2016年6月30日木曜日

She's flying!

Amy was in the All Nagano Athletics Meet on the weekend in the 80m hurdles.

She was soooooooooo nervous.

It was a looooonnnngggggg day and she did really well. She didn't place so this is the end of her grade 5 hurdles career but there's always next year.

And the best part according to Amy? The major sponsor is Nissin instant ramen and she was given not one or two but THREE bowls of instant ramen in her showbag.

"I'm definitely doing athletics again next year!"

Ahhhhhhh that's the spirit.

2016年6月28日火曜日

full service

"Do you have any more morning glory seedlings?"

No, sorry, we're out. We have rhinoceros beetles though if you want them?'

What shop would you think you were in to have that conversation?

Nursery? Pet shop? Hardware shop?

How long would it take you to guess post office?

Seriously! Our post office is the most full service shop you've ever seen.

They have little displays in the foyer throughout the year. Things just free for the taking. Beetles, bell crickets, bamboo branches for tanabata star festival, morning glories....

And in summer and leading up to New Year when people traditionally send postcards to each other they set up a desk in the corner with different stamps and ink pads and calligraphy brushes and you can buy your postcards and then sit down and decorate it, write your message and send it all right there.

And then take some beetles home!

How's that for full service?



When I picked up my free morning glory seedlings from the crate one of the postal workers came running over with a bag to put them in.

2016年6月27日月曜日

just a picture

We're harvesting the wheat and hanging it to dry that tiny bit more at the moment. Long hard days in the field and the last walk back to the car of an evening can feel miles longer than it was in the morning.

But then you realise you're walking past views like this and you stop for a moment to appreciate it. And then you think you should take a picture to share the sight.

And here you are:

2016年6月25日土曜日

first summer veggie harvest

Yeah! The first harvest of any veggie is exciting but I love summer and I love the summer veggies so the first summer veggie harvest is SUPER exciting!

I planted a packet of 'mixed zucchini' seeds. The picture showed some stripy ones, a back one, regular green, button squash and yellow. It did say in the fine print that actual contents may vary.

In my case actual contents may not vary much at all!



Nine of 12 have fruited so far and we have a lot of yellow going on! Oh well, I like yellow and really they all taste the same anyway. Still, gave me a giggle!

Look at those beautiful eggplant though, hey? They're called Angelina which seems fitting to such pretty vegetables.

Back out to it!

2016年6月23日木曜日

No ducks?

People keep asking me- no ducks?

And the short answer is no.

And the long answer is not this year. (But I think we're in year three of 'not this year'.)

The good thing about ducks is you have live-in weeders and fertilisers and at the end of the season you have something to put on your rice.

The not so good thing about ducks is you have to look after them.

Every day. This is a day in the life of the ducks. And that's when they're small and cute and (mostly) do what you want them to do.

Kind of like kids, when they hit adolescence all of a sudden they decide bedtime is not for them and they'd rather be playing with their mates at the far end of the paddy than tucked up safe and secure in their shed. It can feel like a very long journey between cute yellow fluffball and goodbye ducks. And you have to feed them. And buying/ sourcing/ collecting feed is another job/ expense as well....

We still go and help with the duck butchering day each year and I was asking around as to how other people look after their ducks to see if I could glean any tips on more efficient processes.

Well, it turns out we were the owners of some pretty pampered ducks! A number of farmers didn't even expect that their ducks would last the season and considered them tools rather than animals to be responsible for. (It's true that after ducks have eaten all the weeds in a paddy once at the start of the season there's usually not that many more weeds as all the seeds tend to germinate at the same time so their 'work' is done.) K and I are not this kind of farmer. We're the bring home a squished duckling and warm it up under the kotatsu and go and buy it some brandy kind of farmers.

Another percentage of farmers use electric fences and therefore save a lot of time and effort with fencing- of course they still HAVE fences but they aren't the main line of defence. Our paddy is waaayyyy too big to make this an economic possibility though.

So, as there's no easier way to do ducks that suits us we really would need to just tough it out with morning and evening duck checks and putting up fences and stringing 2000m of string up and down and up and down the paddy.

In non-duck years I am the weeder and it is definitely a time consuming job- at least three hours a week in the summer so I am leaning more towards ducks again..... and we have a couple of families interested in helping out so who knows..... no ducks this year but maybe yes ducks next year?

And here's a gratuitous picture of this year's ducks that are going to someone else's paddy:



Ohhhhhhhh they're so cuuuuuutttteeee!!

2016年6月21日火曜日

It started with good morning

Last Sunday was our turn to clean the neighbourhood community centre. This activity causes massive eye-rolling on my part as a9 it's cleaned after every use so there is really no need for each sub-group of the neighbourhood to clean it AGAIN each weekend. There is literally nothing to clean!

And also, the arranged start time is 8:00. But I have never been in over 10 years here where we weren't FINISHED by 8:00.

Huh? How is that possible you ask?

Well, everyone is in a race to be early. not just early, the earliest. So when I arrived at 7:45 half the team were already there. Ridiculous!

Anyway this time there was a rather surprising outcome of neighbourhood community centre cleaning and it started with good morning:

Good morning!

Good morning. You have been very busy lately! (this is my immediate downhill neighbour. The one who used to tell me that I had such incredibly energetic children, truly the picture of vitality and good health. Pretty sure the subtext was they were unbearably loud but she always smiles when she talks and I made a conscious decision to take everything at face value. If she wants to complain I reserve the right to make her do it straight up! So there's probably some subtext here but who knows what it is so let's just smile and keep the conversation going.)

Yes, we finally finished rice planting so now it's just weeding, seeding and keeping the frass trimmed around the edges of the fields.

And you have wheat, too.

Yes, as soon as wet season is over we'll be harvesting.

Wow! You're really into farming! 

Yes, I keep having more ideas of what I want to grow. I think I'm lucky I we've run out of field or I'd be out there with a headlamp. haha!

There's plenty of land available if you want to expand you know. (This is the head of our neighbourhood sub-committee, head of the local JA and the head son of one of the big clans in the neighbourhood. He is also 6 feet tall and speaks in a cool baritone. I'm kind of in awe of him.)

Really? In Okubo?

Yes! (the next few minutes consisted of a number of neighbours discussing unused fields around us in a horrible code that I have yet to be able to crack- the childhood nicknames of the patriarchs of each family- Tecchan, Yoshi, Tatsu etc. so I just kind of stood there but it ended up with the neighbours coming to an agreement on a field that would be perfect for our needs.)

We finished cleaning and I went home and K innocently asked

How was cleaning?

I'm sure he was expecting me to say same as usual or probably 'guess what time we finished? No go on, guess!)

I don't think he was expecting

What do you think about taking on another 2500 m2 of field?

But, after some courtesy visits (chaperoned by the bigwig) that's what we've done!

Say hello to the new field:


Every bit of brown in that picture is ours to use. Wow!! Look at the possibilities!!

And I will stop complaining (at least for a while) at the pointlessness of neighbourhood community centre cleaning!



oops!

I'm sure many people in Japan complain about lack of storage.

Here?

Not so much.

Actually, kind of the opposite.

We have so much storage things get lost.

Like a whole box of potatoes.

To be fair to ourselves we harvested over 100 kilos of potatoes last year in three varieties, one that needs immediate eating (inca gold) one that was fabulous for baked potatoes (danshaku and one that lasts a long time (May queen). There were waaaayyyyy too many boxes of potatoes to just line them up in the hallway where I usually keep stuff (doesn't everyone have a hallway lined with boxes of apples, daikon, onions and pickled plums?) so I wrapped some in newspaper and put them in boxes with holes punched in them for air circulation and wrapped them in a blanket and put them in one of the sheds. And we got a box out when we ran out inside. Rinse and repeat.

And the last box left in there we planted up as seed potatoes for the new season about a month ago.

All good. We are just so darn resourceful and self sufficient!

Or so we thought until Sunday when K was organising the recycling for the JHS recycling drive when he uncovered another whole box of potatoes.

With great trepidation I opened it (forgotten food is rarely forgiving!)

And loe and behold not only not a revolting rotten mess but look closely:


Baby potatoes are growing in there!!

Gosh. How could I possibly boil them up for the chooks now they have proven to be such persevering against all odds battlers?

We'll just have to plant them!

I mean look at this:


All those babies!

And sure, we already planted about 12 kilos of potatoes for this year.

And there really IS a limit to how many potatoes we can eat.

But they are so hopeful of continuing their lives through the next generation.

Sigh......



We planted not one but TWO rows of potatoes this long.

Come Autumn I will be pushing potatoes on everyone I know!

In non-gardening news....

Meg has started JHS.

Which means she now crosses one extra intersection to get to school. Seriously it's a bit of an anti-climactic MAJOR LIFE STEP as there is one ES feeding into one JHS here. So same kids, different building. But she's wearing a uniform for the first time (other than a week at school in Australia) and wearing a skirt five days a week which she hasn't done since... hmmm ever probably.

JHS comes with massive study schedules, piles of homework, far less direct school-parent communication and club activities.

Ahhhhhhh........ club activities.

All through ES Meg was into basketball. We even have a ring in the front yard!

She was dead keen 100% sure she was going to join the basketball club in JHS.

Then she started JHS and found out there is some kind of unwritten rule/ tradition/ peer pressure induced compulsion for the girls' basketball club members to get boy-short haircuts.

Suddenly we were vehemently anti-basketball. Not out of vanity but that Meg hates hair around her face so always has her hair tied back.

I suggested asking her (fabulous and wonderful) homeroom teacher whether this was REALLY a necessity as sometimes these traditions only continue as no one thinks to question them. The teacher agreed that no one can make you cut your hair just for a club BUT that there might be a lot of pressure from the senior girls and she'd support Meg but Meg would need to be strong to stand up for herself. (Isn't that a great balanced and realistic answer, sigh, love this woman!). Anyway, Meg was now off basketball.

So she went to trial lessons at table-tennis.

And art

and badminton

volleyball

tennis

baseball

and kendo.

I wasn't too phased at this stage as I was pretty sure she'd go back to basketball and we'd just deal with the hair thing.

Then she went back to kendo.

Then she went there again.

And I started to worry- hitting each other with sticks while running at each other and screaming???? Seriously????

But she spoke with K (who LIVED for clubs at school) and she spoke with the senior members of the club and she spoke with her homeroom teacher and she decided to join kendo.

And if we joined the village team as well as the school team (along with 95% of the team) we could borrow equipment and wouldn't need to buy it. So we did that.

And Meg's kendo schedule now looks like this:

Monday 4:30-6:30
Tuesday 7:15-7:45 and 4:30-6:30
Wednesday 7:15-7:45 and 7:00-8:00 (village team)
Thursday 7:15-7:45 and 4:30-6:30
Friday 7:15-7:45 and 4:30-6:30
Saturday or Sunday morning 8:00-11:00
Saturday 6:00-8:00 (village team)

And if there's a match on? 7:00am till 4:00pm. And if the match is on a Saturday they then go to the night practice as well.

Wow, right?

And of course it cost a lot more than I thought as we need a school team outfit and your own bamboo swords and a team jacket and insurance and kendo PTA fees and and and...

I was seriously worried that she'd get sick of it and want to quit but it's the opposite problem- I've lost the kid to kendo!

And so, here's Meg heading out on a Monday morning:





Kendo armour bag, sword bag, PE uniform and kendo outfit bag and as an afterthought school bag!

2016年6月17日金曜日

Never give up!

I was being too lazy to go into the house and get my pruning scissors when I wanted to prune off some flower stalks from the rhubarb.

I'll pull it really carefully and it won't be a problem, right?

It's just the one......

And then of course I pulled out a chunk of corm as well.

Of my young and new and much valued rhubarb plant.

I thought I'd killed it but I stuck it in the dirt just in case.

Then a week later it was just looking like a dead stick and making me feel bad every time I walked past so I sighed and pulled it up ready to chuck.

To my surprise and horror there was a tiny little new shoot nodule on the bottom of the stalk and I'd just killed it AGAIN! I stuck it back in the soil again so it could at least die in peace....

Or so I thought until yesterday when I saw this:



What a little fighter!

Now to avoid killing it again!

2016年6月12日日曜日

Lazy gardener special


Do you know what these are?

They're soooo good!

And most people never get to eat them as they're too organized!

That's right, these are a lazy gardener special.

Only available to those a whole season behind the rest of the farming world.

A pod like a snow pea with a spicy kick.

Last chance to guess...

They're daikon raddish seed pods! Seriously good. I'm sure I could make a million selling them to fancy Michelin star places to serve with their micro herbs and other fancy oddities.

But the neighbors would shudder in horror at the sight of my lazy gardener special!

2016年6月8日水曜日

You cook, I'll clean up

Mum and dad always shared the kitchen jobs with the person who cooked not having to do the dishes afterwards.

K and I use this system too.

And so it was that as K ran the tractor over a field I want to use for pumpkins this year I started washing up the rice pallets.

Which seemed only fair as he had been chasing that machine around all morning.

But there were NINETY of them!! That's more dishes than Christmas lunch!

You need to clean them to ensure that no bad stuff (microbes? fungus? mould? no idea now that I think of it!) gets left on the pallets to affect next year's seedlings.

We are lucky that there are these washing stations by the side of the road here where you can open and shut a little door to let water in and out and keep it there to wash.

I didn't have a long enough brush to get into the crevices so I got out the snow scraper (K was out tractoring remember so no one was there to look shocked at this idea!) and set to it.

The brush was too big and rather clumsy and 90 is a LOT of pallets. I have to say my commitment to fair and equal work sharing was definitely waning towards the end.

I think I will just have to learn how to use the rice planting machine so I can get out of washing next year!


rice planting 2016 - the words

Well, where to start. We are always trialling new ways of doing things in the rice paddy and this year's experiments included buying a woodchipper to turn the rice straw into incredibly fine straw. This means the rice will breakdown quickly and provide nutrients to the new rice.

Which leads to trial 2- no fertiliser, we're going ever more natural as K reads more and more books on rice farming. Last year we grew rice without fertiliser but couldn't be sure that it was really a success as there may have been residue. So this year will be the proof!

An unintentional trial this year was amateur mechanic.

You use a rice planing machine one day a year. Not even a whole day if all goes well.

Which means you have 364 days to look after it in terms of maintenance and care, right?

So, when do you think K got it out to check the motor and ensure it was working well?

If you guessed the evening before we needed to use it you'd be right. >_<

Seriously!

Luckily the rice guru is also an amateur mechanic and leant K a book. So, with a book, a machine and a headlamp, K was out in the garden revving the motor and fiddling with the innards of a machine we have no backup for and can't do without the very next morning at 10pm the night before we started. Seriously.

But, all's well that end's well and the rice got planted. The machine was revving super fast to my mind and it seemed K was hurtling around the field only kind of in control of it but he swears that's the way it's supposed to run... hmmmmmm...


The same two family's who were helping out last year arrived this year too which was great as more hands make less work and as a bonus we don't have to teach them how to do it!

This is my favourite picture of this year's planting- K on the machine, the two helpers running seed pallets up and down the verges and Amy and one of the helper's kids drawing on the road, all under a perfect not too hot not too cold sky.



And as a bonus we finished (well ran out of seedlings!) before lunch and I had already packed a lunch so we came home for a deck picnic. THIS is the life!





2016年6月6日月曜日

Before and after

Words later when I regain my energy!



2016年6月4日土曜日

One more sleep!

Till the rice babies go in the paddy.

And so, rice baby paddy put-ers must go to sleep too. 

Shhhhhh!

2016年6月3日金曜日

Another reason to hate dock

I hate dock.

Really.

I'm sure if I did some googling I would find maybe one redeeming characteristic of it but it would still be FAR outweighed by all it's horrible properties:

It is tough as guts- you can run it over with a tractor, tear it to pieces, smother it in black plastic and it STILL grows.

It has a tap root (long single central root) that goes down metres and is cemented into the soil. This is a shocker to remove with out breaking and if you do break it?

Leaving even a smidgen of teeny tiny root allows the dock to resurrect itself! And it grows really really fast.

I have literally broken a spade on a clump of dock and there are dozens more where that came from!

But today I found a new reason to hate dock- dock beatles!

I had noticed these tiny blue black beetles before. Until now I just chuckled as I was thinking the dock was finally getting some of it's own medicine and being attacked- yeah! That one's for my spade!

Then I was listening to an organic gardening podcast as I weeded the veggie garden and they started talking about rhubarb. My ears pricked up- I am growing about 40 rhubarb plants at the moment as I have started (on a super duper teeny tiny scale) to sell some of our produce. Well, what a shock! In their tips for growing healthy rhubarb their number one tip was make sure you remove ALL dock from the entire vicinity as dock beetles love nothing better than to munch on rhubarb leaves.

I dropped my weeder and raced up to the big garden where my eight brand new and oh so tiny and much-loved heritage variety rhubarb seedlings had just been planted a few days ago. I was SURE the neighbour had a few monster dock plants around.... who doesn't!

Sure enough- dock beetle infested dock:



And a mere metre away:




Ohhhhhhhh the poor wee mite! I removed SEVEN dock beetles and the poor thing only had three leaves to start with! Luckily it was the only one affected and has a new leaf shoot coming in so I removed the dock, the dock beetles and scoured the neighbour's field for any other dock but I think this was it. Phewwww.

But seriously, dock was always number one on my hated weeds list but now it has definitely lengthened its lead!

2016年6月2日木曜日

gardening challenges

There are many challenges of gardening of course- drought, flood, weeds, pests etc but some challenges are perhaps a little weirder.

Look at this picture:



These are not weeds. They are self sown sunflower, zucchini, tomato, coriander and tomatillo seedlings. There is no way I can possibly grow them all- there'd be no room for anything else and no way we could possibly use them all and yet I have such trouble plowing them in.

It seems such a waste! And so rude to the little battlers who grew this far all on their own and with none of the love and support I give their brethren who had the luck to be born in the right place and from a consciously sown seed. 


I need to close my eyes as I till them. 

But that creates its own challenges!


2016年6月1日水曜日

oops

My neighbour asked me if I was planting tomatoes this year.

I said sure!

She said where?

I said, hmmm well I'm still tilling but I planted them over there last year so anywhere but there I guess.

She said do you want some seedlings? I've got some left over.

I said SURE!

So I followed her over to her lace and behind the house to their machinery sheds (yes, plural- sigh...) and greenhouses (yes, plural- sigh...) and she offered me 200 seedlings.

Yes, 200.

And if I didn't use them she would throw them out.

Well, I'm a sucker for that sales tactic so I went out and tracked down A's husband to ask if we could use his spare tilled rows (on the half of the land he has assumed on the plot his wife and I are borrowing- it's a tangled life around here!) and he said sure but he was busy and couldn't plant them.

No problem! I will do it said I.

And then I worked out what time I'd get home (5:45), when it gets dark (7ish) and what's involved in planting and watering in so many seedlings and I called A to help me out.

I loaded up the truck with my hole puncher and watering cans and 100 litre tank and seedlings and set out. And A was waiting with her tomato seedling spacer (a long piece of 2x2 with stakes nailed on at 50cm intervals allowing you to punch holes for 5 tomato seedlings at a time- genius!) and a tomato seedling dropper. This is a cool doovalacky that you drop a seedling in the top and stick the prongs in the ground and then pull the handles apart and it digs a hole and drops a seedling in and releases itself all in one cool move.

They're very cool. And expensive. And I have a very bad track record with breaking things. I did NOT want to use it!

A insisted though. There was no way we'd get them all done by hand. It was easy. Well she assumed it was. She'd never actually used it herself but she'd seen her husband do it.

Hmmmm.......

And I gave it a go and it did save time and make consistent holes but it was a little unwieldy and I wouldn't call it easy exactly, better than without for sure but I was just really nervous. I spent 200 seedlings worth of gardening seeking reassurance- are you SURE your husband won't mind? It's quite expensive and he really needs it..... Hmmmmmm...

We finished up in the gloaming and A wanted to pick asparagus next door before going home while I had to get back to the kids so I packed up all the tools and checked where to hide- I mean return- them so we wouldn't be busted.

Just my luck I got back at the same time as A's husband.

I said good evening and explained:

"A and I planted the seedlings. A supervised everything. A brought these tools. A instructed me on correct use. A asked me to return them. I was very careful." (I'm such a wimp!)

"Eh?! You used this planter?"

(Oh lord! I KNEW we shouldn't have used it!! I KNEW A didn't ask!!!)

"Yes, A brought it as we were low on time. I was very careful. A instructed me on-"

"Heh heh! How did you manage to use it? It's broken! The spring's gone and it doesn't release properly!"

Oops. Oh well. Hopefully he gets it fixed by next year and I get to try out the super easy seedling planter for real!