Thursday, June 30, 2011

Praying Mantis Newborn

What blew away the great ocean views and came to rival the nashi orchards and even the coolest vegetable stand in the village was the discovery of a most recently hatched praying mantis. As we snacked on takenoko and shallots dipped in miso, one of the other guests called excitedly from the deck. We tore ourselves away from the great food to find this little guy dangling from the egg case until moments before he called home. Despite his miniscule size and seemingly precarious position, he proved quite nimble within moments and prepared for battle if we came too close.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shallots Dipped in Miso

Other than the new recipe for takenoko I gleaned from Atsuko while visiting Chiba was one for shallots. It seems that alliums in general are coming to the forefront of the vegetable stand these days, and with good reason. The rainy season is upon us and for any root crop that relies on drying this is not the best time. There are occasional days where the sun peeks out and hints rather fiercely at what is to come in the months ahead, but mostly the days are damp and gray. It's actually nearly perfect weather for harvesting or working in the fields, and in its way quite pleasant. The challenge it seems to me for alliums or other crops that require drying is to time planting so that harvest occurs either just before or shortly after tsuyu (rainy season) begins. So it was perhaps no surprise that the vegetable stands we saw were full of onions, potatoes, and shallots.

Shallots were not what I had in mind when I spotted the bags one of the vendors (pictured above) at the Ichinomiya shrine had set before her on the blanket. I was hoping they were rakkyo, an Asian member of the allium family that makes a fantastic pickle, as I've got one jar without any umeshu, umeboshi, or umehachimitsu in it. When I picked up the bag, though, our host mentioned a miso dip recipe they went well with and that was that. In the bike basket they went.

Shallots with Miso Dip
1 bag of shallots
3 Tbsp miso*
1 Tsp sake
Dash of soy sauce
Dash of konbu dashi**
Pinch of hot pepper**

Wash the miso and trim off the rooty end and the tough part of the stem. In a separate bowl mix together the miso, sake, soy sauce, and dashi. Add enough water to loosen the consistency of the miso, but not so much as to make it soupy. Stir and serve. Word has it it's also quite nice with cucumbers.
*Atsuko used a red miso, but theoretically any miso would do the trick.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ichinomiya's Well Stocked Vegetable Vendors

The takenoko for our Chiba adventure this past weekend came from one of a number of vegetable vendors we found while cruising about on Saturday morning. Ichinomiya sits right on the coast and is full of farms. Rice fields and pear orchards abound, and we found no shortage of other seasonal favorites, too: edamame, tomatoes, potatoes, shallots, green beans, eggplants, and more.

The first vegetable stand we stopped turned out to be my favorite of the day. Others were lovely, but this one with it's fanciful decorations and a view of the big vegetable plot just behind charmed us all. I am not sure if I liked the vegetables for the stand or the stand for the vegetables, if you know what I mean.

The second stand was just a table with an umbrella and a cash box. Nothing fancy happening here, but the onions and potatoes were fat and lovely...just the way I like them and perfect for making Maan's potato salad!

Our final vegetable stop for the day turned out to be at the Ichinomiya shrine. There gathered near the entrance were four folks selling their wares. All well over the age of sixty, they offered up extraordinary flowers, scrumptious vegetables, and some of the niftiest garden tools I've seen yet. I picked up a bag of shallots based on my host's suggestion they went well with a miso dip. (And she wasn't kidding. They did.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Takenoko Recipe

We just returned from a quick weekend trip to Chiba with a small group of friends. Just north of Tokyo, the prefecture is known for both farming and surfing, and we were able to taste a bit of both this weekend. (This is the same place where we met the motorcycle-vegetable-delivering-grandmother last year.)

A lazy morning with coffee on the deck while birds and butterflies filled the air around us was followed by a pleasant bike ride along the river to the village and through valleys filled with rice fields and pear orchards. Everything seems to be in fruit, flower, and leafing out like mad. The rainy season must feel like heaven for these plants, and they show their pleasure in no uncertain terms of green.

And as we biked we came across a nice handful of vegetable stands offering up their seasonal wares of edamame, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and cucumbers. Vegetable otaku that I am I couldn't resist stopping to check each one out, and we therefore came away with quite a selection of treats for our evening festivities.

The surprise of the day, though, was takenoko. Coming to the end of it's season, a woman we met outside Ichinomiya's shrine had big, beautiful bags of the stalks. Wakatake, a slightly different variety than that that used to grow at the farm, these were smaller in circumference (about an inch or so) and about a foot long. Our hostess snapped them up and later that evening served them up as part of a fantastic round of appetizers.

Atsuko's Scrumptious Wakatake
1 kg wakatake
3 pkgs. Bonito flakes
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
Dash of sake

Boil the bamboo shoots until they soften a bit. Atsuko did the roots first for a bit and then tipped the whole shoot over in the pan to ensure cooking consistency. Drain and chop into one centimeter pieces. Toss in a bowl with bonito flakes, soy sauce, and sake, and serve.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Reading, June 26th

Only a desire to not overwhelm folks with information kept me from making this list longer. What a great bundle of stuff popped up this week!

This article about natural and organic farming in Japan and the supplemental blog post offer up some more good information on how farmers are thinking about radiation on their crops and land. (Shameless marketing: And here's my piece about a small tea grower in Saitama and how they're affected by radiation from Daiichi.)

This post at Shots, NPR's health blog, is chock full of good links about pesticides found on fruits and vegetables. It also includes updated lists of produce highest and lowest amounts, which alone makes it worth visiting. (The report in question is one I referenced earlier this month for good reading, by the way.)

For those living in Japan, planning to visit or who just enjoy perusing great blogs about food (from the growing to the preparing to the eating) then Shizouka Gourmet's expanded list of food bloggers in Japan is a little slice of heaven. (Full disclosure: I'm on the list, but I'm but a blip on the screen here. Seriously, check out some of those amazing blogs!) Organized by region with links and short descriptions, it offers hours of fun and inspiration.

Emma Cooper, a UK gardener who blogs and podcasts all while wielding a trowel and gathering eggs, has a new gig going. The Peat Free Diet is a book she's currently blogging, and it promises to be as informative as the rest of her materials. (Full disclosure: I reviewed her first book, The Alternative Kitchen Garden, and loved every minute of it.) The preface briefly talks about why gardeners (or anyone, really) should care whether or not peat continues to exist, and the first chapter, like Cooper always does, explains the nuts and bolts of germination. Good stuff.

Something I think about often (just this morning, in fact) is what it means to be a farmer. And I wonder as I harvest beans in the rain, wipe down heads of cabbage, and trim tomato blossoms is whether or not I am one. I know it doesn't really matter, but I still think about it. (The wheels are turning, so this must deserve more thought and a post of it's own. Meanwhile...) This post by Ben Hewitt about exactly that really got my mind turning. (Thanks to Nourishing Words for the tweet!) Farming seems to be such a "hot" concept just now in Japan as well as elsewhere (no intended allusion to radiation there), and so I wonder what it's all about. I've mused about farm work and about gardening, but I shy away from giving myself the title. Too lofty a goal? I don't know.

Photo: Kaki (persimmon) blossoms on the farm caught turning into fruit.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tokyo's Farmers Markets: June 25th and 26th

It's hard to believe it's already the last weekend in June. Consolation for the rapid passage of time and therefore the quick succession of fantastic vegetables available? A great round of venues in which to visit, gather, and learn how to cook those vegetables!

Sunday, June 26th
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!
All organic and fair trade all the time. Best place to ride a train to just to buy eggs. I won't be able to make it this month, but I expect it will be amazing as always!

Saturday, June 25th
10am to 2pm

Saturday and Sunday
11am to 5pm

Got a great farmer's market in your area of Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan? I'm always on the lookout and glad to share news of them or photos. Feel free to drop me a note with some basic information, and I'll add it to the list here!

Photo: Kobayashi Farm and their groovy purple, white, and orange carrots at the June Earth Day Market in Yoyogi. So good, we even ate the tops!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saitama Tea Farm Post Up!

A summary of our visit to a friend's chabatake (tea farm) in Saitama is up and ready for reading over at the Real Time Farms blog. While the farm is not the sole source of their income, it is undoubtedly a treasured family place. Like so many others, the family voluntarily decided not to sell this year's crop, focusing instead on getting ready for next year's harvest.

The photo here is from the day we shared with the family in Saitama. Despite the fact that we were the visitors, in true Japanese fashion, they gave us a few small gifts. One of these, of course, was some of their tea. This was the note attached to the packet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Edamame Season Underway

Late last year the farmer's finished building three small greenhouses just south of what was then the chestnut orchard. Fairly simple affairs made of veneer and metal framing in comparison to their much larger and electronically-thermostated cousins right next door, these little houses proved cozy enough through the later winter months to be a good home for edamame.

Perhaps one of the quintessential Japanese foods, edamame are delightfully simple to prepare and wonderfully delicious. On the menu at every izakaya and served up almost without asking when in season, their salty selves are a perfect companion with beer. I revel in the additional fact that they are relatively healthy (off-setting the unhealthy bits of beer), and the shells make good compost fixings. Edamame (soy beans) are also the same bean (daizu) that miso and soy sauce are made from. Theoretically, I could use the beans I'm growing now in my garden (and mostly imagining with beer) to make either of those, tofu, or natto even. And while there are a number of different heirloom varieties in existence in Japan (Takashi Watanabe of Toziba, a fascinating farming non-profit focused on the heirloom soy bean, estimates Japan is home to hundreds of varieties tailored to their climates, regions, and grower's tastes), only a small number of those are still grown. According to Watanabe, less than 20-percent of the beans making Japan's tofu, soy sauce, and miso are grown in-country.

The edamame pictured here, though, while not an heirloom variety were grown here in Tokyo. The plan all along was to plant edamame ahead of schedule. The seeds went in the ground perhaps just after we returned from America, and were carefully shepherded along until a few days ago when we began harvesting in earnest. Big, fat, fuzzy beans dangle from the stems, and it's nigh on impossible on these hot days to not see them already sitting in a bowl before me accompanied by a lovely tall glass of beer. We pull up the entire plant, cut off the roots, and then bundle them into "bouquets" that are subsequently dunked in cool water before heading off to the store where they fetch a nice little sum. Or going in my bike basket to land in my kitchen where they get a good hot bath, a salty rub down, and then munched while still nearly too hot to handle.


1 Bundle of edamame, removed from the stems

1 pan of boiling water


Bring the water to a good rolling boil and then dump in the edamame. (Don't splash. It will hurt.) Put the lid back on, and let the water return to a good boil for about 5 minutes or so. Drain. Pop in another bowl, sprinkle with salt as liberally as your doctor will allow. Serve hot or cold, and do your best to get your fair share and then some.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Reading, June 19th

Once again, it's been a good week for reading about everything from gardening to farming to climate change to nuclear reactors. My head's in a whirl, but here's a few items I thought worth sharing.

This article from Life on the Balcony on supporting pollinators on the balcony gives some great flower ideas as well as general information on why people should care about helping our little buzzing friends. It's their handiwork, after all, that brings about the food we love to eat.

And here's a wonderful piece from back home in Michigan about something we really love to eat and garlic's little secret: scapes.

Long and in two parts, these two articles by Tom Philpott before he moved from Grist to Mother Jones about food and place are, as always, deeply thought-provoking. I'd recommend settling in with a coffee now before beginning them. The second part includes beer, which lightens the mood some from the first.

Swinging back around to this side of the world, there's this nice piece from Martin over at Kurushii - News from Japan about how a number of Japan's reactors are heading off-line even without a tsunami. This article from the Daily Yomiuri and part of a series on how the crises unfolded is fascinating and frightening.

And, because a series of aftershocks have rolled through recently and I need some distraction, I'm ending with this video from the Whole Foods parking lot. I love his shopping bag.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: June 18th and 19th

The rainy season appears to be in full swing judging by the pool of water under the raincoat hanging in the hallway, but that should be no deterrent to exploring some of the best the city has to offer in terms of fruits, vegetables, and farmer's markets. What better way to celebrate Father's Day than with some of summer's finest such as edamame, cucumbers, tomatoes, or eggplants?

(While it's unlikely you'll find strawberries now, you will find Totokawa's tasty jams - pictured here- at the Earth Day Market next weekend, though! Full disclosure: I just really like their jam and the free samples.)

Sunday, June 19th
11am to 5pm

Saturday, June 18th and Sunday, June 19th
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in June
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday in June
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in June
11am to 5pm

Got a favorite farmer's market or vegetable stand in your neck of the woods? I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Reading, June 12

There's been a bounty of good reading of late, and so this week's round-up of some of my favorites is a bit longer. Gardening, farming, earthquake aftermath, food, and even a little poetry for good measure.

Gardening and Farming
This article from Beginning Farmers (full disclosure: I write for them periodically) offers some good basic information on using canopies/row covers in the garden and on the farm. We use them to great effect on the farm here in Tokyo, too, for everything from pest protection to creating a mini-greenhouse effect that speeds up growth or protects from the chill.

Picked up from the Rodale Institute who picked it up from Kitchen Gardeners International (full disclosure: both organizations I'd LOVE to write for), the graphic shows the White House Garden as it is and what it would look like if it were planted with the agriculturally subsidized crops. Maybe it shows us how much corn and soy we are already eating in our processed food?

Released in May, the USDA's Pesticide Data Report offers comprehensive information about what pesticides show up on what foods and in what percentages. A bit technical, but a good source for data.

An utterly fascinating, disturbing, thought-provoking article about weeds that makes me look at my mint forest and flea bane daisies in a new light. This is the kind of article that changes how you see the world around you.

A powerful, powerful story of a farmer displaced by Fukushima's nuclear disaster and what it means for him, his cattle, and his extended family. I'm afraid I'm tearing up just thinking about it again.

Tis' the season to harvest and preserve (or just straight up eat!) all the goodies from the farmer's market or local vegetable stand, and this piece from the Sweet Beet busting berry myths will help guide your shopping experience.

Another article from Good about California's impending ban on styrofoam. About freakin' time.

Not enough? Here's a little more reading...
Summer Tomato, an American blog I sometimes write for, posts a weekly round-up of news, stories, and videos that are well worth perusing.

This month Good is running a 30-day challenge to eat vegetarian, and in support of that they ran this nice little piece to help folks along. Most focus on cooking rather than growing, but it's quite useful to know how to cook up the harvest from the garden or this month's farmers markets! It also includes Pollan's Food Rules, which I'd recommend for anyone at any stage of eating, gardening, or thinking about eating and gardening.

And something completely different...
I loved this poem by April Lindner featured earlier this week on The Writer's Almanac.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: June 11th and 12th

As the weather warms and the rainy season continues, head on out for some alternative vegetable fun this weekend in Tokyo. Markets abound all over the city this month making excellent snack stops while out touring or simply tromping about.

Every Saturday and Sunday in June
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday in June
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in June
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday* and Sunday
10am to 4pm
*Third Saturday of each month they rock out until 8pm with the veg!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mulberries: Not Just for Silkworms

Spring is giving way to Summer these days, and so many of the blossoms from May are turning to fruit. One great example are the mulberry trees dotting our neighborhood and country by-ways. In Michigan we harvested them from a trees at relatives and friends homes, and I tossed them in with whatever jam bubbled on the stove. Here so far, I'm just nibbling them when out for a walk.

What's in season for foraging where you are?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tatami Mat Mulch

While some weeds are my favorite garden volunteers, there are times when I don't appreciate them. Last summer, for example, when we returned from Hokkaido I was greeted by a garden nearly hidden in tall weeds. Somehow despite the heat and drought they managed to thrive. Sheltered in part by my rambling squash vines, I'm sure, they resulted in more than a few hours in the hot sun removing them. And more than a little embarrassment, as the farmers keep an incredibly tidy farm and my garden is definitely...different.

An alternative solution to more black plastic mulch, hand-weeding, and periodic chemical spraying presented itself one day when I chose an alternate route for running errands. A number of farms dot our area of Tokyo, and those lying to our east are still relatively unknown to me. Exploring almost always results in finding a new vegetable stand or a lovely farm tucked just behind the main roads or adjacent to an apartment building. It was while toodling along on the north side of the tracks that I spotted a small field using old tatami mats as mulch. "Brilliant!" I thought, and promptly parked my bike to snap photos.

Tatami mats are a traditional floor covering in Japanese homes, although these days usually only in one room. (Here's a great article on attempts to revive the industry in Japan.) Woven from straw and edged with strips of decorative cloth, the mats are pleasant for sitting, standing. or sleeping. And as they fade from their initial green to gold, they infuse a room with warmth and light. Changed out yearly, old tatami mats pile up, and what better way to recycle them than as a water permeable mulch that can be composted?

Yesterday my gardening friend and I picked up the mats from our local tatami master. He knew immediately what we were after and why, and took us back to his workshop. There alongside the long table where he weaves the mats were two bundles ready to go. Made up of about six individual mats each they were surprisingly light. My friend carried one and I balanced the other on my bicycle and we were off.

My garden measures roughly 18 meters long by eight meters wide, so I need a fair number of tatami. By Tokyo standards it's a massive space, and so the tatami master didn't really believe me when I told him how much I wanted. As it is, the two rolls of mats laid end to end (no overlap) cover two of the four paths running the length of the garden. Some trimming will have to occur as the paths are a bit narrower than the tatami, but I'm excited to see how this latest experiment works out.

Got a favorite garden recycling story? I'm all ears!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Harvest of the Season and a Secret Ingredient

Pictured here is one of the reasons I absolutely love working at the farm. I love vegetables, and I especially love growing them; however, what I really love about this particular cabbage, bundle of eggplants, and three zucchini is what put them on my kitchen counter: the farmers.

Without their generosity and patience, there would be no garden, no dirty socks leaving footprints in the entrance hall, no learning the best way to harvest a daikon. There would be no ever-growing list of farm and food vocabulary, no eating bento lunch under the aki momo, and there would never have been blueberry jam. No sushi making lesson, and no Brandywine tomatoes, either. Most of all, there would be no friendship.

It is their tradition, and now mine, to share the first of the harvest with each other. Granted, they don't work in my garden often, but without them I wouldn't have a garden to putter in or aphids to complain about. (Yes, they're back.) So, as they seasons roll by and the plants mature we enjoy the first ears of sweet corn together, as well as they first heads of cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce. Bags of eggplant get shared along with the first green beans and edamame. Winter is my favorite for all the greens that come from their fields as well as my own. And who can complain about a sleek daikon lounging in the sink at the end of a long day?

I offer nothing incredibly exciting to them as they share their seeds and so my garden is a sort of miniature version of the farm with some flowers and herbs thrown in for good measure. If the garlic harvest (coming up soon!) goes well, it will be my sincere pleasure to present the first white bulbs to them. They are as excited as I am at the so-far-success of the crop, and I know we're all dreaming up how to best use them. (I'm thinking they'll nicely jazz up those eggplants.)

So it is that we eat each meal with the farmers whether they join us at the table or not, and feel the warmth of their affection and the pleasure in a shared vocation.If, as Wendell Berry says, food tastes better with a story, then friendship must be that secret ingredient that puts a dish over the top.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Saitama Tea Farm Visit

We had the great good fortune to visit a friend's tea farm or chabatake this past weekend. Small growers just over the border from Tokyo in the mountains of Saitama-ken, they are concerned about traces of radiation found on this year's harvest. Standing in the fields just below the farmhouse in the sunshine, it's hard to believe there could be any problems other than the deer and monkey's that eat everything, apparently, except tea bushes. (Readers with deer problems should thank their lucky stars they don't also have to worry about clever monkeys with no compunction about using their opposable thumbs to dig up crops and gardens.)

I'll be writing up the trip in more detail soon at another blog, but wanted to share a photo or two as it was such an extraordinary day. We weren't allowed to help with any of the work, so we took advantage of the opportunity to explore, nap, pepper the family with questions in our bad Japanese, and simply soak in the place.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Reading

A weekly round-up of a few things here and there that I thought worthy of sharing.

A gardening theme new to me, but brilliant for it's new twist on the gardening mantra "Grow what you like to eat." It got me to thinking there must be a million garden theme possibilities out there. Mine might be jam or pickles, although I think growing a mix of perennial and annual herbs for tea fixings would be fun, too. Or how about one focused on soap or candle making?

The above cocktails might be required accompaniment for this article, which offers a sobering assessment of America's preparedness for the coming (and possibly just beginning?) onslaught of weather changes thanks to global warming.

I would be remiss to not list the New York Times Book Review of gardening books for the season. As always wonderfully written the article has me itching to pounce on nearly all of them, especially The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic by Sarah Hayden Reichard and, of course, The Markets of New England by Christine Chitnis.

This show is one I could listen to again and again, and I often do. Vigen Guroian is as compelling a speaker as he is a writer, and his books have been on my list of things I've wanted to read for some time now. Instead, I'd recommend taking a moment to hear his thoughts as shared on this show.

Here's a post I've bookmarked in my reader for future reference as it lists such a terrifically diverse and powerful bunch of books. Some I've read and some I've not, but the titles are well worth jotting down.

An oldie but a goodie, this post is one I also reference periodically as I've already found aphids roaming the garden again with the ants in tow, so I was happy to find this article again. Good thoughts on companion planting and some information on how and why it works.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cucumber Trellis: The Scoop

Cucumbers are this years experimental crop. In years past, the farmers have not had much luck with the Cucurbitaceae family. Squash and watermelon succumbed to powdery mildew, and cucumber apparently has been a particular challenge for generations. Humidity and drought, disease, and the occasional roaming oni (a ghost that seems to enjoy eating the flowers before we get nary a bite) bear the blame. This year, though, with well-prepared soil, crossed fingers, and some friendly thoughts for the neighborhood oni we put in a single row.

Given the size of the farm - large by urban standards but small by country ones - the farmers like others in the area make good use of trellis' and poles for every crop. Growing vertically means more space, and can lead to healthier plants. Disease and critters that hang out at ground level struggle to make the journey upward where they meet wind, sun, and rain that can effectively weakens or destroy them. Trellising can also mean that as we weed, prune, and harvest that problems quickly become apparent. For example, stems broken by heavy winds this past weekend were spotted quickly and remedied. And just as easily we can discover the pleasures, i.e. the bean's first orchid-like blossoms and tiny, sliver-thin baby beans barely longer than my fingernail.
The cucumber trellis is a fairly simple affair erected in just a few hours. Narrow inverted u-shaped structures run along the sides of the bed, spaced roughly every two or three feet. Made from the standard green poles used for everything from staking beans and tomatoes to creating the eggplant's cathedral-like structure, the poles can be seen at farms everywhere here. A little u-shaped attachment fits snugly over the top creating a secure arch. To these a “cross beam” made of the same poles “linked” together runs across the center line of the arches. A rubber band with a sort of bobble at the end secures each pole to the arch as well as to the next cross-beam.

Once the beam was set we double-checked for straightness and to make sure each arch met the cross bar. Where it didn't we pushed and pulled it down to set it evenly as well as snugly. Then we wrapped more rubber bands around the ends to further strengthen and secure the structure in anticipation of the increased weight of the vines as well as any weather. (Something that paid off when the recent typhoon blew through.) As the vines fill out, I imagine the trellis will become a sort of green edifice in the middle of the farm that the wind will steadily attempt to topple. Two poles on either end of the structure set in at angles and held with thin wire reinforce the whole.

Over all of this we strung a net that essentially hangs to the bottom on both sides. We ran the base string out first, and then put the ends through the loops on the bottom of the net on either side. This saved us from trying to sew it through after the net was up. It also gave us a bottom 'rail' when it was finally time to spread the net out entirely. We then tied the base string to each end pole.
Once the net was secured to the farmer's satisfaction, we placed the vines. Planted nearly three weeks ago and kept under row covers until just recently, the vines thrived. Some already possessed the signature yellow trumpet-like flowers while still others showed off tiny cucumbers. These first were slightly mottled in appearance, which I'm betting was due to the then irregular rains. (Now that the rainy season is officially underway in what seems like unending precipitation it may be a non-issue.) Working both sides of the structure we alternated which plants went right or left. This ensures both balance in terms of weight but also plenty of room for the vines to grow and spread.
Gently lifting them up we set them in place on the nets, making sure that none of the plant remained on the plastic mulch below, but at the same time wasn't strained in it's stretch to it's new place. A second stake stretching from the base of each plant to the net was set for more reinforcement. The vines, while presenting a prickly exterior on vine and leaf that makes one wish for sturdy gloves and long pants, are also surprising fragile. Hollow as they are one wrong move can result in a break that disrupts the flow of nutrients from roots to leaves to fruit and back again that opens the door to illness, low-productivity or straight up death.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tokyo's Farmers Markets: June

The rainy season is underway, but that doesn't mean any shortage of markets around the city. Come find seasonal favorites like ume or a handful of growers offering an early taste of summer favorites like tomatoes or sweet corn!

Sunday, June 5th and Sunday, June 19th
11am to 5pm
Another fun farmers market in an area chock full of things to do. After picking up a daikon and perhaps some purple carrots for dinner, head on over to Afuri Ramen for a bowl of their signature yuzu dish!

Kichijoji Market
Saturday, June 18th and June 19th
11am to 5pm
We visited this market last month for the first time, and found it a great alternative in one of Tokyo's hippest spots.

Sunday, June 26th
10am to 4pm Rain or shine!
Always worth the trip, this market offers up only organic and fair trade fruits, vegetables, and other goods in such a fun way that it's worth a rather long train ride on your day off. I'm planning to go again this month, so let me know if you care to join me!

Every Saturday and Sunday in June
11am to 5pm
Held periodically throughout the year, this one is just starting to really kick it this month. I'm hoping to go, but I'd be glad for an update, too!

Every Saturday in June
10am to 2pm
Another hip spot to visit in Tokyo with a market! Updates or photos would all be welcome news.

Every Saturday and Sunday in June
11am to 5pm
Like Kichijoji's market, this one can be found near the Marui shop. Another one that seems to be jumping into high gear this month, I'd love to hear a report if any one goes.

Got a farmer's market in your area? Whether it's Tokyo or not, I'd love to know about it!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bean Blossoms

One of the summer crops most delightful and best kept secrets are their flowers. While it's easy for the mind to skip from seed to fruit, the first flower that gives a an early taste of pleasure to the gardener or farmer. Eggplant's lavender blossoms with their yellow pinpoint centers are almost pretty enough to raise on their own. Tucked under the signature purple tinted leaves and deep colored stems, it becomes a breathtaking plant that happens to produce a tasty and versatile vegetable. Similarly, a flowering potato offers up a handful of pretty little blossoms in white or purple, depending on the variety below, to signal the arrival of the first little tubers. Tomatoes, it must be said, offer a rather nondescript bloom; however, it could be argued that the beauty of its flower lies in the near magical formation over the course of days of a fruit multiple times its size.

This year, the surprise bloom for me belongs to the bean. My daily walk to the garden takes me past the greenhouses and cabbage fields nearly ready for harvest and the bean field. It affords ample opportunity to admire and notice the changes occurring daily. Ever rising, the vines are already taller than I am with wide lush green leaves. Most recently, the first flowers have appeared. Resembling nothing so much as miniature orchids they hang from the ends of stems tempting passing pollinators with the promise of a sweet beverage. In some cases tiny beans – fractionally longer perhaps than my fingernail – join them. While my heart delights, I confess my mouth also waters at the thought of a simple batch of these green lovelies whipped up in the style of Goma ai Shungiku or with lots of garlic and tomatoes like my good friend Maan makes.

Got a favorite vegetable flower? Let's hear it!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kichijoji Farmer's Market

I try to visit a few farmer's markets each month. Lately, most of them are here in Tokyo, but I have had the pleasure to visit a few in Osaka, Hida Takayama, and Nikko. In February, I managed despite my crutches and the protests to stop in at the Dane County Farmer's Market. It's always fun, and a bit addictive.

May took me to a market just down the tracks - literally two stops east of where we live - to visit Kichijoji's monthly market. (You can read the details of what we found over at Eco+Waza.) While I would have preferred seeing more Tokyo area farmers, I found plenty of great people sharing good stuff. Who knows where I'll be hunting for vegetables in June?