And then one more, the most neglected of all. It made us all sad, actually: full of weeds, trash, and terrible soil. And so it was that we decided to adopt all three…
This was an incredibly fun excursion. I got to know 5 of my neighbors, I learned quite a lot about our neighborhood, I saw details in things I normally pass right by, we talked with other neighbors as we walked (many people were curious what we were doing), and I exercised, walking several miles!
The next step will be to notify the city that we’ve found 3 neglected traffic circles, and then we’ll create a plan, and spend a weekend bringing them back to life!
We’re planning a native/edible garden. But each will have to be fairly maintenance-free, and both wet and drought tolerant, too (there is no running water in summer, and it gets quite wet here in winter). No small order, I know! Any ideas???!
So far there are 108 participants signed up for The Growing Challenge: From Seed To Seed. Congratulations to Stacy for being the 100th participant! Welcome, everyone who has recently joined. And if you haven’t already, please join us in taking a new step toward sustainability by growing your own food from seed to seed.
Thank you for your great responses to our last check-in – wow! Truly inspiring, you all.
New participants are in orange at the bottom. Please, let’s visit, support, and learn from one another!
I’ve added everyone’s name, blog, location, and hardiness zone. Please check your info to make sure I have it right as I had to guess on a few.
What Is Your Garden Like?
It is amazing to click through the links above, and ponder all the different zones in which we garden. I think it would be fun to know a bit about each of our gardens…
So, let’s start with a simple question: how big is your garden? You can add a bit more if you like, for instance: do you garden in your front yard, your back yard, your windowsill, a neighborhood garden patch, a friend or family garden, or somewhere else? And what do you love most about your garden?
Please feel free to chime in whether or not you are officially taking part in The Growing Challenges.
Leave links to your gardening posts, too, if you like. Chat away!
Michelle Obama is tearing up part of the South Lawn and planting an organic food garden for her family. How cool is that?
Michelle Obama has never grown a vegetable garden. The White House hasn’t had a garden on the South Lawn since Elanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden during World War II.
So How Did This Happen?
The Obamas have been lobbied to create a garden since before they entered the White House – even before Obama was elected!
Roger Doiron and Kitchen Gardeners International led that cause with their Eat The View Campaign. Roger created a YouTube video that became viral, a Facebook campaign continued the charge, the cause was joined by Alice Waters and other famous chefs, and people like you and I joined the cause by signing the petition, forwarding the idea to our friends, and so on.
The Obamas’ pediatrician had a hand as well. You see, the chaotic life of politics led the Obamas to eat out a lot, to have fast food and packaged meals regularly. Then Malia and Sasha gained weight! So the pediatrician gave Michelle a lecture in nutrition, and the family began to change their eating habits.
The family’s Chicago chef, Sam Kass – who came with them to the White House as assistant White House chef – is an advocate of the local food movement. He’ll be overseeing the garden himself.
The White House Executive Chef, Cristeta Comerford, and the Pastry Chef Bill Yosses will both be arranging their menus around the garden.
One of the White House carpenters, Charlie Brandts, is a beekeeper and has offered to keep two hives to provide fresh honey.
And you and I – who have come together to create a movement of local, seasonal, fresh, organic, home-grown food – we have had a large hand in making this happen. We have helped make it popular, we have helped make it important, we have helped redefine normal. Together.
From here, the White House garden will inspire many, many others to grow their own food, to pay attention to nutrition, to support local food systems. And we will all continue to do our parts as well. Together, we are changing the world.