Jamie Chevalier

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since Nov 12, 2015
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Recent posts by Jamie Chevalier

Tips from the 25 years I spent cooking on a wood stove:
The heat you get from a piece of fuel follows a curve that you can get to know and use. Adding a new piece of wood will at first lower the heat, as the fuel steams off any water in it and absorbs enough heat to start burning. When it first bursts into flame, the fire is consuming volatile compounds that flash off quickly. Then as the charred wood is consumed, the carbon in the wood releases a lot of heat energy which slowly declines as the piece is burned to ash. Adding small pieces often will maintain a high heat, whereas a single load of larger wood will slowly get very hot and then slowly cool down.

Experience with your own stove will tell you how long the delay is, and how long you can coast on the particular type of wood you use.  Baking should usually be done on a falling fire. That is, get the oven a bit hotter than you'll want it and then stoke it only minimally. When my eldest son was 10, he decided he wanted to learn to bake cakes. He made a small single-layer cake every day until he could get one to rise perfectly and brown evenly in the wood-burning oven. It was a great lesson in scientific method.

Here's a good trick to go from medium cruising heat to a hot stove for a bout of cooking without using too much wood : 10-20 minutes before you want to start cooking, put several small pieces of wood onto the coals in the firebox  and shut the stove down. The wood will absorb heat and lose moisture. Then when you open the stove up, the extra oxygen will be fed onto fuel that is already hot and dry, ready to burst into flame all at once rather than gradually. The ultimate test of stovetop cooking is making popcorn--if the heat isn't high enough right from the start, the kernels just dry out and eventually burn without ever popping.

I suggest having different sizes of wood available.  Wood with a small diameter will burn up faster than a fat piece, so it is great for getting the fire started, but also for something like baking where you want less of a dip in heat when that fuel is added. On the other hand, if you're letting brisket or stew slow-cook in that oven, larger pieces of wood are called for. Sometimes you want to keep the stove lit, but not to heat the house overmuch. In that case, it helps to use wood that's cut in a short, fat chunk, so there's less fuel but it still lasts longer than a long thin piece, even though they're the same volume.

If you have a cast-iron stovetop, consider having one section you keep polished and clean for cooking on directly. Toast, tortillas, and pancakes are best cooked right on the stovetop where you have more space and more heat than in a pan. When my grown kids get together, one of their happiest shared memories is of the stovetop covered with pancakes on a winter morning!
4 days ago
The individual variety means a lot when it comes to cold-hardiness. For example, Dark Star zucchini, renowned for it's drought-tolerance, is also more frost-resistant than other zucchini. Still not super hardy, but 2 or 3 degrees of hardiness can make a big difference in marginal situations.

Peppers vary even more--there are 3 different varieties, originating in climates from hot tropical jungle to desert to cool mountains. Serranos ( the name means "from the hills") seem to be the most hardy of the common ones I've grown. They even have some fuzz on their leaves to prevent freezing.

The very best pepper I've found for overwintering is the Criolla Sella pepper from the Andes. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p32/Criolla_Sella_Hot_Pepper.html  They are a small golden pepper with a fruity, habanero-type flavor but with more manageable hotness, about like a serrano. Fabulous in the kitchen, and beautiful as a house plant. They have a bushy round shape like a miniature oak tree only 3 feet tall. A single plant can bear up to a hundred peppers.

For overwintering, a larger pot is better. I like to use big tubs if I can, with several plants in them. That way if the perimeter freezes, the roots in the center stay unfrozen and alive. I usually give them some kelp meal or seaweed to promote hardiness as the weather cools in September, and mulch with leaves. Don't let them dry up, but don't overwater. Then in spring a dressing of compost or manure and a good watering gets them going again. All the usual winter protection can be used inside the greenhouse during cold snaps--fleece or bedsheets, cloches, etc. This might be a good time for the slight but even heat of a compost pile or bin of wet wood chips inside the greenhouse as well. It's worth experimenting with, anyway.
2 weeks ago
Storing seeds by when to plant them is incredibly helpful if you are a maniacal seed collector like me. One box for outdoors early spring (peas, mustard greens, etc.) and one for greenhouse early spring(Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, etc.) One for mid-spring outdoors (beets carrots etc), one for summer direct-sow (beans squash corn, etc.) One for Fall each place and one for winter-sown herbs flowers etc that need cold-conditioning.

A daily chore is to walk around the garden and note new gopher activity so we can set traps before the damage is too bad. At the same time I note anything that needs attention.

I have drip irrigation giving the minimum water for, say 80 degree weather, then assess the garden daily to see if it needs a manual run as well. It's a good idea to have a few indicator plants that you check. For example, sunflowers need more water than squash or beans. If they look stressed, there is time to water before the beans, which are more fragile, are affected. During the hottest months, when it's over 90 every day, I program in the extra water.

Hoeing out very small weeds with a Coleman hoe or stirrup hoe saves an awful lot of time. It's worth doing weekly in spring until mulch goes on after last frost (in June for me.)

I either plant in containers that can be moved or make provision for shading crops in hot weather. So a monthly task is to assess the level of heat and sun and adjust either place or exposure accordingly.

As noted above, there is a spectrum of options depending on the strength, longevity, softness, and length needed for the job in hand.
Speaking as a former commercial fisher and lifelong gardener, here is my arsenal of cordage and their uses:

If I just have to secure a stem or two for a couple of months  I use a couple of long grass blades or a fibrous stem, twisted lightly to make it more flexible. These improvised garden ties won't stand tying in a knot where the cordage has to double back on itself, but they will hold a clove hitch very nicely because the cord continues int he same direction through the whole knot. I get any old stick for a stake and use a clove hitch to hold the stem or vine to it.

Next in strength and durability comes sisal twine, sold cheaply at every lumberyard.

Jute and cotton are stronger, and spun into a smoother, less  less fragile twine that will last two or three seasons rather than just one. Both are hard to find in hardware stores but readily available by mail order. Cotton ranges from kite string up to 12-ply or even 24-ply twine with a fairly hard finish and strength ratings up to about 60 lb https://www.uline.com/BL_3757/Cotton-Twine?keywords=Cotton+Twine&SearchKeyword=cotton%20twine

Jute is the stronger of the two and the twine is also softer, so it doesn't cut into plant stems either when tying or when there is a lot of chafe, as in windy situations.  https://www.uline.com/BL_3933/Jute-Twine Jute represents the best balance of price and strength and is readily available. I would use it for trellising if I didn't use metal.

Hemp is stronger yet, as well as soft and durable, but the price is very high. It's also harder to find.

If the object is to make a single tie an the item will be under a fair amount of strain, but cannot stand gouging or chafing, i.e. tying a tree to a stake, the best thing I've found is a strip of bedsheet. for applications where extreme softness is needed--no bark yet on a seedling--use flannel sheets. Small squares of flannel sheet are also ideal for transfering pollen in hand-pollination.

It's easy to assume that wire is stronger than vegetable fibers because it's metal and so hard. However, it loses it's flexibility after an initial bend or two and becomes quite brittle. This is called metal fatigue or work hardening.  I find that regular mild steel fence wire (rebar wire, baling wire) is lucky to last the season some years if there is much wind or heavy vines. And of course it is subject to rust, which is pretty fatal in something so thin.. . Copper or stainless wire is cost-prohibitive.

If you want to use metal for trellising, pre-made wire mesh is much more durable than stringing wire yourself. I use and love concrete-reinforcing wire. It's a 6" x 6" mesh that comes in a roll 7' wide. Even large hands can reach through it for picking.  Get it at the lumberyard. (anything for construction is cheaper than the same item for the specialty garden market)  It makes great tomato cages (recommended by Carol Deppe--it's what she uses) and terrific trellis panels. Ours have lasted about 10 years so far.
Also, it's regular mild steel so it rusts but it's heavy wire so it has a lot of life to it. The coating of rust makes it invisible in the garden, and you avoid the heavy metals that leach out of galvanized wire.

Some folks use hog panels. They are heavier mesh yet, heavy enough to be rigid. And they are galvanized. Expensive, but sold by the panel instead of a 200' roll.

if you are doing some fencing to keep animals out, and want a lighter, more easily bent or cut wire mesh that is also durable, a roll of orchard wire is the usual fencing option, and a piece of it could be used as trellis as well. It is lighter wire but galvanized for long life. The mesh varies from top to bottom. All of the vertical wires are 6" apart, but the horizontal wires are close together at the bottom, medium a couple of feet up, and wide from the middle to the top. The idea is that it keeps out rabbits and other small animals at ground level and larger animals up to it's 6' height. We use it for deer fence, with extra height from bamboo sticks that go up 2 additional feet. (Deer don't realize there's no mesh in between.) I have used scrap pieces to make trellis for peas, which need horizontal supports for their tendrils to grasp--unlike beans which can spiral up a pole.

At this point you get to rope. The natural-fiber rope on the market today is lacking quality because commercial users have all gone to synthetics. There are several levels of strength and flexiblity. Again, sisal is coarsest and cheapest, then jute, then hemp. A high grade of hemp has always been Manila, but I don't know if that term has been corrupted at this point. The best hemp cordage in the days of sail came from Riga in modern-day Latvia.

If you need greater strength and longevity than these natural fibers can give, it's worth knowing the properties of the various synthetics. Technically, only natural fiber cordage is called "rope." Synthetics are called "line". If you go into a marine store, you will get more respect if you remember that, as mariners still generally adhere to the name.

Nylon is quite strong and flexible. But it will stretch under load. It should never be used for towing for that reason--if the thing you tied to should give way for any reason, your towrope turns into a slingshot aimed at you. Nylon braid that's only 1/4 or less thick is capable of holding several 100 lbs, so it's a great choice in the emergency go-bag.  
Polypropylene doesn't stretch, and is quite strong, but not as flexible or soft. It also decays faster from exposure to UV in outdoor situations. Here in California I would only give it a season or two before it starts shedding strands and particles.
Dacron is the most expensive and has the best mix of strength, durability and flex. It's used by climbers, and boats that can afford it.

For short lengths, remember you can double what you have on hand, or even braid or twine lengths together to make a short strong piece of line, like braided strips of bedsheet.

2 months ago
The poppies look to be Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. Occurs in lots of colors from white to pink, red, purple, and almost black. The seeds can vary from pale off-white to black, with or without the blue bloom to them. The pods are smooth and round to oval.  Papaver rheas, the corn poppy of European wheat fields, is commonly red, orange. or pink with elongated, hairy seed pods and stems.

Eggplant, squash, and peppers need to be fully mature. That means that squash has a hard shell (even zucchini,) peppers are fully red (or whatever their final color is--some are bred to be yellow orange or purple at maturity. There should be no green.) Eggplant at maturity has lost its gloss and has a matte, tough, skin. The seeds should be dark and hard.

Cucumbers and summer squash are well past eating stage when ready for seed harvest. Cukes will be big, bloated, and yellow, with hard seeds. Summer squash will have a hard shell and hard seeds.

Beans are the easiest of all seeds to save, as they are both self-pollinating and easy to thresh. Lettuce is self-pollinating and has seeds with fluffy parachutes like dandelions. When mature, then will fall into a bucket when bent over it and shaken. There will be flowers, half-ripe, and mature seed on the same tall stalk.

Many herbs are easy to save seed. Mullein, Evening Primrose, Lemon Balm, Mint, and many others can just be cut and placed head down in a bucket to fall out as they dry.
3 months ago
I well remember how worried I was when I started canning, but following the directions and doing it a couple of times, it soon became a standby. Now I've been canning for 40 years--tomatoes, wild berries, fish, meat, vegetables.

You could pressure-can to save weight and time--there is a lot less water in a pressure canner. I would pressure-can at altitude above 4000 ft, because otherwise you have to boil the jars for a long time. But probably I would water-bath can those tomatoes, making sure to add a bit of acid to make sure they are acidic enough for water-bath canning safely.
However, don't buy a water-bath canner to do it. Here's why:

The retro-looking enamel canners on the market don't work well, even for water bath canning. They are flimsy and chip easily--I have one I'm using as a planter because it chipped, corroded, and sprung a leak. The wire racks inside only fits one size of jar, and that precariously. Nobody needs to lift all the jars out at once on a wire rack--it's better to have a sturdy disc-type rack in the bottom and lift the jars out with canning tongs.t Nobody needs the stress of worrying about jars falling and breaking or splashing you with boiling water. And the real deal-breaker is that they are not tall enough to safely can quart jars with the recommended amount of water over the top of the jar.

Instead, buy a pressure canner, the tallest one you can find. Then use it for both pressure and water bath canning. When pressure canning, the lid is on and dogged down. When water-bath canning, you just leave the lid off or set it on but don't dog it down. The canner comes with a disk that keeps jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot, which can break them. This is much much much better than the wire rack inside the water bath canners, and works perfectly for water bath canning.  An easy hack is to get a cheap round baking sheet (meant for pizza) and to use for a lid when water-bath canning. With this set-up, you are prepared to can whatever food comes your way, Your skills and confidence can grow without you having to buy more equipment, and you only have one big pot to store.

If for some reason you don't want to--or can't afford to--buy the pressure canner, get a big stainless stockpot for water-bath canning. Taller, safer, longer-lasting, more versatile, better in every way.
I have both the stockpot and the pressure canner. When I have a lot of food to put up--several bog boxes of plums, for example--I use both, in rotation, to make the job go faster. You can be preparing and loading one while the other cools, heats up, or is processing. Or I can use the stockpot to make a huge batch of applesauce and the pressure canner as a water bath canner to process it.

The only other things you need are a canning funnel for filling jars (plastic is common, stainless is better) and canning tongs, for lifting the jars out of the hot water.

What is essential to know about canning is that it's all about maintaining the proper temperature for the requisite amount of time. Everything else follows from that.

In water-bath canning, the temperature that must be maintained is 212 degrees, the boiling point of water. Anything that will hold and boil water can do this. The height of the canner is important because the top layer of water may not be quite as hot as the rest, so you need an inch of water above the jars. Anything that will hold both water and a jar, with an inch of boiling water above the top of the jar, can be a water-bath canner. I've used saucepans, camping pots, and old-fashioned laundry boilers.

In pressure canning, you can attain a higher temperature because of the relationship between atmospheric pressure and boiling point. (You need special canning directions at altitude because the atmospheric pressure is different.) A pressure canner is a specialized piece of equipment that can contain high pressure, and measure what that pressure is. A water bath canner is not a specialized item, just a container.

Further thoughts if you are buying a canner:
If you have a choice, I would not get a pressure canner with a gauge, get the kind that is regulated by a machined metal weight. You adjust the heat to keep the weight just lifting a couple times a minute. You can hear from anywhere in the room whether it is still on temperature--no standing watching the gauge. And no worrying about whether the gauge is accurate. A piece of machined metal doesn't get out of adjustment, it just works. The gauge needs to be checked against a standard once a year, and after any knock or rough treatment. I've never felt comfortable with that, while I'm still using the trusty weighted pressure canner I got in 1980. Think about it--how is a good or even practical idea to embed a piece of delicate equipment in a pot lid??? As a bonus, the gaugeless canners are cheaper.

I've used both the gasket models and the expensive gasketless ones. I actually prefer the Mirro with gasket. It's lighter to lift, the lid isn't so unwieldy, and the process of sealing the canner is much simplet.  Mainly, the big thick gasketless pots tend to be shorter and narrower, leading to the same capacity problems as the in water-bath canners. Thickness of the pot means the interior diameter is smaller, and holds fewer jars. Height enough for qt jars plus and inch of water, or for pressure canning two layers of pints, is a bottom-line requirement as far as I'm concerned. Lower-capacity canners mean fewer jars at a time, so you do more total loads, requiring more fuel, more time, more labor, more spoilage. Get the biggest canner. An inexpensive weight-only tall model iwill last your lifetime. Have a spare gasket on hand in case of accident and you're set.

A freezer is no substitute for canning. It works for some people who have reliable electricity, organized schedules, are sure to use things up before they deteriorate, and have time to let things thaw. But canned things are stable, no further maintenance required. They can go on picnics, camping, or move house.  We took our home-canned food with us when we had to evacuate for a wildfire. They last for years and years--10 at a minimum, and I've used canned goods twice that age. They require no additional cooking or processing. No thaw time. Ready to eat. So I freeze a few things, but I want my tomatoes ready to make a quick spaghetti sauce on a night when everyone's hungry and nothing is ready.
4 months ago
Most of these designs are doable and have their place in different situations, but I'm not seeing much to help someone with no money to spend beyond the cost of the land.

Your cheapest, fastest, and least limiting option is to go on Facebook marketplace or similar and find a used travel trailer. Or pitch a tent if the weather permits. Then you can be on your land, (getting free of rent elsewhere) and start learning about the patterns of water, sun, growth, access, etc on the land. The only truly irreparable mistakes we made here on our property were the decisions we made before we were in residence. Now we have to work around them.

I am staggered to think that the house plans here, which are all far far beyond my means,  are considered temporary and economical solutions.  Depends on where you sit. I'm sitting in a travel trailer rescued from the dump, but I'm on my own land and don't have a mortgage.
4 months ago
The point of a bank wanting a "home" on the land is not that someone should be able to live there--it's resale.
If they are going to write a mortgage on it, they have to have something to repossess  in case you default.  A home has a clearer market value and makes a quicker sale, so they generally require either a salable home or a much higher down payment and stricter payment schedule.

In addition, banks generally require you to insure the home or to have construction insurance if you are building. There are often deadlines for specific phases of construction, with financial penalties if they are missed. What can they do to you if you miss the deadline or don't adhere to their requirements? Well, if you don't meet the terms of a contract,  they can (and often do) demand full payment. My neighbors lost their land that way just 2 years ago--repossessed and sold at auction because they couldn't meet the terms of the contract after being injured in a car wreck.  All in all, getting a loan for raw land requires pretty deep pockets unless you're in an area that's very depressed economically and will make allowances.

It would be worth finding out if anyone locally has successfully done it in stages, with a travel trailer for example (which is what we live in on our country property.) Usually a trailer or RV is more acceptable to regulators and bankers than a non-code dwelling, because it's easy to remove and can be sold separately.

Long-time local realtors and insurance agents often have an encyclopedic knowledge of the local land and the players involved. They will have seen many many buyers, parcels of land, and scenarios. It can be worth visiting with them
4 months ago
I have never heard of planting fall-crop kale before July. Even if you have your first frost in September, that's a full 2 months for it to grow before cold weather.
5 months ago

Blake Lenoir wrote: Good evening folks. I'd like to trade for some Groningen kale or an old French-Candian one if you all have any. I'm trying to restore my community's European settler history at my community farm this year or next. My community has some Polish and Greek ancestry, but my the rest of my region was had a majority of French, German and Dutch who all settled in the region at one time.

5 months ago