Sunday, April 24, 2011

April Showers Bring Orchard Flowers

I thought I would do a post about my orchard and what is flowering. Mmmmmm.... I sure hope that we get a good harvest this year!

A yellow cultivar of Rubus crataegifolius a wild raspberry of Japan

It is hard to see, but hidden in the garlic is a Actinidia arguta (hardy Kiwi)

My water supply. I stuck a hose in a small pool on  the creek, and let it siphon down. When I am not using it, it drains into the same creek.

A loquat Eriobotrya japonica, Cultivar "Tanaka"

My quince Cydonia oblonga is about to flower.

Asian Pear Pyrus pyrifolia Cultivar "Hosui"

Indian Blood Peach Prunus persica

Santa Rosa Plum Prunus salicina

Nectarine Prunus persica
Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mini Rocket Stove

Finished Rocket Stove

In my spare time between classes at work, I decided to make a miniature rocket stove. Of course, I got it half done and put it on a shelf. That was a year ago. But yesterday I found it again, and decided to finish it up. So here is how I did it.

1. Tools and Materials 
    A. Can opener
    B. Tin Snips
    C. Two sizes of steel cans
    D. Clay soil
    E. Rice Hulls

I used two large baby formula cans, and five small coffee cans. It helps if the cans are designed to stack tightly on each other.

Cut the tops and bottoms off of all but one of the small cans, and one of the large cans.
Then cut a hole the size of the coffee cans near the bottom of the formula can with a bottom, and in one of the small cans. Another small can I cut to roughly match the curve of its mate. And yet another can I cut open and spread flat. That was for the tongue shaped piece called the fuel shelf that you can see above.

Gee... I hope you wore gloves to do that cutting....

Next, I put the cans together to form the feed tube (horizontal) and chimney (tall vertical). I taped the sections lightly together so they wouldn't fall off all the time.

Then I fit them into the large can, with the feed tube coming out of the hole.

After that, I put the shelf (tongue shaped flat piece) into the feed tube. It should rest about 2/3 the way to the bottom.
  The fuel- twigs or disposable chopsticks rescued from the restaurant next door- will lay on the shelf, and the tips will burn as air flows in from under the fuel shelf.

Almost ready. Now I needed some insulation. So I took some clay soil and water and made a clay slip. Basically clay and water you stir to the consistency of paint. I sprinkled rice hulls into the slip to coat them. You can use chopped straw if you don't have rice hulls. Or you can use both. Just make sure that all the pieces get coated.

I then stuffed the large can with the slip mix. You don't have to pack it too tight. After the bottom large can filled up, I put the second can (which has top and bottom cut off) on top of it. I made some triangular holes at the top with a churchkey can opener. That way I can rest a pot on top, and still let the gases escape.
Fill the can with slip up to the top of the chimney. My chimney was shorter than the height of the two large cans, but that is OK.

 And there you have it- a rocket stove.
How to light it?
Well this is my method.
1. Gather some twigs- from toothpick to thumb thickness.
2. light one or two very small pieces and gently lay them on the shelf. Add some more small pieces gently on top of them.
3. As the fire strengthens, add slightly larger pieces. Keep pushing the pieces towards the end of the fuel shelf. They will burn remarkably fast. There should be a considerable draft and a lot of heat with very little smoke from the chimney.

You can use this stove to boil water, or cook in a frying pan.  

Respect fire and stoves. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Project- Rice Paddy

Well, the time has come to start experimenting with rice. I had tried to make a 100 square meter rice paddy a few years ago, but it was too large, leaky, and uneven. This time I think it will be a bit better. It is a lot smaller too, only 25 square meters.

Detail of sides
I began by measuring out a 5x5m square near the water source- a small stream coming from the bamboo forest behind the orchard. I used the 3-4-5 triangle to make sure it was square. I planted a stake in the first corner, and attached a 12 meter rope loop. I measured 4 meters of the rope along the first edge, and pounded in a stake, returned, and then measured 3 meters along the second leg. When the remaining 5 meters was taut, I knew I had a perfect right triangle. Then I could expand that to five meters in both directions easily. After that, measuring 5 meters from the posts gave me the fourth corner.

After I had my square, I began cutting the sod out in 30x60cm sections starting from the visible high points. I stacked them like bricks in the low areas to make a wall all the way around the paddy. Then I turned over all the soil inside the enclosure, and raked it fairly flat.

Once that was done, I flooded it. It leaked something fierce- of course it did, it had huge lines of grass sandwiched between the soil. But throwing a few shovels full of clay against the inner edges cut the leaks to almost nothing.

There were still shallow and deep spots, so I used my rake and shovel to even them out a bit more. I threw out all the roots from the bamboo and silver grass that had been there. Finally I had a 10cm deep, 25 square meter rice paddy.

Just two more weeks until planting time! Can't wait!

Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 18, 2011


Guess who will have an article about keyhole garden beds published in the May/June issue of BackHome magazine? Coming soon to a newsstand near you! Or at their website.

Monday, April 11, 2011

One Month, Two Hours, Thirty Minutes Later....

And another Magnitude 7.1 earthquake, depth of 10KM hits, with the epicenter N 36.9, E 140.7
That is hitting pretty close to home. It is about 15Km from my house!
I had three fifth graders in the class, we were playing concentration when it started. They all dived under the table. So did I. The coffee maker, books, and plants rained down- again. But we were lucky, it was only a Shindo of 5+.
Ha! Only.... How used to earthquakes are we getting that a 5+ can be described as lucky.

View Home in a larger map

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Now, as you all know, I am 84Km from Fukushima I Nuclear plant. So we were worried a bit about radiation. Still a little worried. But not as freaked out as the foreign media.
This website:
Shows a visual of the radiation in various situations and the real time counts from nearby cities. The visualization is basically that if you could see the radiation like it was rain, that's what it would look like.
The top four boxes are from left to right:

World Average     Tokyo-NY flight   Prepare to evacuate level  Must evacuate level

The second row is: (city, prefecture)
Fukushima, Fukushima   Mito Ibaraki,  Utsunomia, Tochigi,   Maebashi, Gunma

Third row:
Saitama, Saitama    Ichihara, Chiba    Shinjuku, Tokyo   Kanagawa

We are somewhere between the Fukushima City and Mito levels.