Jamie Chevalier

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Jamie Chevalier

Here's a palette of plants to choose from and fine-tune for your area. I've lived in a cold rainy maritime climate and a hot dry Mediterranean one. I love growing lots of things, and think it is better for us to eat lots of things, but I do think a lot about survival crops and yield per unit of space or labor. (When my home had only boat or floatplane access, I went to the store once every couple of months.) These are my choices for most reliable food in both kinds of places. If you pick 2 or 3 that suit your climate and tastes from each category, you'd have a well-rounded and doable set of crops.

For starch and calories, I think growing any three of these would give you dependable staples year-round:
Parsnips love cool weather and are thus a fall-back for weird summers like this last one, where we got frost in mid-June. They are among the most drought-tolerant vegetables and have low fertility requirements.  They go deep and bring up nutrients from lower levels of the soil, as well as producing a large yield. Before potatoes were introduced in Europe, they were the major root crop, particularly valuable during times of warfare, when fields would be burnt or trampled. The roots stayed safely underground. Tolerates extreme cold and stores in the ground.
Potatoes have many of the above virtues, but gophers seem to like them better. They are not frost-hardy and have to have frost-free storage. They require a lot of nitrogen; being a tuber--that is, a swollen stem--they are not thrifty like true roots. However, they are easy to grow and very very useful.
Flint or flour corn is easy to grow, stores at room temperature, and does not require all the threshing that small grains like wheat do. However, they do require warm weather, combined with irrigation in my climate.  
Winter wheat is a blessing for those in summer-dry climates, as it can grow and yield on natural rainfall alone.
Winter squash takes a lot of space and nutrients to grow, but the vines can sprawl over space that is not irrigated, or is not even soil. And really, wherever there are people, there is nitrogen, whether it's grass clippings, kitchen scraps, or urine. These are so easy to grow, store so easily, and don't have to be dug. Where I live, 100-degree days are followed by 50-degree nights, so I can't grow sweet potatoes. This is what most of us can grow instead. Use the little immature ones as summer squash. The male blossoms and even the young leaves are a great vegetable in their own right, and a free bonus. I suggest the rare drought-resistant heirloom Lower Salmon River squash. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p34/Lower_Salmon_River_Squash.html

For protein
Dry beans are easy to grow, yield a lot, and store at room temperature with no fuss. I love growing them. Common or French beans phaseolus vulgaris is the standard bean and comes in bush and pole forms. Pole beans yield more but take more labor and a longer season.
Fava beans, peas, and lentils are all winter crops in warm climates or summer crops in damp cool ones.
Runner beans are a good choice for maritime climates, as they like humidity, (it helps pollination) yield well in cool summers, and have a perennial tuber that will survive and regrow in low-frost zones.

Leafy greens are commonly skimped in the US, and those I find most useful are comparatively rare:
I love lettuce, but wouldn't devote much space to it in a survival garden, choosing cooking greens and wild greens instead for greater nutrition and versatility.
perpetual spinach grows faster than kale, and has fewer pests. It is perennial in my climate, and can be harvested every week for much of the year. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p9/Perpetual_Spinach_%28Leafbeet%29_Chard.html
collards are easier, faster-growing, and more pest-resistant than cabbage or broccoli, and much better adapted to heat and rain than kale, with all of the heath benefits of the brassica tribe. One variety, Old-Timey Blue, is perennial in my garden as well. Old Timey Blue Collardshttps://www.quailseeds.com/store/p337/Old-Timey_Blue_Collards.html
Miner's Lettuce is a native salad green with a mild, lettuce-like flavor. It grows during winter and early spring, filling the hunger gap nicely. It grows on natural rainfall, loves shade, and requires no fertilizer or care other than mowing down taller things that might crowd it out. We mow once or twice after the miner's lettuce has set seed. That's all we do besides harvest. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p2/Miner%27s_Lettuce_%28Claytonia%29.html
Turnips make wonderful greens (cima di rapa in Italian) as well as the roots we all know about. Left in the ground over winter, they make a huge crop of leaves followed by a month or two of delicious flowerstalks. If you make sure to pick them before the florets stretch out and open, they'll keep coming all through the hunger gap, like little broccolini. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p503/Seven_Top_Turnip_Greens.html

For flavor and vitamins, fruits are the jazzy top notes of the diet:
Tomatoes. Since these are a given in most gardens, I'll suggest a specific variety. Most tomatoes are good either for fresh eating or sauce. And most dual-purpose vegetables aren't outstanding at anything. But Italian Heirloom is a great as a fresh slicing tomato and great for sauce. Heavy fruit, big yields, easier than other heirlooms.
Peppers for homegrown spice
Apples yield more and in a more  easily stored form than other fruit, and can provide enough calories and bulk to be a staple. In climates too warm for them, I suggest prune plums, bred over centuries for drying and storing well.
Blackberries in warm-summer climates and currants in cool-summer climates are luscious and high-yielding with little care, on land too steep or shady or damp or rocky or scrubby for garden crops. They dry well.

Herbs and spices:
garlic is not only an incomparable spice and medicine, but a source of energy as well, being oily and dense.
Thyme is hardy almost everywhere, draws, beneficial insects, is a versatile spice, is perennial, and has myriad medicinal uses.
My suggestion about herbs is to identify those you use or love most for cooking and have a few of those close to the house or in pots.  Have a basic first-aid kit--a wound herb like yarrow, a sedative like valerian,  an aspirin analog like meadowsweet, etc. Work them into your landscape somewhere, not necessarily in an "herb garden".  Then list all chronic complaints, constitutional weaknesses, or health issues that you and your family have, and learn to grow a few medicinal herbs to address those specific issues. For example, I have a tendency to respiratory problems, so I grow elecampane and take it all winter.

2 weeks ago
I was a commercial fisher in addition to being a homesteader, so I have used a lot of knots. But these are the ones that our family uses daily, are simple, and have lots of uses. For example, the other night a hard frost was suddenly forecast.  We drove a few t-posts around sensitive trees, and the family erected a shelter in a hurry by flashlight, using string, a few poles, and bedsheets.

sheet bend--When you need to extend your string, knitting yarn, rope, or whatever, attach another piece with this simple knot.
bowline--Make a loop that takes a lot of weight or pull and yet unties easily. This is used for everything from lifting someone out of a hole (tied under the arms and pulled upward) to towing a car.

figure-eight knot. Another knot that  is strong but comes untied easily. Use instead of the ubiquitous overhand knot.

clove hitch--this secures your line to a pole, wire, or other stationary item. When lashing, this is how you attach your string to the pole at the beginning. Because the string never doubles back on itself, but keeps going the same direction throughout, you can make a clove hitch with delicate materials like grass or stems. When I want to tie a small plant like a pepper or flower to a stake, I use a couple blades of long grass twisted together and tied into a clove hitch. Cheap, unobtrusive, and ready to hand. For more demanding jobs like towing a log, the constrictor knot and rolling hitch are heavy-duty variants.

square lashing--the photos in other posts speak for themselves on this. Can be used for substantial buildings as well as light trellis. I've seen 5-story lashed-pole scaffolds.

square knot--the bow on your sneakers is a slipped square knot (slipped means you have loops so you can pull the ends and untie the knot.) Pull the string all the way through instead of making the loops and you have a square knot. Easy and fast to secure a package or a bundle. Should never be used to extend a rope or string, as it's not trustworthy for that. Use a sheet bend instead.

trucker's knot--turn any piece of rope into a tie-down instead of buying fancy webbing. This is how you keep a load on your truck or your car roof at 70mph.

We still love the classic Ashley Book of Knots, and find its line drawings to be less distracting than photos, but any source that works for you is good. The only real way to learn a knot is to do it over a few times--it's your fingers that need to really learn it.  Arborists are a great idea, and of course mariners. Brion Toss produced books, and I think a TV series in the 1980's called The Rigger's Apprentice which featured both old-time mariner's knots and newer sailing gear.

I always shake my head when I see the kind of thing people envision for survival gear after the apocalypse. The real necessities are edge tools (knives, drills, axes) and cordage.  Then containers and salt. Then with effort and skill you can do the rest.
1 month ago
Not all types of food are suitable, but for really large amounts of food, nothing beats salting. Just get a five-gallon bucket and a bag of salt. The generic buckets from the lumberyard are not considered food-grade but you can get food-grade ones, and Home Depot even carries them. And almost any restaurant or school cafeteria gets some of its supplies in food-grade buckets, and they are usually glad to give them away. Ask at fast-food places, bakeries, supermarket delis, or a cafe. They get things like pickles, cake frosting, and shortening in them.

Salting takes hardly any time at all. A small amount of salt is used for foods you want to ferment. A larger amount--a saturated brine where the water can't hold any more salt-- will prevent microorganisms from growing at all. The food will dehydrate some, from the action of the salt, and  oils or fats can get rancid if the air reaches them, but foods submerged in strong brine stay edible for a long while, especially at cool temperatures.

When I lived in Alaska, we salted down fish (made salt cod, if fact) and venison. (We also bought butter by the case, unwrapped the cubes, stacked them in a bucket, put a weighted plate on top, and poured in brine to the top. The butter stayed sweet and fresh much longer than if you put it in the freezer.) Both in the American South and in England, green beans are traditionally salted down for the winter. Fruit wouldn't work, of course, or tomatoes. But peppers can be salted if your climate is too wet for drying. Cabbage and virtually all greens can be salted. It might not be your preferred way to eat things,  and you need to soak the salt out, but if the alternative is to lose them.....

One thing that might speed up your canning is not sterilizing the jars. They should be clean, but sterilizing was only needed for open-kettle method, which is now discredited. The processing time that destroys pathogens in the food will also sterilize a clean jar. I wash my jars well, rinse well, and set them upside-down on a tea towel long before I need to use them. They can even be on a towel on a tray or cookie sheet, so that the jars can be transported to a different work area all in one load.

Another tip for canning is to use a pressure canner. While you don't have to use one for acid foods, you certainly can do it, and the processing time is shorter. The big gain, though, is that you can stack jars more easily. The tallest canner I've found on the market still barely has room for quart jars to have the 2 inches of water over them recommended  for water-bath canning safely. But in a pressure canner, the water doesn't cover the jars--it's the steam that does the work. So you can go all the way to the top with your jars.

1 month ago

Carol has been working on a taller, stronger-stalked corn. It appears on her OSSI page, but is not commercially available. I'll be trying to get some and if I do I will post here.

Mary Cook wrote: here in West Virginia we get 40 inches of rain a year, pretty well spread through the year, so drought is not a common issue--and I have a pretty good irrigation system for the times when it is.

Here's an illustration of the point Mary and several other folks have made about how much circumstances vary: My locality actually averages more rain--about 50"--than hers but we get it during the winter, with none at all in summer. That one fact is more important than climate zone (which is only about winter low temperatures) or even last frost date (which may be similar as well.) Yet on paper we would seem to have similar climates.

Alan Savory's brittleness scale is the relevant measure here. Mary's climate, with 40 inches a year, is a more resilient climate regime, with both moisture and decay spread through the year. My climate, with 40 inches in a drought year and more like 60 in a wetter one, is more fragile, less resilient, because the moisture comes during a short period. Summer is the dormant season for most natives here; they grow during fall and spring. Both growth and decay (natural decomposition or compost, if you will) stop during the summer when humidity may be only 20 to 30%.
2 months ago

Jeff Steez wrote:I got rid of my raised beds yesterday. The thing everyone wants, good drainage, less compaction, and water retention seemed to be a negative here in Florida, the beds got too hot and they drained too rapidly. ?

My garden has improved tremendously since we changed to having the paths slightly higher and the beds sunken a bit.  We are on a mild slope, so some of the beds are sunken on the uphill side and have a small berm on the downhill side to retain water,  like small terraces. . We also have leveled the beds as much as we can. One thing that gave us food for thought was that large-scale farmers have found it pays to laser-level their fields, even on the valley floor. Slight differences in height can translate to big differences in yield. You can see if you spray water on bare ground, it doesn't take much to make either a puddle or a high-and-dry spot. Even with drip, and even under the surface, water does run downhill.

The combination of sunken beds, mulch, and good drip irrigation has given us a very productive garden even in this drought. If we did not have access to irrigation water, we would need to grow native herbs instead of vegetables in summer, and concentrate on tree crops (including acorns,) wheat or other winter grains, and winter vegetable gardening, like the cultures around the Mediterranean did historically. They grew their staple protein crops--favas and garbanzos--in winter as well, which is the rainy season for those of us in Mediterranean climates.

The problem for us is that we are in a colder climate zone (7) than most of the Mediterranean, due to our elevation.
At our elevation, we can get frost until June, by which time the daytime temps are in the 90's. So planting summer crops early enough to take advantage of remaining moisture in the soil is usually not very possible.
For mountain peoples in Mediterranean climates, tree crops, wild or hardy greens, and meat animals have been the most dependable sources of resilient food through the centuries.
2 months ago
Quail Seeds in California carries several of Carol's varieties. Most are available in both small packets and larger bulk sizes for homestead and market growers. They will also be premiering her new Goldini squash in 2022. www.quailseeds.com

Kaarina Kreus wrote:Children are happiest in a tiny hut where mom and dad are always close by. Only teenagers want a space of their own.
My boys even at the age 11 and 9 dragged their beds to one room and desks to another. They said it is so much nicer to be together!
So much for offering them an expensive big home 🙄

Now I live alone on my farm. The house is 200 sq feet and just perfect! I have a cosy bedroom and a living room cum kitchen. It is off grid, so heated with a wood stove. It warms quickly and requires very little wood. Oil lamps are just so cosy.

This looks very much like the cabin I raised my kids in. They have fond memories of reading stories together by lamplight, and being part of the forest. Note that the photo shows one essential item often missing from the tiny home videos--a kitchen table, with places to sit and work quietly or share a meal. So many of the tiny home designs have couches and TV's but no place to come together around a table. A little shelf or counter where everyone faces the same way is not the same.
And so right about teens. Here in the California hills, many families with small cabins let their teens build a separate cabin, or they move in an old bus or van for them to have a space of their own to sleep and work in.
2 months ago
I've lived all of my adult life in very small spaces--commercial fishing boats, cabins, and trailers. I raised three boys in a 15x20 foot cabin. I think Americans mostly substitute physical space for psychological space. People from other countries often notice how "in your face" Americans are--we don't grow up with the same traditional  ways of giving people personal space. Learning to be quiet and not engage everyone in your vicinity is one strategy that makes small spaces larger. On boats and ships, it is an essential skill.

When Lloyd Kahn started writing about tiny homes he was talking about smaller, less wasteful spaces than the ridiculously large suburban home, more like what the majority of humankind has lived in over centuries, until very recently. Builders started making and selling units on trailer bodies that were easy to transport, and they kind of took over the tiny home idea. They can be simple, pleasant accommodation, if you don't have much stuff. But stuff isn't all bad and it isn't all consumer crap--libraries, tools, sewing supplies, food preservation equipment all take space. I have missed out on a lot of projects like sewing, leatherwork, painting, etc because the only thing there is room to do in my trailer is get in bed and read a book.

There is a reason that farmhouses have traditionally been good-sized. They have supported large, busy households, and were not just bedrooms but economic centers. I find that the very small tiny home is usually most comfortable for urban folks who have coffee shops and gyms and neighborhoods available as part of their larger infrastructure. Here in the country a family needs a lot of tools, and space to store them. My canning equipment alone would fill a tiny home. And since I live in something even smaller than a tiny home--a 16' travel trailer from the 1970s that I rescued from the dump--my tools and canning jars and projects have to live outdoors or in a tent nearby. They get mice pooping in them, they get dirty, they are hard to access. It's a pain. I would LOVE a larger place. But larger is relative; 1000 sq ft would be huge to me.

Funny how things get fancy names when the middle class adopts them.  What is now a tiny home used to just be a simple shack. And I see that localities are now zoning tiny homes (same size as a trailer but custom built and costing many times as much) as residential while forbidding trailers, which are economical and efficient housing whether you like the aesthetics or not. An ugly instance of class prejudice in action.
2 months ago

Blake Lenoir wrote:What's happening! D you forgot to add Virginia and pitch pines which are native to your Ohio, as well as some rhodendrons and azeleas. You ever saw an American chestnut tree before? There's a rare magnolia tree in your state called the bigleaf and whether you've seen it. I've got some unique trees found in my Illinois including bald cypress, shortleaf pine, red pine, American chestnut, water hickory, tamarack and American mountain ash. There's also rhodenrons and azeleas in the La Rue hills area of the Shawnee forest. Here in the Chicago area, I have jack pine, black gum, redbud,  sassafras, flowering dogwood and paper birch. Universal list you got!

This appears to be a list of native trees and shrubs with ornamental value, which is useful. But do be aware that rhododendron and azalea (they are mostly in the same genus now, rhododendron) are NOT edible.
2 months ago