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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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Community Building: I Often Fear It, But Never Regret It

Recent Event My Company Hosted


I’m shy at heart.  I’m ok at writing down my thoughts, but networking and speaking in groups and putting myself out there are things that take a lot of effort for me.  Not that I’m terrible at it, but it exhausts me and I usually dread it.


That means it’s a whole lot easier to stay at home and watch a movie or read or write.  “I need some down time,” I say.  Or, “I’m just exhausted today.”  Sometimes those things are true, but often I’m hiding because it’s hard to go out, it’s hard to talk to strangers, it’s hard to do new things.


But I never regret it.  There is always something I learn, some connection I make, some rewarding experience I have.


Last night I had on my calendar to go to the P-Patch Post Meeting.  The P-Patch Post is our community garden newsletter.  I want to be involved locally, and what better way than to do what I do anyway (ie, write about gardening), meet new people, and have a new writing experience.


But I was running late, and it was raining, and I was tired… I almost, almost, almost went home.  But I didn’t.  I walked into a pub without knowing who I was looking for (a table of strangers in a pub, how hard could that be?).  I walked up to one table who looked studious and involved, but that was a parents meeting.  Whoops!


Ah, that other table, deep in conversation – I bet that’s them.  There are no free chairs at the table.  I could still walk out now.


But I didn’t.  I walked up, pulled up a chair, and introduced myself.  And by the end of the night, I had agreed to writing a gardening series for every newsletter, and I had offered to use any of the photos I have on this blog.  They enjoyed my presence, and were happy to have a writer they could count on.  I enjoyed myself, and am on the road to becoming more involved with my community garden system.


All in about an hour.  That’s really all it took!


Storytelling and Noise

Filmming a Recent Client


I have written an article at The Lab, the first in a series called “Best Practices in Storytelling”.  As someone who has spent most of my life learning how to tell stories that can change the world, in one medium or another, I have made it a part of my work and I’m beginning to write down what I’ve learned.  I would love for you to come take a look.


I have also written an article at the Co-op, called “Turning Down The Background Noise”, which picks up where Toxic Soup left off.  Some really interesting comments there as well.  Please visit!


I hope you’re all having a lovely week.


photo by Aurea Astro

Ten Household Uses For Hydrogen Peroxide

Be Prepared!Hydrogen PeroxideNon-Chlorine Bleach = Hydrogen Peroxide


This is the third product in a trio of amazingly simple household cleaners.  Check out all the things you can do with vinegar and baking soda, if you haven’t already!


Note that for each use below, we use a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (comes in small brown containers at the drug store, or 1 gallon drugs at the health food store – sold as “non-chlorine bleach”).  Unless otherwise specified below, I use it straight.  Note that if you want to keep it in a spray bottle, it must be a bottle that keeps out all light (light breaks down the hydrogen peroxide) – otherwise, put just as much as you’ll use in the spray bottle.


1.  Whiten Your Whites and Brighten Your Brights. Works fabulously as a bleach alternative that you can also use on colors.  Just put the hydrogen peroxide in the bleach receptacle in washer.


2.  Stain Remover. Works very well on blood, if you get to it fairly quickly – I learned this from Matt’s mom who is a nurse!  Just pour a bit on a cloth and dab at your clothing; if it has sat for a while, pour some on and let it sit for a couple of hours.   Also, some people just have a chemical difference in their sweat that leaves yellow underarm stains on white clothing.  Or wine stains on a white blouse?  Again, pour some hydrogen peroxide on the stain and let it sit a couple hours.  Then wash as you would normally – this works for me every time!


3.  Antiseptic. Works great to help kill germs and prevent infection on cuts and scrapes.  Make sure it bubbles up first before dabbing it off.


4.  Mouthwash. You can use it straight or mix 1 to 1, water to hydrogen peroxide.  Gargle, Swoosh, Spit, and Rinse.  This works well if you have canker sores or other mouth sores.


5.  Toothpaste. You can make your own toothpaste by using two tablespoons of baking soda and one tablespoon of peroxide.  I don’t do this regularly, but I have done it in a pinch.


6.  Cutting Board and Countertop Sanitizer. Vinegar kills most germs, and hydrogen peroxide kills most of the rest.  The two kill more germs and bacteria than bleach alone, if you do this:  have the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in two different spray bottles, spray on one first, then the other.  Then rinse clean.


7.  Watering Your Plants. If you tend to over-water your plants, this is for you.  Mix 1 oz of hydrogen peroxide with 1 quart of water, and water your plants normally.  This adds oxygen to your soil, helping stave off root rot and enhances root development.  I do this particularly with plants whose soil is overly dense and more prone to water-logging.


8.  Kill Shower Mold and Mildew. Spray on the surface and let sit, then wipe clean.  Or spray after your shower to prevent mold from forming.


9.  Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Pour 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide into the bowl, let stand for 20 minutes, and scrub clean.You can do the same thing with vinegar.


10.  For Faster Germination When Soaking Seeds. This is a new one to me – I just read about it and haven’t tried it yet.  Apparently if you soak your seeds in 1 cup of water mixed with 1.5 t hydrogen peroxide, the seeds will germinate faster.  Has anyone tried this yet?


Bonus:  Pretty Much Any Time You Run Out Of Vinegar While Cleaning, you can substitute hydrogen peroxide!


Alright, Y’all, What Else Have You Used It For?


Is there anything not on this list that you have tried?  Or have you heard any other ideas?


Help With Potatoes: Why Would They Have Spots??!

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend, everyone.  I received an email this morning from a reader having trouble with her potatoes, and I was wondering if any of you potato experts could help her.  I haven’t had troubles with potatoes – ours just grow and produce lovely scrumptious potatoes – so I have no idea what it is!


Hi, I have grown potatoes for years and every year I have the same problem. The literature doesn’t seem to define it well. The problem is small dark brown or black spots on the surface of the potato which are approximately 1/16th to 1/8th inch in diameter. The spot travels into the potato for 1/4 to 1/2 inch with a sort of rope or dry string-like material also dark brown or black. I always remove these with a knife before cooking. Sometime there are 5-6 of these spots on a potato. But sometimes many more. Although I expect to find an insect or burrowing creature, I never have. Any ideas?

 

Please help if you know, or have any resources!

Is It Too Overwhelming To Hear That You Need To Do More?

Overwhelming by Dave Pearson on Flickr


I am concerned about the state of the world, and for me, it’s extremely important to get others to do as much as they possibly can, and to help motivate and support them.


I see so many “green consumer” blogs, press releases (I get about 5 per day!), advertisements, and overall encouragement.  And to me, those often serve to let people off easily:  “you save the planet and by living your life just exactly as you do now, if you buy these couple of very important things!”


As Crafty Green Poet writes, “I think the idea of starting where people are at and giving them easy things to do is a great way to start but there has been research done that shows that campagins using this approach lead to people thinking that’s all they need to do.”


With the right support networks, many of us get past that stage of green consumerism and realize that we do have to change our lifestyles.  So we spend a lot of time restructuring our lives and redefining normalcy on a daily basis.  It’s incredible – that movement of living simply, sustainably, and/or frugally is growing every day!


But societal change has to happen on multiple fronts in order to fully succeed.  History has taught us that time and again:  personal changes are the beginning, but then there must be a movement that changes society, and laws and rules that secure it for good.


And so that brings me to believe that there is a continuum of change, and my idea behind this blog and particularly the last several posts I’ve written about doing more, is to capture anyone along that continuum and help push them forward, to the next level.


Belinda brought up an excellent point, however:  “if someone had told me at the beginning that to be sustainable I would need to be an active part of my community I probably would have walked away”- it would have been too overwhelming.  Stephanie wrote yesterday, “You’re asking too much from this overworked, tired, groggy introvert who doesn’t even know where to begin in her personal environmentalist efforts.”


I don’t think there’s room in our lives and time enough in the day to create change in your community at the same time that you start down the journey of personal lifestyle changes.  Have you found that?  I personally made lifestyle changes for a long time, and participated in voting and letter writing and other small, more peripheral things at the same time.  But it wasn’t until I felt I had more or less redefined normal on a foundational level in my own life, that I was able to move on to work within my community.  It is too overwhelming to start doing both at the same time.


And that is a part of the continuum of change, as I see it:


  1. Become aware.
  2. Buy greener products.
  3. Change your lifestyle at a personal, daily level.
  4. Work within your community to create change.
  5. Work globally to create change.
  6. Learn how to effectively and sustainably integrate each of these things into your daily lifestyle.


It’s difficult to move on to each next step without feeling at least somewhat like you have mastered the one before it.


Does this continuum ring true from your own experience?


Ruchi addresses this in her latest post: “Yes, This Is Important.”  She writes, “We cannot transition to a new era of renewable energy without changing people’s behavior.”  I believe her thought is that not only is this more or less a continuum, but it must work in that very order:  first you change at home, then you change within your communities, and then you can create global change.


So what do we do, how do we provoke, inspire, and support people at each stage – without overwhelming them? Can we have blogs and media that address multiple levels, or does each person need a community of people who are on the same point in the continuum?


I’m on number 6 by the way.  I feel like I won’t master that for quite a while, but I’m working on it!


How To Plant, Grow, and Harvest Garlic

Garlic by robynejay on Flickr


When To Plant Garlic


You can plant from September through mid-January, as long as the soil is not frozen.  Fall planting, when the soil is around 60F, will yield the highest quality bulbs; and generally speaking, the later you plant the smaller the heads will be.  However, don’t worry too much if you plant it late – you can even plant it in late winter/early spring and still get a nice fall crop.


Types of Garlic


There are two types of garlic:  hardneck and softneck.


  • Hardneck Garlic tends to have dramatic and distinct flavors, is easy to peel, and has generally bigger cloves. These also produce edible garlic scapes at the beginning of the summer.  These are my favorite, but they generally don’t store for as long as softneck garlic.  Can be stored 3-6 months.


  • Softneck garlic is what you’ll find in most supermarkets – it generally has a milder flavor and smaller cloves.  However, it can be braided, and generally stores for much longer.  Can be stored for a year or more.

  • Elephant Garlic is actually a member of the leek family so it’s not really garlic, but tastes similarly.  It has much larger cloves, with a milder taste than garlic, and it keeps well.  Elephant Garlic is wonderful baked:  slice off the very top of the head so that you can see the tops of the cloves, pour a bit of olive oil on top, and bake until soft and browned.  Then you can eat it by scooping the cloves with a spoon, or adding the cloves to other dishes.

 

Soil

 

The looser the soil, the larger the garlic.  It will grow in most soils, but garlic prefers sandy loam (as most plants do).  Make sure any compost you use is well aged.

 

How To Plant & Grow Garlic


Simple, simple, simple, and so low maintenance!

 

  1. Separate the cloves (but you can leave the skin on, it doesn’t matter).
  2. Plant the cloves 1-2″ deep, 4-6″ apart.
  3. Water, and don’t water again until spring.
  4. Mulch – in warm winter areas, a light layer of mulch is enough; in colder winter areas, mulch with 8″ or more.  We mulch with straw, you can also mulch with leaves.
  5. Remove the mulch in spring, once danger of frost has passed.
  6. Water.  Continue to water whenever soil is dry.
  7. When the leaves begin to turn yellow (in the summer), stop watering for 2 weeks.
  8. Pull up the plant.
  9. Place the plant in a warm, shady spot to cure for 2-3 weeks (4 weeks for elephant garlic); if you have soft neck garlic, you can braid it and hang it in a dark place with good circulation.  (Ideal curing temperature is 70-75F.)
  10. Store in a cool, dark place (50F is ideal, with less than 60% humidity).

 

Where To Purchase Garlic Bulbs

 

You can grow organic garlic bought in a Farmer’s Market or natural foods store – anywhere that has well-stored, organic garlic.  Try to find out as much as you can about the garlic when you buy it, so you know how to store it the following year.  You can also buy certified disease-free garlic at an organic seed supply like Seeds of Change, Peaceful Valley, or Territorial Seed.  Generally these portions are large, so I highly recommend getting a few to try, and sharing them with a friend.


More Garlic Planting Tips?  Please Share!



Why Doing It Alone Isn’t Enough

by Redvers on Flickr


I admit I was disheartened by the small response the other day, and I want to address the incredible need we have to continue our sustainable paths far beyond ourselves.  Please indulge me and leave a comment about your thoughts!


Why Doing It Alone Isn’t Enough


Living a sustainable (or simple, or green) lifestyle is hard sometimes – no question.  It’s not always easy to try new things, to find what works for you – and find what your family will handle.  I believe we all come here to learn how to do that better, to figure out new tricks and ideas, and to lean on others for support.


Awesome.  I love that.  I need that!


Once we get to a certain point, when we have found most of the answers we’re going to find, when we have made most of the changes we’re realistically going to make in our homes, though, WE CAN’T STOP.


Nobody wants to hear that there is more to be done, that we can’t just live our simple lifestyles in peace.  But I want to be the one to tell you that it isn’t enough.  You can’t stop.  We need you to do more.  Society needs you to keep going beyond your own lifestyle changes.


You can’t change the world by living simply all by yourself.  There are a million reasons to change your own lifestyle, and doing that alone is something to be sure.  But there’s more.  And I firmly believe you cannot live a truly sustainable lifestyle without doing more.  We have too far to go, and individual change is too slow.


What Else Do We Need To Do?


  1. Participate in local politics. Vote.  Sign petitions.  Protest.  Make contributions.  Volunteer your time to pass important laws.  Run for office even, and do whatever you can to support those who share your values.

  2. Educate. Teach your children, and your neighbors’ children.  Pay your teachers a living wage.  Be an active member in the PTA.  Mentor and tutor.  Write books, blogs, newsletters, and letters to editors.  Make sure that next generation does not make the same mistakes we did by actively guiding them to a better way.  Get people to change their ways and to collectively redefine normal.

  3. Form groups. Yes, join groups for sure.  But if there isn’t a group that should exist, make it happen – don’t rely on others.  Bring people together to learn, talk, and most importantly, to act.

  4. Support organizations. There are entities that are large and doing great things already.  During this economy, they are able to do less due to lack of funding.  HELP them with your time, your money, your donations, and your ideas.  Volunteer, become a board member, attend events, offer your home as a meeting place, or do a number of other things to help.

  5. Encourage businesses to do what you do. Be a voice in your own office – write a CSR plan, help change light bulbs, start a corporate giving program.  Support businesses you believe in, and don’t support those you don’t.  Find unique solutions to business problems that are positive for the world.  Ask business to give time and money to important causes.  Inspire them to deliver more in the way of world change.


That’s just the start of the list.  What else do we need to do? Are you doing these things now?  If so, how is it working?