Skip to main content


Showing posts from May, 2011

Louise Erdrich Planted My Geraniums

While checking out a post at Red, White and Grew ( RW &G) about garden update photos (the idea is that readers and bloggers will share pictures of current happenings in their little patch) I quick scanned the comments. One reader asked if RW &G grew marigolds for their rabbit repelling abilities, and her response struck a chord: "Bunnies aren ’t an issue for us. Marigolds are in part an homage to a passage in “Places Left Unfinished at The Time of Creation,” a non-fiction book by a San Antonio author. =)" People grow things for many different reasons. I grow fennel because it attracts pollinators, and because each time that licorice-y flavor fills my mouth I think of Frog Holler Farm's salad mix and all the wonderful days I spent working and playing there . I grow zinnias and cosmos because they're pretty and attract pollinators, but also because the sight of them transports me to my mother's garden in Wisconsin. (And when I was a fussy non-gardeni

Watashi no Kotoba: Wordle on My Blog

The final theme day for the Blogathon is to create a Wordle image of our blogs . It's a lovely thing, but I'm rather shocked to see that apparently I use 'get' a little too often. And 'little'. And 'just'. At least words like 'yuzu', 'nematodes', and thank heavens, 'farmers' are relatively large. A writer's work is never done, eh? Other theme days focused on our favorite places to write , a haiku , our favorite books on writing , and a guest blog post . Theme days are optional, but they represent good fun, as well. I tend to focus more on farming and gardening than writing, so the themes this year made me play with as well as reflect some on the tool I love to use to talk about the other work I so love to do.

Sunday Reading

Since the rainy season has officially begun, it seems like a good moment to try incorporating a little more reading into my life. Granted, we can work inside the greenhouses at the farm, but there's more rain these days than work. In support of that notion, I'm trying my hand at a new feature: a weekly round-up of nifty articles, websites, reviews, and more. When I do get a chance to spend some time with my Reader, I find massive numbers of things I think would be of interest to others. I share them on Twitter or Facebook, but offering them here is an opportunity to dig out the best of the best as well as develop a longer listing of resources and learning. (Another Blogathoner also suggested reading and research as a means to get my Muse back , and so this seemed like a way to get that ball rolling, too.) Pure Chemistry by Laura Wright Treadway at OnEarth covers a new way that universities are beginning to think about and study chemistry from the chemist to th

Yuzuhachimitsu: The Taste Test

Last year, I experimented quite a bit with yuzu : yuzushu ; straight-up yuzu marmalade ; yuzu -ginger apple ginger marmalade ; yuzu -ginger marmalade ; yuzu -blueberry conserve; and finally, yuzuhachimitsu . All turned out fairly well, but one remained in the jar until just the other day. The yuzuhachimitsu , a combination of yuzu , honey, and vinegar, echoes the recipe for the umehachimitsu . We adored the latter, and so I figured there could be no harm in trying this combination. But it looked a little scary, I must admit, as it sat in the laundry room. The fruit gradually turned brown and I sometimes mistook the yuzu seeds for mold. Afraid to look closer, I just left it be. However, with the advent of rainy season (officially declared yesterday and two weeks early) I knew the jar would be needed for this year's round of umeboshi . The smell emanating from the open jar was not inspiring, I confess, but I charged forward regardless. Distinctly yuzu with a sort of sickly swee

Tokyo's Farmers Markets: May 28-29 Weekend

The last weekend in May promises some good marketing opportunities for Tokyo vegetable otaku like me. While the weather may not be perfect, just don that raincoat and hit the road. Worst case scenario? You'll have a great excuse to get a hot treat at the market and if it rains hard enough your vegetables will be extra clean by the time you get home! Earthday Market Sunday, May 29th 10am to 4pm Rain or shine!* Yoyogi Park Elms *I'm planning to be there regardless of the weather, and would be glad to get folks over there to see what the farmers have on offer. Personally, I'm hoping to find a strawberry or two for jam! UN University Farmers Market Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm United Nations Plaza Yurakucho Farmers Market Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm Yurakucho Station, exit left side

Sabatoging Nematodes with Flowers and Grass

The knobby looking squash roots I discovered last fall when cleaning up the beds for winter vegetables signified the presence of root-chomping nematodes. While not all nematodes are bad by any means, this particular member of the family is the least favorite for gardeners and farmers. (It goes to show there's always a black sheep, eh?) While it happily sucks on the roots, the plants, of course, tend to produce less and become easy targets for disease and pests. The farmers noticed a similar problem in the adjacent field, and so this spring the remedies are underway. I've decided to implement three remedies: a grass crop, marigolds, and compost . Marigolds planted en masse (and for about 90 days) act as a trap crop. The roots secrete a chemical toxic to the little fellows. The nematode that ventures over to the marigold root for a snack will find it can't leave or reproduce. A grass crop, like my popcorn, will provide welcome compost material at the end of the season that

Good Hands and Green Vegetables: How Farming Saved One Man

This past weekend I met a fellow farmer at a party. It's not too unusual these days, but it's always a pleasure, nonetheless. A neighbor of our hosts, Fuji-san* pulled up on his bicycle (a fantasy farm bike if ever there was one!) to drop off a handful of greens from his garden. Thick-leaved mizuna, frilly lettuce, and some pak choi that looked crunchy even from where I stood got a bevy of well-deserved 'oohs and aaah's' from the crowd, and an offer of a beer. Slipping off his shoes, he stepped into the party with his five-toed work socks (we all aptly admired them), and we started talking dirt. Fuji-san works a community garden plot not too far from where our friends live. A neighborhood dotted with more farms than ours, the area feels a bit more open and green. The majority of them are working farms with vegetable stands attached and outdoor work spaces strategically placed to take advantage of shade and cool breezes. Great towers of pea vines, kn

Meeting the Muse

Today's theme for the Blogathon (five places I like to write) is one I'm really struggling with as it touches on a rather sensitive topic for me just now. Three nearby coffee shops offer cozy tables, great pastry, and strong brew all made to foster creativity. The desk in our apartment affords a great view over the street we live on and the neighboring gardens. Our kitchen table, though, is perhaps my favorite. It is where, more often than not, the Muse and I sit down over coffee to catch up on the latest news and ideas. It is there with notebook and pen in the silence of early morning that we meet. Well, where we used to meet, I guess. Like any long-term relationship, the Muse and I are going through one of those rough spots. I regularly visit our old hangouts, but she's not there. The coffee tastes bland, and I tell myself as I nibble on the cinnamon and raisin bun we both love that maybe the rain is keeping her away. Or it's the sunshine and she's forgot we pla

Nioibanmatsuri: Heady Scent and Fading Flowers

I swear I do more than walk around taking pictures of flowers . Something about this spring, though, has me pursuing blossoms with a vengeance. More often than not I find myself pausing to set down my bags, pull out my camera, and begin searching for the best angle. Just beginning our third year here, I think I'm trying to capture all the things I've missed photographing the past two. Located in the maze of small streets and near alleys between larger avenues, this little tree caught my eye as well as my nose. The purple and white blossoms stand in lovely contrast to the deep green of the leaves, and as I leaned in for a closer look the jasmine-like scent nearly knocked me over. Two women passing by stopped to admire it with me and told me the Japanese name: Nioibanmatsuri. They also pointed out it's other unique trait: flowering purple first the impatiens shaped flowers gradually fade with age to white. (Hence, it's common name of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. The L

Green Curtain: Variations on a Theme

Even before Japan's current energy concerns due to the earthquake , green curtains could be spotted everywhere. Usually constructed from goya (Okinawan bitter gourd), the vines twine their way up netting to provide an extra bit of shade during the summer months. (The most famous of these is the one clamoring over the Suginami Ward Office .) This year, of course, as a result of the problems at the Daiichi Plant and the closing of Hamaoka for precautionary reasons, the summer may be hotter yet. Word on the street has it that people are advised to set their thermostats at 28-degrees Celsius (82.4 Fahrenheit) if they feel a need to run their air conditioners. Companies and households are asked to strive for a 15-percent drop in overall energy consumption , with large users facing a fine of up to 1 million yen if they fail to comply. As they have since the March 11th quake, Japan is responding with extraordinary resolve. The university where we teach switched to Cool Biz wear (i.e.

Ki Shoubu or Yellow Flag Iris: Another Beautiful Invasive

The landscape of Tokyo is laced with waterways large and small. Built to bring water to the city for drinking, irrigation, and sewage purposes many of them still exist as green ways of one sort or another. They also serve as precious wildlife havens where the city's wildlife - civets, snakes large and small, salamanders, ducks, herons, fish, along with an assortment of smaller birds - can move about, feed, nest, and generally enjoy life. (People enjoy them, too, as bike or walking paths.)* One such small canal near the university where I teach is in magnificent bloom at the moment. I snapped these photos of Ki Shoubu (Yellow Flag Iris) on the way to class as their show of color is nothing short of brilliant. Like fleabane daisy , this iris is technically an invasive here. There are native varieties of iris about as well, but the yellow flag seems to be dominating the scene at the moment with their three elongated petal heads. Again according to Kevin Short's Nature in Tokyo ,

Tokyo's Farmer's Markets: May 20-22 Weekend

The weather promises to be good for the majority of this weekend, which makes it a perfect opportunity to head out to visit some of the city's farmer's markets. This month has had no shortage of great markets to visit, and that carries on right through to the end. As always, the markets are a great way to meet growers (like the utterly charming and fun staff of BioFarm in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka pictured at left!), find out exactly where your food comes from, find a new recipe or two, practice your Japanese, and perhaps explore a new part of the city! Marui Shop Front Farmer's Market Saturday, May 21st and Sunday, May 22nd 11am to 5pm Kichijoji Station, South Exit in front of Marui *A new one for me that I'm planning to check out. Kichijoji is a rather hip place with beautiful Inokashira Park, a great selection of restaurants, and loads of stuff to do. Well worth a trip over to see what vegetables the cool (and other people like me!) are eating. UN Uni

On the Verge of Ume Season

I know, I know. Another photo of blossoms. I can't seem to help myself these days. Spring in Japan is truly a tremendous time of year. Sakura (cherry blossoms) aside, there are flowers waiting in the wings, on center stage, or just exiting all in a show of color that is utterly breathtaking. From trees to weeds to the garden , everything seems to have something to show off these days. This latest is, perhaps, a bit of a change. It is the actual fruit rather than the bloom. Ume (Japanese plum) blooms in February (perhaps when we most need something to do so) and March, and then promptly gets down to the business of making fruit. I spotted these little beauties flaunting themselves on a branch at the farm yesterday just after discovering the kaki blossoms and baby fruit. Soon I'll be whipping up a fresh round of umeshu , umehachimitsu , and maybe even umeboshi again!

Kaki Blooms and Baby Fruit

The farm I work on here in Tokyo still holds a few remnants of the traditional farmstead: mikan , biwa , ume , and chestnut trees along with a few traditional flowering shrubs dot the landscape around the house and fields. One of these is a massive kaki tree. It provides welcome shade in the summer months, and plenty of shelter opportunities for local birds. It's fruit is also bountiful come autumn, although the kind of kaki (persimmon) it bears is the drying kind, not the eat-right-off-the-branch-wipe-your-chin kind. This morning during a lull in activity, I wandered over to get a quick drink of water. Looking up at the kaki's branches, I noticed some small white blossoms surrounded by green leaves that resembled nothing so much as lips. A closer inspection of other branches revealed tiny, tiny kaki just beginning to form. I'd noticed the mini-fruit before, but never spotted them quite so young. Somehow I'm amazed every time. What about Spri

Oversized Takenoko and Tots

We spotted this little group on Sunday morning bright and early. Clearly, they'd made their way to a farm just down the Tamagawa Jousui ( Tama River Canal) that runs along north of where we live. It's a corridor of wilderness with a bike path on either side, and heaven knows if I was a kid I'd be roaming about there with my friends, too. One farm along the way has not only a killer vegetable stall - stunning seasonal bouquets, tasty pickled vegetables as well as a nice selection of fruits and vegetables, too - but an absolutely magnificent bamboo forest. I've sat on the path next to it for a time just to hear the wind move the leaves and clunk the trunks together occasionally. It's a delight, and always makes me wonder how the loss of such green spaces (bamboo forests would have been de rigeur for a Japanese farm, much like the American woodlot) impacts the country today. The shoots in early spring poke up out of the ground to have a look around

Guest Post: No Gardening Experience Required

As part of the 2011 Blogathon we're asked to partner with another blogger and swap posts. This year Jackie Dishner of BIKE (a great blog I recommend perusing after reading her post here) shared her thoughts on vicarious gardening. If you don't garden, I've learned you can still enjoy plants and nature by living vicariously through others' handiwork. That's what I do and have lived to tell about it. Unlike Joan here, I'm not a green thumb. Not because I haven't tried, but because it's not a priority in my life. My priority has been to enjoy flowers and gardens and fresh mowed grass, but not to get too involved in the maintenance of them. Why? Because I give up too easily. I've lost more plants to under-watering than you'd care to know about. If you're a gardening pro, you'd be mortified with the actual numbers. Suffice it to say it's like I've totally misinterpreted the word: xeriscape . A popular term in Arizona

Rhubarb Shu: An Experiment in Spring

I'm about to write a dangerous sentence, but here goes. After the tasty success of my first umeshu and yuzushu batches, I have decided to experiment a bit. I've just put up my first batch of rhubarb shu . Rhubarb sauce, butter , and jam are all very nice, but living in Japan called for a new twist on an old favorite. So, just before last week's rains arrived in full force I pulled a few stems. Soon cut into chunks and paired with the usual accomplices - rock sugar and shochu - the work is underway. As far as I know, it's never been done before (in Japan), and the batch is smaller than usual. (I didn't want to give a whole kilogram of rhubarb to something that, frankly, might taste horrible.) Taste-testing should begin within a week to see how it's progressing. Our concern, of course, is the sugar to alcohol ratio. Syrupy sweet isn't appealing, but shochu with just an essence of rhubarb isn't, either. Fingers crossed we get something worth tipping a

Sage in Bloom

Like any gardener does in spring , I tend to buy too many plants when I go to the nursery. I really don't know a cure for this. I've tried to limit the amount of money I bring. I try to make sure my bike baskets are already a little full. I write a list and swear that I will stick to it. But, there always seems to be one ( OK , make that about three) extra plants that come home with me. There's always a sale or there's always something on my list that the nursery is out of so I simply have to get something else. Such is the case with the sage in my garden. Thinking I would only pick up one thing - not even a plant, mind you - I came home with a series of herbs, including two sage plants two years ago. One didn't make it as the leaves seemed tasty to some little critter other than myself. This plant has survived, although it struggles with a nibbler still. I harvest a bit now and again, but leave most of the plant in tact so that it carry on unimpeded to health. An

Weekend Farmer's Markets in Tokyo: May 14-May 15

After a few days of dousing with rain, the weekend promises some sun. So shake off that umbrella and raincoat, and head on out to the handful of May farmer's markets happening around the city! (Pictured here is Kamakura Leaf Farm with their coolest looking ever salad mix in a bag!) Ebisu Farmers Market Sunday, May 15th Ebisu Garden Square 11am to 5pm UN University Farmers Market Every Saturday and Sunday United Nations Plaza 10am to 4pm Yurakucho Farmers Market Every Saturday and Sunday Yurakucho Station, exit the left side 10am to 4pm (And an article offering a description of the market as well as the recent inclusion of farmers from Fukushima and other parts of Tohoku affected by the March 11th earthquake .) Roppongi Farmers Market Saturday, May 14th Ark Hills Karajan Plaza 10am to 2pm

Azalea Blooms Make Jewel Toned Streets

Starting with ume (Japanese plum) in February, Mother Nature starts unrolling a carpet of texture and color that Japan follows madly along until collapsing with exhaustion in the heat and humidity of summer. Ume are followed by the beloved sakura , and then the scene rapidly becomes more crowded with blooms of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Roses, wisteria , and hydrangea are but a few, but at this moment it is the native azalea that holds center stage with its bright pink or white flowers. Usually arrayed along streets and sidewalks here in Tokyo they migrated down from the mountainsides over the centuries to participate in festivals and weave themselves into a series of complex traditions . Trimmed up boxy they make a fantastic hedge that remains green throughout the year as well as a nice little hideout for urban wildlife.

Suspect's Name: Hakuunboku

A bike path near our apartment is lined with citrus , evergreens, hydrangea , roses, as well as an assortment of grasses and plants. I presume that underneath runs an old canal now covered over by the path and nearby road. The path crosses the Tamagawa Josui, a larger canalway that in its day brought much-needed water down from the mountains west of Tokyo to the center of the city. Something is always in bloom or leafing out or fading from view, and benches and little tables dot the sides for pedestrians to loiter as they wish. It's also home to a few favorite vegetable stands , so I traverse it a fair amount. I spotted this tree while out walking the other evening, and I suspect it's hakuunboku a.k.a Styrax obassia or Fragrant styrax. The silvery gray bark slides smoothly over the musculature of the trunk like a tight fitting sleeve, and tucked under it's veined oval leaves were these lovely white blossoms. If it is indeed hakuunboku , it is a tree na

Ode to an Ornamental Peach

One of the prettiest things going at the farm in early spring is himomo , an ornamental peach tree, that grows just near the gate. It's frilly fuchsia blossoms have no scent, but they attract passersby like bees to flower. The farmers laughed one day as we planted this year's sweetcorn that at it's peak of bloom an average of twenty people stop to take a photo and ask the name of the tree. Sakura or cherry dominate the season with their soft pink, nearly white flowers, so these seem almost bawdy in comparison. Seen from the far corner of the farm the tree veritably glows. And just like the sakura, the petals carpet the ground below a heady shade. Now dominated by green leaves, I thought I'd write a haiku, today's theme for the 2011 Blogathon , in honor of this lovely member of the farm family. Himomo at the Gate Himomo blooms shout the joy of a new season in quiet spring.

Yuzu Shu Confession

Way back in the wilds of December I set my first batch of yuzushu to steep. A similar process to umeshu , one simply sets the fruit in shochu (essentially straight alcohol) with lots of sugar. A classic recipe in many regards, and one of the easiest ways to make your own liquor. After a week I fished out the rinds and made a batch of marmalade with them ( mottainai and all that), and then set the jar back in its corner for further brewing. Time passed. I think I was meant to take the fruit out before we left for America , but that didn't happen. I thought about taking it out when we returned in March, but other things occurred that distracted me. So on a rainy afternoon in nearly early May just after finishing a batch of rhubarb butter I decided it was time to extract the fruit. Yuzu is notoriously strong-flavored, and so I was rather worried that it might taste like...crap. The amount fits rather nicely into four quart jars, and the fruit looks mo

Fleabane Daisy: My Kind of Volunteer

Garden volunteers are one of the most wonderful surprises nature can offer up. Sometimes they come in the form of escaped seed sprouting between the rows or one that made it through the composting process somehow or another to sprout in odd nooks and crannies of the bed. Purslane is a favorite volunteer that also happens to be edible as well as a very nice, light feeder that also helps keep soil in place. Volunteers also arrive because for one reason or another I choose to ignore them when I'm weeding. Sometimes it's because I can't remember exactly where I put in a perennial or I can't remember exactly what that perennial is supposed to look like. (This is where keeping up on my garden journal would be a good idea...ahem.) And sometimes I just think it might be interesting to see what happens. Such was the case with a set of fleabane daisy erigeron speciosus plants that currently reside in my west wall bed . Introduced to them by a good friend when

Tokyo Tomato Planting

The tomatoes are all in at the farm. The first round of them went in about ten days ago - 200 plants of red and yellow cherry tomatoes as well as a red grape sized variety - and the second round went in last weekend. Another 200 plants, the large variety, all snugly settled for the growing season. This time, though, the planting went forward despite heavy winds and a rainy forecast. The first crop to go in one of the three new greenhouses recently built at the farm, these tomatoes are part of a larger experiment happening on this urban farm. Greenhouses are nothing new to farming, not even this small family farm here on the west side of the city. We have four others - much, much smaller - used for starting seedlings, processing the harvest in cold or inclement weather, or growing a temperature sensitive crop under protection. These three new ones though, mark a new slightly more industrial direction for the farm. About 15 meters tall, these three possess thermostats that automaticall

Little Tiny Kiwi

Now that I'm off crutches, we're able to toodle about on our bikes a bit more. I still have to be careful - not too far and no hard peddling - but it is wonderful to be able to do together one of our favorite things: urban bike safaris! This last weekend took us a bit west in search of a local farm selling eggs (sadly, we discovered they retired themselves and their chickens), and then south to one of the many canals that skitter across Tokyo's landscape. Around since forever ago, they traditionally served as sources of fresh water for many parts of the city, as well as irrigation for what used to be the many farms here on the west side. Now, they work as green corridors running through neighborhoods, cutting through parks, and making a pleasant bike or walk to disparate parts of the city. Along our route we passed a number of orchards - usually nashi (Japanese pear) and kiwi - trimmed up in preparation for this year's crop. The vines are trained up

Garlic Still Going Great Guns

My pleasure in the compost bin turning is nearly matched by my delight in my little plot of garlic. Despite the occasional trodding-on by unwitting visitors, the garlic seems pathetically happy in its lasagna bed location . I suspected it would be, but gardening does nothing if not turn many an assumption on its head on a regular basis. (A fact that keeps me humble or at least regularly reminds me to be so.) Since photos taken in mid-March , the leaves have more than tripled in size and remain brilliantly green. A quick comparison with last year's crop , shows plants already starting to yellow on the bottom and some general unhappiness. A lackluster harvest nearly put me off the idea of growing it entirely, but the allure of its heady aroma proved irresistible. (As did the decidedly beautiful bulbs found at the Earth Day Market last fall that looked like perfect seed stock as well as good eating.) The biggest difference, other than being planted in the lasagna bed, was the lack o