Saturday, February 23, 2008

New trees

On Friday, Chiba-san the tree man came with a weeping plum (shidare ume), 3 olives in 2 varieties, 2 feijoas and 1 dogwood to replace the one that died (blamed squarely on my mismanagement - humph, I'm innocent).

The plum apparently produces plums that can be used for umeshu (plum liquor) which is good, because I make a lot of it.

Chiba-san and his mate had a lot of bad things to say about our soil - how bad the drainage is, how hard it is, how full of weeds - nothing I didn't know. He suggested getting a small digger in, putting down a good supply of weedkiller, and mixing bark into the soil. Since I differ in my approach, favouring the biological over the petrochemical techniques that Chiba-san quietly supports, I bought a pick-axe and started working over the soil to a depth of one-and-a-bit picks. I mixed in a load of rice husks, bark, and chopped dried ... weeds. It was hard work, but we're not afraid of that.

Olives are becoming a very popular garden tree in Japan, and frankly I can't see why. I don't think they look that good, and most people here don't do anything with the olives, if indeed they manage to produce any with only one plant. Doing something useful with the olives requires a lot of work, but this seems well worth the effort. I rather like the idea of processing them with ash rather than brine. Bamboo ash is more readily available than brine on this particular hillside, and is easier to dispose of when the olives are done.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fig orchard

On Sunday, the coldest day of the year so far, I betook myself to the local Daiki DIY store to buy up their complete stock of fig saplings. They only had three, two of the 'Nihon Omi (Big Fruit)' variety, and one of 'Masui-Dauphine'. The former are the big, roundish green ones that tend to split wide open, while the latter are more teardrop shaped and purple.

Braving the cold wind on the very exposed top bit of land, I planted the saplings and made little bamboo fences around them.

I hope to get at least one more variety of fig, and plant some other small fruit bushes in between them, like wolfberries. The idea is to eat what we can, and sun/wind dry the rest for the winter. Although dried figs are available, they all come from Turkey or Iran, they have some sort of bleach on them, and they're expensive. If one may indulge in a bit of fantasy, when the trees begin to fruit, one hopes to run a few chickens in this space to eat the fallen fruit. If the model seems to work, one may even expand it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Broccoli - the gift that just keeps giving

I fought a long and bitter battle with Cabbage White butterflies and their juicy green offspring that grew fat on the leaves of my two varieties of broccoli (a well informed gardener would be able to give you the names of the varieties - I can't). For most of the summer and autumn, I diligently plucked about 20 of the little green buggers off the broccoli every day, and gently stood on them. I also chased the butterflies with whatever tool I happened to be holding when they came near my plants.

At one stage in late autumn, it seemed as though I had lost the battle. Many of the leaves were just a ragged mass of holes, and the budding heads of broccoli had also been eaten in places. But then the cold came and the caterpillars disappeared. Suddenly the heads began growing like blazes, all over the plants. The big heads on the main stems were excellent - tightly packed flowers and very sweet. There were so many I gave some away.

With the big heads gone, little flowers start growing out of the leaf stems, and these are the gifts that just keep giving. And very convenient they are.

Compost bliss

I've finally achieved my long-term goal of double, side-by-side composting bays (triple, if you count the green Dalek). While one bay is left alone to mature, the other one can be filled up and tossed about. Visible and invisible composting critters can pass freely between the bays.

It's hard to express how much joy was involved in this whole enterprise.

On reflection, the bays would have been much more convenient divided the other way with the bays open at one end for ease of access. Achieving this will have to be a source of joy for another time.

Wind update

The other day, Kawabe-san from Selco Home dropped by with Nemoto-san from Selco Head Office. Nemoto-san is well up on housing matters, and he happened to know that the evil utility Yonden (Shikoku Denryoku) doesn't purchase wind power. That is to say, Yonden doesn't allow privately generated wind power on its grid. If I want to try out a MotorWave turbine array, I'll have to use all the power generated, store it in batteries, or discharge it somehow.

Yonden runs sickly, greenwashing ads on TV, featuring its dangerous nuclear reactor in the middle of a lush natural scene, and its handful of poorly sited and managed wind turbines. Seeing these makes me want to puke, considering how resistant the company is to clean, reliable, distributed, democratic, sustainable power generation.

Matsuyama City is promoting solar generation since the area has a high ratio of sunny days. Recently they had a big double page spread on the Matsuyama Sunshine Project in the news bulletin that the city distributes. It was very vague and short on detail, and it didn't mention anything about the good wind resources in Matsuyama as a whole.

So I called the number given in the paper and spoke to the man there. I mentioned the problem with Yonden and suggested that this would be a problem for his plan. He mumbled that it might be. I mentioned that the low rates that Yonden pays for private generation compared with say, Germany, militated against his plan. He agreed, lamenting that Germany has a national plan for solar whereas Japan doesn't. I asked why private wind generation was ignored in Matsuyama's plan, and he waffled a bit about how Matsuyama's geography wasn't suited to big turbines. It took a while to get him to understand that people want to use wind privately too, and that indeed in Hojo you can see a several small turbines dotted about. He seemed unaware of the possibilities for small generation, and hadn't heard of MotorWave. I asked him to look into this aspect, and to consider expanding the project to include all renewables. I don't hold out much hope of seeing anything done.

For quite a while now, it's been apparent to me that what we need is an organization of solar panel owners, wind enthusiasts and anybody else who has grid-connected renewables. This would be a pressure group that would lobby local authorities and put pressure on the local power gen company (including through shareholding) to ensure the most favourable purchase rates and conditions. Local groups could then band together into a national body. It might well be in the interest of building companies to get involved too.

There seems to be a basic lack of understanding that the power gen companies are the enemy. Users of electricity are blamed and blame themselves for causing global warming by using electricity. But it isn't the users who generate the CO2 - it's the power companies that haven't foreseen the problem, and haven't done anything to prevent it. It's their responsibility. When private individuals are prepared to invest hard earned money in power generating facilities and get into the business of selling power, they should take a hard, nay a savage, look at their competitors and their practices. In this case of course, our competitors are the power utilities. We private generators need to band together to increase our clout.