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Jamie Chevalier

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Jamie Chevalier

I was a commercial fisherman for years, and I know quite a bit about getting stubborn smells out of clothing. The answer is Coca Cola. I wouldn't be caught dead drinking it, but a can in the wash water (in cold water for proteins like fish slime, blood, milk, etc) takes bad smells away. In Alaska, even commercial laundries use it for fish smell. Works for cat pee too, though in that case, I''d sak it in a bucket of coke for a while.
1 month ago
Bountiful Gardens is now out of business, but you can get tree collard cuttings from Quail Seeds in California:   tree collards
This variety is exceptionally tender, especially in winter. It doesn't normally set seed, and has been passed from gardener to gardener for centuries. It was preserved by African-American gardeners and has been mostly unknown elsewhere until recently.

Quail Seeds also has some perennial vegetables that grow from seed, and seeds for non-hybrid, true-breeding comfrey. It is unusual to find the true comfrey species (Symphytum officinalis) that grows from seed---most of what people grow is the Bocking hybid which is sterile.
3 months ago
Traditionally, coppicing and pollarding were done in a woodland where the whole area was managed as coppice or as coppice with standards (larger single-trunked trees for timber.) If you cut a single specimen in an open area, new growth will be shrubby, just as an oak growing in a field will be spreading and wide. It is the shade of other trees that makes for tall, straight trunks, reaching for the sun. Thus the redwoods from deep forest, with the first branch 50 feet up or more. For species that will regrow from a cut stump (not most conifers), coppicing prolongs the life of the tree. For example, English foresters figure that oaks live from 150 to 400 years as single-stem trees. Eventually, they age, get diseases, and fall. Coppiced oaks are known to live for a thousand years or more, since the wood is renewed.

Coppiced land was (and is) cut on a rotation that took into account the species, the climate, and the projected use for the wood. Dorothy Hartley, in her amazing book Made in England, has a wonderful account of how a crew would go and live in the woods by a hazel coppice at harvest time, making wigwam shelters and cutting the poles. The coppice wood was sorted by size--the smallest being saved for binding barrels, loads of wood, or other bent work, and then on up through broom and tool handles to hurdles (portable fence panels) and finally to poles for furniture or structures. Coppice wood of other species was used for firewood, or harvested at a specific size for special uses, like the hop poles used for trellising the long hop vines.

One essential in all this was that the whole coppice area be cut at once, and allowed to grow up at once, so that the product is straight poles that cut and stack easily and are usable without milling. You don't want the trees putting all their energy into crooked, twiggy, unusable branches. The woodlot can be divided up into several areas that are cut in different years, so you have a little wood every year. If the species is suitable, and the rotation is long enough for good-size poles, you can use them for framing a house.

Pollarding is the same procedure, carried on a few feet off the ground, leaving some of the trunk intact. It is more vulnerable to age than coppice, as the trunk can age and fail. It was used when it was desirable to keep the new growth off the gound, as with willow for basketry; when livestock or deer aren't fenced out and would eat the young shoots, preventing regrowth; when another forest crop was growing at ground level (ginseng???) ; or when the bushy top growth is desirable for shade.

The first I heard of coppice was in the Whole Earth Catalog or the related CoEvolution Quarterly in about 1981. Since then, I've seen quite a bit about it in publications out of the UK, and I think the UK has public-service pamphlets about it, as conservation volunteers over there are now helping perform tasks like hedging and coppicing that used to be part of the normal farm economy.
5 months ago
Late winter and early spring are bloom times here for lots of native wildflowers and shrubs. Madrones and manzanitas bloom very early and attract whatever insects are out. Among shrubs, rosemary, ceonothus, coyote brush are the favorites, In the garden, the best early nectar sources I have found are overwintered brassicas.  If you grow kale, turnips, Asian greens, or arugula, these bolt at slightly different times and are outrageously full of bees and all manner of little fliers. You can see why--a bed full of them smells like honey even from a distance. For pest control in spring, I just throw around a bunch of old brassica and cilantro seed in fall.

High summer is more of an issue for insects in the west, because most of the landscape has dried up, except gardens.  It really pays to plant food for parasitic wasps and other beneficials then. That list above is all good, and I would pay particular attention to tiny white or yellow flowers in flat or round umbels--alyssum, dill, fennel, cilantro, and overwintered carrot, parsley, celery, etc. Ammi is a really good one because it blooms late. I always include alyssum, because it attracts predators that target thrips, which can devastate tomatoes in dry weather. Here is an easy approach: https://www.quailseeds.com/store/c38/Seed_Collections_and_Kits.html#/  

The Agroecology dept at UC Santa Cruz has done a lot of research on how to fight symphylans, which are tiny centipede-like critters in the soil that eat plant roots, sometimes with devastating results. They suggest that providing habitat for ground beetles--you know those lumbering black ones--makes the difference. They found that the beetles, which hunt at night, can go about 20 feet from their daytime hiding places. So they put little piles of old sunflower stalk, twigs, rock, etc, every 20 feet.

Straw mulch is also good. Grassy weedy areas can host ground beetles, but they are not pollinator hosts, since grasses are wind-pollinated (or self pollinating, like wheat) and provide no nectar for pest-eating wasps and beneficials.  I have found that grasses are host to both fungal diseases and thrips in my area and more of a problem than a help. Instead, I provide hedgerows of currants or other berries, perennial herbs, etc, as well as piles of branches for beetle and gopher snake habitat.
6 months ago
Most perennials do die back in the winter--that is the adaptation that allows them to survive cold. Annuals just keep going and green until frost kills them, instead of taking refuge in their underground portion. Herbaceous perennials that are evergreen are very few, and usually in my experience are either from warm-winter areas or live as understory plants. Tiarella would be an example of an evergreen forest understory groundcover, which is sheltered from the worst winter winds and drying cold.

I used to collect wild lovage in Alaska, and dry it for use all winter. Good in pasta and meats as well as soup.
7 months ago
Alpine strawberries don't spread--they are tiny bushes rather than runner-forming groundcover like other strawberries.
7 months ago
Aloes are perfect indoor plants, and most people I know never do take them outdoors, just leave them on the kitchen counter as first aid for burns. They are happy in a north window, so don't even need to have a premium sunny spot. I have seen them survive in the center of the room with no window at all, but survive is not thrive. In any case, they are easy. Another thing to know is that they like more water than cacti. They are native to the seashore fog belt. San Francisco has planted masses of them in the median strip on highway 1, and they grow so fast its scary.
I suspect that chard has the widest adaptability of all--it was easy for me in Alaska, and it is easy in California. It also has the biggest yield of meals or servings  per sq ft of anything I've grown. Perennializes here with minimal water,as well. If you don't like the flavor of Swiss Chard, try the perpetual spinach types. They are more tender and mild-flavored. Chard is one of the only standard vegetables that is truly low-maintenance. Here, I put it in afternoon shade.
I went to gardenmyths.com and it was a different book by a different author.
9 months ago

1.)First year - don't even try smaller annuals.  Go with  potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Using a pitchfork, plunge it into the woodchips - pry it back and slip a potato in between the ground and the woodchips.  The sweet potatoes did especially well.
2.) Bush beans.  Just plant them an inch deep into the woodchips.  For me, they grew right down through all the wood chips and we had a great harvest.
3.) Big vigorous plants like squash and watermelon.




This brings up another thing in Will Bonsall's book that I never see elsewhere--the difference between old-world and new-world crops. Or actually, between crops from places with the plow and those fromplaces with the digging stick and hoe.

The agriculture of the new world and parts of Africa was swidden cultivation,  (used to be called slash and burn). It took place in newly-cleared forest clearings (And even in the places that were not forested, it was on small patches barely cultivated with a digging stick or hoe.) Fire or girdling the trees was used to provide a growing space, and the crops were growing on fungal-dominated forest soils with plenty of duff and twigs and/or wood ash. Soils tended twoard a more acidic ph. After a few years, it was allowed to go back to forest and a new patch was cleared, so there was always a forest soil with tree roots, or a perennial prairie soil with grass roots--not a cropland soil with primarily annuals.

The agriculture of the old world took place in permanent croplands clear-cultivated to a fine tilth with the plow. These received yearly applications of compost/animal manure/ lime and other amendments. Soils tended toward more neutral ph. Crops such as peas and cabbage were the staples. They evolved from maritime beach and riparian plants, which even in nature grow in disturbed soil are then replaced by more aggressive perennials.

So, Bonsall makes the point that on a new homestead, new world crops have an advantage: they have evolved for those fungally-dominated, barely-cultivated, wood-rich soils and will feel right at home.  As indeed I experienced on my homestead in Alaska, where I started out new patches of garden by clearing as best I could and planting potatoes, sometimes under nothing but a pile of seaweed.  

Mulching with wood chips recreates the swidden garden--fungally-dominated, rich in the breakdown products from wood, and with lots of surface litter.

I wish this distinction had been widely articulated years ago, because it is the rock that many garden methods crash on. They want to have a single method, when plants--in Nature and under our nurture as well--are adapted to different niches.

So the practical application is that tomatoes, squash, beans, and potatoes are happy to live in a bit of soil and a lot of duff, chips, tree roots, half-digested compost, etc. Cabbage, peas, spinach, carrots, lettuce maybe not.  They might be happier in later seasons  when more decomposition has taken place. Or with the ground cleared of woodchips around them.
9 months ago