Jamie Chevalier

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Jamie Chevalier

Bunching onions have the advantage of growing from seed, so you don't have to find or buy starts like potato onions. "Evergreen" also known as "Nebuka" is hardy to zone 4.
Caucasus Mountain Spinach Vine (Hablitzia) is super hardy, grown in Russia and Sweden.
Available from Quail Seeds in California, which makes a specialty of perennial veg, including leeks and celery that have perennial tendencies.
3 months ago
I've been working on the subject of beneficial insects for some years now, and there are several things that stand out in my mind as important:

-A variety of flowers (Xerces Society says that in tests, the largest number and variety of beneficials was achieved with 20+ species of flowers in bloom.)

-Flowers all season, from very early spring (ie, still winter) to late fall.

-As many natives as possible. There are many native pollinators and predator insects that have co-evolved with specific plants, and can't do without them.

-Almost all herbs have good flowers for beneficials. Herbs are seldom bred for human-pleasing flowers and are thus still tailored to the needs of wild insects.

-Habitat should not be overlooked: piles of sticks to attract ground beetles, perennials for overwintering, etc.

-A variety of flower shapes, colors, sizes, being sure to emphasize singles over doubles, and to include lots of small and inconspicuous flowers like alyssum, orach, cilantro, amaranth, chervil, etc. as well as trumpet and foxglove shapes. Quail Seeds carries several seed collections specifically for attracting beneficials, tailored for the season and planting regime (annual, perennial, ground cover, decorative border, etc.)

-Some pests are always around, while some have a short--but potentially devastating--window. During those times, plants that are normally great for attracting beneficials may prove to be liabilities. For example, during late June/early July, brassicas host so many flea beetles and such destructive hordes of harlequin bugs in my area that I ban them from my garden until late July. That way, the coast is clear when I make large brassica plantings for fall. While arugula, kale, mustard, and even tiny weeds like shepherds' purse are normally wonderful attractors of beneficial tachnids, bees, syrphids, etc, they are not worth having around during the harlequin-bug window.

--It is obviously impossible to micromanage every interaction, and it's generally better to just have a bunch of stuff. HOWEVER, if you have one or two pests that have been a real problem, find out as much as you can about what attracts them, and what attracts their enemies. For example, if thrips are a big problem for you (and I have had them reduce tomatoes to a dry skeleton) you should know that the clover you planted for the bees attracts and shelters thrips, leading to worse damage than if it were bare ground. (There are a couple of research papers that studied this, available online.) On the other hand, alyssum as a flowering groundcover attracts the main predator on thrips, as well as bees and lots of other beneficials.

While it does sound strange, leaving aphids alone can in fact be a strong strategy for attracting and keeping beneficials. You won't have them on hand in large numbers if there are no prey for them, after all. Once I noticed that my poppies were getting a bad outbreak of those big fat black aphids that appear in early spring. Curious, I left them alone and checked them every day. Within a couple of days, wasps had found the poppies with aphids. Within another 3 days, the aphids were gone, completely vacuumed up by paper wasps. While the most numerous predatory wasps are small (down to gnat size) and stingless, it is also true that bigger more fear-inspiring wasps are formidable predators. (Generally speaking, the ground-nesting wasps are more aggressive than I can deal with in and around frequented areas, but tree-nesters are better, and solitary mud wasps downright tame.)

That said, aphids (whiteflies, thrips) are different from squash bugs. Large bugs that target and ruin the fruit are very different from small sucking insects that very gradually sap the plants strength. Diatom dust on the squash stems works well for me, combined with searching for and destroying eggs. I notice they generally crawl around the plant rather than flying, so the stems are their highway. I have also had success with an understory crop of radishes beneath and around the squash, to disguise the distinctive squash smell.

4 months ago
Maybe I missed them on the long lists, but don't forget potatoes! Because they are grown in big open fields commercially, they somehow got the reputation of needing sun, but, like many plants that spread by tubers, they thrive in shade. In the Southeast Alaska rainforest, where cloud cover made even the "full sun" areas pretty shady compared to the rest of the US, we grew potatoes successfully in areas of only 1/2 sun. So in California, I give them shade most of the day.

Rhubarb is the same story. It wants LOTS of nitrogen, but doesn't need or want much sun. All the rhubarb plants I have seen in full sun have been stunted--they only develop those big long succulent stalks in shade.

Most perennial vegetables will grow in shade,especially Caucasus Mt Spinach. Quail Seeds has a good selection.

Currants are especially shade-tolerant; my experience, however, is that while blackcurrants prefer part shade, redcurrants will bear in full shade.
5 months ago
Quail Seeds in California has Hablitzia (under the name Caucasus Mountain Spinach), Good King Henry, two kinds of sorrel, Erba Stella, Lovage, perennial arugula, perennial clumping onions, and more. www.quailseeds.com
5 months ago
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.
11 months 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.
1 year 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.
1 year 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.
1 year 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.
1 year ago
Alpine strawberries don't spread--they are tiny bushes rather than runner-forming groundcover like other strawberries.
1 year ago