Green, frugal, sustainable, simple, healthy, happy... No matter what we each call it, we come together here to support and learn from each other.

We are preserving our planet with our lifestyles. We are creating sustainable communities for our children. We are living the lives we want to live. Please join us!

--------------------

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!

Join Us Here, Too


Buy Sustainably

Join us in saving our family budgets and helping our local communities thrive.

10,000 Steps

With numerous environmental, physical and emotional benefits, what are you waiting for? Let's start walking!

Green Your Insides

For your family and our planet, start greening your own home.

Great Reading

Planning the Vegetable Garden

Or More Precisely, Planning The Edible Garden

 

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):

 

2008 Garden Plan - 1st Half

2008 Garden Plan - 2nd Half


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):

 

Back Yard:

Garden Plan 2009 - Backyard

Front Yard:

Garden Plan 2009 - Front Yard

 

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.

 

Front Yard List and Calendar

Backyard List and Calendar

 

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
  • Berry, Tayberry
  • Broccoli, Di Ciccio
  • Brussels Sprouts, Long Island
  • Cauliflower, Neckarperle
  • Collard, Champion
  • Swiss Chard, Five Color Silverbeet
  • Cucumber, Lemon
  • Flower, Black Velvet Nasturtium
  • Flower, Ladybird Nasturtium
  • Flower, Empress of India Nasturtium
  • Herb, Purple Dark Opal Basil
  • Herb, Genovese Basil
  • Herb, Greek Basil
  • Herb, Cilantro
  • Herb, Mammoth Dill
  • Herb, Rosemary Prostrate
  • Herb, Rosemary Roman Beauty
  • Herb, Lemongrass
  • Herb, Bay Laurel
  • Herb, Lavender Grosso
  • Herb, Tarragon French
  • Herb, Peppermint
  • Herb, Sage
  • Herb, Mint
  • Lettuce, Mesclun Mix
  • Melon, Noir des Carmes
  • Pea, Alaska
  • Pepper, Alma Paprika
  • Pepper, Aurora
  • 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
  • Squash, Tromboncino
  • Strawberry, Tristar
  • 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!

 

Have You Planned Your Garden?

 

What Did You Do For Earth Hour?


On Saturday I wrote about the many reasons our family participated in Earth Hour.  What I didn’t mention was how enjoyable our time was last year.

 

Last Year


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!


This Year


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?

 

The Future


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….


What Did You Do?


Why I’m Participating In Earth Hour Tonight

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!



You can find out more about Earth Hour here.


Adopting A Roundabout – Part 1

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…


Roundabout 1 - gathering

We gathered around the first one, and admired. Clearly it’s not orphaned.


Roundabout 2

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!


Roundabout 3

This one is quite beautiful. We also talked about how to discourage graffiti.


Roundabout 4

You’d never know, but this one beautifully disguises a manhole cover in the center.


Roundabout 5

Here’s where we realized we looked a little odd to passers-by!


Roundabout 6 Roundabout 10

Have you ever noticed the trees in roundabouts? These are gigantic!


Roundabout 7 Roundabout 8

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…


Orphaned Roundabout


And after talking and planning for a bit, we walked down the street, and found one twice as big and even more orphaned!


Orphan 2


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…


Orphan 3


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???!


The Growing Challenge: How Big Is Your Garden? What Do You Love Most About It?

The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition:  From Seed To Seed


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!


  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 & World of Yardcraft, 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.com – zone 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
  54. Shibaguyz, Here we go! Life with the Shibaguyz…, Seattle, WA – zone 8
  55. Tina, Bee Content Ranch, California
  56. Cassandra, The Urban Trowel, Southeastern BC, Canada – zone 5
  57. Nico, Self Sufficient Life, North Germany – zone 8
  58. Sadge, Firesign Farm, Carson City, Nevada – zone 6
  59. Leanne, At The Good Life, New Zealand – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  60. Jenny, Studio J
  61. Sarah S, Life At The Ranch, Northern California – zone 9
  62. Sarah Z, Ward Road Garden, Northern California – zone 9
  63. Christy O, Farm Dreams, Georgia – zone 7
  64. Jason L, Vegetable Garden Planner
  65. Annette, Ward House, Hot Springs, Virginia – zone 6
  66. Paige, Clausen In The Hausen & Out In The Garden, Saint Peters, Missouri – zone 5
  67. Rhonda, FarmHouse Style, North Georgia Mountains – zone 7b
  68. Kelly, Taurus Rising, Adelaide Hills, Australia- zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  69. Laura, Mas Du Diable, France – zone 9
  70. Christina, A Thinking Stomach, Altadena, California – zone 9b
  71. Latigoliz, Cowgirl Up, Enumclaw, Washington – zone 8
  72. Lisa, Natural Gardening, Upstate South Carolina – zone 8
  73. Chris, Chattagarden, Chattanooga, Tennessee – zone 7
  74. Mary B, Tampa, Florida – zone 10
  75. Kathy, Birmingham, Alabama – zone 7-8
  76. Kathy and Skippy, Skippy’s Vegetable Garden – zone 6
  77. Katrien, MamaStories, suburb of Boston, Massachusetts – zone 6-7
  78. Maggie, Mama What The
  79. Christa, Lazy Toad Farm, New Hampshire – zone 4-5
  80. Emma, The Berry Patch, Sydney, Australia – zone 10 (Aust. 4)
  81. Jenny, Seeded, Toledo, Ohio – zone 6
  82. Melissa, Rabbit Hill Farm, rural North Carolina – zone 7-8
  83. Jessie Earth Momma, Pacific Northwest – zone 7b
  84. Catherine, Love Living Simply, Texas – zone 8
  85. Ian, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada – zone 6b
  86. Christy, Growing Human, Coastal Virginia – zone 7b
  87. Amanda, A Homegrown Life, California – zone 9
  88. Robbie, Going Green Mama – zone 5
  89. Pamela, Suburbancrunch – zone 6-7
  90. Beth, Potager Gardening, Columbus, OH – zone 5
  91. Tammy (+ her 6 cherubs!), Simply Beck’s Bounty, SE Tennessee – zone 7
  92. Ottawa Gardener, The Veggie Patch Re-Imagined, Ottawa, Canada – zone 5a
  93. Laura Chandler (Laura, where are you gardening & in what zone?)
  94. Lisa Cohen, Life Is In The Details (Lisa, where are you gardening & in what zone?)
  95. Darlene, Stover Lane, Kansas – zone 5-6
  96. Sherri M, Sherri’s Mad Blabber Blog, Erin, Ontario, Canada – zone 5a
  97. Chad M, Minnesota – zone 4
  98. Shelby, Eat Local Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM – zone 5-6
  99. Linda, Garden Girl, Chicago, Illinois – zone 5b
  100. Stacy, Canada – zone 5b
  101. Joan, Young Girl, Old Life, Northeastern Missouri – zone 5
  102. Kim & Victoria, Living And Gardening In Idaho, Boise, Idaho – zone 5-6
  103. Sinclair, Nature With Me, Oregon – zone 7
  104. Jenette, Sacramento, CA – zone 9b
  105. Jennifer, Jen & The Bean Stalk, North Idaho – zone 4-5
  106. Laurie and Tim, Golden Gaits Garden, Colorado – zone 5b-6
  107. Phoebe, Cents To Get Debt Free, Southern Missouri – zone 5-6
  108. Megan, Raised On Sunshine, Dallas, TX – zone 8a


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!


Have You Heard? There Will Be An Organic Food Garden At The White House!

White House Food Garden Simulation, courtesy Sutsy.com

 

Michelle Obama is tearing up part of the South Lawn and planting an organic food garden for her family.  How cool is that?

 

Obama Garden Plan, courtesy NY Times

 

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 foodwe 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.


When I wrote about my own struggle to “save the world,” many of you replied that it is the little things that all add up together to create world change.  Indeed, this is a perfect example.

 

Michelle and fifth graders digging the South Lawn, courtesy NY Times

 

I Would Love Your Thoughts


I wrote something today that I’ve posted at the Co-op, but I would really love you all to read it and I would absolutely LOVE your thoughts. Please stop by and let me know what you think!


This is a personal struggle that I believe several of us have had in one form or another, and it helps elucidate what I’ve been thinking about lately…


My Struggle With Saving The World