Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Snapshot: Mushroom

Freshly showered!
Again spotted while out on a hike near our place in Kanagawa this little fellow was too colorful and robust not to snap. A morning shower left the path still damp, which made the trail a bit slippery but ever brighter in color. I was happy to pause to capture this blushing bloomer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday Snapshot: Negjibana (sprial flower) in the garden

Nejibana (twisting flower) in my garden.
This lovely flower, perhaps no taller than 7cm, greeted me one morning in early July as I walked in the garden at our place in Kanagawa. A member of the orchid family, Nejibana (twisting flower) is a member of the Spiranthes family. Relatives can be found globally, although it seems the Japanese branch of the family prefers pink.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thursday Snapshot: Ajisai (Hydrangea) in bloom

Ajisai (hydrangea) in bloom in early July.

Ajisai (hydrangea) are long done, but this variety was too interesting to not share. Spotted on a hike near our home in Kanagawa, this one featured the tiny and slightly curled blooms seen here. The resulting visual texture intrigued my fellow hikers enough that I had to wait in line to snap this.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Compost: How to use compost

Happy impatiens with their compost home.
Even if growing space is tight, a compost bin can make a big difference to a garden. It is well worth setting up, whether homemade or a snazzy purchased one, for the benefits it offers. It means less garbage to the landfill, which also means fewer purchased garbage bags. It means less potting soil, and it definitely eliminates the need for inorganic fertilizers. (These are made from petroleum products, which are not healthy or delicious for the soil or the grower.)

Compost can be used in containers as well as in the garden as a mulch, as a soil additive, and as a tea. It brings life giving microbes and other creatures to plants and places in the garden that may be in dire need. It provides hearty nutrition for plants, which in turn makes them healthier and disease-resistant.

Spread a layer of compost around established garden plants for a nutrition boost. Top it with standard mulch (straw, grass clippings, or weeds with their roots turned up to the sun) for weed suppression that also feeds the soil, retains moisture, and helps regulate temperature. A good fall practice is to spread a layer of it on the garden and top it off with leaves, straw, and a bit of manure. The compost will import microbes, fungi, and other critters who will help break down the layers into beautiful soil that will be ready for the spring.

Mix it in with soil before planting in the garden or in containers. The nutrition and life it brings will help support the plants throughout the coming season and beyond. Containers with a bit of compost added regularly will maintain a heathy level of nutrition throughout the season. It can also be added to old potting soil to rejuvenate it for the next growing season.

Compost tea is made by simply adding compost to water. Aerobic (oxygen-added) and anaerobic (non-oxygen) varieties exist. The latter requires a bit of effort and equipment, but makes a lovely beverage for plants who can absorb nutrients through their leaves.

Next: Composting and the urban gardener
Previous: Compost defined; How to make compost

Friday, August 1, 2014

August Tokyo and Yokohama Region Farmers Markets

Two young farmers from Aizu Wakamatsu at the Nippori Farmers Market.
Even as I type out this schedule the cicadas are singing and the temperatures, too, hum along at steady pitch. It does not bear mentioning that the humidity is also right up there. Tomatoes, basil, beans, and other summer treats are enjoying every moment of this, although I cannot say that I share their sentiment. However, as I much cold spicy cucumber or sip a cold glass of umehachimitsu I find relief. Venture out with hat, backpack, sunscreen and cold refreshment of choice to one of these fantastic markets to savor the heat!

Tokaidaigakumae Organic Market
Sunday, August 3rd
This fledgling market is worth a visit, particularly for those out in this neck of the woods, not only for the diverse selection of fresh vegetables and fruits, but for the awesome venue. Ginger and Pickles is easily one of the best little secrets around, and visitors can find both excellent local produce and some scrumptious vegan fare. Roll in early to shop and hang out for some leisurely munching!
11am to 5pm
Turn right out of the ticket gates. Turn left and go down the stairs (or the ramp) and keep going straight until you run into Ginger and Pickles on your left.

Ebisu Market
Sunday, August 3rd and Sunday, August 17th
Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) It's worth noting, too, that Do One Good, an animal NPO will be on hand with some of the cutest dogs ever waiting to go home with you!
11am to 5pm
Map

Market of the Sun
Saturday, August 2nd and Sunday, August 3rd
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, it's worth a stop for a selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals that at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
No map but step out of Kachidoki Station exits A4a and A4b

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 16th*
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm
Map

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, August 16th and Sunday, August 17th*
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. A small but lively market, particularly on Saturday, it is well worth the trip. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat.
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!
10am to 5pm

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, August 17th
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market, and I don't say that lightly. A nice little community affair started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl. In summer it turns into a night market, but in fall it will swing back to regular daylight hours. More than worth the trek down to see what's going on!
5pm - 9pm
Oiso Port Building

Sunday, August 3rd
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. This month the market will be a bit of its wonderful normalness. If something exciting comes up, though, I promise to alert folks. Planning is in the works, so who knows what Fairtrade excitement might be in the air?
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday Snapshot: Praying Mantis in the Garden

Watch out! Praying mantis on the hunt.
This little fellow was spotted roaming about near my new garden in Kanagawa. Tiny but fierce and ready to feast on any unwanted critters that come near my tomatoes, beans, ginger, and zucchini. There's plenty of places for him to hide as I've left many things grow around my cardboard garden in an attempt to see what will happen. So far, things are responding well to their external green companions, enjoying the shade, pollinators, and other beneficials like this guy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Compost: How to make it

Our lovely compost bowl.
Second in a series on compost - what it is, how to do it, and how to use it. A special entry for urban growers will also be included along with a list of further resources.

Compost usually begins in the kitchen. A bowl lined with newspaper (carbon) gets filled up with vegetable an fruit scraps (nitrogen). This in turn gets transferred to a bucket also lined with newspaper on the porch. The newspaper provides carbon, but it helps absorb liquids, which keeps the bucket and bowl relatively tidy. The bowl is turned upside down to empty it and the newspaper lands on top to make a nice lid. This hides it from the watchful eye of our neighborhood crows and makes it less shocking for visitors.

The bucket in turn gets transferred to a bin near the garden. In Tokyo, my two bins were made of chicken wire and poles, which allowed air and water to move through freely. In Michigan, the bins were made of old pallets, which also allowed air and water to move through freely. Water and air are pivotal for the assorted creatures that will be crafting the compost. Water helps them travel within the pile and keeps them alive, just as it does the plants and the gardener, so they can do their work. Air, of course, is what these creatures breathe. Carbon - newspaper, leaves, twigs, cardboard, etc. - also helps with air and water flow in the pile. These chunkier items then create little pockets that allow creatures move about as they snack, but also allows them to find the oxygen and water they need to survive.

In Japan, round plastic green bins with lids are popular compost bins. These are tidy and attractive and relatively effective; however, their biggest problem is the lid. Water and air, as mentioned above, crucial for the survival of the decomposers, cannot enter if that tight-fitting lid is in place. Neighbors and gardeners alike worry about the contents getting smelly or attracting animals; however, a healthy, active compost bin shouldn’t smell. If their isn’t enough air and water, the activity becomes anaerobic. Decomposition will still occur, but alcohols (of which, according to Lowenfels and Lewis, one part per million will kill plant cells) will be produced. Take the lid off.

Animals may come, but in my experience in rural Michigan, Tokyo, and now Kanagawa, they have not been a problem. If the bin is smelly, animals will be attracted; however, most of them eat in place. Pigeons and other birds frolic and nibble, tamping down the contents and adding their digestive process to the contents. Other creatures may come, but they won’t stay. The garden and bin will be relatively active places, which makes them unattractive homes. If decomposition is going well, the pile should be too hot for comfortable living.

Next: How to use compost
Previous: Compost defined