Jamie Chevalier

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Jamie Chevalier

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 month 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 month ago
Alpine strawberries don't spread--they are tiny bushes rather than runner-forming groundcover like other strawberries.
1 month 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.
3 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.
4 months ago
Yes, Will Bonsall refers to the research done at a university in Quebec on ramial. It's pretty exciting; the very parts of the tree that have been burnt in the past as useless turn out the be the important ones for soil-building. Makes sense. A tree falls only once in a long time, but twigs, branches, and leaves fall constantly, so the soil biome is best adapted to them.

Another exciting bit of research involves lichens and "old man's beard" on trees. It has been supposed by most people that they are sapping the tree. A bunch of researchers finally followed specific tree growth and mapped lichen density long enough to notice that the trees with usnea and lace lichen actually grew faster than those in the same neighborhood without lichens. So, they put buckets out under the trees and found out that the lichens act as a nutrient net, to capture dust and mineral particles, bits of shed cells, etc etc out of the wind. When it rains, those nutrients drip into the root zone of the tree. The rainwater they captured from trees with a lot of lichen on them was nutrient soup.....and the trees were getting a natural "fertigation."    (fertilizer irrigation)  The lichens are nutrient-dense in their own right as well, and deer seem to prefer them as food. Since the majority of lichens occur on twigs rather than trunk wood, it is probably a part of the mix in ramial chips, along with the cambium, the surface-dwelling fungi and bacteria, the leaves, etc.  Altogether a richer mix than the cellulose/lignin makeup of the trunk.
4 months ago
Will Bonsall has written a great book that shows wood chips and compost in a whole-farm system that has been providing virtually all the food for his family for decades in Maine. He buys virtually no inputs, but uses lots of compost, and urine/humanure as appropriate. Leaves, grass, and wood chips supplemented with garden waste are the backbone of his system, which is more labor-intensive than just mulching, but also very very productive, and doable for one guy at farm scale. will bonsallHe is veganic, but I'm not and I have found his book very useful, especially as it shows different strategies for specific crops instead of a one-size-fits-all "method". I am amazed that at this late date someone has made a big-deal method out of wood chips. They've been part of gardening since chippers were invented. Always someone ready to trademark something and make a buck on it, I guess.....
4 months ago
Perennial arugula is the hands-down favorite for honeybees in my garden. I have lots of flowers and herbs, and even lemon balm (whose Latin name, melissa, means honeybee) can't compare. You can hear them buzzing from clear across the garden. If you want to grow it as a bee plant, and you also want fresh leaves for use, I suggest having a patch of it and dividing it into two or three sections. Keep one part sheared back for producing bigger, more tender leaves for salad. Leave one to go to flower. With three you could have one in use, one recovering, and one flowering. Or, if you don't want to cozy up to the bees, have the patches in three separate places.
4 months ago