Jamie Chevalier

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Jamie Chevalier

Jason Avers wrote:  Since the other permies have done a decent job of covering what to do with the dead fish, and aeration (heating liquids causes gasses to come out of solution more readily - that's some 3rd grade physics, but its still true!)  I'll take a stab at the root problem:  water loss to evaporation.  Three trees that should be found on the banks of a pond are Alder, Cottonwood, and Willow

Alder is the great nitrogen-fixer and nurse tree of the northwest. In Alaska it's only non-coniferous tree available in many parts of the Southeast Ak rainforest. When I lived there, it was the only tree available to me for coppicing, and the only one that made charcoal rather than just burning quickly into ash....When nothing else was available, it was used in the past by blacksmiths for forging.  The leaf mould makes a great addition to seed-starting mixes, a great soil conditioner or mulch, and I have used it the dry leaves as chicken bedding as well. Started most easily from seeds, which need sun to sprout. They bide their time in the soil until a clearcut or avalanche or falling tree creates a bit of sun, then sprout quickly. With nitrogen-fixing roots and a yearly mulching of leaves, they enrich the soil and provide a shady nursery bed for the conifers that need shade and rich soil in order to sprout. Eventually, the conifers overtop them and shade them out.

Cottonwoods can get very large, and very thirsty. I would think that they might consume a small pond, but as with anything, balance is key. All of these trees do drink the water, but their shade prevents the water from just dissipating into the air, and draws so much more life and health to the area that it is a net gain. However, it is necessary to keep the scale of things in mind and try to find the balance point. Leaves are used all the ways alder is. The buds make the best burn ointment I know of, and the tree will coppice readily. It is not good firewood, but works well for hugel beds. Roots easily--I have seed cottonwood sticks that were floating in salt water root when rinsed off and shoved into moist ground.

Willow is too well-known to need much comment, but I would try to find local species. Cuttings root readily--any stick you shove into moist ground will root. There are hundreds of willow species, varieties, and sub-species. A local one will be attuned to the climate, whereas one from Britain, (like the weeping willow) is likely to need more water and expect more rain.

All of these trees are pioneer species, so they have evolved with many mechanisms to enrich the area and increase biodiversity. It is their job to kick-start a living community around themselves.
1 day ago
Looking at the posts here, I can see a variety of images in people's minds, as far as scale.

Many of the posts here offer excellent ways of dealing with a few fish, say up to 50. Others would deal with more. Quite a few panfish would fit in a 50-gallon drum.

Living in the arid west where any pond worth the effort of building has to be large to last the season, (and having been a commercial fisher) I was thinking one would have to be prepared to handle hundreds or perhaps thousands of fish. I like a solution that is scalable. Composting can handle from 3 to 3000 fish--or 30,000 if you have the space and carbon.

Got me thinking that scale is an integral part of any problem, and any solution. Probably a good habit when framing questions or problems and imagining solutions is to think about the scale you have to deal with, and at what scale the nature of the problem would change.

My other thought is that usually fish die from lack of oxygen before they actually get stranded by lack of water. Heating (as the water gets shallower) depletes the available oxygen. Eutrophication is often the culprit as well--the addition of more nutrients, and thus more microorganisms trying to breathe, than the water can support. So unless there is some kind of setup to oxygenate the water and remove nutrients, graywater could possibly make the problem worse. Graywater is not just water, but a slurry of water, fibers, skin cells, oils, soil, and surfactants keeping them in suspension.  (Whether it's yucca root or Palmolive, a surfactant will change the properties of the water, and may itself be a nutrient.) to add graywater to a pond, you'd want to make it run a gauntlet of plantings and possibly little waterfalls or bubblers to extract nutrients and add oxygen.
4 days ago
When I lived in Sitka, Alaska, the city got a grant for a large-scale composting project. They had a lumber mill, (with sawdust as waste,) and several fish processing plants, (with fish heads and guts as waste.) They combined the two problems into a great solution. The high-carbon wood balanced the high-nitrogen fish, and the result was odor-free, high-nutrient compost.

A pond  might well have more fish than you can find barrels for, while a composting operation can be any size.

Where I live, hot dry weather means wildfire risk. You can lower your fire risk by limbing-up tall trees, thinning stands that are too crowded (which improves tree health)and eliminating brushy growth near your home.

If there are no tree services in the area who can give you wood chips, renting a chipper/shredder might be a great way to make your home safer and improve forest health while making the best possible use of a heartbreaking fish die-off.
4 days ago
A quick raw pickle is a nice thing to have in the fridge for summer. The simplest is to add purslane leaves or tips to the leftover juice from a jar of store-bought pickles (or cocktail olives)
You can lightly salt them for a naturally fermented pickle. Or make up your own brine and chill them in it. Any of these make a nice free condiment or addition to sandwiches, etc. If you are looking for more exact recipes, I have seen recipes for salted and pickled purslane online.

I use fresh purslane as a crunchy summer substitute for lettuce in tacos, felafel, Greek pita sandwiches, etc etc.

It is an excellent addition to tuna salad--a better flavor pairing with it than lettuce or celery, actually.

With it's slightly mucilaginous texture and small size (no cutting and dicing required) purslane is a great soup ingredient, adding body to the broth as well as mildly-tart flavor . As Carol Deppe says, no gardener is going to get the full value from their garden unless they know how to make homemade soups.
1 week ago
About the erosion: I suggest you read Gary Paul Nabhan's books about Native American gardening in that environment. He found agave terraces that were still extant, and still functioning to concentrate moisture, 400 years after people stopped living there. (in the wake of conquest.) If you haven't read his book Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land – Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty I would stop where you are and use the midday heat to read it before you do anything else.

You are quite right that most plants go into stress above 90 degrees or so. Also, the brightness of the sun is like a laser--the light rays are scattered and refracted by humidity in the air, so that your plants can get sunscald when plants in the MIdwest or the South would not, even at the same temperatures. If you are able to plant native trees or shrubs I would do so. Mesquite would be wonderful if it is hardy at your elevation, because it's a nitrogen fixer. But whatever shrubs live there naturally, I would get more of them and use them as nurse plants. People concentrate a lot on "trees" when often a shrub is faster, tougher, and more adapted to the spot.

About your screaming hot place. Is there some reason why you have to grow something there?
It's really easy to get caught up in ideas and enthusiasms and shoulds and oughts, instead of just looking at the place and observing without judgement....
If you go to wild places within that ecosystem, places where the ecosystem is intact, what--if anything--is growing in places with the same orientation, soil, and rock?

I would also not dismiss the idea of built structures. Ramadas, brush arbors, and even just a pole with shadecloth are all appropriate and don't need water or soil. Perhaps some spot that is not good for plants is begging to be an outdoor dining or sleeping area, a fire circle for nighttime, or just a place to build a shed. Again, desert peoples have figured out ways of using convection, chimneys that use a venturi to increase air flow, evaporative cooling, etc etc. so one of these traditional structures may be able to make the area habitable. And then there is the nighttime. Most people never go outside at night. Maybe what your spot is perfect for is viewing the stars. I know that we felt ten times more at home on our land once we had a spot to sit around a campfire at night.

Remember the story about the two sisters who restored the native species on their land by starting with the few plants that were thriving and working from there? Perhaps if you just work out from your areas of success, obsetrve your own patterns of use and the patterns of the land, your plan will grow organically and the right thing will become apparent.
1 month ago
If you like the tea, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is extremely easy. It casts a dense weed-excluding shade and in our yard has out-competed serious weeds like grass and burr clover. Beautiful mint-like habit, glossy healthy green leaves, and sheaves of flowers that pollinators love ("Melissa" means honeybee in Greek.) Grows to 2 ft. would be a complete grouping with a nitrogen-fixing shrub and maybe a root.
1 month ago
A guild with a very small shrub as the overstory is in scale with this project. I used to be a landscape designer with a specialty in container gardens of native plants, and I would give three cautions: 1) Soil volume is a serious limitation here. 2) It's essential to choose one ecosystem type and stick with plants from that type of situation. 3) In most of the country, this container will have to be watered, so there is labor involved here for the recipient, even if you can find a grouping that excludes weeds.

About caution 1: I have seen trees and shrubs literally fill a container with roots until it bursts, with the entire container turned into woody root mass, and no room for anything else. Trees can be , and are, grown in containers, but it requires serious fertilization, and/or root pruning. If you want it to be self-sustaining, it has to be very small in total volume.  Remember that the roots of any plant are at least as big in total mass as the top. So if you couldn't fit the top portion of your guild at maturity into a similar container, it will not be a sustainable situation.

About caution 2: Sticking to one type of biome is  simpler if you start with one plant and think of its associates. So if strawberries are really important to you, start with them, not with your overstory. First off, I would use Alpine (wild type) strawberries but if you can't get those, use something that local gardeners recommend or will give you starts for.

If you start there, you have the stage set, and your biome chosen--woodsy soil in the sunny clearings of deciduous forest. Europe, the Eastern US, Eurasian mountains, all have this type of area, so you have a lot to choose from. Violets like the same habitat. For that matter, the miner's lettuce of western oak woodlands would like that soil and exposure as well. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p2/Miner%27s_Lettuce_%28Claytonia%29.html   For a larger plant, you're going to want something from a woodsy deciduous habitat, not the dry limestone scrub where rosemary, sage and lavender live. A wild rose would be more adapted to this type of area. A gooseberry or currant would be at home there. Or for that matter a raspberry. Or just stick in a piece of wood for it to climb and go with the apios. The more shade-adapted you make the planting, the fewer weeds there will be to deal with. However, if you want to go with the raspberry and want it to have enough sun to bear fruit, one idea would be to use a combination of purslane and miner's lettuce(which in England is known as "winter purslane". You could get your larger plants in, and the soil all stable , then scatter seeds for both. The purslane will sprout when there is heat and moisture. The miner's lettuce will sprout when there is cold and moisture. (Int the west that is the winter rains.) They should mesh.

Another take on this theme would be to have blueberries (lovers of acidic peat/sand soil) with an understory of ligonberries, which are also from sunny peat-based ecosystems. The Ligonberry, aka lowbush cranberry, is hugely productive and beautiful, with shiny evergreen leaves and glossy red berries that are the classic accompaniment to Swedish pancakes. https://raintreenursery.com/collections/lingonberries I would add Labrador tea to these for a fantastic evergreen tea plant from the same peaty areas.

Or to go the other direction, start with the more Mediterranean plants. Culinary Sage is super easy to grow, more cold-hardy and less fussy about drainage than lavender or rosemary, beautiful in all seasons, and started easily from cuttings. I started mine from leafy twigs I got in a package in the produce section of my local grocery chain. ("fresh cooking herbs")  I stuck them in pots and now two years later they are covered with gorgeous purple flowers and butterflies of many kinds. Any evergreen however, will cast shade all year, which makes it hard to fit anything else in a small space. A trailing plant that goes over the edge to find sun might be the answer. Oregano? Thyme?  Maybe even strawberries?

Perhaps the closest to your original idea would be a dwarf cherry or plum with strawberries underfoot. I would add a nitrogen fixer for both of those heavy feeders, and caution your friend not to remove the fallen leaves, as they will be important in maintaining fertility. For a nitrogen fixer, I don't know. Lupine? Sweet clover?

Easiest to keep going in the long run would be a prairie guild--Jerusalem sunflower or echinacea, grasses, and legumes. Maybe not what people would choose visually, but a perfectly balanced self-sustaining group.

Bottom line, it is hard to come up with a self-sustaining guild in such a small space. Or let me amend that. It's hard to come up with a self-sustaining guild that fulfills our desires in a small space. Most low growing food plants will be crowded out by grass after a season or two unless we intervene. So if the idea is to have a self-sustaining group that the recipient doesn't have to maintain, I would use an understory plant that is evergreen, has a dense canopy, and is at least 8" tall. Winter savory is a handsome one. Some oreganos and many sages would work. But in my career with plants, I have seldom seen plants lower than that compete with wind-sown grasses in a sunny situation. In nature, strawberries live where it's too shady for grass, or they are hidden in grass and seldom bear fruit.

It's all good, it just may not be what we as humans want from the plants we choose.
1 month ago
I haven't seen anyone mention Perpetual Spinach, an extremely mild and tasty perennial green. It is a form of chard that is closer to the wild than our familiar Swiss Chard type. The leaves are matte rather than super shiny, the stems are narrow rather than wide and eye-catching like the silver or colored stems of Swiss Chard. The flavor and mouthfeel are closer to spinach too--softer and milder than most chard. It is probably not perennial in the coldest zones, but it is cold-hardy to about zone 7 for sure, and I have talked to people in zone 5 who have overwintered it with very good drainage and mulch. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p9/Perpetual_Spinach_%28Leafbeet%29_Chard.html

Purple Tree Collards are the sweetest brassica I have ever tasted in winter and spring, with milder flavor and higher production of leaves than other perennial collards or kales. They do not make seed, which means they pump out leaves year-round. They turn a lovely purple color in cool weather. However, they will die out if the ground freezes. Sundial Seeds and Bountiful Gardens which were sources, are both closed. They are now available here:  https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p312/Tree_Collard_Cuttings.html  along with 27 other perennial vegetables. These can get huge. Once we were eating dinner on a restaurant patio when we realized that the "tree" we were sitting under was in fact a huge old tree collard plant!

Thought I'd mention also that the walking onions are not the only option for perennial onions. Evergreen, or Nebuka, is a scallion that is perennial to zone 4. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p269/Evergreen_White_Bunching_Onion_%28Nebuka%29.html
1 month ago

Hester Winterbourne wrote:Here is an odd thing - at the weekend I found a nettle with hardly any stings.  Yes it is definitely a nettle of the Urtica genus, by its smell and the fact that it does sting very slightly as I found out when I sniffed it.  Now, I am aware of the Fen Nettle which is noted for not stinging, but that has much narrower leaves than the usual species.  And this stingless nettle that I have found has broader leaves.  Also, the patch next to it which is a similar height is starting to flower, whereas this one is nowhere near.

Here it is.  I have taken some up to my allotment and am curious to see if the flavour is as good as the stinging ones.

There is an annual nettle that is somewhat less stingy, Urtica urens as opposed to Urtica dioica. Looking at the photo again, I think that is what you have. https://www.opencircleseeds.com/listing/733784205/organic-annual-nettle    The leaves are shorter, and more rounded at the base than perennial nettle, with very prominent serrations.

You could see if yours lives a second year. What a great adaptation to propagate if it is a perennial!
1 month ago

I'm in zone 7b/8a and my tree collards survived an unusually hard winter this year. I do have them in a high spot that doesn't gather the cold, mulch them, and on the worst night I throw some cloth over them. They're now setting tons of seed to give away!

I'm curious about what kind of tree collards these are. The purple tree collards that I am familiar with and that have such a mild sweet flavor don't generally set seed. I know there are some that do set seed, and some of them are hardier. The flavor is not as sweet usually.

In the context of a perennial food system, setting seed is seldom a benefit. It takes the plant out of leaf production for a long time, and the progeny are completely unpredictable. It will cross with any collards, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, or kohrabi in the neighborhood, and most kales. Great for an experimental breeding program--though you would want to have quite a few plants to avoid inbreeding depression--but not so great for a reliable garden crop.

So, not to be a downer, but it's good to be aware that the progeny will probably not be just like the parent, and may not be perennial. The most reliable way to increase the plant you have and like is by taking cuttings.

Getting seed lines that are perennial is important work, but takes a bit of space, as the minimum number of parents for genetic stability is 50, after culling out the ones that aren't perennial, aren't tasty, or otherwise are not desirable. There are ways of recapturing strong genetics after breeding from just a few plants. John Navazio talks about it in his great book, , from Chelsea Green.
1 month ago