Monday, July 06, 2009

The enduring fascination of large beetles

We have a big pollarded acorn tree on the edge of our garden that was left from when our plot was a small patch of jungle. Its wounds and crevices are home to beetles of various sorts, but most conspicuously, stag beetles.

Personally, I'd be happy to leave these things alone and not pay them any attention. However, the young master will not recognize this as a valid approach, and insists on going out with a torch after dark 'just to check'.

He says, "Come out and look for beetles with me".
I say, "No, you're old enough to go out on your own".
He says, "Last night when you came back from putting out the compost, you said you saw old Mrs. Takaichi from the graveyard next door collecting acorns, so you have to come out with me to take responsibility for saying frightening things".

Being a responsible parent, I then have to go out with him, which also involves getting dressed up against mosquitoes, which don't seem to bother the young master at all.

We then have to bring the beetle inside for 'scientific investigation', until the investigation discovers that the beetle is infested with parasites, whereupon it's very quickly taken outside and stuck back on the tree.

New look for the garden

We got a little tired of the clover growing well when it's wet, and going all crispy and crunchy underfoot when it doesn't rain for a few weeks. Also, the feijoa and olive trees were planted too close together, and because the ground wasn't prepared properly they weren't thriving.

So we asked Y's garden to remedy the situation by pulling up all the clover, improving the soil, and moving the trees somewhere more sensible.

Y came with a crew of three gardening men and they worked all day with much sighing and lamentation, pulling up the deeply rooted clover. They proposed to take away the clover in their truck, but I'd sooner lose a finger than let such a large amount of composting material out of my hands.

When the gardeners pulled up the trees, they promptly baled them up with sacking, as is their way. The root balls were no bigger than when the trees were brought in two years ago, attesting to how miserly the last lot of gardeners were with their ground preparation -- the roots hadn't grown at all.

The medium selected for improving the soil was this Canadian peat moss. English peat moss being a very dodgy, unsustainable sort of material, I promptly looked this up in alarm. It's supposed to regenerate itself, but I wonder if say, composted shredded bamboo wouldn't be a better option in Japan. Not that it's available...

My contribution to soil amelioration is this pot of charcoal with other secret ingredients. My reading on Terra Preta leads me to believe that charcoal alone won't be enough. Something biologically active is required. The high aroma of this preparation and its attractiveness to flies of all sorts suggests that a certain level of biological activity has been achieved. As I worked it into the soil, I recalled my visits to restaurants in isolated parts of France where the owner would bring out his most challenging homemade cheeses to test the mettle of rare foreign visitors.

Friday, July 03, 2009


When we bought our two feijoa trees, our gardener told us that he had never heard of anyone being able to harvest the fruit in Matsuyama. Our trees grew spindly, lost most of their leaves, and didn't even flower, let alone produce fruit.

But then we visited the garden shop Y's Garden on the recommendation of a friend, where Y herself was growing flowering feijoas. She said she harvested about 10 fruits last year, which were simply heavenly. Loud condemnation of our former gardener all round, and naming of names. Y imparted the knowledge that the feijoa is a robust plant that does best when pruned harshly. Also, the flowers may need help with pollenation by brushing with cotton wool.

Back from Y's I was barely out of my car when, with garden scissors in hand, I lopped off the spindly, leafless growth with both relief and hope.

And today, when Y visited us with three 'crew' to make some adjustments to the garden, the feijoa were covered with beautiful soft green leaves sprouting from every conceivable point, and three gaudy pink flowers. Tomorrow I'll put on my bee outfit and make the rounds.

How many praying mantises are there?

Double decker charcoal

This sinister-seeming scene reminds me of the holy martyrs of another age. But rather more prosaically, I'm going through my old and shapeless T-shirts using them as lids for my charcoal cans which need to be up-ended without all the contents falling out. The lids however have to be combustible. (This is not going to be a sustainable practice...)

The bamboo and rice husk-filled cans all piled up look a bit too stupid to function properly.

Another raging fire. This time I kept it going for about an hour and fifteen minutes. It was a very hot day, and I thought about the blessed sacred martyrs as I stoked the blaze.

But the contents of both cans was cooked to perfection. Two cans full of very good charcoal seems almost like an embarrassment of riches, but I suppose when they're laid out on the ground, they won't look like much.

Miracle fruit

When the 'miracle fruit' can be purchased from the Coop in a cardboard box labelled clearly as miraculous, perhaps its days of miraculousness are, in absolute terms, largely over. However, we hope to keep the thing alive long enough to be able to drink 500 yen wine on a regular basis after a bite of one its berries.

Flooded paddies

It's become a tradition with this blog to post a pretty picture of the sunset when the rice fields have been flooded. This is the second year of this particular tradition, and last year's photo looks remarkably like this year's, but if you look carefully, you'll spot the awful shadow of recession hanging over everything in the current picture.

In Japanese, the word for sex is 'etchi', and it occurred to me that the frogs are saying "etchi, etchi, etchi" over and over again at the very tops of their voices. I made this observation to my wife, and she didn't seem to find any value in it whatsoever. Strange...