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.