Friday, October 1, 2010

Daikon Alley

After we finished preparing the fields on Wednesday I planted the first of my winter vegetables. A certain urgency prevailed as the forecast for Thursday included lots of rain, and it looked like the following days would be wet as well. Summer's heat and drought creeping into the early weeks of fall delayed planting in general, and my travels to Hokkaido, Hakuba, and parts between also meant little time in the garden. (Except to drop off the compost, of course!)

The optimal planting time for daikon, hakusai (Chinese cabbage), broccoli, and cabbage was also coming to an end or had just passed. The shortening days mean less light and heat for seeds to germinate and establish before the chilly days of winter arrive. Leafy crops like komatsuna, karashina, and mizuna will get planted around the middle of October. Takashi-san advised waiting to plant those out as the bugs that like to snack on them are still around and would prove pesky.

The planting process is simple. Place two seeds in each hole, press down about two centimeters with thumb, and cover with dirt. Pat firmly in place with the back of your fingers to ensure soil contact with the seeds, and to shape the top of the hole like a bowl. This way it holds moisture without washing the seeds away. (Thanks to the farmers for that handy tip!) When the seeds sprout and get to be about six centimeters in height (give or take), thin each hole to one. Eat the seedling leaves in salad or miso: mottainai.

I am using the black plastic mulch for winter. It keeps the soil warm and retains moisture between rainfalls. Since I'm planting more than one kind of crop in each bed I had to punch my own holes in the plastic using the handy tool pictured at the top of this post. The farmers use a plastic mulch that comes pre-punched depending on the crop in question. Daikon, broccoli, cabbage, and chinese cabbage require about 40 centimeters (18 inches) between each plant. Leafy greens, on the other hand, require about 10 centimeters (6 inches) only.

The west bed of the main garden (not the wall bed) is almost all daikon. The farmer's most generously gave me some seed for the big fatties they grow and seeds for some cute little round ones. I also planted out some red daikon seeds I'd purchased up in Hokkaido. I threw in some Chinese cabbage at the end of the row interspersed with regular radishes. If all goes well we'll be mixing up a good batch of kimchi again and serving up piping hot bowls of oden over the winter.


Patrick said...

Fall has arrived here in Amsterdam too. It's time to start thinking about for winter. I've got to get the garlic in soon!

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

I'm betting fall is lovely in Amsterdam! What kind of garlic are you planting? Are there heirloom varieties there? Oh, do tell! I'm hoping to get mine in by the middle of the month, too. I'm pathetically excited!

Patrick said...

They don't sell any interesting garlic in Amsterdam, but importing it is no problem. I've been collecting it for several years now. At one time I had over 100 varieties, and in total I've probably grown 150 or so over the years. I've gotten most of my garlic from the US, but a lot has also come from fellow Europeans who've mostly gotten it from Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia. Every once in a while I run into someone who has as many varieties from me, but all different and from different places!

Last year I grew about 60 varieties, and I'm going to reduce that even more this year, probably to 40-50. I don't really have that much garden space, and if I grow so many different varieties I only have the space for a few of each. I prefer to pick the nicer ones and grow more of them.

I have a friend here that has more than 200 varieties, but he is a farmer with lots of land and he sells them.

I grow about 1000 bulbs each year. Can you tell I like garlic?

Fall in Amsterdam is wet and dark, and not really all that nice actually. A few of the trees are changing colors. Actually, one of the things I really like here are the winter foods; cabbage, potatoes, kale, celeriac, beets, citrus, ... Those grown locally or from the garden can be really nice.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

That all sounds amazing, Patrick. I now wish it would have crossed my mind while we were Peace Corps Volunteers in Kazakhstan to bring back some of the garlic. Or other seeds, for that matter. Our host family grandparents had a wonderful dacha in the mountains that felt like the garden of Eden. More kinds of fruits and vegetables than I've ever seen before or since in one spot. I wasn't a gardener at all then, just an enthusiastic eater.

Luckily, in Japan my garden vocabulary is growing each and every day. And I'm trying out a number of different kinds of vegetables and fruits for growing as well as eating.

Garlic is a bit tricky here in Tokyo, but I'm going to give it another go. Hauling in compost today, in fact, to get the bed ready for planting next week!