Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another 31 Done

Some of Koyasan's many moss-covered Buddhas.
It's hard to believe the Blogathon is over already. As always, there is some relief and some sadness. Relief that the pressure is off to post every day, and sadness that the other 250 (give or take) people I've been working with this month will wander off into their own electronic lives. There's also, to be frank, some sadness that the pressure to post every day is off, too. I work better with firm deadlines and the prospect of a stern tone. Perhaps that's the result of my Midwest upbringing.

And as usual I'm coming away with more than a few lessons learned over the course of the month. Here are the highlights.

1. I'm actually pretty good at this. 
OK, I usually don't toot my own horn quite so much, but I seriously find that I enjoy reading my own writing and that my content is good. I work hard to not put up fluff material just to fill the space, and I spend a fair amount of time researching my content. Crafting the paragraphs is getting faster, but I still work carefully to make sure the words flow well to produce an image or feeling I think readers can relate to and enjoy. I may only have a handful of followers, but if those folks are going to take the time to read what I've got to say the least I can do is give them my best.

2. I love writing this blog.
This goes with the first one, but I think it's important to say directly. Writing this blog helps me sort out the things I'm doing in the garden, on the farm, and in the kitchen, and tie them all together. I throw in a bit of travel now and again because everywhere is something to taste, to see, and to share. There are those that pooh-pooh blogging, but this month helped me clarify that I don't agree with them. I might just be another voice in the wilderness (of my garden, that is), but I'm creating community, sharing what I think is relevant, and hopefully offering a bit of enjoyment to boot.

3. Scheduling is invaluable.
I wrote about this earlier, but I've found it such a brilliant thing that it's worth mentioning again. Sitting down to write out a basic schedule of things I want to write about for the month was clarifying, fun, and helped me remember the many things I wanted to talk about here. Most of all it helped me and my Muse work out a balance in our schedules, and there's something to be said for that.

4. I'm not writing in a vacuum.
The community of blogging and writing is wonderful, and through the Blogathon I've met some really great people doing impressive things. Many of them have commented here, written guest posts for me, and helped me grow as a person and as a writer. That may sound trite, but it is true. Such encouragement and feedback has improved the quality of my writing, given me focus, and made this whole process more enjoyable. Others stop by to tell me they decided to visit a farmers market based on my recommendation or to say they like what they see enough to ask me to write for or with them. How happy a thing is that?

5. I suspect I could do this the other 11 months of the year.
While this month was challenging, it was not as impossible as I thought it would be at the beginning. And I enjoyed it. Now, I'm thinking that maybe I could do this the remainder of the year. Maybe. As I ponder upcoming travel plans to China (so excited!), Tohoku, and Hokkaido, I wonder if I'm crazy. But then, isn't that just more things to write about every day? Hmmmm...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Carrot Thinnings: An Experiment in Cold Soup

Just like the daikon in early winter, we thin the carrot seedlings down to one little orange guy per hole. It's a mildly heart-breaking affair as it always seems a shame to waste so much lovely vegetable matter, although there is something to be said for adding to the compost pile. I decided as I pulled little lovely after little lovely out of the ground yesterday that I ought to do something with at least some of them. The greens, small, tender and aromatic, will whip up into an excellent dish on their own, but what to do with those little orange roots?

As the sun beat down on my shoulders a desire for a cold beverage took hold, and then it came to me: cold carrot ginger soup. A recipe began to take shape there in the field, and after a quick conference call with my sister-in-law, gardener and cook extraordinaire, I sorted out a few details and set out on a journey of experimentation.

Cold Ginger Carrot Soup
5 large carrots, washed and topped.*
2 inch piece of ginger, washed and grated.
1/2 cup dashi, because no soup is complete without it. Or a broth of your choice.
Water

Slice the carrots thinly and steam until tender. Drain and save the liquid. Mash the carrots. (I don't have a blender, but that would work well, too. I just used an antique potato masher like my mother's.) Add in the liquid left over from the steaming process and keep mashing until you get the consistency you want. Toss in the dashi and grated ginger, and simmer for about 15 minutes to let the flavors meld. Chill in the refrigerator. Eat.

The Usual Caveat or Two
For a more attractive soup, be sure to really tidy up your carrots and cut away the green bit just below where the leaves meet the root. I say this as the woman whose husband said her eggplant pickles reminded him of octopus. Consider yourself warned.

I was at a loss for spices, and my sister-in-law didn't get one of my emails in time for the publishing of this post. I fully expect she'll have an opinion or two about it, and I'll add that information here. I threw in a pinch of cumin seeds, but I left them out of the recipe here as it's too soon to determine the results. I think garlic might have been good, too. Thoughts?




*Seriously, make this salad. You'll never regret it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Piddling on the Vegetables

Well, not exactly, but something similar is happening in my garden here in Tokyo. I'm not installing a potty in the garden, but I'm planning to surreptitiously transport a bottle of fresh urine there once a week. There I'll mix it with water and pour it over my plants in an effort to offer them some needed nutrients and give the soil a boost. If I forget to take it (an event which has already occurred in my jet-lagged state) I'll simply pour the contents over the compost pile to add nutrients there and speed the breakdown process. (Check out this article at The Ecologist for a good summary of urine's benefits.)

Why am I doing this? Oh, heaps of reasons, but mostly it is because I have found organic urban gardening to be mildly confounding. My previous garden in Michigan in the country was an easy affair in comparison in terms of sourcing compost, manure, and straw. It was easy to build compost bins, potato towers, and lasagna beds. Unbeknownst to me, it was simple to build up my soil and grow great vegetables, flowers, and herbs, with extra material to spare for the pear and apple trees.

Here in Tokyo I don't have a lawn or neighbors with horses, sheep, or cows. There is a chicken coop  up the road, but I've not seen the owner yet. I don't have a wood stove from which to gather wood ash to sprinkle over the beds in fall, and there is no nearby source of straw. I can buy all of these things from local nurseries and home centers, but it's expensive and the sight of all those plastic bags in my garbage is an incredible downer. I do smuggle in the occasional bag of leaves that result from my neighbor's yard tidying days, but this last year the leaves have been suspect due to radioactive fallout from the March 11th earthquake.

So, I literally lie awake at night wondering what options exist so that my garden can thrive in this urban setting without the benefit of imported manures and plastic mulches. The tatami mats and lasagna beds help, but they aren't quite enough. More strategies need to be put in place so that the critters living in my soil and compost bins (other than the rat I spotted the other day - ugh), can happily feast and do the work they need to do so I can have a ripe tomato to much or a few string beans to make one of my all time favorite dishes.

Enter urine. Emma Cooper first exposed me to this idea in her book, and since then the idea re-emerges periodically on Twitter or other blogs I follow. There's no shortage of urine in our house (or anyone elses, I imagine) and we simply flush it away. We already practice the "If it's yellow, let it mellow." philosophy, but this morning at 3am I decided that I ought to take that a step further. (I have no good rhyme here, but perhaps I can work up a haiku later.) Japanese farmers have long taken advantage of this resource by collecting night soil, setting up toilets near their fields and along roadways to encourage travelers to relieve themselves, and even collecting it from public toilets at train stations and elsewhere. (See Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan by F. H. King for more dirty details.) I figure I'm just taking part in the spirit of mottainai.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Five Blogging Lessons Plus One

Mita-san's father's awesome chopstick rest.
I missed one of the Blogathon theme days while in America last week, and so I'm opting to share my thoughts on the group topic today instead. The question posed to the group was, "If you began blogging today, what would you do differently?"

I started this blog to prove to myself that I could still write a series of paragraphs in a compelling and meaningful way. I worked at a non-profit back then where most of my writing consisted of bullet points, brief emails, and letters to donors and volunteers. It was good work and I loved it, but I worried that I'd lost the one skill I truly loved: my ability to write. Since that day more than three years ago, I find myself writing nearly every day either here or in my journal. Articles, reviews, and more come pouring out and I'm grateful for each word as it emerges. I learn something new every day. And if I were to start today, here are a few things I might do a bit differently.

1. Use photos with every post. 
My earliest posts didn't always use pictures, and looking back over them now they simply look dreary. The information is pretty good, but without an enticing visual the posts lose me almost immediately.

2. Create a schedule and write regularly.
Writing is hard work and ideas don't come in a flash. Yet, a blogger needs to post regularly to get readers and keep their attention. Sporadic posts don't exactly inspire or impress. Even the most dedicated readers will stop checking back if the posts become too infrequent.

3. Schedule topics.
This Blogathon felt particularly daunting as my schedule is busier than ever with farming, other writing assignments and Japanese lessons. Let's not even think about the various fruit and vegetables ripening even as I type and crying out to be pickled, jammed, or shu-ed. I made a schedule that kept me focused, allowed me to write ahead, and didn't leave me crying out for my Muse in despair.

4. Focus.
Honestly, I still struggle with this one. I write about gardening, farming, food, and travel, which is about three topics too many. I should choose one and run with it, but then I always find something intriguing to write about in regards to one of the other three. I'm learning to narrow these things down, i.e. travel writing here about gardening and farming places I visit, but I still remain a bit scattered. If only the world wasn't such an interesting place!

5. Move to a more professional look.
I'm in the process of shifting things to a more official looking and sounding website, which is something I should have done much earlier. Better late than never.

6. Spend more time networking.
I know I'm only supposed to do five, but I always like bonus tracks. If I were starting out today, I'd spend more time reading and exploring other blogs. The Blogathon is quite good for that, but I should be doing it more the other eleven months of the year, too. I never regret it, and I often meet people and learn things I never would have discovered otherwise. Plus, it gets them reading and commenting on my blog, too. Heavens, what's not to gain?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Sunday, May 27th

Handspun yarn at Nara Organic Farmers Market



















Just a little reminder of all the great markets happening on this ridiculously beautiful Sunday. We just returned from an emergency trip to America, so I'll be heading out to restock my larder and hopefully ward off jet lag for a bit. If you see someone napping near the display of strawberries or broccoli, feel free to nudge me awake and say hello!


Sunday, May 27
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Earth Day Market
Sunday, May 27
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing.
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Satoimo at Garden to Table

One of the benefits of doing the Blogathon is that I get to meet tons of other bloggers writing about a wide variety of things. And we swap posts, which is a fun way to make creative connections as well as share knowledge and ideas.

This year I was lucky enough to have two swap partners. One of them, Garden to Table, is a great gardening site that I subscribed to even before I met up with her here. It was like meeting someone famous. Here at Popcorn Homestead, Elyse wrote about Oregon Farmer's Markets, and over there I talked at length about my growing relationship with satoimo (taro root), one of Japan's favorite slimy foods. Yummier than it sounds!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: May 26th and May 27th


Glorious weather means glorious food shopping! Head on out to see what's available this weekend at some of the loveliest markets going. Swing by Meijijingu Gardens after the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi to see if the iris are still blooming, too. Can't think of a better combination at the moment!

Photo Note: Hex Hive is a groovy little vegetable-local-food-product-second-hand-shop we discovered during our stay in Nara.

Gyre Market
Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Earth Day Market
Sunday, May 27
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing.
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in May
A recent first visit to this market was well worth the trip for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji.
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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, May 24, 2012

Cafe Good Life Review at Japan Tourist

Dessert at Cafe Good Life. Oh, yeah.
Even though it's only May we are already starting to think about our summer travel plans to Hokkaido. We do love it there, not least because of good friends at Square One, but also because of the the other little treasures we have found there. These have made us feel at home, and have become regular visits for us each time.

One of these places is Cafe Good Life in Asahikawa. Set outside of town in the countryside, Cafe Good Life is one of the few destination restaurants I would recommend as worth the effort. I could say more, but I'll let you read the review I wrote of it over at Japan Tourist, a handy travel site where I'm a contributor. I wrote this one in winter, but summer is glorious. See you there?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Here Come the Plums!

I'd like to say this photo is blurry because the ume were growing so fast I couldn't get a good picture, but that would be a lie. I was rushing about last week doing a last few things at the farm and in the garden before our trip home to Michigan. We'll be home there for one week for family reasons, but as I've said before, vegetables wait for no one.

And, clearly, that goes for fruit, too.

Ume (Japanese plums) are tart, lovely, and preserve well in so many ways. This little fruit has opened a door of flavor for me, not to mention my closet full of shus (just search the word on my blog and you'll see), that I have a great deal of affection for it. Below is a list of links to peruse and choose what you might like to do, too. Let me know. I'm sure there's something with this little lovely I've not thought of that ought to be tried.

Umeboshi  - The classic preserve in Japan with a flavor like no other. A little work, but well worth the effort. I should also add that it's not as difficult as it seems at first.

Umeshu - The classic liqueur in Japan that tastes best after at least two years...if you can wait that long, that is.

Ume Hachimitsu - A lesser known beverage that is a household favorite for us. Good hot or cold, and pathetically easy again.

Ume Hachimitsu Jam - Mottainai. I couldn't just let those leftover plums go to waste, could I?


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strawberry Fields

OK, not fields. Not even a row, actually. How about a plant a friend put in the garden a year or so ago that sent out runners, bloomed, and is now heavy with fruit? Probably not enough for jam, but definitely enough to try sun warm in the garden and take home for oatmeal. Oh, yeah.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Busy Bee Haiku

Each year the Blogathon opts for a haiku theme day. Years past I've written about my mini-tambo (my first personal rice field...in a cup) and about a stunning ornamental peach that grew near the farm gate. (It succumbed to a typhoon last fall, but is now sprouting vigorously, much to our delight.)




This year I'm penning one in awe of our field of norabo (a traditional green not unlike kale in taste and texture that is usually grown in the foothills and mountains further west of here) that we've let go to seed. It's somewhat uncharacteristic of the farmers to have made this choice, but I'm so very pleased. The yellow flowers have a heady scent and walking to and from other fields the buzzing sound emanating from these rows is delightful. I should have taken a video.

Norabo Cocktail Party
Yellow flowers blooming bright.
Heavy with pollen,
Bees humming sip happily.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Just a quick reminder that there's still plenty of good markets to visit this weekend with heaps of good food. Whip up a batch of soup or a nice salad. Really, the possibilities are endless, so why not give it a go? Good luck!

***Notice the addition of the Shinonome Earth Day Market on Sunday!!***




Ebisu Market
Sunday, May 20
11am to 5pm
A nice sized market held on the terrace just in front of Ebisu Garden Place that will always be special to me for introducing me to dried natto and tea seedpods.
Sunday, May 20
10am to 5pm
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. 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!

Sunday, May 20
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
10am to 5pm
Map

Shinonome Canal Earth Day Market
Sunday, May 20
A sweet little market not far from Tokyo Big Sight in the center of a bunch of high rises. Head on over to rock it with the veg!
9am to 2pm (Rain or shine!)
Map

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Kichijoji Farmer's Market Overview

Kichijoji is home to two wonderful farmer's markets. Both are small, but good fun and filled with plenty of promise for growth. The first is the Earth Day Market (Rescheduled from last week until the end of summer. The website doesn't say why, but here's hoping we get to do more organic shopping just around the corner.) in Inokashira Park and the second is the regular market closer to the station.

On this weekend, the Kichijoji Farmer's Market aims to please and surely will. Read my overview of the market and head on over with shopping bags in hand. You're bound to find plenty of good fruit, vegetables, and fun!

It might also be worth noting that strawberry season here is just starting to kick it. Be prepared with proper packaging to lug home some of these luscious beauties.

Know of a market in or around Tokyo? (Or Japan for that matter. We're making summer travel plans now.) Don't hold back! Tell all and make your local farmers glad. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: May 19th and 20th


Nara Organic Farmers Market
Oh, there's way too many farmer's markets to choose from this weekend! Ebisu with Afuri Ramen just around the corner or Nippori with the battalion of Aizu Wakamatsu growers on hand or the UN University Night Market? Seriously, what is a vegetable geek supposed to do? Bust out an extra shopping bag and hit the road, that's what! See you there!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, May 20
11am to 5pm
A nice sized market held on the terrace just in front of Ebisu Garden Place that will always be special to me for introducing me to dried natto and tea seedpods.
Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20
10am to 5pm
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. 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!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, May 19
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 (plus a booth of folks from Niigata) and got a tour of the theatre. A full write-up coming up soon!
11am - 5pm
Map

Saturday, May 19
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
8pm - ?

Kichijoji Market
Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
10am to 5pm
Map

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in May
A recent first visit to this market was well worth the trip for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji.
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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, May 17, 2012

Cucumber Trellis: Reprise
















This post is consistently my most popular. I keep imagining growers everywhere searching for a good system for growing cucumbers, and stumbling across my blog. We're growing cucumbers again this year, and I'm betting that somewhere within the next week or two the trellis will go up again. We're also trying our hand at squash and watermelon on the farm, and I'm pretty excited. I'm sure the farmers I work with will have some ingenious plan to implement. They are so inspiring!

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.

Got a good rigging system for growing vegetables in small spaces? Do tell!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Green Curtain Time!



Morning glory (Asagao) blossom from a curtain. Lovely, isn't she?
Lovely and idyllic as these spring days are the heat of summer is surely on its way. And with the shut-down of all of Japan's nuclear reactors, that also means conservation strategies need to be put in place now. And that can mean only one thing: time to plant the green curtain!

I've written about this before in some detail, so I'm not going to set folks yawning with yet another telling. Instead, I'm going to suggest you get pen and paper ready to jot down a shopping list, and grab a ruler to measure the space you've got in mind for the green curtain to cover. Later we'll talk about recipes if you decide to do an edible version or recommended reading if you opt for ornamental and get lots of wild visitors. Edible or ornamental, the shade makes a lovely spot for sipping a wee bit of umeshu or umehachimitsu as those temperatures climb, too.

Morning glory curtain shading west window.


How to Construct a Green Curtain takes you through the whole process from start to finish with more detail than you might need, but I'm a worrywart.

Green Curtain: Variations on a Theme talks about some fun edible options for curtain construction.

Green Curtain Examples Around the City gives an all too brief tour of curtains large and small (gargantuan, in some cases) I've seen around town. I'm sure I'll see more this summer, too, and will post photos of the more interesting ones.

And speaking of which, if you know of a great green curtain or have an idea for one let's hear it!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Farmer's Markets in Oregon

Dane County Winter Farmers Market, 2011
I had the unique pleasure of working with two (yes, two!) other bloggers as part of the Guest Post Swap for the 2012 Blogathon. (Check out my first swap post about Guelph, Ontario and its lovely rivers, too!)  Elyse Grau writes at Garden to Table about everything delicious growing and going on around her in Oregon as well as her own garden. If you're like me, you'll be hungry by the end!


Farmers' markets are everywhere these days. The USDA reported a 17% increase in the number of markets between 2010 and 2011. I've seen at least 3 new markets open within twenty miles of ours in the past year.

I manage the market in the small town where I live. Creswell, Oregon is a town of 5000, with a large outlying rural area. The market, currently in its fifth year, is held every Tuesday from 4-6 pm.

It was originally a project of our local library, and was held in the library's “backyard” (a fenced-in partially covered ex-lumberyard). At the end of our 2010 season we moved to the parking lot and banquet room of a local caterer and baker. She had been one of our most popular vendors, and moving to her facility made life easier for her, and allowed us to remain open year-round.

Being open in winter, in an area where very few crops will grow without cover has been a challenge. So far, we are meeting that by allowing some resale of produce bought wholesale. Many of the farmers installed greenhouses or hoophouses last year in order to begin producing vegetables year-round, and I'm expecting to see more vendor-grown produce this fall/winter season.

Our biggest challenge though, is getting enough traffic for the vendors – winter or summer. Though our attendance soars in May through August, we'd still like to see it grow.

 Some vendors have higher expectations, and won't join, or will try is out and leave after a few markets. Others are more realistic and understand that it will take time to build clientele, and that only by showing up week to week can we offer enough to continue to attract more customers.

Part of the reason for the low attendance is the economy. The down-turn started in the market's second year, and even as it improves, habits have been changed. We cannot always compete on price with some of the discount merchants in the area. Most of our customers are those who feel it is more important to support local agriculture and business, or to eat fresh, in-season produce than it is to save a few dollars.

We're looking for ways to educate the rest of the consumers in the reasons for eating local and the benefits of eating seasonally. Many customers, used to buying any fruit or vegetable imaginable any time of the year don't realize that corn is grown in the summer and apples in the fall. We're working on that, too.

We have a very friendly market, with few rules. Some of the larger markets impose many restrictions and fees on the vendors, and deal with much more conflict than I have ever had to face. In fact, all the regular vendors say that they come to this market mostly because they like it, not because their sales are so good! I enjoy managing the market (for no pay even!) for the same reason.

We do have a good mix of items at the market, though I am trying to find more new items. Most of the farmers sell a majority of the same vegetables, but everyone will have one or two items unique to them, or offer a wider selection of that item, such as peppers or tomatoes.

We also have meat and poultry sellers, beans and grains, nuts and honey. In the spring we may have plants (not this year) and some cut flowers in the summer.

This year we started a program of brief talks and demonstrations. They are on all sorts of subjects dealing with gardening and cooking, and have included demonstrations of methods of cooking vegetables, a discussion and tasting of gourmet salt, soil testing and how to build a wood-fired oven. (the latter was our most well-attended talk so far).

Elyse grows fruit, nuts, vegetables and herbs on a portion of her five acres in Oregon. She writes articles on gardening and cooking. She also authors a monthly newspaper column entitled “Garden to Table” and companion blog, both about growing what you eat and eating what you grow. As a certified Master Food Preserver she also teaches people safe methods of preserving what they grow.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Guelph, Ontario: A Tale of Two Rivers

River Run Centre, Guelph, Ontario. Courtesy V. Waffle, 2007.
Today I'm very excited to welcome Van Waffle, a fellow blogger participating in Blogathon 2012, who writes about urban nature. We traded posts about waterways in Guelph and Tokyo, our respective cities. Enjoy!


Old Man Willow, 2008. Photo courtesy of V. Waffle.
The city where I live demonstrates how dedicated citizens can bring nature into urban areas. Guelph, a city of 121,668 people in Southwestern Ontario is consistently identified as one of the best places to live in Canada. Progressive environmental standards contribute to the quality of life. If asked what they like most about Guelph, many residents would mention the two rivers.

At the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa Rivers, the city was founded in 1827. They played an essential role in early economy. Tanneries, wool mills and breweries dotted their banks during the 19th Century. Two serious floods during the early 20th Century led the city to fill wetlands in a misguided effort to control water flow. Some 1920s floodwalls remain a distinctive feature of Royal City Park.

To my mind, the two rivers have distinct personalities. The Speed River, which coils around the heart of downtown, is subject to more management. It is at times strong and brash, at others broad and civilized. Its tributary, the Eramosa River, is more introverted. Slow and dark, it maintains a steady pace. Its mature trees and lush understory invite meditation and confer solace.

Guelph Lake reservoir was built upstream in 1974 to manage Speed River water levels more effectively. Consistent outflow during the drier summer months dilutes sewage and runoff. Hillside Festival, one of Canada’s outstanding summer music events, takes place at Guelph Lake Conservation Area the last weekend of July.

The riverside factories are long gone. By the 1980s and even before, community action focused on cleaning the floodplains and building public parks. Ontario Public Research Interest Group (OPIRG) of Guelph organized weekend cleanups and, beginning in 1988, spearheaded extensive naturalization programs. The city adopted a management plan that bans chemicals alongside the rivers. It maintains areas useful to the community while fostering biodiversity.

This amounts to remarkable green space running through the city core. Public bicycle and walking trails run along both rivers, usually on both sides. It is possible to hike across the entire city via parks. The character of these areas has changed significantly since I started university here in 1982. Some high-maintenance lawns have literally turned to woodland in 25 years. Royal City Park manifests an Old World feel, while Eramosa woodlands present an illusion of being far from any city. The river system provides valuable habitat for wildlife and native plants, as well as a migration corridor for birds.

It seems environmental action has recently received bad raps from unexpected quarters. Guelph’s progressive policies are not exempt. Proposed changes to the city’s official plan could open certain river areas to development. It is bewildering that something so many residents value could come under threat. Community action made these parks what they are today. Hopefully similar foresight will protect and improve them.

~~~~~~

Van Waffle is a Canadian writer. He blogs about urban nature at Speed River Journal: www.vanwaffle.com

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: Recap!


Kencha Tea at Nara's Organic Market
Just a quick recap of the Tokyo farmer's markets on this weekend. There's a nice little selection of weekly ones as well as a couple that only appear once a month or less. Don't miss a wonderful opportunity to try a new vegetable, practice Japanese, or get a new recipe!






Earth Day Market - Kichijoji
Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13
A fantastic opportunity to get yummy all-organic and fair-trade goodies in one of Tokyo's niftiest little spots in one of the city's most beautiful parks. Seriously, why aren't you putting this on the calendar?
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!
No map yet.

Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kichijoji's Earth Day Market: Reprise


It's a little early to run this post again, but it's worth the effort to spread the word about this great new market on the west side of Tokyo. The Earth Day Market itself isn't new at all, but this branch of it in Kichijoji is. The organizers try to set up markets around town to spread the word about good organic food and to bring such things to more and more places. Not only is it a little Earth Day every month, as one vendor said, but it's a nice bit of community as well. Good food grown by people passionate about their work never fails to inspire pleasure, and that's exactly what visitors to this market (and the others this weekend) will find. See you there!

There's a new market in town, and let's just say I'm excited. The Earth Day Market, held monthly over in Yoyogi Park, is one of my favorites, and so when the market manager, Tomiyama-san, told me a 'branch' market was starting up in Kichijoji I was thrilled. The Earth Day Market is all organic, all fair trade, all the time, and the only downside is that it is once a month.

So yesterday, two days returned from our month in America, we battled jet lag and biked on over to check out the new market. There at the western end of the park we found a bundle of vendors braving the chill of a  cloudy Sunday to greet customers with their usual selection of good food and sustainable products.
BioFarm's most yummy roasted potatoes.















Many of our usual favorite vendors were there - Cocira with her most excellent bamboo charcoal cleaning product, BioFarm with the usual selection of beautiful greens and the scrumptious roasted potatoes pictured above, Kitagawen with their lovely organic teas, and Miyamotoyama with their mouth-watering homemade mochi, miso, and natto  - along with a bundle of new folks selling everything from plants and seeds to jewelry, jams, an assortment of grains, vinegars, miso and shitake, along with jewelry and yarn. Busy in spite of gray skies, it's easy to imagine this market shaded by the big trees in warmer months and full of people doing a bit of shopping before venturing to the zoo or a stroll around the pond.

Makino Nouen's amazing daizu selection
Come on out to one of Tokyo's hippest spots to enjoy the park, pick up some groceries, and support area farmers!

Kichijoji Earth Day Market
Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13*
10am to 4pm (Rain or shine!)
Map
*Yup, we have to wait until May. The anticipation is already killing me...

Directions: Head out the South exit of Kichijoji Station towards Inokashira Park. As you come down the steps to enter the park proper, turn right along the pond. Follow the path along until you see an option to head up the hill on the right. Head up the hill, and there at the base of the walkway leading to the zoo and under a grove of trees you'll find a friendly bunch waiting to help you find the vegetable of your dreams. There's plenty of bike parking there, too!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: May 12th and 13th


Ota-san of Wakknopan Breads. Yummy!
This second weekend in May looks as promising for weather as it does for markets. I'll be venturing off to the Earth Day Market in Kichijoji to restock on black rice, mochi, daizu, and more. I can't go too far afield as there's work to be done in the garden and at the farm, and the ever-rising temperatures mean there's no time to waste. The rest of you will just have to wander off to get a taste of other Tokyo markets this weekend. I have no doubt there's a farmer out there with a super-special recipe for that unknown vegetable at her stand. Go get it and report back!

Earth Day Market - Kichijoji
Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13
A fantastic opportunity to get yummy all-organic and fair-trade goodies in one of Tokyo's niftiest little spots in one of the city's most beautiful parks. Seriously, why aren't you putting this on the calendar?
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!
No map yet.

Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in May
A recent first visit to this market was well worth the trip for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji.
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the 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, May 10, 2012

The Magic (and Science) of Charcoal

Charcoal maker's stand near Hachioji.
I write for eco+waza, a very groovy company here in Tokyo, about an assortment of eco-ideas related to Japanese culture. Topics are a combination of my own ideas as well as suggestions from my editor. The latter are often particularly challenging assignments that require a fair amount of research and thought, but I love them for just that reason. And without fail, I learn much that gives me even greater insight into the country I currently call home.

My latest assignment was to explain to readers why charcoal is an effective deodorizer and dehumidifier. Japanese people have long used it to prevent mildew in kimono closets and keep rooms from smelling musty or particularly stinky after a meal of grilled fish. After loads of reading, an interview with a friendly scientist, and a basic science lesson, I learned that there's more to charcoal than just grilled meat!

Read the full article Japanese Charcoal: How and Why This Natural Deodorizer Works Its Magic to get the full scoop.

Photo Note: Taken during a hike out near Hachioji, we came across this little stand. I, of course, thought it was a vegetable stand at first, but it instead belonged to one of Japan's last few remaining charcoal makers. At the time I had no idea I'd get this assignment, but I simply took the picture because it looked fascinating. Now that I know what I do, I wish I'd bought a bag of his charcoal for the house or the bamboo charcoal vinegar for the garden. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tatami Mat Break Down: The Story of Mulching Innovation Continues

Bonus: leftover tatami bits feed the soil.
Two years ago I spotted old tatami mats used as mulch at a small neighboring farm. I'd just done a fairly serious weeding session in my little garden after returning from what has now become our annual summer romp in Hokkaido, and was looking for a solution. I am not a fan of weeding, because it usually happens in the heat of the day and because as I learn more about permaculture and organic gardening I see fewer and fewer plants as weeds. Many, like fleabane daisy, offer pollinators and other beneficials important sources of food and shelter, and I'm beginning to think more and more that I need to learn to cooperate.

So, one year ago I got brave enough to ask our local tatami master if I could have some old mats. He said yes and a friend helped me haul them to the garden and lay them out between my rows. I still use plastic sheet mulch for the plants themselves as organic matter, like leaves and straw, can be hard to come by at the right time. A solution for that also exists, but I've not discovered the right one for my garden just yet.

The mats blocked weeds effectively while letting water soak through, and they staved off some of the erosion that commonly occurs with Tokyo's high winds and heavy rains. They did blow about a bit in the occasional typhoon, but overall they survived quite nicely. When I made my latest lasagna bed - committing a whole long row to what I firmly believe is the best idea ever for building soil vitality - I used the mats to cover the whole of it twice over. (Some mats stayed between the rows, but others had to be taken up when Takashi-san plowed and set the plastic mulch in place.) It helped keep the beds warm so active decomposition could occur, and it again kept things from eroding.

The benefit of the mats that I didn't anticipate was their decomposition. As the mats break down the igusa (grass used specifically for making tatami) slips away from the string that previously held it all together. As I pick them up to move them from place to place, the igusa is often left behind as a valuable soil additive. The nylon string is proving something of an annoyance, but I'll just ball it up and bag it with the mint on burnables day. The old tatami themselves, I've decided, will go at the bottom of the compost bin when I turn it in a few weeks time. Or I'll experiment and slip them between layers of turned compost, perhaps, as a different sort of lasagna bed. Oh, the possibilities!

Got an experiment in repurposing that worked out well? Even if it didn't that's ok. We've all been there. Let's hear it either way!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mint: A Rookie's Mistake

My mint forest.
Confession time. I did one of the worst things a gardener could. An error that with more than ten years of dirt under my nails should simply have not occurred. I've warned others not to do it, for heaven's sake. But here I am, head hung in shame, confessing my error.

I planted mint in the garden. Directly in the soil. Three times.

Here's the context, a.k.a. my excuse. I'd been in Japan less than three months when the farmers told me I could have a little corner of their fields to call my own, to grow whatever I wanted. I was ecstatic beyond belief. Filled with such euphoria I went to the nursery, which is akin to going to the grocery store when you're hungry. You crave everything and anything, end up buying more than you need and a handful of things that aren't good for you. I filled two bike baskets and another bag hung from my handlebars. Mint and lemon balm sat innocent-leaved among tomatoes, nasturtiums, cosmos, marigolds, and eggplants.

A year of so later a friend mentioned her husband found bergamont at another nearby nursery. Bergamont?!? My head filled with memories of summer meals at Sybil and Maan's where Maan introduced our neighborhood to a magnificent potato salad made with the leaves of this Michigan native. Food and memory are powerful forces in my garden,, and I dashed off to see what I could find. Despite knowing full well that bergamont is a member of the mint family and that it is not native to Japan, I planted it in the garden. How bad could it be?

Well, let me tell you. The mint family is aggressive. I might almost call it the yakuza (Japanese mobsters) of horticulture. I do admire the determination it has to spread and grow, and I am grateful for the mini-forest it creates to shade a local stray cat, shelter salamanders and praying mantis', and the erosion control it offers. And let's not forget mojito's, salads, and tea, either, but there ends the silver-lining of this menace.

Mint, as is its wont, is taking over. When I refer to the 'mint forrest' above, I'm not kidding. Both ends of my west wall bed are full of it, and one of my compost bins has been half eaten by it. It's also creeping into my lasagna bed. The stolons it sends out have snuck under (and sometimes through, damn them) my tatami mat mulch to appear next to my potato sprouts. The lavender, a favorite with butterflies and those venturing by on the walking street, is being molested by it. The bergamont nearly destroyed one of my rhubarb plants, which frankly is going too far.

What I should have done if I really wanted mint in the garden would have been to turn to my trusted Rodale Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening for guidance. There they advise to "...plant mints in bottomless containers that are at least 15 inches deep and sunk in the ground with one or two inches protruding above the soil surface, or plant above ground in tubs and barrels." Instead, I'm carefully working out the stolons and packing them into our burnable trash, giving lots of away for tea, or for potting up (with stern words of caution!).

Got a garden confession to make? There's no shame in sharing these things. Heaven knows, I've got no right to judge after this doozey. Let's hear it.