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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tokyo and Yokohama Region Farmers Markets: Saturday, July 26th and Sunday, July 27th

A young farmer at Nagoya's Organic Farmers Market.
As Obon Season approaches even the regularly scheduled markets begin to waiver a bit. Traditionally a time to return to ancestral homes to welcome the ghosts of ancestors, it is a season of traveling and welcoming, feasting and remembering. Farmers especially begin to turn their attention to preparing for relatives returning from cities or the afterlife, as the case may be, who often come back to their home, the family farm. It is a precious time for families, and as such, it means regular markets get rescheduled and vendors may be scarce. The proceeds from the field land on their table at home. Do venture out, but check the schedule to make sure you find the tomato you dream of and the bag of tsurumurasaki before it disappears!

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 24, 2014

Thursday Snapshot: Yamayuri or Mountain Lilies

Yamayuri (mountain lily) snapped recently on a trail near our house.
 Yamayuri (mountain lilies) are some of the most dramatic of Japan's wildflowers. The end of rainy season marks the end of ajisai (hydrangea), another native plant here, and the beginning of these tall, slim beauties. Their time will be fleeting, but well worth the trek out to the mountains and foothills to catch a glimpse of them lighting up the forest floor.

A close-up of the decadent bloom.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Compost: A Primer

My compost bins when I arrived at our new place.
Compost is a gardener and farmers gold, and is probably one of the best things we can do for our planet much less our soil. Yet, for many gardeners it remains something of a mystery. The questions I often hear are: How do I make it? How do I use it? What exactly is so great about it? What can I compost? Here’s a quick primer to get folks started on making their own and putting it to good use. 

What is compost?

Compost is essentially a crumbly black soil-like material that results when organic matter (leaves, food waste, fish bones, coffee grounds and the filters, grass clippings, etc.) is broken down by assorted organisms living in the soil. The process tends to be rather slow, but like many good things, it is worth the wait. A teaspoon of compost, according to Lowenfels and Lewis in their classic, Teaming with Microbes, contains “up to a billion bacteria, 400 to 900 feet (150 to 300 meters) of fungal hyphae, 10,000 to 50,000 protozoa, and 30 to 300 nematodes.” While that might sound a little scary, it shouldn’t. Healthy soil is very much alive with all sorts of things that quietly go about their business, literally and figuratively creating the foundation for our lives. Compost also comes with other critters like worms as well as the assorted minerals and nutrients plants need to lead healthy, robust lives. (Here when I say plants I don’t just mean vegetables, but I’m also talking about trees, grass, flowers, shrubs, and herbs to name but a few.) It is a life-giving substance that teems with life itself. It is easily the best thing a grower at any scale can give to their soil and plants.

What to compost?

Technically, any organic material can be composted. This includes coffee filters, newspaper, cardboard, kitchen scraps, tea bags, paper plates, grass clippings, garden waste, and fish bits and bones. Old cotton and wool rugs and t-shirts, too, have found their way to my bin with good effect; however, it is worth noting that these were bins set in the soil. Certainly, there are those who would have a longer and a shorter list than that, but for my purposes these items work well. I do make certain exceptions at different times, such as using garden waste and grass clippings as mulch, but that is just another form of composting in a different place.

There is a great deal of talk about C:N (Carbon to Nitrogen) ratios in a compost pile that can seem intimidating to beginners. Carbon comes in the form of leaves, woody stems, momigara (rice hulls), soba hulls, straw, as well as newspaper and cardboard. This keeps the engines running, so to speak, of the decomposers in the soil. Just like runners before a race, the decomposers use the carbon in the soil to keep their energy levels steady. Nitrogen goes in as fresh grass clippings, kitchen waste, and urine. It helps the decomposers make the enzymes and proteins that let them process the organic matter.

If there is too much carbon, the microbes use up all the nitrogen and can’t produce the enzymes and proteins to break down the carbon. The breakdown process will slow down until the balance is restored. Too much nitrogen, and the microbes will focus on eating it and leave the carbon for later. A balance then, is needed to keep the system running.

Composting is an art as much as a science, so being overly fussy about how much of what goes in isn’t necessary unless the gardener wants it to be. Lowenfels and Lewis among others offer excellent advice on tailoring compost for specific purposes, such as trees versus vegetables versus grass, which is worth knowing but doesn’t have to be strictly followed. Gardeners should simply begin and see what happens.

Next: How to make compost

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tokyo and Yokohama Region Farmers Markets: Saturday, July 19th and Sunday, July 20th

Garlic ready to plant or eat! 
Goodness me, this weekend is jam-packed with markets all around the region! Don't let a little rain hold you back from heading on out to find some of the best the summer has to offer from some of the region's niftiest growers and producers. Grab a hat, a backpack, and see what glorious foodly fun you can find!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, July 20th
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

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, July 20th
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, July 19th and Sunday, July 20th
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, July 20th
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, July 20th
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!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tokyo and Yokohama Region Farmers Markets for Saturday, July 12th and Sunday, July 13th

Hands on good veg at Futamatagawa Farmers Market!

A lovely weekend of blue sky, breeze, and somewhat high temperatures marks the beginning of summer in the Kanto region! Farms and market gardens everywhere are pleased as punch and the harvest bounty to be found at markets and chokubaijo's alike will be proof. Don a hat, grab a backpack, and head on out to find all you need and more for a week of foodly fun and deliciousness!

Market of the Sun
Saturday, July 12th and Sunday, July 13th
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

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!