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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: Check In, Everyone!

The Growing Challenge:  From Seed To Seed

The Original Growing Challenge

According to a Reuters article yesterday, “43 million US households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs in 2009, a 19 percent gain from 36 million in 2008.“  Are you seeing an increase where you are?  At our neighborhood sustainability meeting this month, we had a guest speaker come teach about container gardening – and as a result, our meeting grew three times its normal size!

Also, I’ve heard seed companies are overloaded with orders.  Very exciting to see people taking it into their own hands.  If you see someone who’s thinking about growing their own food, give them a few resources, encourage them to participate in a challenge, and help them any way you can!

Check In, Everyone!

Please check in and let us all know what you’re up to in your garden. Are you germinating seeds?  Have you planted out yet?  Are you preparing for summer or winter in your neck of the woods?  Tell us all about it!

If you’ve written about your garden recently – or gardening in general – please feel free to link to your post here.

And thank you for your responses to our last check-in. I’ll create a list of all the great seed-saving resources we’ve talked about and put them in the next seed-saving post.

Who Are We?

So far there are 135 participants signed up for The Growing Challenge: From Seed To Seed, and we’ve reached nearly 200 participants in The Original Growing Challenge. Together we’re an awesome support network for learning new things! 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.

New participants of The Growing Challenge From Seed to Seed are in orange at the bottom of the following list, and new participants of The Original Growing Challenge are listed here.  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, – 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
  94. Lisa Cohen, Life Is In The Details
  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
  109. Crunchy Chicken, Seattle, WA – zone 8
  110. Jenn, Jenn’s Coop, central valley, CA – zone 10
  111. Veriance, Michigan – zone 5
  112. Sande, Sow This, Sew That, Southeastern Michigan – zone 5
  113. Jenn, Newlyweds!, Texas – zone 9
  114. Carri, Home Of The Petersonclan, South Central Kentucky – zone 6
  115. Amber, Cloud9 Design, Texas – zone 9
  116. Jo, Little House By The Railway Line, England – zone 8
  117. Andrea, Colorado – zone 5-6
  118. Kendra, A Sonoma Garden – zone 9
  119. Stuff, Proactive Bridesmaid – zone 7
  120. LiBBy BuTTons, US – zone 6
  121. Healing Green, Gaylordsville, Connecticut – zone 6
  122. Carpe Diem, British Columbia, Canada – zone 3
  123. Trish, The Promised Land – zone 8-9
  124. Diana, Backyard & Community Gardening, Northern Colorado – zone 4-5
  125. Tricia, Little Eco Footprints, Australia – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  126. Juliette, Abielle A Miel, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA – zone 8-9
  127. Ciera, Ciera’s Garden, Pittsburg, PA – zone 6a
  128. Kara, Garden of Eatin’, Canada – zone 4
  129. Vickie, In The Acorn, Winnetka, CA – zone 9
  130. Paula, Buckets Of Gardening Ideas, Idaho – zone 4-5
  131. Jennifer, Seeds In The City, Bay Area, CA – zone 9-10
  132. Anne-Marie, Cheeseslave, Los Angeles, CA – zone 10-11
  133. Shea, The Lion And The Little Red Birds, Australia – zone 4
  134. Vermontmommy, McKinney, Texas – zone 8
  135. Christina, Closer To Fine, Bay Area, CA – zone 9-10

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 some of them.  And if I’ve left you off, be sure to tell me.

Chat Away!

How to Keep Rabbits And Other Animals Out Of Your Garden – Humanely, Organically, Frugally, & Sustainably

Jackrabbit In Our Geyserville Yard


My sister Lori wrote me last year asking for advice about her new vegetable garden in St. Louis.  They have loads of little bunnies.  Apparently they’re extremely persistent and have been known to eat even jalapeño peppers!  She was worried they will eat her yummy new lettuces, carrots, radishes – and considering their track record, even her tomatoes. 


We had jackrabbits at our Northern California home.  Have you ever seen one?  They’re not your little St. Louis bunny:  they are amazingly fast, and they are much bigger than our dog!  They eat grass and clover, and presumably they would find our carrots and lettuce absolutely delightful…. but guess what?  They were everywhere in our yard EXCEPT in our vegetable garden.  I never saw – or found evidence of – a single nibble.


It could be luck, but considering that the rabbits regularly hopped within inches of the vegetable garden, I think it may have to do with a few other things. So I wrote this post to help Lori and all the rest of you who have bunny problems!


How to Keep Rabbits Out of the Vegetable Garden:

Humanely, Organically, Frugally, and Sustainably.


Note that many of these solutions will work for deer, raccoons, coyotes, and various varmints as well.


1.  Build Raised Beds. You don’t have to build formal raised beds, but even if you mound up the dirt as we did, it confuses them.  Ours beds were also sloped, so that may be a further deterrent.


2.  Create Narrow Pathways Between the Beds. If you think about it from a rabbit’s perspective, there are these mounds about 1.5 to 2 feet tall.  If I were a rabbit and tried to hop between those mounds, I’d be a sitting duck for any cat or coyote standing on the mound.  No way, not worth it!  Our pathways were about 1′ wide, just enough for us to walk through.


3.  Mulch. I’ve read over and over that for whatever reason, mulch deters deer, rabbits, gophers, moles, voles… I don’t know why, but seems to work.  We use straw mulch, because it’s cheap and plentiful, and eventually it will decompose and become plant food.


4.  Interplant. Again from the rabbit’s perspective, I am hopping around finding a nice clover patch here, another one way over there, and then… wow, a whole row of tender, organic greens all to yourself.  But, if that row is interplanted with things I don’t like – like onions – suddenly, maybe it’s not worth it to me.  This goes for all sorts of pests, including aphids, powdery mildew, voles, and so on.  For example, we planted carrots and scallions together.


5.  Plant a Perimeter of Things They Don’t Like. Garlic, onions, chives, catnip, lavender, and marigolds are all deterrents according to several sources.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends planting a double row of onions.  You could also try a low, dense hedge.  Here is a list of plants rabbits (and deer) reportedly do not like.  If you don’t find anything there, many more are listed here.


6.  Build a Fence Around the Beds, or Around the Plants. You probably want to build a fence at least 2 feet high.  It can be made out of a number of materials, so you can make it quite attractive:  bamboo, chicken wire, wood, wire mesh will all work.  If you don’t have raised beds, you should dig a trench at least 6-8″ below ground, and start the fence there.  If you’re using a bendable material, bend it outward for added benefit.  Rabbits (and voles, moles, etc) can burrow, so you want to cover above and below ground.  And incidentally, this is what Lori ultimately used on her garden – there are pictures here.


7.  Put a layer of mesh or other material over the hardest hit plants. You can use wire mesh, burlap, or hardwire cloth for this.  You can build a loop-wire tunnel as well (we usually have one over our greens).


8.  Try Other Alternatives. Fake snakes or owls, soap flakes, sulfur, blood meal, wind socks, human hair, motion-sensor sprinklers, a mostly buried bottle, dog, coyote, or fox urine, and cat litter are some I’ve found but haven’t tried.  There are also some store-bought remedies, but I’d suggest trying some of these cheaper, organic, and sustainable methods first.  (Note cat litter should not be put in the vegetable garden, only on the perimeter, to avoid consuming potentially harmful bacteria.)  Have fun!


9.  Plant Clover and Other Bunny Favorites in Another Area of the Yard. This is the decoy effect:  if you feed them well with their favorite foods, they won’t need to eat your veggies.  What do bunnies like?  Goldenrod, wild strawberries, clover, dandelions, wildflowers, alfalfa, and long grass.


10.  If All Else Fails, Plant Extra for the Rabbits. They need to eat, too, and goodness knows we have altered their world by putting up roads and houses where they used to graze happily.  Why not give them a little bit of extra food to survive in their human-altered environment?*


Note that you’ll probably want to try at least a couple of these methods together to make it work for you.


Non-Humane Methods…


I would not try poisons, pepper spray, or fire arms.  I personally feel all of those are dangerous to you, your neighbors, and other beneficial wildlife.


I also don’t think trapping is a great option.  The problem with trapping is that you are relocating a rabbit from its home, family, and established territory:  the place where it knows its predators and food sources.  It could be pregnant or have babies.  And you could be relocating it to a place where it doesn’t have a good food supply or is eaten quickly by a predator.  And you may end up putting them where someone else has to deal with them in their yard – someone who may or may not use humane methods to deter them.


Please consider trying the many humane methods above.  You may have to work a little harder at it.  But in the end, your family, community, and the planet as a whole will be better off for your efforts.


*Note that in Australia and New Zealand, rabbits have been introduced into the area, and have created havoc with the native ecosystem.  In that case, I would avoid feeding the rabbits, and in general discourage their presence – your local municipality likely has a policy that you should follow in these areas.  If you have the choice, try the sustainable, integrated pest management approaches to the problem.  Indiscriminately poisoning and shooting them has proven time and again not to work!


Fleeing Jackrabbit


Do You Have Any Other Tips?


On Earth Day, I Worked To Create World Change

On Earth Day I went to a meeting.  An amazing meeting.  At our new company, we’re working hard to figure out ways to change the world while still making money to live on.  It has been a struggle all of my adult life.

Yesterday we met with a global microfinance leader, and for two hours discussed how we could change the world by changing our current investment system.  Instead of investing our money in companies that hurt the world just so that our money is “safe”, we can all be investing in helping others get out of poverty around the world.  Our money is even proven safer when we do this.

We’re still talking preliminarily, so I can’t divulge more, but suffice it to say that Earth Day for me was very meaningful.  I stayed up all night the night before working on the proposal for this meeting, and boy that was difficult (as I’m getting older!) but it was worth it more than almost any other all-night experiences I’ve ever had.

We live in difficult economic times, that is certain.  I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do what I did right now.  I left a lucrative career in film, and started a business during the worst financial crisis in my time!

But if you are thinking about how you can change the world with your work, I encourage you to think a little harder about it.  And to act on it.  How can you change your industry for the better, from within?  Can you make your workplace more green doing little things?  Can you help write a sustainability plan for your industry?  Can you even just bring like-minded people together at your workplace and talk about little changes you can make?  Think about it, and then do something.  Just start.

I will say it is not easy, and any change has roadblocks along the way.  But it will likely make you happier, our communities healthier, and our overall lifestyles more sustainable.  I can tell you first-hand, that it is incredibly rewarding.

Many of you wrote the other day that every day is Earth Day.  Your responses were wonderful – I love the meaningful things we all did on Earth Day.  Let’s do it every day.

What Non-Commercial Things Are You Doing For Earth Day?

Thanks to nutmeg66 on Flickr


Earth Day is on Wednesday, April 22nd.  I don’t know about you, but I have been inundated with emails telling me what to buy, what great things companies are doing, where to donate, and what wonderful product I should be writing about on my website.

In some ways, it’s great that Earth Day has become more mainstream.  More people are thinking about the planet, companies are thinking about greening their products to cater to a new, more green audience.


At the same time, Earth Day was once a celebration of the Earth, and a reminder to become more involved with its health and well-being.  That’s the important part, isn’t it?


So, are you doing anything exciting or meaningful for Earth Day?  I would love to know, and I’m sure others here would like some new ideas as well.


The Environmental Impact Of Spam

No Spam

As if you need another reason to hate spam…

A new study reports that about 62 trillion spam messages are sent each year, giving off the same amount of CO2 as driving around the earth 1.6 million times. To break that down, one spam releases 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of driving three feet, according to The Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to Ryan Avent at for the link.)

Spam accounts for one-third of all business and personal messages. Yowza.  I believe it.  I just added a spam counter to the right sidebar here, and look how many spam comments I’ve had to go through!  Boy they are just awful, too.  Personally polluting, time polluting, and environmentally polluting.

How To Minimize Spam

1. Filter your spam. Apparently “spam filtering saves 135 terrawatt hours of electricity a year, the equivalent of taking 13 million cars off the road,” according to The Wall Street Journal.  It is likely your email system has a decent spam filter.  Check your email preferences and make sure the spam filter is on and working at maximum capacity.  If you have your own domain or ISP, you can probably use a more robust filtering system through your service provider – just ask them.

2. Use a disposable email address for things you want to sign up for but will never need to use again. About “80% of the greenhouse gases created by spam actually comes from the process of deleting it, or by searching around for legitimate emails trapped in spam filters.”  I use an email address specifically for such purposes – my “donotspam” email address!

3. Uncheck the check boxes. When you sign up for membership to a website, listserv, or campaign, they will often have a check box – which is usually pre-checked – asking if you want to receive ads and other emails.  UNCHECK the check boxes!

4. Avoid publishing your email address anywhere on the web, unless it is disguised. There are several ways to do this.  Here, I’ve set up a “Contact” page so that the sender never knows my email.  Kills me to do that, but I learned the hard way with my last blog!  You can also put up a jpg or png image file of your email address, so that “spiders” and “trawlers” can’t automatically find your email and stick it in a database (they can’t read images).  Or you can do the simple “joe at gmail dot com” technique.  Any of the three work fairly well.

5. Google your email address. If it comes up on any site, do everything you can to remove it!  Ask the administrator – they’ll probably do it without much fuss.

6. When posting to newsgroups and listservs, be careful not to post your email address if you can help it.  Often there is a preference to remove your email address.  If you can’t remove it, use a disposable email address (see #2).

7. When forwarding emails from someone else – and particularly a group of people – make sure you remove all the old email addresses from the email. You never know where that email will end up – you could be handing a spammer 50 of your friends’ personal email addresses!

8. Ignore “delivery failures” of messages you did not send - these are probably sent by a worm, Trojan, or spammer.  Don’t reply!  (Worms are programs that can send bulk emails – they often live on your unsuspecting friends or family’s computers as a virus.)

9. Run virus scans regularly on your computer. Worm viruses can actually send spam to everyone in your address book.  Icky.  PCs are much more vulnerable to worms than Macs.  Also make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and from a reputable company.

10. Don’t reply to spam. Even if you reply in order to request removing your email address from the mailing list, you are actually confirming that your email address is valid and the spam has been successfully delivered.  Then your email address may be sold to additional spammers, being more valuable now that it has been confirmed.  Even opening the email may trigger this confirmation, so try not to open spam if you can help it.

And finally, never respond to emails that ask you to validate or confirm any of your account details of your bank, credit card, Paypal, or others. If you are not sure if a request for personal information is legitimate, contact the company directly. Don’t click on any links in the email, as they may be fake links which simply validate that you received the message and you can now be put on more spam lists.

All in all, spam is a small portion of the total climate and energy impact of humans.  But as we all are aware, every little bit helps. And since spam is such a nuisance anyway, why not take a few extra precautions to rid society of spam?

Techies, please feel free to contradict me if I’m wrong on any of this stuff!  And everyone, please let us know if you have any other tricks!

Gardening 101: Seed Starting For Beginners

Baby Lettuce


Before You Start Seeds Indoors.


1. Make sure that’s the best solution for that particular crop. Check out Gardening 101: My Top 12 Easy Vegetables To Grow From Seed. There you will find lots of healthy plants that thrive better when I plant them in situ (ie, directly in the ground).


2. Read, read, read. Read the back of the seed packet, read what the seed company says about the plant on its website, read any material sent with your seeds regarding how to plant, and read the seed starting chapters in organic gardening books. The more you know going in, the better the chance of your seeds thriving into wonderfully fruit-producing plants.

3. Determine your last frost date. I know you want to start gardening, you’re ready for spring, you’re looking at all these wonderful things happening on different garden blogs… but there’s snow outside, you’re in Zone 4, and your last frost date might be in May…

The general rule of thumb is to start your seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last danger of frost. You can push it a little bit earlier, if you have cloches, cold frames, frost blankets, a greenhouse, or some other sort of season extension. But if you don’t have those, you should make sure to plant out after the danger of frost has passed, rather than risk losing your crops to a late frost.


Also note that you can often plant later – don’t feel like you have to start everything indoors, nor do you have to start everything exactly on time!  Look at the back of your seed packet – or in your favorite gardening book – for how long your crop will take to mature (ie, produce vegetables or fruit).  This time does not include germination time, so add time to germinate as well.  Then you can determine how long you can get away with procrastinating!


How Do You Determine Your Last Frost Date?


Ever wonder why the Old Farmer’s Almanac has been around forever and people still read the thing? Well, one of the reasons people read it is because it has details of the last frost dates for each region. Here’s an abbreviated version (here for Canada – if you’re in another country, let me know a link and I will add it here), and you can pay online to have a more detailed version for your particular area in North America.


If you’re not in North America and/or you don’t want to pay to find this out, you can ask around, find out what your neighbors remember. You can ask in your local nursery. You can contact your local Master Gardeners. You can call the local Farm Bureau/Commission. You can ask the farmers at your local farmer’s markets. And your local library will probably have the latest Farmer’s Almanac and other reference materials for your area.


I highly recommend keeping your own garden journal that includes your garden’s last frost date from year to year, as your yard will have its own unique micro-climate.


Is That The Same As My Zone?


If all you can do is determine your hardiness zone, it will help. However, the zone is a different indicator than the last frost date. Your zone is an indicator of how hardy your plants need to be to survive the winter.


Basically what determines your zone is the average minimum temperature in your area. It does not indicate how long temperatures will remain low, nor when your last freeze or frost will be.


That said, if you’re in a zone 4, chances are that your last frost date is going to be much later than someone in zone 10.


Find your hardiness zone here:  U.S., Australia, CanadaEurope, South America, China. For other regions, I’m sorry I don’t have links so give it your best guess.


Tomato Seeds


Equipment Needed.


  • Coconut Pellets
  • Seed starting medium
  • Seedling trays, or any sort of container with holes at the bottom
  • Pen or Pencil
  • Plant identification markers
  • Hydrogen Peroxide (for sanitizing everything you use)


Starting Seeds Indoors.


The Coconut Pellet Method


Coconut fiber is a naturally disease-free potting medium.  This is my favorite seed starting method, having worked for me every time. I purchase coconut pellets from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. They’re 12 cents each, if I buy more than 100. It may sound like a lot, but if I factor in the ease of use, and the fact that I don’t need to purchase a separate seed starting medium, it is worth it to me.  You might want to try this first, and then move on to making your own medium and potting in found containers once you’re more comfortable with the general principle of seed starting.


1. Sterilize. I wash all of my seed trays with warm soapy water. Then I sterilize them by swishing a bit of hydrogen peroxide (diluted 3:1, water:hydrogen peroxide). And finally, I give them a quick rinse.

2. Soak. I soak the coconut pellets in warm water for about 5 minutes. It will change as follows:


Cocopellet straight from the bagCocopellet expanded with water

I soak them in a seedling flat, because I find it easier to keep them upright.


Cocopellets soaking

Then, I place them on a mesh seedling tray which I bought at BGH (through I use the mesh tray rather than a solid one, because when it’s time to water the seedlings, I can just submerge my mesh tray into a hole-less tray filled with water.

And I spread out the mouth of the pellets a bit:


Fully expanded cocopellets, ready to be planted


3. Label. Then I label my rows before I plant, so I don’t forget what I planted where. I prefer Cole’s aluminum plant markers (I buy mine from my local nursery), because the wooden ones deteriorate very quickly, long before the growing season is over. These are reusable, too. I mark them with the name of the plant on the front, and the date planted on the back (leaving room for many future planting dates).


Reusable Aluminum Plant Markers


4. Plant. I take a pen or pencil, and put two holes in each coconut pellet at the depth indicated for that seed. No need to worry about getting this perfect, just approximate. If you don’t know how deep to plant your seeds (ie, if it’s not on the back of the seed packet or in a book anywhere), a general rule of thumb is to plant them two times deeper than the width of the seed.


Make a hole for the seed - at the correct depth - and drop it in


Then I drop one seed into each hole, and gently cover the holes with the pen/pencil. When the seeds sprout, I’ll remove one, and leave only the strongest of the two seedlings.


5. Give them warmth and light. Again, check the back of the seed packet to see what the optimum germination temperature is. If you can’t find it, a general rule of thumb is 60-80F. And yes, they do need light. A windowsill with a lot of light will work great. You can put a humidity dome on them to keep them warmer and more moist. I put them in my growing rack outside, which is about 10-20F warmer than exterior temperatures.


Growing Rack


If you put them under full-spectrum grow lights, those lights will need to be 2-4” from the tops of the seedlings, and turned on for 16 hours/day. You must raise the lights proportionally to the seedlings as they grow.


6.  Water Them. I water the seedlings when the coconut fiber has just turned dry – it becomes a lighter color brown.  Plants in general seem to do better when the top inch of soil dries out between watering, and seedlings have been no exception for me.  In addition, seedlings do better if you can water from below – there is less chance of dampening off or other diseases.  So, if you’ve used the mesh tray I recommended in #2, you can just submerge the mesh tray into a hole-less tray filled with room-temperature water.  Once the coconut fiber turns dark brown from saturation, they are fully watered.


After the seedlings emerge, I will add a very dilute liquid fertilizer to the water before submerging the pellets. I do this each time I water.  You can use worm tea, fish fertilizer, or any liquid fertilizer.

7. Pot On. A plant’s first set of leaves looks very different than the plant will look later on. Usually the first set of leaves is much wider, to maximize the amount of nutrients taken from sunlight. The next set of leaves will be the plant’s “true” leaves. You should pot seedlings into larger pots when then have their second set of true leaves.


Potting On Is Complete


This is the way I started, and I still use this method from time to time.  It is fun, easy, and produces good, consistent results.  In the next seed starting article, I will delve into making your own seed starting medium, and using containers around the house (or even using the soil itself as a container).  If you’re nervous about starting seeds for the first time (most of us have been in your shoes), or you have had bad luck in the past, try this method first!


How Do We Fix Our Schools?

Posted by Old Shoe Woman on Flickr


Matt and I don’t watch television. I haven’t had cable tv since about 2001. And when I had that cable installed, the cable installers broke my antenna for basic tv (poetic, isn’t it?)


But I am in the film business. So to keep on top of what’s going on, Matt and I will rent whole television series, or television movies, and watch them. Unfortunately that means it’s often a crazy tv binge, where we watch several seasons during just a couple of weeks. But then we won’t do it again for months, we never submit ourselves to ads, we choose only what we want to watch, and we watch on our own time.


So not too long ago, we watched “The Wire.” The fourth season looks into the problems of inner-city schools. It was an interesting season – extremely depressing – but well worth our time. And it made me realize that while you and I worry about day-to-day simplifying of our lives, we are very privileged. There is a lot going on out there, and I’m sure some of you are dealing with it every day.


The Problem


As we worry about the big picture of economics, climate change, and energy – and the ramifications of not working hard to turn around our society’s relationship with each of these things – there are big social problems we should not be ignoring:


How do we change the world, when the school systems are so bad that some of my closest friends have moved to the outer reaches of suburbia, so their children can get a decent education? (And I don’t mean to in any way disparage those of you who have made that choice.) And what happens when we don’t fix the inner city school systems and continue to abandon them?


My grandfather and I talk about schools a lot. He asked me last week what the kids in schools are learning about oil and how it relates to the current economy, about how recessions work and what is going on right now in our country, and how different our whole system is since we went into Iraq.


“I don’t know,” I said, “I don’t know.” I remembered that we learned very little about the present day in school. And that was back when the public schools were better overall, when “white flight” was just beginning, and people paid a lot more attention to the schools.


I was fortunate to grow up in an urban school, incredibly mixed economically, racially, culturally, politically. I was a positive product of the busing system. And I know I was lucky. It has made me who I am, it turned me into someone who wants to change the world. But my old school is not what it was. The attrition rate is high, the diversity has decreased, the schools are overcrowded, and the good teachers have long gone.


What Can We Do To Help Our Local Schools?


This is one of the important parts about living locally, of spending time in your community, of giving whatever you can to make your neighborhood more sustainable and adaptable. Our children are future decision-makers, action-takers, and world changers. Whether you have children or not, it is essential to play an active role in education, for our communities and our society as a whole.


I have worked with children of various age groups at various different locations: housing projects, summer camps for at risk youth, drug and alcohol recovery centers, soccer coaching and refereeing, youth accountability, and after school programs. I also have a number of friends and family who have children. But I don’t have children, and it has been a while since I’ve been intimately involved with the school system.


I know many of you have children and this issue is probably very close to home for you. Please share with us what you know, and what ideas you’ve had!


What can we do for our schools? If we have money, where can we put it? If we have time, where can we use it?


Here are some ideas I have, off the top of my head:


1. Donate used materials. For example, if you have books gathering dust in the basement, you can take them to the school librarian. If you have art and craft supplies from a project you started long ago, you can donate them to the art program. Your old computers could be helpful to schools who can’t afford to provide computers for each child.

2. Vote for the school board – and honestly look into who is the best candidate, rather than just reading a little blurb on the way to the voting booth. Also, if you have some time, write letters to legislators advocating for more education spending, and attend School Board meetings.

3. Hold a rummage sale – check out Green Bean’s inspiring story about her school rummage sale!

4. Help local schools build a food garden.

5. Volunteer your time for a child who needs tutoring.

6. Help coach a school athletic team, or an after school art, science, dance, or music program. These are the programs that get cut first when economic times are tough.

7. Become an active member of the PTA.

8. If you don’t have any free time, consider donating whatever money you can give to the school, or adopt a classroom.

9. Help write a grant for a school program, or find another way to use your own expertise to help. Maybe you have connections that can bring interesting speakers to visit the school, or your photographic skills can help, or… there are many ways that you might help.

10. Ask. Go visit the school and ask how you can help. I’m sure they can tell you some needs they have that you can fill!


It’s time I paid more attention to our schools. What about you? Are you doing any of these things? What else can we do to help?!