Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Pretty good actually, thanks.

Having been told that my soil was only good for growing potatoes, I'm pleased to relate that my root vegetables are not doing badly. They do have more than the usual complement of limbs, but who cares?

Stumpy-Dumpy sat on a wall

The aubergines have now stopped growing with the advent of the cold, but just four plants gave a huge crop over the period from early summer to late autumn. Although there were some complaints from the cook wallah about how 'hard' or 'holed' they were, they served very well in ratatouille and sundry Chinese dishes.

I succeeded in growing four peanut bushes. Weird things, peanuts. After they flower, tendrils grow down from the flowers into the ground, at the end of which form peanuts. I'm still drying them, so I don't know how good they are, but they look like real peanuts.

In the Terra Preta I have planted two types of broccoli, carrots, lettuces, daikon in big and small varieties, spinach, and mizuna.

There are also 300 onions, a bunch of garlic, broad beans, and three sorts of peas (green, purple, and snack).

Today, I caught Kawabe-san our builder tilling his onion fields so I begged him to swing by our place and till what is to be our lawn and orchard. This he did with great skill, turning up all sorts of horrible chunks of old cement and spider grass roots.

While we were working on our tilling, a praying mantis was laying its eggs on our foundation wall. The eggs come out of the mantis's bum in the form of a marbled blue liquid and dry into a straw-coloured foamy case. I'm not too sure about playing host to violent religious extremists like the praying mantises, but I guess we're stuck with them for a while.

The winter skies have been pretty good recently, with some massive clouds and clear views to the main island.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Zazen shed

Today as I was a'mulching my hedges, Yano-san came around. He brought me some frozen peas from his father's farm, a bag of naturally dried rice, and a paper model of the zazen shed for which he had earlier sent some plans. This generosity is quite undeserved, but most welcome.

The idea arose from the geodesic dome we built with Mugen Mura (and the fact that I've started doing Zen meditation and want somewhere quiet to do it).

The total estimated cost is about 100,000 yen which is quite a lot for a shed. I could keep my worm bin and tools in there, and meditate. But it might well be pointed out that my worms are already in their own accommodation, the tools have not so far complained about being stored under the overhang, and I seem to manage to meditate in the house.

When we have our new trees in place, we'll have to see how much space and money is left. Somehow a man needs a shed, in the same way that he needs a drill.

Thank you very mulch

Oh god, what a horrible pun to start a post with. This bodes ill.

We got tired of the fact that our tree man Chiba-san wouldn't come around and look at our trees, nor would he suggest what other trees we should plant, so we asked another place, Mishian Green to advise us. A pleasant young lady came right away, looking competent in a grungy sort of way, and knowing the names of lots of plants and trees off the top of her head.

She also recommended that I immediately mulch my yellowed and wilted hedges with a thick layer of fallen leaves. This has always been my inclination from the start, although Chiba-san advised me that the soil should be bare so that I would know when it was dry to water it. Since I watered it every day, this seemed odd advice. So I mulched the hell out of all my hedges and plants, with joy in my heart. I don't believe this can be wrong. The leaves I got from the library - a lady there rakes up all their dry leaves and puts them in convenient yellow bags. I always grab a few when I go. Books in English and bags of leaves are excellent complementary services.

The procedure went; scatter some organic fertilizer pellets (in plastic box on the deck - these things don't look organic), slap down some wet leaves, and before they all blow away, lay down some grass straw on both sides of the hedge, then hose the lot. Apart from the fertilizer, the main ingredients were free (discounting the very pleasant time spent gathering them).

Oh, and now it's winter.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More rice husk charcoal

On a stroll through the local hills last weekend, I found another pile of pyrolizing rice husks. This was a big one with a new-looking chimney. After taking a few photos, I noticed that there was a man tending the allotment behind it (hidden by some nice brassicas). He told me that this was his first try - he got the husks from a farmer. I shared my valuable knowledge on watering the heap to keep it from burning right down. He said he didn't care - he only had the weekends for his plot, and even if he screwed up this heap, he had a promise of lots more husks from the farmer. Then he said that I could come and take however much charcoal I wanted during the week - "After all, you're always at home, right?" Somebody else who I don't know who knows all about me. I'm always amazed how kind and generous the people around here are. I hope I can repay some of the kindness I've been shown.

So I went back several times during the week, and although the chimney assembly had been taken out, the pile was still burning away. It was mostly grey ash with some black grains left here and there. I wanted to put some water on it, but there was none around. By Friday the pile was down to one third its previous size and was still red hot inside. On Saturday I went to get some for my garden, and the heap was already in bags. My friend offered me the remaining six - I took three.

In the evening, I put one a whole bagful on the bed I prepared for my onions. The ash had a wonderful silky feel, and adding it to the still clayey soil was a joy. (I pulled up the moroheya, okra and shisito peppers and hoed the ash into where the roots had been.)

My carrots, planted two weeks ago were also clearly a miserable failure (again!), so I redid the rows, this time adding some of the black rice husks. The soil looked very rich with the black charcoal in it. I've put half PET bottles over the seeds in the hope that the sprouts won't be eaten immediately by slugs and caterpillars.

I found prints of my neighbour's dog, which roams around freely, all over my new carrot beds, so I spent a couple of hours cutting bamboo in a local bamboo grove and making a fence that I'm confident it can't get through. I'm sure it'll just find another way in though. It does leave little smelly patches of fertility here and there though, which seem to disappear quickly when mulched heavily.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rice husk charcoal

I took a trip to the shops to buy sake for discharging various debts of gratitude, and on my way I was excited to see a chimney poking out of a pile of rice husks, disgorging clouds of white and brown smoke. A strange cause for excitement you might think, but this is a procedure for making a very effective soil amendment, and I've been interested in this for some time, without being aware that it's being practised in my neighbourhood. Here's a PDF explaining the method and the benefits, and the same information in HTML format.

I hopped out of my car, made my way through the stubble fields to where the pile was smoking and greeted the old lady who attended it, hoping not to make her jump. Not only did she not jump, she graciously answered all my questions and even offered me a bag of processed husks for my garden. Care is required to water the heap at suitable intervals to prevent the husks from burning up to grey dust. The lady had been tending her fire constantly for two days.

So with the young master pushing the wheelbarrow, we went to claim our bagful. In the storehouse of the farm we could see the clean and modern de-husking machine that had produced all this chaff, in marked contrast to the not clean and not modern charcoal making 'facility' outside in the field. It occurs to me that the de-husking machine could really do with a charcoal burning attachment that can capture and cool the smoke to use as an organic pesticide and fertilizer.

The question is now what to do with my precious rice charcoal. A tiny bag of charcoal a fraction of this size costs nearly 300 yen, so this is a sizeable treasure. Having already planted my winter veg, I'm wondering how best to apply this.

I went across the fields in the dark after the charcoal burning work was finished and had a look at the can and chimney arrangement - simplicity itself. I already have a can, and a chimney is easy enough to come by. And rice husks are available for the asking. Terra Preta in our lifetime?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Just another sunset

Since the sunset pictures have drawn favourable comment, here's a sunset recorded last year. The way those wisps oriented themselves to the setting sun was a sight to see.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Antique shops are all very well, but you have to get used to handing over sums of money where the decimal point seems to be at least one digit too far to the left. Call us cheap, but when we buy old junk, we like to pay old junk prices too. On the coast road between Hojo and Imabari, we spotted not one but two junk shops, and I believe we picked up or otherwise touched every last item in both shops.

We bought;

Two wooden stools

Some drawers

Some more drawers

A crab

And a lantern

These characterful items all fulfil our household needs at a fraction of the price of similar new items, and they offer a reminder of the beautiful things people used to make when they had more time for that sort of thing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Man cannot live by bread alone

My initial aim was that everything we grew would be edible. But not everything edible delights the eye quite like brightly coloured flowers.

In our perambulations around Matsuyama, we see gardens that are full of beautiful flowers. I'm not keen on the trend for 'English gardens' with their carefully pruned roses and hanging baskets. The gardens that I like are generally found around old Japanese houses. There are low trees interspersed with flowers native to the warm south sea islands, with rich dark leaves and bright flowers, typified by the hibiscus. There's often a spray of dark pink or a vine with orange trumpets hanging over the fence onto the street. These gardens manifest a spirit that goes beyond the need to fill one's stomach.

The area around our postbox was a mess, so I raked the gravel into a little path and planted some ground cover and flowers. The effect is not a little bourgeois, but it's an improvement on bare dust, random gravel and weeds.

Again, the ryu-no-hige recommends itself as a hardy green space filler

Saturday, September 01, 2007


We see some good ones. Some weeks I want to record the sunset every night. But this one was a ripper. There were different cloud formations in each quarter of the sky, and they changed colour as the sun got lower.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


One of the advantages of living in the sticks is that when it comes time to do those summer holiday activities like getting in the river, or going to the sea, you don't have to get in the car to do it. You just pack your Thermos flask of water and your snorkels in a bag, get on your bikes and ride for 5 minutes. And you're there.

The Tateiwa River is perfect for those baking hot afternoons of mid-August. Excitingly cold when you first get in, it's shallow enough not to be freezing. It's clean, clear and full of different kinds of fish. And it has deep pools where you can actually swim. After an hour immersed in the river, the exhausting summer heat is gone from your body, and everything is cool -- especially if you haven't bothered with swimming gear and just got in the water with your normal clothes.

And if you want a bit of saltwater for a change, the Tateiwa River runs straight to the sea with a nice cycle path along its bank. Another 5 minutes and you're there too. If it's too cold to swim, there are always rock pools to investigate.

During the summer holidays we took the boat across to the island Kashima which we can see from our house. We made our way round the base of the island, jumping in the sea wherever it looked good.

The water here is really cold, but there are some largish fish to be seen swimming around the rocks, so it's worth putting up with it.

It's strange to think that we used to have to travel for a whole day to get somewhere like this.

August provided some fantastic rain and thunderstorms. The thunderstorms are hard to capture with a camera, but the squalls over the sea can be seen in this pic.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


The efforts to prepare the soil by digging the rubble out of it and digging organic stuff in have borne fruit. Here are some pictures of it.

Tomatoes, green peppers, aubergines, okra, goya, and pumpkin. Keeping the pumpkin vine free of grass is a Sisyphean task. Okra do well in hot weather, and the flowers are very beautiful (for a vegetable).

Tomatoes, aubergine, sweet green chili peppers, and round courgettes. The courgettes took a hammering in a couple of typhoons and that solitary but precious courgette was all that two plants have produced. However, the plants look about ready again to produce. It's probably about time for another typhoon too.

Mulukhiya (moroheiya) . This nutricious green is very prolific and the cut and come again growth makes it very convenient. A plant popular in Arab countries apparently.
A handful of blueberries every morning. Good with yoghurt and honey. A handful like that would cost about 100 yen in the shops.

These seeds are from the one and only 'Cannonball' watermelon that we managed to harvest. The vines got swamped with grass, the melons split or we harvested them too early. But the one we did eat was delicious. I'm going to see if I can plant the seeds next year.

Oh, and an obligatory sunset.