Saturday, June 25, 2011

Garlic Harvested

I pulled all the garlic out of my keyhole garlic bed. 50 of them are now hanging up to cure under the roof protecting the cob pizza oven. That is about one each week! I'll have to plant more next year.

You know, if we all ate garlic at every meal, nobody would think that I smell like garlic all the time...

Gomer is heating up

Gomer Pile, the newest compost heap (green weeds and rice hull charcoal), has reached 60 degrees Celsius and still climbing! 
Now for you Farenheads out there, take sixty and multiply it by 9.
Did you get 540? Good.
Divide that by 5.
Did you get 108? I hope so.
Add 32.
You had better have 140 degrees Fahrenheit 
So it is on its way!

And in other news, the currants are coming in!

Popcorn Disease 2011

My mulberry tree is not doing so well this year.
Black Mulberry with popcorn disease

As you may recall, last year I had quite a few fruits with popcorn disease. I cut them and let them fall to the ground. This was a big, big mistake. This year I estimate over half the fruit is infected. The tarp below the tree did not work in preventing the spores from wafting up to infect the fruit. I am hoping that it will work in collecting the infected fruit from reaching the ground and letting the fungus into the soil. If I can break the cycle, I hope to get it under control without using any sprays.

Rooftop Garden Update

The rooftop self watering planters are growing leaps and bounds.
Self Watering Planter June 13, 2011

Self Watering Planters June 24, 2011
The Watermelon is growing like kudzu vine. You can practically hear it growing!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle

Wow. I was pulling out some leaves for mulch from the pile I made last year. Then I noticed a circular hole in the densely packed leaves... What could it be?
Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle emerging 
From My Corner of Japan
Why, a Rhino beetle coming out of its pupae skin.

Here in Japan, they are common pets among children and otaku.
The Japanese name- Kabutomushi. Kabuto means "helmet" and mushi means "insect." A helmet bug if you please. Samurai helmets looked a lot like the beetle, hence the name.
So anyway, I picked it up, put it in a flowerpot with some leaves for bedding, and brought it to my school for the little boys in my classes to look at.

From My Corner of Japan
It's a real beauty! Not so large, but very nice indeed.

Check out those abs!
From My Corner of Japan

Once you get over the freakiness of holding large bugs, you can see they are beautiful.
From My Corner of Japan

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Compost pile and my Thermo-probe 900

Well, I built a new compost pile with the weeds I slashed down with the brush cutter the other day.
Again, I am pretty... well, very lax about how I make the compost. This time I didn't have any garden beds nearby, so I didn't put any soil into it. I just layered 20cm of freshly cut greens, 2 cm of rice hulls, and repeated. It made a nice pile. That is enough for me. But in the interest of science, I decided to measure the temperature with my amazing Thermo-probe 900.

Just what is a Thermo-probe 900 you might ask? Well, it is a wonderful tool for measuring how hot your compost pile's innards are. Here is a picture of the pile and probe.

Nice, eh? A 900mm long surveyor's stake. Nice and pointy, can stab it right into the pile. Then, after a few hours, just mosey on back, pull it out, and feel the tip. If it is too hot to hold, that is good. If it is just hot, that is good too. My motto is that compost happens. Sometimes it takes a bit longer is all.

Thermoprobe in action

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Like a Hot Knife Through Butter...

I had the most wonderful brush cutting experience yesterday. Unbelievably smooth. It actually made me heat up a butter knife in a cup of warm water and try to cut the butter with it, just so I could have a comparison.

If you are looking for a brushcutter/ weed-eater blade, look no further than the Tsumura Golden Saws 255mm, 1.25mm thick, 30 tooth, Sasa bamboo grass disk. And at 1280 yen (about $15), it is a bargain. With proper sharpening it will last for years, as opposed to the chipsaw type, which are usually only good for a month or so.

I experienced absolutely no resistance for the first hour of use. The relatively woody stemmed weeds just fell like I was waving a light saber at them. It was truly a revelation!
Golden Saws 30 Tooth Brushcutter blade
Mister Kuroba 8 blade and Golden Saws 30 blade
 After using the Golden Saws for an hour or so, I swapped disks to the "Mr. Kuroba" 8 blade disk. While not as cathartic as using the GS, it was still orders of magnitude better than nylon strings or the standard chipsaw blades. If you are going to cut weeds and brush with a weed-eater, you deserve one of these blades.

Look at that thing. It is actually sexy!

It took less time to do a neater job in the Satsuma grove! Thank you Tsumura!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Self Watering Planters 2011

In a previous post, I wrote about making a self watering planter, or Sub-Irrigated Planter if you prefer. A lot like the Earthbox planters you might find in Walmart. I took some advice from the makers of the "Global Buckets" videos on youtube, and connected the planters with a thin aquarium hose and siphon. I must say, it is working great. The tomato planter sucks water like crazy, but the lettuce planter has water to spare. By connecting them, it is like having a single 50L reservoir shared by all the plants.

Well, this year's rooftop garden at my school has more diversity than last year.
I have (from left to right) lettuce, watermelon, bell pepper, cucumber, and tomato in the vegetable section.

And the blueberries I planted in the fourth planter last year have exploded in growth. Amazing growth. The honeyberries have not grown as well as the blueberries, but they look to be doing well.

Future plans for the self watering planter garden:
I am planning to make a large automatic waterer based on the traditional chicken waterer. I am thinking of taking a 30-40L barrel, and drilling a hole about 5cm down from the top.
Then I will fasten a deep tray to the top of the barrel. A second option would be upending and standing the barrel in a large plastic storage case.
The hard part will be flipping it over. 30-40Kg.... not impossible, but pretty heavy.
The water will fill the tray until it reaches the hole, where the vacuum created by the bubble at the top will stop it.
After that, connecting the nearest planter with a siphon will begin the watering.
The planters and the reservoir will seek the same level, and water will gradually be released from the barrel as the water lowers to the hole, where it will "burp" out some more and send a bubble to the top.

I hope to have enough capacity to last for a full week between fillings.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rice Update

Well, the rice paddy is doing.... OK I guess.... it is not nearly as tall as the neighbor's chemically fertilized paddy, but....
On Wednesday, I scattered a five gallon bucket of goat manure into the paddy to hopefully get it growing a bit more. Goat manure is so funny. Looks like beans. Real easy to spread though.
June 10

June 12

Monday, June 13, 2011

Brush Cutter- Tanaka TB-21HS

My Tanaka TB-21HS Brush cutter with a Mr. Kuroba four blade disk.
Here in Japan, people have postage stamp lawns, if any. So nobody has large lawnmowers. And there seem to be a lot of mountains here. So brush hogs are not too practical for most rural people. At least not enough to make a market to sell them. So we are left with the ubiquitous "Kusakariki."
Mine is an utterly average machine. Works well, a bit noisy of course, but does the job.
In Japan, most people use a "Chipsaw" blade, basically a disposable sawtoothed cutter. I used to use one too, but the waste! Hit a stone and the teeth fall off, the blades dull and won't cut. Then my good friend who does this for a living showed me his machine. Wow. He has one mean looking blade on it. A thirty blade steel disk that he keeps razor sharp with a file. And they last so long! After a few hundred sharpenings, the blade will have worn down to 20cm or so and it will be too difficult to get the speed to cut properly, and you need a new blade.

I decided to experiment with a four blade disk by Mr. Kuroba. It is recommended for soft stemmed grasses and weeds, and general use. It is an OK blade. I think I will use an 8 blade disk next however, since I have noticed that it is cutting a bit raggedly. It is easy to sharpen. I just use a plain old metal file, give it a few strokes at a fairly steep angle. I try to keep the blade straight, but wear and tear on the outer edge is starting to round it.

I also use a string trimmer for work around the house, and anywhere there are too many rocks or tree stumps that a blade might catch on. It is an insert type. You just slip the 20cm long nylon cords through the holes, wrap it around and through the exit on the outer ring.
Disk and plugs

thread it through

flip it over and to the outside.

Square cords to cut more efficiently. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fava Beans

Man, I love Fava beans. Here in Japan, we start them in November. I just push them into a prepared bed and basically forget about them until spring. Of course, I do weed them from time to time.
Now it is time to pick them. And pick them I have been doing for the past few days. Shopping bags full of delicious, enormous beans.

The easiest way to prepare them is to just shell them and eat them in the garden. However, if you prefer your beans cooked, then by all means. I just shell them into the wife's new "Silicone Steamer." Looks like a rubber box with a lid, but it does a great job of steaming just about any vegetable. As I was saying, I just shell them into the steamer, rub some salt on them, and microwave them for 3 minutes. What could be easier?
Slap the lid on and get cooking!

The Fava Bandit Strikes Again!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Eriocheir japonica - Mokuzugani (Japanese Mitten Crab)
Coming home tonight after work, I saw a black blob on the road in front of our driveway. I was about to nudge it with my foot when it moved! I jumped back a step, and then peered at it in the very dim light. Oh my goodness, it was a crab! I believe it was a Japanese Mitten crab, due to the size and the furry claws. Then as I hurried up towards the house to tell the wife about it, two wild boars foraging for worms in the bank of the neighbor's rice paddy exploded out in front of me and galloped through the woodlot and my garden on the way into the bamboo grove. If you have ever startled two wild boars from three meters away, your heart will beat four times a second for the next five minutes. Well, not really, but it does give you a start for sure.

I made it to the house, and told the wife about the crab. She said "Can we eat it?" I love this woman. So I went down to the road, stuffed the crab into a cardboard box, and brought it up to show to her. But it was just so cute, I couldn't eat it. So I put it back down by the road again. All's well that ends well.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cob Oven Pizza Becomes Reality

Our Pizza Team
We did it. We finally made the pizza in the oven. And you know what.... It was good. Even though we messed up the first batch, the second was so good, it made up for the first with flavor and texture to spare.

So, this is how we did it, and how it should have been done.

This morning, after walking the dog and tying out the goats, I took a cedar plank that I hand milled with my chainsaw mill and cut two slabs off of it. I measured twice and cut them- 30 cm by 16cm. Then I found a piece of scrap board that I could use to connect them into a single 32x30 plank. I used an old plate to make the curve of the top, and cut it out. Voila- a rough door. I then matched the door to the oven, marked, and cut out on opening to fit it. This is the last thing that went well for some time.

Topping the pizzas
At about 10:20, I lit a fire in the oven. It did not want to burn. After 40 minutes of coaxing, it finally began to burn well. I built it up to a fair roaring fire, and went inside to make the pizzas. It is hard to make pizzas with a 1 1/2 year old who loves cheese... The pizzas had a distinct lack of toppings where his hand could reach the pies. Oh well, gotta love them.

Not Hot Enough
Then, at about 12:10, we put the first pizzas in the oven. It did not go well. I guess my first clue was that I could put my hand inside the oven and not feel hot... The other pizzas were baked in the kitchen while I added more wood.
A bit disheartened by the whole experience, we looked online and found a bit of information that I should have discovered beforehand- Heat the oven for three hours- or until the soot on the interior walls burns away from the intense heat. So we made the decision to have pizza for dinner as well, and I kept the fire roaring for four more hours. At the end of that, there was no soot on the interior walls, I can tell you that much.

For the dinner pizzas, I pushed the hot coals off to the sides and back, and slid the pizzas in. This time they cooked in no time flat, with a wonderful browning of the cheese..... Mmm... .Delicious!

I Heart Pizza

I have heard that you don't need the fire burning in the oven when you bake, but we had the best results with the fire or at least the coals burning as we baked the pizza. Maybe for bread it isn't necessary, since it needs lower temps and longer times. But I think the coals made the difference.

To sum up the lessons learned today-
1. Thin crust
2. Properly preheat the oven- Three hours or until it burns the soot off the walls.
3. Push coals to side and back
4. One parent should distract the cheese stealing toddler.

Next time we will stack functions- Pizzas, bread, and finally sweet potatoes. I can't wait!