Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Garden Dreams for 2011

Little by little the days become longer and longer, and even though my winter crops are still in the ground and still being harvested I'm beginning to turn a new season over in my mind. I'm thinking about some new things to grow, some new techniques to try, and things I hope to remember to do again.

Things to Grow
  • Scarlet Runner Beans - I spotted their lovely red blooms and lanky vines last summer in Hokkaido. After we came down from the mountains, we spent some time roaming the byways and bike paths of Asahikawa and Higashikawa. Full of market stands and everyday gardens I took loads and loads of photos, and bought almost as many loads of fruit and vegetables that our friends at Square One graciously ate with us. To be perfectly honest, I've no idea how they taste, but for those beautiful flowers I'm willing to give them a go. I also suspect they might make an interesting green curtain option.
  • Black Beans - Some things are a little tricky to get here in Japan, and most of the time I don't mind one way or the other. There's so much good food to eat here and so many interesting vegetables, that I don't miss much. But black beans are one of the things I crave. I've never grown dried beans before, and the idea of storing food for later as well as saving seeds appeals to me. I may also try my hand at growing a traditional variety of Japanese beans like those I met in Takayama.
  • More Flowers and Herbs - Last year my garden felt way too utilitarian. I'm not the wildest woman to walk the earth, but I'm not the most regimented, either. And this last garden, while tidy and relatively productive, didn't do much for me. I found I wasn't overly inspired to visit, to walk among the plants and check on the action. It was dull, and that's exactly what a garden should not be. Plus, I felt a real absence of pollinators and predators, which I hope to remedy.

New Techniques
  • Organic Mulch - This year I truly hope to not use plastic mulch. It just feels wrong to me, and it seems rather wasteful. I can't deny it's effectiveness in the garden, though. Weeds and drought surely would have done in my garden without some kind of mulch, and if this coming summer is anything like this last one the plants and I will both want a good amount of cover. I'm hoping to use old tatami mats that are biodegradable and locally available.
  • Homemade Compost - The bin is in place and despite daily additions remains at the same height. I'm looking forward to turning it over in spring and scooping out whatever lovely bits are there for addition to the garden. I know it won't be much, but it's better than nothing. Along with the aforementioned mulch, I can't much longer bear the thought of hauling all those plastic bags of chicken and horse manure from the big box store down the road. (My bike can't take much more of that, either.) I'm eyeballing a site for a second one, although I'll lose some growing space in my lasagna bed if I do it.
  • Seed-saving - I've done a tiny bit of this in the past, but it seems more than logical to me that I should learn how to do this well and with a wide variety of plants that I like to grow. Seeds are incredibly expensive here, and the plants I like usually have seeds sourced elsewhere. I am also a firm believer in the importance of open-pollinated varieties.
  • Permaculture - While the garden is not on land that I own and I have no idea what will become of it if I ever have to leave Tokyo, I do want to incorporate some elements of permaculture. (I'm also toying with the idea of doing this in some way on our balconies, if that's possible.) It seems sensible to order my garden in some ways along the lines of natural systems to make it more sustainable, especially in light of the long hot summer that may well be coming. It also makes sense to me since I live in a very urban area. A little bit of sustainable nature means the wildlife in my neck of the woods will have a pleasant place to spend some time, have a snack, and perhaps eat an aphid or two. It also sounds quite challenging, and that's something that appeals as well.
Things to do Again
This section was surprisingly difficult to write. I couldn't think of much that I wanted to repeat from this last year's season in the garden. I loved being at the farm through heat and rain and sun, but my own garden left me feeling lackluster it seems except for...
  • Popcorn - There is no doubt in my mind that I will grow this again. I saved back the prettiest cob of the Dakota Black, and I've got another variety in mind to plant with it. I've no idea how they'll turn out, but its bound to be fun.


Anonymous said...

I've begun to plan for my garden this year, if only in my mind. I've applied for a community garden plot, but apparently I won't find out if it's mine until May. If that doesn't pull through, then all I'll be able to have are potted plants on the patio :(


Maggie said...

I keep thinking about planting scarlet runner beans but never do, you'll have to report back how they taste.

One change I have planned for this year is to plant pole beans instead of bush beans. I want to make pole bean teepees for the kids to play in. I got a free set of seeds for putting an ad on my site and so there are a bunch of new varieties I have to try that I might not have picked myself.

fer said...

Great dreams for 2011!
I am sure you will be able to fulfill them all.
Best of luck!

kitchengardenjapan said...

Joan - on organic mulch - one thing I do is contact the local city office every April. They send truckloads (5 last year) of baled grasses/weeds they've cut from riverbanks - for free! I spread this as a mulch, and put some chickenpoop on top. It's a great mulch, then rots down and really improves the soil. Maybe they do the same thing around your way?



Joan Lambert Bailey said...

Jessica, What community garden did you apply with? I hope it works out! I always thought that would be really fun. We tried to do it initially when we came here, but it fell through. Then I landed at the farm, and the rest is history. Keep me posted.

Maggie, I'll be curious to hear (and see!) the pole beans. I must have developed an eye for them recently, as now I'm seeing beans everywhere. (For sale, that is.) I'm looking forward to casing it out.

fer, Many thanks! You're my inspiration. :)

Tom, Thanks for the tip! I'll check into it. I'd love something like that. It might be more effective than 'stealing' bags of leaves from public parks and paths at night. I'm not the only one doing it, but I always feel a bit inappropriate somehow. :) Now, if I could just get some chickens...

Rhizowen said...

Runner beans are a staple here in the UK. They don't like it too hot though and if they get too dry the flowers don't set any pods. Some people don't like the taste as green beans, but smothered in butter they taste pretty good. I seem to remember that Hokkaido butter is available in supermarkets. You can also shell the beans when the pods are dry - they taste good in a bean stew. Often white flowered (and seeded) varieties are used for this purpose.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

I believe everything might taste good smothered in butter, Rhiz. :) I'm hoping to give them a try this year, but my attention is also starting to turn to the great variety of beans available here. I went to a presentation last night where a farmer mentioned that there are more than 1,000 varieties of beans in Japan. Amazing. I'll need a bigger garden.

Rhizowen said...

Talking of beans, you might want to look our for what is being grown as "apiosu" - none other than groundnut (Apios americana), that American-as-apple-pie native root crop which is being cultivated in Japan. A lovely climber, with beautiful flowers and seriously tasty tubers. There's a native species hodoimo (I'm looking for seeds of that). Another good wild plant, which happens to be a bean too is yabumame - like the american hog peanut, wwith underground seeds. Quite common and tastes good too.

I'd be interested to know whether people grow winged bean Psophocarpus tetragonolobus in Japan. Most varieties are daylength sensitive, but there are some day neutral varieties like "Hi Flyer" which I've grown in a greenhouse here. The flowers are exquisite.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

I'll look for both, Rhiz. We'll be gone for the next month, but I'm thinking the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park might be the place to find them or at least find information. Some day I'd like to hear when you were in Japan and the story of that time.