Monday, December 3, 2012

Number One Reason NOT To Drop Firewood

First Day- after cleaning it up
The oldest boy and I were hauling in some firewood for the stove Saturday. I wear safety shoes when I split wood- it is only common sense! But we take off our shoes when we enter the house here. I never thought I might need steel toed slippers! My son was doing his best to imitate Daddy and carried a very large load of wood.... and one- of course it was the incredibly dense black locust bolt so large I wasn't sure it would fit in the stove door- fell. From the looks of things, the corner of the behemoth caught me right at the edge of the toenail, and the shock ripped my skin (and maybe a bit of muscle too, a bit too painful to lift up the flap and see). Anyhow, he felt so bad that I had to pretend it didn't hurt in front of him and laughed a bit- until he left to get more wood. The photos don't really do justice to the white hot bolt of pain that made me seriously think I might vomit. A large part of that was that my feet were freezing cold when it happened. It wasn't until about 30 minutes later that I noticed my sock was bloody.
At any rate- it hurt, but after an hour or two, I could walk after a fashion and flex it, so I am fairly sure it is just a bad bruise and a rip. Now the second day, I can walk with just a slight limp, although it apparently breaks the wound open if I overdo it- the bandages are still a bit red...

Second Day after the bath- still bleeding!

Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere, and usually when you are not wearing safety equipment.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Appropriate For Me Tech

(inspired by watching a Japanese office worker buy a 70,000 yen rototiller for a 10'x10' garden plot)
(and by my new bicycle)

I used to buy expensive fancy cheeses with hard to pronounce French names... but I craved colby.
I used to buy imported Belgian beers... but I craved a pilsner.
I used to use an air conditioner in the summer... now I sit in breezy shade.
I used to heat my house with kerosene/electric fan heater... now I burn wood.
I used to crave a rototiller.. now I have a nice digging fork.
I used to drive a RAV4 SUV with all the latest gadgets... now I have a micro-truck with an AM radio.

I used to buy expensive alloy bicycles with thin 28 inch tires, 18 speeds, and suspensions... but I realized I only use three gears. Ultra low for hills, medium for town, and high for flat countryside.
I couldn't find a three speed bike, but last week we got a nice, 6 speed, steel frame, and sturdy brakes. My times have not changed.

Buy tools appropriate to your needs.
If you are a carpenter, buy a very nice hammer. If you need to pound a nail to hang a picture, you can get by with something less.
If you are a lumberjack, buy a top shelf professional model chainsaw. If you want to trim a branch off a tree, use a pruning saw.
If you are a bicycle racer or serious recreational cyclist, buy the top of the line. If you want to ride to work and back again wearing dockers and a polo shirt, buy this bike.

Ok, done ranting for now.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Peck of Peppers

 One peck is 8 dry quarts, or 1/4 of a bushel.
Yeah, I don't know what to make of that either....
Well, I am not Peter Piper, and the peppers are not pickled, but I probably picked a peck of them this evening with the help of the oldest boy and his flashlight. The cold wind and clear skies spell killing frost to me, so I thought I should get them done ASAP.

Then, I get them into the house, and the wife says- "Where did these come from? It's mid-November!"
So, anyway, since we cannot possibly use them all fresh, I diced up a kilo of them, wrapped them in 100g packets, and put them in the ziplock. The only problem is that if I did all of them except for the 10-15 we might get through fresh, we would have a freezer of nothing but peppers...

Hellooooo neighbors and students!!!! Or if you live in Japan and want to share the bounty, drop me an e-mail.

But at any rate, if you find yourself with a peck of peppers and some freezer space, just dice them up and put them in sandwich bags or plastic wrap, then into a big ziplock and freeze them. You don't need to blanch them, making peppers the easiest garden veggie to freeze for the winter.

This winter's spaghetti sauce will be twice as good due to these beauties.

Now what to do with 2 Kg of green paste tomatoes.... Suggestions?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First Patchy Frost

Woke up this morning, made breakfast for the kids, and took the goats and dog out for their walk. And there, on the windshield of the car, was a thin film of ice. Although it was only the front windshield, which sometimes freezes due to radiating heat into the clear night sky. The grass and vegetation near the house had no frost on it I could see. However, as I took the goats down the valley to their pasture I saw some small patches of frost here and there. We might get a few more days of frost free weather, but I think that this is about the end. Looks like I'm only growing broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, spinach, beets, onions, garlic, and carrots till spring. Of course, the boars will probably eat that though.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Fava Beans

I planted my fava beans with our youngest child today. Eleven beans in the packet, so we planted six by the house, and five by the Chinese cabbages in the wild boar danger zone. Hope they make it.
We are in the yellow area of the map, so we plant from early September to mid November.
We can expect to harvest from mid May on.
The beans are from the Atariya Seed company. The variety (for those of you who don't read Japanese well) is "Kawachi" strain of the "One sun (pronounce it "soon") fava bean" A sun is about 3 cm. They appear to be an open pollinated strain- there is no mark indicating it is a hybrid.
A rough translation of the four pink bullets would be:
  • Characteristics- The standard fava bean. Soft and sweet 3cm beans are delicious. Very hardy and easy to cultivate, with lots of 3 bean pods, it is well suited to home gardens.
  • Planting and Care- Planting from late Sept. to November is best. Dig in 5 handfuls of compost per square meter, and one handful of lime. Plant one seed each, 30cm apart in raised rows 60cm wide. Supplementally feed small amounts of a low nitrogen, high phosphorous and potassium chemical fertilizer throughout the growing season.
  • Hints- Planting too early can lead to winter damage. To prevent the plants from falling over, shoulder some soil around them.
  • Harvest and Suggested Uses- In May, when the pods have plumped up, harvest like corn on the cob. Shell the beans and use for snacks or with beer. 
Can't wait to see if they work- my whole family loves favas!

Friday, September 28, 2012

My City the Lucky Winner of New Radioactive Dump Site

Yesterday, the Japanese government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to give one hour's notice to our Mayor  before announcing our city was to host the Ibaraki Prefectural Radioactive Waste Dump.

This is from the Daily Yomiuri:

Ministry selects 2nd N-waste candidate site
Jiji Press
The Environment Ministry said Thursday it has chosen a national forest in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, as a candidate site for the final disposal of radioactive waste from the prefecture.
The decision makes Ibaraki the second prefecture, after Tochigi, to have a candidate site chosen where radioactive waste released from Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will be dumped. Both Ibaraki and Tochigi share a border with Fukushima Prefecture.
Senior Vice Environment Minister Katsuhiko Yokomitsu informed Ibaraki Gov. Masaru Hashimoto of the ministry's decision when the two met at the prefectural government office.
Yokomitsu said the ministry intends to carefully explain to local residents why the site has been chosen and reassure them of its safety.
Hashimoto said he will make his own decision after hearing what residents have to say.
After the meeting, Yokomitsu told reporters that the ministry has no plan to provide subsidies to regions that host final disposal facilities.
However, he said the ministry wants to discuss the possibility of providing subsidies if requested by local authorities.
Takahagi Mayor Yoshio Kusama said at a separate meeting with Yokomitsu that the city will not accept the ministry's decision and strongly opposes it.
The mayor added that the city finds it difficult to trust the central government as it made the decision without prior notice.
As of Aug. 3, the prefecture had 1,709 tons of waste, such as ash, contaminated with radioactive cesium of more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.
The government is in charge of the disposal of all such waste found in the stricken Tohoku region.
(Sep. 28, 2012)

I know somewhere has to accept it, but it sure feels like garbage problems are following me around. First the hazardous waste disposal site proposed up the road, now this.....

Because it is a national government project, protesting it will not make much difference, but I plan to anyway.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hot and Cold Until the Equinox

Here in Japan they have a saying, "Atsusa Samusa Higan Made" (a pronunciation note, the "Made" is pronounced as "mah-day"). Literally "Heat and Cold until the equinox." And it is true! Until last Sunday it was unmitigated summer. Just beastly hot and humid day and night. But this week- we closed the bedroom windows and put a blanket on the bed for the first time since the end of June! I spent most nights up to the equinox just sweating without any coverings at all. It got down to almost 65 F last night!
So now I am wondering where did summer go? Where was the transition? Or is this the transition?

It happens every year, and every year I am surprised by it.

So here are a bunch of random summer pictures since I hate posts without pictures.
My carrot puller and his spoils

My split bamboo dome experiment.

A lizard my son found in a half filled bucket of water.

The dragon waterspout at a local Buddhist temple.

Snowy white eggplant with some sweet banana peppers.

A 1,000 year old Cedar tree at the local Shinto Shrine.

Yours truly on a family trip to Fukushima

Yours truly on the kitchen table.
(Ok, I cut the mouth by accident trimming around the
eggplants with my brush cutter. We added eyes later)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kudzu Blossom Jelly

It is that time of year again. The smell of Kudzu blossoms is everywhere, and the cheery purple flowers are hanging down like bunches of grapes. Bees are everywhere, and there is Eric, stripping kudzu blossoms with his right hand while catching them in a bowl held in his left.

The past few tries have ended up in Kudzu syrup, due to either a lack of pectin, lack of acidity, lack of sugar, or lack of skill (I think maybe all four..) This year I think it is different. I had a nice box of quality pectin, lots of sugar, and a real lemon to squeeze for juice.
This is a really small recipe- I want to make sure it works before I make liter upon liter of it. Since it is only 500 ml or so, I just used an old jam jar since the kids can eat that much jelly in an afternoon if not supervised. If you make lots and lots of it, follow proper canning proceedure and sterilize.

Here is how I did it:

  1. Collect about two cups of kudzu flower petals. You can just strip them off the flower stalk into a colander or bag as you collect them. 
  2. Wash the blossoms in cold water. I like to fill the bowl with water to the top to make the bugs float to the surface. Then I can skim them out. Bugs mean healthy kudzu, so don't freak out. I would probably freak out if there were no bugs... "OMG! Why aren't there any bugs? What is wrong with these blossoms?"
  3. Drain the blossoms and return them to a bowl. Now pour 500ml of boiling water over them, and put the bowl in the fridge for 8 hours. 
  4. Strain the blossom water into a kettle and throw away the spent blossoms. The water will look brown or gray. That is fine, it is not the final color.
  5. Add 1/2 Tbsp of lemon juice, and the pectin. Stir and heat on high to a full rolling boil. 
  6. Add 2 1/2 cups of sugar and stir and return to the rolling boil. Boil one minute more.
  7. Remove from heat and skim off the pink foam.
  8. Pour into sterile jars (or just clean ones if you are going to be refrigerator jelly people like we are) and cap. 
  9. Cool on wire rack.
  10. Enjoy.

Kudzu blossoms after steeping- Looks terrible now, right?

The liquid is not so bad of a color. Now to add some lemon juice and pectin...

Ummm.... jelly! (I hope, let's see if it sets....)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Greywater System

My homesteading guru and mentor Anna suggested that I write a post about my greywater system.

First, two terms:
Greywater: wastewater generated from domestic activities like bathing, doing dishes, laundry, and so on.
Blackwater:  wastewater contaminated with human waste- sewage

Seven years ago, when we built our house, we made the decision not to put in a septic tank. The main reasons were because of possible well contamination and because our lot is quite small. We instead decided to use a composting toilet (which means no blackwater) and a greywater system.

I bought Art Ludwig's book Build an Oasis with Greywater and made dozens of plans, each more complicated and involved than the last. I decided to build an artificial wetland from the house, meandering along a path to a sink near our mailbox. On paper it was beautiful. The gentle curves, the water plants poking up from the pebbles that would make up the system. It would have baffles to keep the water from just running straight, and the plants would clean the greywater gently, using up the excess nutrients as it slowly moved down to the pool.

That never happened. Time constraints kept me from finishing quickly, and we ended up with a small pool of fetid water that smelled like rotten eggs. And it was my fault. I should have followed Art's guidelines, and I should have realized just how much work it entailed to build such a paradise. Moving cubic meters of rocky soil, ordering cubic meters of different grades of rock, not to mention the maintenance cleaning out lint sludge, small food particles that escaped the sink drain screens...

Now I am happy to say that for the second attempt, I followed the guidelines in the book, and have discovered the guiding principle of all truly stable engineering projects. K.I.S.S.

Our greywater now drains to a large unlined basin filled with rice hulls and wetland plants that just naturally  found their way there. A number of water tolerant trees and shrubs form a ring around the outer edge. Again, I didn't plant them, I just kept the ones that thrived.
The large pipe from the house takes all the water to this, and it is wonderful. And simple.
No more smell, no more clogging, when the rice hulls eventually decompose, I just add more.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Clean, Green, Beans!

The littlest one and I spent a lovely 20 min or so picking 720g of green beans from the garden Thursday. Then we brought them into town and had them checked out, as I am methodically doing with all my produce.  
Clean Beans! No Cs 134/137 detected!
I was so excited to have beans that I ate rather too many... about 500g! Raw! Note to self, next time eat slightly fewer raw beans, or at least gently steam them. Actually the digestive distress was not that bad. And on the bright side, my insides feel very clean. The dandelion coffee helped with that too I think.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Cabbageworms decreasing

Well, since the great cabbageworm harvest of the other day, I have been picking every other day or so. No fixed schedule, just whenever I feel like it.

  • 6/30   73
  • 7/2     17
  • 7/4     25
  • 7/6       2

Of course, I still see those white butterflies all over the place, so I know the war will continue.

Dandelion Coffee

Dandelion coffee. Is it just hype or is it really good for you? 
I am not sure, but I like it. I mentioned in an earlier post that I had dug up 4 good sized roots to make into dandelion coffee. 
fresh dandelion roots after washing
I washed them, and put them in a shallow woven bamboo basket to dry in the cab of my truck. After a week, the roots were brittle and snapped readily. I found out that this step is not really necessary, I could have just chopped the roots and began roasting right away. Live and learn.
dried dandelion roots
I snapped and cut the roots into pieces about 1cm long, and arranged them on a cookie sheet. Then I put them in the oven at about 150 degrees C. for about 30 minutes, stirring them up occasionally with some chopsticks. Soon the house was filled with a wonderful aroma. Who would have thought that dandelion roots roasting would smell so heavenly? 
When the roots changed color from tan to dark brown, I turned off the oven and let them cool. 
In the morning, I ground some up in my electric coffee grinder, put about one scoop of the powder in a regular coffee maker, and dripped out four cups. Smelled pretty good, but I didn't drink any. I put it in a thermos and took it to City Hall.
They looked at me pretty weird when I asked to have it tested, but they are good about this kind of stuff. 
When I came back in half an hour, they gave me the good news: My dandelion coffee came back clean!
No Cs 134/137 detected in dandelion coffee!

I do love it when I get negative results! The lab attendants and I then enjoyed some of the coffee together, and I refrigerated the rest to make iced dandelion coffee. That was amazing. The flavor is not so much like real coffee. It is earthier. Maybe a darker roast might taste more like the real thing. But the bitterness was quite pleasant.
The dandelion coffee had another thing in common with regular coffee. It is an amazing diuretic. My blood feels so clean now!

Now that I know it is clean, I can make larger batches and keep me drinking it all year round!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Some Local History of Tatara

Yesterday as the youngest and I played in the creek, he found a piece of local history.
Iron slag

Hundreds of years ago, our neighborhood was an iron sand smelting area. One way I can be sure of that is the name of our river is the "Tataraba River." A tatara is a Japanese traditional iron smelting furnace. I am not aware if we have iron sand in our area. Apparently they brought it here to smelt it. What we had was hardwood forests. The raw material is far less bulky than the charcoal. So they made charcoal, smelted the iron, and made.... nobody knows. They probably made iron ingots and transported them to the castle towns to be worked in the forges there.

Doing some internet research, I found the following.

There were two main methods of smelting the iron sand- the kera-oshi (for making steel directly) and the zuku-oshi (for making pig-iron). I am not positive which method they used in our area, but zuku-oshi seems to be more likely.

In the kera-oshi method, they add the komori iron sand in the furnace, then charcoal and heat. Then for three days, they pound and stretch the kera (molten iron sand) to forge it into steel. This steel is used for weapons and tools mainly. It took 13 tons of charcoal and 13 tons of iron sand to make 2.8 tons of kera and .8 tons of pig iron.
So our area might have smelted the iron used in Tokugawa Mitsukuni's katana.

In the zuku-oshi method, akome iron sand is added to the burning charcoal, and the entire furnace's temperature was raised, so the process took about four days, as opposed to three for the kera-oshi.
The zuku-oshi method was common outside the Chugoku region of Japan, which leads me to believe that our area was a zuku-oshi producing area. The pig iron produced in this method was high carbon and low melting iron, and was usually reforged to lower the carbon content and make knives.

The whole area around our house is full of chunks of this stuff. Our neighbor used it as gravel in his driveway.

Daikon Down The Hatch!

My daikon radish came back clean! No Cesium detected!
City Hall says that my Daikon radish are safe to eat! Hooray! That means I have to buy some "aji (Japanese horse mackerel)" or "sanma" (Pacific saury) and have some nice broiled fish with finely grated daikon and ponzu. Heavenly!

So as of July 4, my lettuce, chard, and daikon are all considered safe. Green beans, corn, beets, okra, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes yet to be tested.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cabbageworm Pieris rapae

Pieris rapae caterpillar
Photo by Christian Bauer
Well, I think I am winning the battle with cabbageworms. On Saturday afternoon, I picked 73 cabbageworms off of about 10 plants.
Today, 17.
With constant picking, I might actually get a crop of cabbage this year! That is, if the goats don't eat these plants as well...

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Today I finished stacking some firewood that a friend gave me. It was even cut to 60cm and split!
So while I didn't have time to cut it to my usual 30cm length for our stove, I needed to get it stacked to start drying. I experimented with a new technique for keeping the ends squared. Here in Japan, loggers make stacks of 12 foot logs in a similar manner.
Firewood stack end

60x90x360cm... about 2 cubic meters of wood
And for the Americans:
2'x3'x12' = 72 cu. ft, or .56 cord
It's not as time consuming as making chimney stacked ends, and it is much sturdier. The angle keeps the wood from spilling out the ends, and the wood on top anchors them down snugly. 
Now I just need another 2 cords and I am all set....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Good Side of June

Well, I don't want you to think that only bad things are happening.
There is a lot of beauty in this very cool spring and early summer.

This year's garlic looking great!

Organic roses smell heavenly

Everyone loves daisies

Japanese plums 

Everbearing strawberries pumping out three or four a day

Rice paddy looks better than last year

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Hollyhocks are so beautiful

Goumi fruits starting to ripen

Red Currants

Satsuma setting fruit.
Always look on the bright side of life!

What a Month!

Well, let's see...

Daughter had surgery on tonsils- She's fine now. 

Typhoon Guchol dumped 25cm of rain in three hours. 

Same typhoon caused an utterly massive landslide that destroyed my neighbor's house, just 30 meters away from my front door. He was trapped in the rubble for six hours. Pinned on his side with a six inch breathing space in front of his nose. Luckily the mud didn't penetrate that part of the house, and he didn't suffer any broken bones. Just a dislocated shoulder, numerous lacerations, and severe bruises. More than 50 rescue workers swarmed over the house to cut him out. Thank God he wasn't injured any worse. 
Garlic was harvested, 50+ drying in the shade under the cob oven's roof. Anna was right, planting the big cloves led to bigger garlic all around. If this keeps up, soon they will be as big as my head (which is pretty enormous already). 

Sunflower stalks are now 2 inches across the base, 2.5m tall, and still no sign of flowers. I am thinking of measuring the diameter at breast height, like trees they are so big! 

First three cherry tomatoes were eaten by crows. 

Dog had Sarcoptes Scabei canis (Scabies) mites. Then a cough, and now a sore paw. The poor little guy. Lucky our vet is quite affordable. 

Goats escaped twice and ate the middles out of the cabbage plants that weren't infested with loopers. 

Goumi fruits are ripe, and will be tested for radiation in a few days. 

Picked four enormous dandelion roots to dry, roast, and make dandelion coffee (which will be tested for radiation as well).

That is about it for now.

Neighbor's house after the mudslide

Standing on the wreckage looking up the slide.
That mud is at least six feet deep.
It carried 30-40  fifty year old cedar trees that it smashed into kindling.
Nature scares me sometimes. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chow Down On Chard

Today I got my chard tested- Clean!!
Here in Japan, they sometimes call chard "Fudanso."
Cs 134/137 not detected in chard!

Another crop I can eat.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Road to Recovery

Tonsillectomy scab third day

Our oldest had a tonsillectomy on Wednesday morning. I took the day off work to be with her, we kept the middle one out of school and we all nervously hung around the surgical waiting room for her. She came out crying, said it was like someone had cut them out with a scissors. But by evening she was feeling a lot better.
Here in Japan, they keep the patients in the hospital for a ridiculously long time. They said they will discharge her on Tuesday!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Let Us Eat the Lettuce!

Cs-137, Cs-134 not detected!
My spring crop of Sunny Lettuce has been grown, tested, came back negative (at least under 16 Bq/Kg)!
After the test, they give you back the produce. Since it was clean, I have been eating it.
It takes a long time to eat 600g of lettuce...

I am just happy to know that it passed, even if the kids aren't allowed to eat it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Annular Solar Eclipse

So this morning at 7:30 there was an annular solar eclipse visible. Wow, that was something else. It wasn't a total solar eclipse, what with the moon being so far away from Earth at the time, but it was pretty nifty to see the ring.
Don't look directly at the sun! But a digital camera viewfinder is fine.

A pinhole projector shows the eclipse starting

Dappled light through the trees takes on crescent shapes!

The moment- the moon fully inside the disk of the sun!

On my way home, I noticed some light clouds, so I got out the camera and took a few dozen shots as the eclipse waned.
It was definitely a wonderful experience! Perhaps a once in a lifetime experience. The next one is scheduled to hit our area in 300 years! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Archery Target

Well, since I have become the Backyard Bowyer's biggest fan (made four bows so far, all shoot great!) I have a need for some archery targets and backstops.
First I tried sandwiching twenty or so sheets of cardboard and pasting a target on that. It was OK, but a lot of my blunt arrows just bounced out, since cardboard is very springy on the flat.
Then I had a great idea- use the stiffness of the corrugations on edge to my advantage!
Make a cardboard archery target backstop.
You need 6-7 boxes (the same size is best), a scissors or box cutter, duct tape, and a pencil.

  1. Cut the boxes into strips of 10-15cm wide against the grain of the corrugations.
  2. Start to roll the strips, taping more strips on as you come to the end of each one. it doesn't have to be super tight. Stop when you reach your desired size and tape the end down.
  3. Trace around your roll on a large piece of cardboard, and cut out two plates- for the front and back.
  4. Tape the front and back plates on the roll tightly, and either draw on or print out a target to paste on the roll.
That's it, now find a nice embankment to rest it against and start practicing!

It works great! The stiffness of the backstop keeps the arrows from bouncing out, and if the front plate gets too ragged, I can just flip it over or tape on a new one!

UNofficial target from wikimedia