Jamie Chevalier

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Jamie Chevalier

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.
1 week 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.
1 week 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.....
1 week 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.
2 weeks ago
I think that dehydration after long cooking was one of the strategies that indigenous people used for these inulin-containing crops. But I'd never heard of the spring harvest idea. Thanks for the post, they both sound very do-able.
My main use of sunchokes is as a decoy. They are gophers' favorite food, so I have them on the edge of the garden to keep gophers from coming any further.
2 weeks ago
Sunchokes are great, and easy. If you can digest them. Some people have the enzyme that enables you to digest the unusual starches in them, some don't.
Native people who used camas as a staple usually put it through some sort of process to make digestion easier. (And camas is a great possibility for a staple food if you have a seasonal wetland on your property.)
Does anyone know if the same sort of strategy can be used for sunchokes, or how to do it?
2 weeks ago
About miner's lettuce: Thanks for the info.....I have seen the other plants in the Claytonia genus, like Siberian Beauty and Candyflower as perennials, but not C. perfoliata. The issue in California is not the winter, but surviving the summer. I'm realizing I've never seen it go perennial and survive the summer because I've never watered it, or seen it in an area with enough soil moisture to live past June. They are shallow-rooted, and around here they always reseed and die in May or June. So many California "annuals," actually could live longer if water were available.  

With that information, I will add it to our perennial vegetables page, and lovage as well. Perennial Vegetables

2 weeks ago
Thanks for getting this topic going. I want to note that miner's lettuce is not perennial. Often it self-sows from dropped seed, but none of the individual plants live more than a year. It is a great salad green, and if you have a shady, moist fertile spot under trees you could manage a patch that self-sows. Adapted to growing in cold winter soils--it will sprout and grow in soil just above freezing. Eliott Coleman's used it in Maine for unheated winter hoophouse production of salad greens. The flavor is good enough to sell to restaurants, rare for a wild green.

At Quail Seeds, we have miner's lettuce seed from wild stands (domestication would cause genetic changes toward dependence).  We also have seeds for several perennial vegetables--perpetual spinach, perennial arugula, perennial scallions, 2 kinds of sorrel, rhubarb, erba stella, and Caucasus Mountain Spinach, which is an exciting one--mild-flavored perennial vine hardy down to zone 3. Quail Seeds
2 weeks ago
What my kids did with their Halloween candy was play poker and dice for it. After several months as hoarded wealth and use as poker chips, the bag of loot eventually got ratty enough that they threw it out themselves, mostly uneaten.  

As adults, none of my kids particularly like sweets. One reason--sweets don't stand for adulthood or freedom or anything, they are just a flavor. Having and eating sweets isn't a victory for their own autonomy over their controlling parents. If my parents had confiscated my Halloween candy--one of the few things in a kids' lives that is given to them directly and not just provided by the parents--I'm quite positive that I would be resenting it still, at 67.

Fussing over something that happens once a year seems like such a waste of energy--like those awful magazine articles on how to have a fat-free Thanksgiving, when the problem isn't what you eat on Thanksgiving, it's what you do the rest of the year, day in day out. Our poor puritan culture will never be in tune with the seasons or the harvest cycles or anything else natural until we learn to incorporate both celebration and austerity; feasting and fasting in their proper places.

Granted that candy isn't my adult idea of feasting, but for most kids, trick or treating is the one time in the year when they can experience the thrill of the forager and be little hunter-gatherers. I think we mess with that at our peril.
3 months ago
I'm not qualified to comment on the earthworks, etc. But as a seedsperson, I would say that if the soil is as depleted as you say, then alfalfa (lucerne) might not be your best choice. I would recommend trefoil, or rose clover, alsike clover, whatever poor-soil legume does well in your climate. The local feed store or ag agent is a good resource for this. No, they aren't permaculturists, but they don't have to be for the information you want--what leguminous forage plants and grasses grow easily and well in local soils and climate. Start with that. Your ag agent or farm supply will also know planting times and frost dates. That kind of information doesnt change depending on what theory you subscribe to. These guys can be very helpful, if you have the humility to listen to their experience. You  don't have to do everything they do to benefit by their knowledge.
5 months ago