Friday, December 31, 2010

Mikan Grove

I did it. I splurged and bought 9 new satsuma  (Or as we call them here, Mikan) trees. These will complement the five I have already growing. Are 14 mikan trees too many? A mature tree can easily have 100 fruits on it.... So no, not too many! Then of course there are the lemon, yuzu, sudachi, kabosu, and the two kumquats. Oh, I love the kumquats!

I made sure to get a variety of cultivars. Now I should have mikan from late September into February. Can't beat that!

I do love being in a climate where I can grow citrus interspersed with apples and cherries.

In other news, the wolfberry finally bore fruit! Not too many, but it bears a promise for next year! I am already looking forward to the harvest.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Peak Oil Ramblings

Plans and Leadership
We need to dream up plans on what to do. And not just selfish personal plans. We need visions that we can whip out and share with our friends and neighbors. Plans to unite us, motivate us, protect and feed us.
We need to make rough inventories of equipment, spare parts, and geographic advantages and disadvantages. We need to plan how to organize people and  supplies.

That being said, I have been dreaming up a few plans of my own for my immediate surroundings- I figure that about 2Km up and down the road, 1Km from the road can be considered "our" area.

Location: We are blessed with a LOT of mountains and forests in the 2Km radius of our homestead. There is a very small, very high head stream coming from the mountains behind us, and a much larger (though still quite small) stream also with a decent head just below us. It used to support three or four family run waterwheels around 70-80 years ago.
The valley used to have five or six small family farms before the children ran off to the cities, and their parents passed away. So there are quite a few abandoned field terraces here and there. It would take a lot of work to clear them, but they are level and fertile.
There are large cedar plantations and also large swaths of native mountain forests.
And did I mention the bamboo? Moso, Madake, Yachiku....
Population: There are not many people, maybe about 30 in the area I described. Most are over 60, quite a few are in their 70s and 80s. Which means a lot of them remember life without electricity or a decent road (It wasn't until about 1960 that they built the road up to handle cars easily.)
Equipment/Salvage:  Not so much. The older farmers still have tractors and other small farm equipment, and most of them have a lot of hand tools as well.
Housing: There are a few empty houses in the village up the road, and just a stones throw from our house as well. But most of the houses are quite large farmhouses, built for large families/extended families. 

Plans: Once oil supplies are disrupted, town will be quite far away. But the twenty thousand who live in the strip between the mountains and the sea will not have enough land to grow all their food. So I am planning a road market at the foot of the mountain. I imagine that every road leading up the mountains will have one. A natural place for it.

The abandoned farmland will eventually be brought back into production, regardless of who the absentee owners are. It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. If they come back to live here, we will negotiate. If they want to try to continue absentee ownership- well, good luck traveling all the way up here to collect rents. 

I hope to attract young families to the empty houses and to encourage the older folk to rent out their extra rooms in exchange for help. These hands will help make the abandoned fields productive again. And of course, the building of new houses will eventually begin.

We also will have to have some sort of training programs/workshops to see who is good at what, and to evolve specialties in the new community. This will bolster our program of recruitment of skilled workers (electricians, mechanics....) as well.

We will build a hydro-power co-op to supply electric to a community center/ library, and if there is excess, to the houses. I think it will be a number of smaller generators rather than a large one, but still working on that.

We will also need a public bath, because it would be a lot easier and take a lot less fuel to heat a large community bath than dozens of individual baths.

There is a lot more planning to be done. But not tonight.
How about you? How are you going to help your community get through the long emergency?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Peak Oil Ramblings

So, I read Kunstler's book- The Long Emergency.
Wow. That was scary. I mean, really, really scary. So I got to thinking about the problem.
To sum it up, the world as we know it ends, and we are back to living with candles and bicycles, and eventually horses.
I looked around the Internet for some more information. And I realized something- all the doom and gloom-sayers kept on putting down renewables by saying things like "to maintain present levels..." or "to replace all our oil..."
And I got to thinking. Well, who says we need to maintain present levels?

How much electricity do you need? Do you really need all the juice you use? Probably not. A few lights in the evening, maybe listening to the radio... We could get by just fine with a fraction of the electricity we use, as long as it is constant.

I worry  that the nations are too big. Especially the US and Canada. If the electrical power grid can be maintained, even at a much lower level, they stand a chance. Radio news/shortwave radio will become a powerful force keeping nations together. Consider buying a shortwave radio now.

Health Care-
Well, frankly- and it scares and saddens me, but a lot of people are going to die. Diabetics, people dependent on medicines. Lots of preventive medicines will disappear. And also, a lot of people will just give up.
Eventually, the population will stabilize. Good news is the obesity epidemic will be over. 

And as to daily life-
After the peak, life will become based around largely self sufficient small towns. Move to one.
Since won't be able to afford food from a supermarket, you will try and grow some. You won't be able to buy chemical fertilizer, but people grew crops for thousands of years without it. You won't be able to grow your whole diet, but every bit helps.
Fairly quickly, the supermarkets will go out of business- they can't function without cheap oil. So neighborhood markets selling local goods will spring up. You could start one, there will be dozens. Once people have no choice but to walk or cycle to the market, they will choose the closer over the slightly cheaper.
People will still need things like soap, candles, beer, maple syrup, clothing- lots of business opportunities. But you should start learning something now.

On future occupations:
Farmers and hired hands- the ultimate growth sector after peak oil. Just make sure to unionize so you don't become serfs.
Electricians will still be in high demand- especially ones who can build a windmill or micro-hydro system from scraps. Also to repair and maintain existing systems.
Mechanics will be needed to keep the remaining engines working, and to modify existing engines to work on ethanol, biodiesel, or wood gas (start studying now)
Of course carpenters and masons will be needed.
Traders and Merchants to bring and sell goods not available locally.

And a slew of old occupations will return in force-
People will need charcoal and firewood, for heat and cooking, so the forester and charcoal maker will come back.
When traveling between cities means days instead of hours, innkeeping will return.
Blacksmithing will be back of course- making and repairing tools.
People will need new dishes, bowls, etc eventually, so potters will resurface.
Tinkers, cobblers, soapmakers, brewers, seamstresses and tailors, handymen, cigar makers, paper makers, weavers, journalists, and herbalists...

Actually, I think there might eventually be less unemployment after peak oil than there is now, simply because we will need so much human power to replace the oil power. There may not be as much glamor or leisure, but there is still satisfaction in using your own muscles to make a living.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Time to stop raising birds....

On Saturday morning, I took the mutt for a walk as usual, and noticed something was amiss with my smaller chicken tractor- where the two laying hens and the rooster lived.

Something ripped open the nylon netting, tore the chicken wire apart, ate the three chickens, and then flipped the tractor over on its back.

The hole, measuring about 20cm high, by 30 wide. There were other places the wire was ripped, but this was obviously the way in- with the wires pushed in.

Feathers and a trampled waterer.

So let's figure out the cost of my birds...
1. The birds themselves- 8 turkeys at 1500 yen each (four were eaten by animals as chicks) 4 laying hens at 500 yen each. My friend Ken gave me two birds for a birthday gift, and I got 8 male Plymouth Barred Rocks for the price of shipping.  I think I am forgetting some in there, but let's just put the total at 15,000 yen ($150).
2. The chicken tractors were not so expensive, total about 5,000 yen ($50)
3. The birds have eaten about 20 bags of feed, which is absurdly expensive here- 20Kg for 1000 yen ($10), so that is another 20,000 yen. ($200)

From these birds, I have actually received maybe 30 eggs, and four chickens, which were similar to flavorful tires, and a stressed out wife, who wants to make delicious food but is stuck with rubber chicken. There are still four turkeys and two chickens left. If the turkeys won't be eaten by predators, they will eat another 4 bags of feed, so the grand total will be 44,000 yen ($440) for 10 birds.

Yep. That sucks. And I wouldn't have paid a dollar for the birds we have eaten so far. Who wants chicken flavored chewing gum? Not me.

At the supermarket, you can get two thighs for 400 yen ($4), and breasts for about half that. So per cut up chicken-breasts, thighs, legs, and wings, let's say 800 yen ($8). And they are tender.

Nope, Japan and backyard chickens don't seem to mix.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My New Fork

My Digging Fork and my Farmer Boy

I love a good tool. Like my new Spear and Jackson Traditional Digging Fork, which I picked up for 6,615 yen online last month. And it is a pretty nice tool so far. I double-dug a trench for planting my peas in, and this thing just sank into the hardpan like a hot knife through butter, and when I levered it out, it mellowed the subsoil beautifully! It was about a million times better than the only other fork I could find in the home centers, which happened to be manure forks. They just don't do the job. Sure, they sink in nice, but bend like rubber bands if there is a rock or root anywhere.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Drying Persimmons at Home

Today I want to talk about persimmons again. When we bought our place, there were two persimmon trees on it. Which is great, because I love dried persimmons- the topic of this post.

So- in order to make dried persimmons, or as we call them over here- Hoshi-Gaki, you will need persimmons! Surprise! There are two types of persimmons- the astringent (usually acorn shaped) and the non astringent (usually square). You want an astringent cultivar like "Hachiya."

When you find some, make sure they are fully orange, but still apple hard. If you pick your own, you may find some soft and gooey, some medium soft, and others apple hard. All have uses, but for drying, you want them hard.

Note the safety equipment when climbing
A little note about picking them- In Japan, we use a bamboo pole with the tip cut in a duckbill shape and split to the first node. Think of old clothespins.  If you wrap electrical tape around the node, it will help keep the pole from splitting too far. Then you can just slip the twig holding the fruit into the tip, give it a twist, and it will come right off. Persimmon trees are brittle as all get out, so you shouldn't climb them without ropes and a harness. 

What you need to get ready: twine, peeler, and persimmons.
Now that you have the hard persimmons, trim the stem to make a "T" shape, and peel them. Your hands will get all gummy from the tannin. This is natural, don't worry. While you are at it, pop a peel into your mouth for an interesting sensation- The astringency makes the juice feel dry in your mouth. I can't explain it better than that.

Next tie the twine around the top of the peeled persimmon. No need for a fancy knot, just an overhand knot is plenty. Tie them up at 15-20 cm intervals (6-8 inches).

Drying Persimmons in 2010
Now they are ready for hanging. Usually they are hung under an overhanging eave of a house, to keep them from any sudden rain, which will make them moldy and ruin them. But if your weather is fairly stable, you can hang them from a clothesline if you want. Just take them inside if rain threatens. The most important things are sun and circulation. After two weeks, they will be shriveled up and dark orange to brown. You can keep them hanging for longer of course. Often a sugar bloom forms on the outside- this is a good sign.

Photo from
In the end, you should have a wonderful dried fruit that looks and tastes like a date. So pour a cup of green tea, take a seat on the floor near a south facing window, and enjoy contrasting the sweet, sweet persimmon with the bitter green of the tea.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Beer Me, then throw a log on the fire.

Our Vermont Castings Woodstove still going strong.

Well, I have finally taken the leap from dreaming to doing. A couple of weeks ago, my good friends Ken, Yasu and I bought a beer making kit. Well to be honest, I kinda pushed them into it. But we are now brewing the first batch of Black Rock Dry Lager. I hope it will be good. It has another two days of secondary fermentation before aging it. Ken will choose the next beer.

And in other news, we finally had to light up the old woodstove for a day last week. Woke up to single digits temperature (in Celsius, that is. So not that cold) clouds, and rain. So we lit it up and enjoyed hanging out by the fire in the morning.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I just can't help it!

I like hotdogs. There, I said it. I just love them! Every time I have one, it brings me back to being a kid, roasting some on a stick over a campfire by the lakeside, drinking a can of generic rootbeer from Supervalu.

I know what they are made of- I know how they are made- (I watched the Modern Marvels episode)
I know they are not exactly health food.

But I can't help it! I love them!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Best Miso Soup Yet

I love the fall!
This morning, I went out to the mushroom logs in back of the house and picked some Nameko,
Nameko (Pholiota nameko)

then down to the Kiwi pergola to pick some "Hayato Uri" or in English Chayote
The chayote (Sechium edule)

Then I made up some killer Miso soup.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nice Day in the Park

Oh, Hi!

It really was a nice day in the park. We took this photo on the 11th, which was "Taiiku no hi" here in Japan. Basically "Phys. Ed Day" in English, and a national holiday. So we went to the park to ride kickboards, bicycles, skateboards, and unicycles. A lot of fun.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Persimmon Bread

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you replaced the bananas in banana bread with fully ripe persimmon pulp? Ambrosia happens.
Behold with the proper awe and adulation-

 Persimmons turn darker as they cook, so that is why it looks so dark and sumptuous.
Man, this was so good!

I got the recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.
Basically, just replace the mashed banana with strained persimmon pulp. You have to wait until the persimmons have achieved full ripeness, and are so soft you are afraid to touch them. They should feel like a bag of jelly, and the sepals should come off easily. Then just discard the skins, and mash the fruit with a fork, or take off the skins and take out the seeds and food process them to a pulp.

Quick and easy. And delicious. Let's not forget delicious.
I think I'll have to do a whole post on Persimmons later. They deserve it.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Everything is just peachy here.

This year my Indian Blood Peach tree, which I grew from a seed I got at Bountiful Gardens, grew another 3 feet and gave us about 50 peaches. Man I love peaches! But these are the latest, reddest peaches I have ever seen. Who ever heard of peaches that ripen at the equinox? 

There is very little to compare to wandering out to your garden, picking a peach, and eating it in the sunshine while you smell the soon coming autumn in the breeze.

Well, anyways, the peaches were discovered by wasps last Thursday, so the boy and I picked all of them, and spent a rainy Friday morning cutting them up and freezing the harvest. Twenty peaches, most with at least one wasp hole in them. But we cut around those, and have been drinking sweet peach lassi ever since. Put some frozen peaches, yogurt, and milk in a blender- it isn't rocket science, I don't measure them- and blend it up. Sometimes I put in a dash of vanilla or a spoon of suger. Maybe dust the top with some cinnamon. Bliss!

And, on another note, I saved all the seeds from the fruits we ate, and have been planting them all over the place. So maybe in 5 years or so, we could have a regular peach paradise here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Philippines

If you have been wondering where I have been (judging from the grand total of one e-mail I got over the past week, you haven't). We took a nice little vacation- a vacation of errors, but it still managed to come out fun.

Day One- We left our house at noonish and drove to Narita Airport, where we met out traveling companion. My Mother-in-law. Need I say more? Anyhow, she and our daughter were traveling on JAL (MIL had enough miles for two tickets) and we (wife, sons and I) flew Delta (where we had the miles). I forgot to get my re-entry permit to Japan, and had to get an emergency one. That sucked. And gave me a huge panic attack when the officer first looked at my passport and said- "Where is your permit?" The daughter and M.I.L. arrived earlier and went to our hotel first, and we followed about an hour later. However, we were freaking out about the Manila airport, but for no real reason. All the tourist reports were that it was the most dangerous, conman filled airport in the world. It wasn't that bad. We finally got to our hotel at about 1:00AM.

Day Two- Woke up at sixish to catch the airport shuttle for our flight to Cebu. We had the world's slowest clerk check our bags and process us, then we got on the big bird for the flight. The big, HOT bird. They never came out and said what was wrong with the plane, but after sitting there sweltering at the gate for an hour past our takeoff time, they had us deplane while they fixed something. When we got back on another hour later, the AC was working. Anyone want to guess what was broken? After that, an uneventful flight to Cebu, where the hotel bus met us and whisked us to The Plantation Bay Resort. Wow. Luxury.

Lapu Lapu city scene. Mactan Island, Cebu
Day Three- Snorkeling! All Day! Our guide How was so great! He helped my son get over his fear of the water and discover how much fun snorkeling is. If you go to Cebu, use S2 Club and ask for How. You won't regret it. And give him a good tip. I was in the restroom when the wife and M.I.L. tried to calculate a tip and ended up low by a decimal place. Sorry How! Next time I'll do the tipping.
At night, dinner at Bondai Grill and Seafood, next to the resort. Very good food, very good price (good as in local prices, not resort prices)
Going snorkeling with S2 club
Day Four- Shopping! Unfortunately not at the locals shops, but instead at Gaisano Grand Mall Mactan (wife's choice). Which was pretty cool too. Got mangoes, bananas, and bread. Man, I love mangoes! And so cheap!

Snorkeling Sweet Spot.

Apparently S&M is big in Manila...
Day Five- Back to Manila. Not the most exciting day, we got back to Manila and sent the daughter and Mother in law home to Japan. That was sad and worrisome, but they made it OK. The boys, wife and I went to the Mabuhay Manor. A nice place. They had a good pool, nice rooms, and an excellent buffet! You can choose all sorts of seafood, chicken, or pork, and they will grill it up for you. The catfish was so good! Once we checked in and dumped our bags, we took a taxi to the Mall of Asia. Kind of like the Mall of America, but in Asia.
Ummm.... Buffet.....

Day Six- Back to Japan. Our wakeup call was at 3:30, with a 4:30 shuttle to the airport. Even at 4:30AM Manila streets are full of Jeepneys, taxis, and buses. A very uneventful trip home. That is how I like trips home. Uneventful.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Too Much Good Living

Doesn't look like much, does it? Gout

Ouch. Ever had gout? It will change your life. Some things good, others not so. Well, I guess I will never taste beer again. Or eat most of the foods that I presently like. But that is what got me into this predicament. And it is some real incentive to diet! That is a good thing, right?

And now I get to try hundreds of new healthy foods that I might not have ever eaten had I not gotten a pain like ground glass in the joints of my big toe. That is good too, right?

Anything to avoid a repeat performance of what I went through today.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

24 Hour Hay

I made some hay from yesterday. Man it was easy. Just cut the weeds, spread them on the hot driveway, and load it up 24 hours later.
Of course, this is not a way to make hay for a lot of stock, but if you just want some snacks for your two goats...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Summer's End is Near

Passiflora incarnata, a.k.a. Maypop

Well, it was a great summer. Dry but great. 45 days dry to be more exact. But finally a typhoon hooked over Japan from the sea of Japan side and brought some blessed relief- 24 hours of light drizzle, and the temperature dropped from the high 30s (Celsius of course) to the middle 20s. Whew!

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Sports Day!

Our Daughter's school held it's annual "Sports Day" on Sept. 5th.
What a great day! It was a bit hot, a bit bright, but so much fun!
Relays, tug-o-wars, and just a lot of crazy fun stuff as well that the kids designed. Like the parent's "Love Love Partners" race, where we got to switch husbands and wives, hold their hand, and run around with a balloon between our cheeks. I guess I should have shaved a bit closer, that was a mighty loud pop when the balloon hit my cheek.

Go Team White Hat!

The traditional unicycle show. Every year they do a bunch of stunts. All the students in the school are shown in that picture by the way....

Holy cow, look at that boy run! What form! Too bad the "race" was only 10 meters! It was the "Cute Guests" fun run for the new students for the next few years. Of course, he is going to be the only student entering the first grade next year, where he will study in the same classroom as "The Second Grader." (Note the definitive article- she was the only first grader this year!)

He came back complaining- It was so short, I didn't even feel like I ran!"
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Everybody's gone surfing!

Well, here it is at the tail end of summer again. Where did it go? Why did it go so fast? The girl will be back in school tomorrow!
This past Sunday we went to the beach. It was quite possibly the most beautiful day to go to the beach in history. It was sunny and hot, but you could somehow sense the end of summer in the day. I don't know exactly what it was, but everyone noticed. A kind of sadness, but somehow it made the day more special- we had the best last weekend of summer vacation that anyone has ever experienced. What a great day.

Another beautiful day at the beach. 

Leif doing his hulk face.

Our daughter's little classmate and her dad- who is teaching (or trying to at least) us to surf!

The Daughter having some watermelon.
What a beach!

Surfing Sensei gives us the thumbs up!
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Saturday, August 28, 2010


This morning, walking the dog, my daughter saw a cloud of bees flying around by a telephone pole. She said "Look at all the bugs!" So I did, and thought "Hooray! Bees!" (I am not a normal person. I have been looking for a swarm of bees for two years.)

So I tried (unsuccessfully) twice to get the bees into a cardboard box. Didn't quite take. They reformed on the vine twice. Then in the evening, I thought that I could try again. Maybe they had settled down a bit. I got the majority in the box and installed them in my Warre bee hive. But will they stay? That is the question. I hope so!

The truth

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Spiders = Good

Webs in my face = bad.
This is a Japanese spider. It is not one of the hairy kinds, it has a nice hard carapace. I found it by sticking my face through it's neighbor's web near my square foot garden.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

People wonder why I'm fat....

...until they taste my pies.
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