Friday, December 13, 2013

Hydroponic Strawberries

Here it comes! I finally made a hydroponics setup!
I wanted to make one for a long time, searching on the internet and on YouTube. Have you ever noticed how if you type "hydroponic" on YouTube you get about 10,000 videos made by stoned college students showing their "secret" marijuana closets to the world? (hint- it's not secret if you show your face and post it on the internet... And at least film them when you are sober)

But anyway, I found one video which-although the man was clearly planting lettuce at some sort of public facility has the title "How To CHEAP Hydroponic System Hydro Grow Marijuana Weed Tutorial." (the video has since been removed) It was a very concise video about how to make a simple, cheap system with a minimum of tools. So I am going to grow some hydroponic strawberries. I am so excited about this, I made a paper tutorial as well!

You can easily make this an aquaponics setup by adding fish and a bed of media for bacteria to colonize. I plan on doing that in the near future to compare. But I already have an aquaponics setup, and I want to try a hydro now. I also have 18 new strawberries in the old rice paddy, so I can compare three types of growing.

A bit of advice- You can change some of the details. If you can't find the same sizes, materials, or tools, just adapt and adjust. It is basically water flowing downhill through tubes.
Hydroponic Strawberries 1/3
(click to enlarge)
Hydroponic Strawberries 2/3
(click to enlarge)
Hydroponic Strawberries 3/3
(click to enlarge)

1. Materials you need:

  • one- five gallon/ 20L bucket.
  • one- roll of electrical tape
  • two- 75mm x 200cm PVC pipe (six to eight feet of 3" pipe is fine)
  • one- 75mm x 15cm PVC pipe (You can cut 6" off of the pipe from above. It'll still work OK.)
  • three- 25mm x 200cm PVC pipe (six to eight feet of 1" pipe)
  • three- 75mm  90 degree PVC pipe joints.
  • eight- 25mm  90 degree pipe joints
  • 20 plastic cups or hydroponic net cups
  • 1 small roll of a rather thick, unwoven (like felt or garden row covers) synthetic cloth. Filters are often made of this material
  • 1 aquarium pump
  • 60cm (2 feet) of garden hose that fits the aquarium pump.
  • 1 bag of hydroton, perlite, vermiculite, or the growing medium of your choice.
  • hydroponic nutrient solution. 
2. Tools:
  • box cutter or knife
  • saw
  • tape measure
  • marker
  • electric drill
  • hole saw (my holes are 57mm (2.25") diameter- (1 1/8" radius) you can adjust this to your needs)

3. Measure and cut: 

The 25mm (1") PVC is for the base. Measure (twice!) and cut:
  • 30cm x 2        (12 inches)
  • 40cm x 2        (16 inches)
  • 45 cm x 2       (18 inches)
  • 170 cm x 2     (68 inches)
* make a cut diagram if you are using longer or shorter PVC pipe than I listed.

The 75mm (3") PVC is for the grow tubes. 
Draw a straight line down the pipe (a 2x4 on the floor next to the pipe can help you make the line nice and straight)
Start 10cm (4") from one end and mark the pipe at 20cm (8") intervals on that line. 
Use the hole saw and electric drill to cut out holes along the marks. 

4.1 Assembly of Base
  • Attach one 30cm crosspiece to the 40 cm legs with the 90 degree joints. 
  • Attach the other 30 cm crosspiece to the 45 cm legs with 90 degree joints. 
  • Lay the 170 cm pipes on the floor, and attach them to the two end pieces you just made with... you guessed it, the other four 90 degree joints. 
  • It should look like a really wiiiiiiiiiiiiide "U" with one side 5 cm shorter than the other. 
4.2 Assembly of Grow Tubes: (see illustration)
  • Put 90 degree joints on both ends of one grow tube, then lay it on the base.
  • Put the short, 15cm connector on the shorter, 40cm side of the base, and connect it to the second tube with a 90 degree joint.
  • The second tube PASSES UNDER THE 45cm support and must be tied or taped into place with electrical tape.
  • Secure the grow tubes to the base with lashings of electrical tape.
  • When the holes of the grow tubes are all arranged properly up, use electrical tape to seal the joints
  • Put the 5gal bucket under the lower pipe exit.
5. Planting:
  • Prepare the cups- cut a small slot in the bottom of the cups with a utility knife/ box cutter
  • Cut strips of cloth to use for wicks. About 2.5 cm (1") wide and 15cm (6") long
  • Thread them halfway through the slots in the cups.
  • Fill the cups about halfway with growing media (perlite, peat moss, coconut coir, hydroton....). Arrange the wick so it is standing up, not crushed to the bottom under the media. 
  • Put in your strawberry plants and fill the rest of the way. Make sure you don't cover the crown of the berry.
6. Starting Up:
  • Place your prepared cups in the holes of the grow tubes, making sure the wicks are touching the bottom of the grow tube.
  • Put your aquarium pump in the bottom of the 5 gal bucket below the lower pipe's exit.
  • Attach the 60cm garden hose to the pump, and lead it to the upper pipe's entrance.
  • Fill the bucket with hydroponic nutrients (follow their instructions for mixing proper amounts)
  • Plug in the pump and let it run. 
  • Top off the nutrient solution as necessary.
  • You can use this system with just about any non- root vegetable. i.e. carrots and potatoes are not suited for this, but lettuce and bok choi are.
  • To prevent algae growth, keep the nutrient solution out of the sun as much as possible. Devise a cover for the bucket, etc...
  • I use unwoven poly cloth for the wicks, but almost any cloth will work. Natural fibers will decay quickly though.
  • Your growing media can be just about any inert media, not just the lightweight expanded clay aggregate in the illustration. Coconut coir, perlite, vermiculite, pea gravel, etc...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blue Hubbard "Cheese"

A "Cheese" of Blue Hubbard Squash puree
Squash juice.... maybe I should call it "tea" and it is more appetizing? 
So, I just steamed 1/4 of a 32lb blue hubbard squash... Yes, 8lbs.... . Then I mashed it with my handy fork, and oh my goodness, what a wet sloppy mess that was. The last two pies I baked with this mix took 2x the normal baking time.

Then I remembered how to make yogurt cheese- just add some herbs to plain yogurt, dump it into a clean handkerchief, hang and drain.... could it work for squash too?

So I decided to make a "cheese" of the steamed squash. I lined a colander with a clean handkerchief, and put the pureed pumpkin into it. Wow, did it drain! Amazing!  Then I tied the handkerchief and hung it by some twine and let the water drain into a bowl. Wow did it drain more! Totally amazing the amount of water in steamed pumpkin! I have the other 1/4 in the oven baking at 350 F. (our oven is from the US, so it cooks in F, not C.)

I wonder how long I should suspend this "cheese" of squash. Overnight seems excessive, but 20 min in, it is still draining pretty steadily....
The pyrex measuring cup was up to 500ml when I decided I needed to do something- and thus the Squash-Sweet Potato cocktail was invented (don't try this at home, it really isn't that tasty).
I took 150ml of the squash and added 50ml of 60 proof imo-jouchu (distilled sweet potato liquor) to it. The fruity blend of the..... forget it. It is not a good drink. Might be better with a cleaner liquor like vodka.
Maybe as a hot breakfast tea.... without the liquor of course!

I turned off the oven, the rest of the squash should be tender by morning.... I hope!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kabochataro, or Little Squashling

Kabochataro and his Blue Hubbard Squash

I may not be much of a farmer, but that here is a big ol' squash. Big enough to fit a small kid into. It reminds me of the Japanese folk tale called Momotaro- or "Son of a Peach!" or "Little Peachling."

So here is the fairy tale from fairytales4u with a bit of word search and replace:


A LONG long time ago in Japan there lived an old man and an old woman. One day the old man went to the mountains to cut grass; and the old woman went to the river to wash clothes. While she was washing a great thing came tumbling and splashing down the stream. When the old woman saw it she was very glad, and pulled it to her with a piece of bamboo that lay near by. When she took it up and looked at it she saw that it was a very large squash. She then quickly finished her washing and returned home intending to give the squash to her old man to eat. 
When she cut the squash in two, out came a child from the large kernel. Seeing this the old couple rejoiced, and named the child Kabochataro, or Little Squashling, because he came out of a squash. As both the old people took good care of him, he grew and became strong and enterprising. So the old couple had their expectations raised, and bestowed still more care on his education. 
Kabochataro finding that he excelled everybody in strength, determined to cross over to the island of the devils, take their riches, and come back. He at once consulted with the old man and the old woman about the matter, and got them to make him some dumplings. These he put in his pouch. Besides this he made every kind of preparation for his journey to the island of the devils and set out. 
Then first a dog came to the side of the way and said, "Kabochataro! What have you there hanging at your belt ?" He replied, "I have some of the very best Japanese millet dumplings." "Give me one and I will go with you," said the dog. So Kabochataro took a dumpling out of his pouch and gave it to the dog. Then a monkey came and got one the same way. A pheasant also came flying and said, "Give me a dumpling too, and I will go along with you." So all three went along with him. In no time they arrived at the island of the devils, and at once broke through the front gate; Momotaro first; then his three followers. Here they met a great multitude of the devils' retainers who showed fight, but they pressed still inwards, and at last encountered the chief of the devils, called Akandoji. Then came the tug of war. Akandoji hit at Kabochataro with an iron club, but Kabochataro was ready for him, and dodged him adroitly. At last they grappled each other, and without difficulty Kabochataro just crushed down Akandoji and tied him with a rope so tightly that he could not even move. All this was done in a fair fight.
After this Akandoji the chief of the devils said he would surrender all his riches. "Out with your riches then," said Kabochataro laughing. Having collected and ranged in order a great pile of precious things, Kabochataro took them, and set out for his home, rejoicing, as he marched bravely back, that, with the help of his three companions, to whom he attributed all his success, he had been able so easily to accomplish his end. 
Great was the joy of the old man and the old woman when Kabochataro came back. He feasted everybody bountifully, told many stories of his adventure, displayed his riches, and at last became a leading man, a man of influence, very rich and honorable; a man to be very much congratulated indeed!

And a word or two about the squash- it was delicious! But so big! I microwaved some and ate it with a dash of salt- delicious. I pressure cooked large cubes- two times! delicious. We made pumpkin soup. We put it into ton-jiru (Japanese pork soup). Delicious.
My only complaint was that it cooked to a mush too easily. Japanese kabocha squash are much firmer, and they don't lose their shape so easily. You can cook up cubes and serve them as cubes. This one was softer than tofu! Touch it and it just kind of melted. But that did make for very good soups and stews.
Maybe after a month or two of cool storage the other squash will be more firm. This one was pretty fresh from the garden.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Sticky, Hairy Balls

Mmmm.... Hairy....

Closeup of my balls
Man, I love my hairy balls!
I got the recipie... I mean recepie...reci..... My friend Anna from Walden Effect had a post on how to make them. Not a very precise recie..%$##$!. Not very precise directions, but it is not a very precise kind of dessert.

You need:

  • nuts (any kind) 1/2 cup (I used a bag of mixed nuts)
  • three kinds of dried fruit (any kind) 1/2 cup each (I used dried bananas, prunes, and mango)
  • 1 fresh lemon or other citrus (I used sudachi)
  • some shredded coconut about 1/2 cup

First, I put my nuts into the food processor and pulsed it a few times to chop them up quite fine. Then I dropped my banana into the mix. Add the other dried fruit and chop it up fine. Then add some lemon juice (in my case Sudachi) and mix it up so it is sticky. Then just roll them between your palms until they are round, and (this is the only part that was my own idea) drop them in a bowl of shredded dried coconuts. Presto! My sticky balls were now hairy and not so sticky.

Hold my balls in the palm of your hand and feel their dense heft. Just don't squeeze them too hard or they will lose their shape and make your hands sticky.

And delicious! People just can't keep my balls out of their mouths! The salt from my nuts and the sweet from the fruit makes a delicious balance that is just right! But if you really want to make it even better, try dipping my balls in honey before you pop them in your mouth.

I can't wait to serve them at a party. I'm sure they will be a big hit. I can just imagine all the people tweeting about it from their iPhones. "Eric's Hairy Balls are so delicious!"

Saturday, September 21, 2013

2x4 Bus Bench

2x4 Bus Stop Bench
So, now that the kids go to the Elementary down the mountain, they take the bus. Luckily, it is right in front of the driveway.But they didn't have anyplace to sit and watch for the bus. So, I as usual looked to the internet and found the solution to my problem. Thank You Jay's Custom Creations! I googled 2x4 bench and found the perfect plans. I did modify them slightly- As you can see I have only two 2x4s for the backrest instead of 5. Mostly that is because here in Japan, they don't sell 8' 2x4s, and I didn't want to buy an extra twelve footer. Well, anyway, I used some graph paper, drew some simple models and made a new cut list using four 12' 2x4s. Then I lost that paper and just winged it. It went OK.But seriously, Jay made great plans, easy to follow, and easy to adapt to your needs. 

All told, it took about an hour to cut and screw this bench together. I think it took me longer to gather my tools from their various hiding places than it did to make it. 

My helper and one of the main users of the bench.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rice Update 2013

Well, I am sure that I am cursing myself to wild boar damage by posting these photos of my BEAUTIFUL ORGANIC RICE! I made the paddy 100 square meters (four times last year) and had nothing but trouble! Leaks and water holding problems- sand washing in from storms, a crab who kept tunneling into the water warming pond and releasing it all into the paddy ice cold! Heavy rains overflowing and washing out the paddy banks! But I learned a lot and I think with about 20cm of aged cow manure spread in there before winter, I might do even better next year.

Koshi Hikari  rice

Koshi Hikari rice closeup

A different angle of the paddy
My helper giving it a thumbs up!
It might look nice if you don't know much about growing rice, but I must admit the yield looks to be very skimpy compared to the neighbor's. Even so, if we escape boar damage, I think it will yield better than last year.

This year I decided to take fewer chances and fenced in the whole paddy by Sept. 3. Whew! Of course, it remains to be seen if it will work. I followed the instructions on the package of netting, One meter high, one meter spread outward on the ground, and staked down.

Elsewhere in the garden, my Sudachi (citrus) is covered in tiny lime-like fruits!
Margaritas anyone?
Sudachiade for the little ones?
Can anyone identify this?
I found this on the back of a pawpaw leaf.... wasps?
Same mud structure from a bit further away.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Permaculture Is Not For Everyone

This post is inspired by a Permaculture Lecture I went to a few years ago. I wrote the article below and then lost it somewhere. I came across it hidden deep in the dark recesses of my hard disk today. Not all permaculturists are this way- but I think we all know a few who are. Like the guy whose lecture inspired this. In one afternoon he did enough damage to prevent an entire village from ever trying it.

Permaculture is not for everyone.

I see permaculturists trying to teach people- lots of them talk as if they are on the high ground, the elite, preaching to the masses. This is not a good thing. For one, the farmers and gardeners they are trying to convert are already successful. We cry "Unsustainable" and "Chemicals are not the answer", but the truth remains that they have raised families and made a living by farming the way that the Agriculture co-ops have taught them. It does work for them. It may not be sustainable, but they believe that science will solve their problems. And as the old proverb goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." He doesn't really have any interest in doing it.

So I suggest that we permaculturists change our ways. We need to work more closely with the chemical agriculturists. I am not saying we should use their methods, but we should accept that they want to do it their own way. We need to teach by example.

Also, we need to keep records, to compare scientifically that what we do is financially viable. If we can prove that, it will open people's minds. We need to measure not only the cost of inputs but also the hours of work that went into the crop. We need to measure brix ratings between permacuture crops and conventional. And we need successive years of data.

And we have to accept that many people are set in their ways- they see beauty in a large field of rice, wheat, or corn. A tilled field is like a blank canvas for them. Long rows of broccoli, cabbage, carrots and onions with no weeds between speak to them of success. The "I won!" appeal of "beating" nature in the form of weeds and insects. Humans are competitive. If our neighbor has the "perfect" field, we naturally want to give him a run for his money.

As permaculturists, we should appreciate their hard work. Befriend and make them our allies. Tear down the fences between us and them, and they will return the favor. Because at the heart of it, we are all plant lovers.
This is the way we can really make permaculture take root.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Guerrilla Gardening My Own House

Click to expand

About 6 years ago, the wife stopped looking at, weeding, and generally caring for her flowerbeds. I feel that since I have been the one caring for them since then, they are mine by default. So.... Can you see the pepper plants? Eggplant? Tomato?

Any bets as to when (if ever) the wife finds them? Or the carrots, lettuce and cabbages in the rose garden? Maybe the pumpkins under the kumquat tree by the mailbox? The herbs under the living room window? The tomatoes climbing the lattice near the entryway arch?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Adventures in Aquaponics

Hill and Bourne (comet goldfish) and the
Solids Lifting Overflow (SLO) pipe

About 12 years ago, I became very interested in hydroponics. I bought all sorts of books on the subject, studied how it works and how I could get started. I made dozens of soda bottle wicking planters, and had a lot of fun. But the whole waste problem really bothered me. When the nutrients are out of whack, just throw the lot and make new solution?
   So I had an idea. I thought I would grow fish in a tank and use that water to fertilize plants. To me, it was an original idea. Just to see if anyone else had the same idea, I Yahoo!d it (yes, back before Google conquered the internet). I found out that: 1. No, it was not my idea. And that 2. It works. So I subscribed to the Aquaponics Journal e-edition from 2003-4. 
 I wasn't able to really do much in the area and mainly forgot about it for the next ten years or so until my blog guru Anna of the Walden Effect reviewed an aquaponics book on her blog. While Anna is not so keen on it, it re-kindled my interest and I bought the book, Aquaponic Gardening, by Sylvia Bernstein
  Her book really got me interested in it again, and I read it cover to cover in a weekend. My mind was full of possibilities, and I googled the idea and found Japan Aquaponics. They had a course on May 11th, and I loaded up the family and we drove down to take it. 
  I thought I already knew the basics, but it really helped to hear Aragon St. Charles describe and actually show us how it works. What is the easiest setup and why. What a SLO pipe is and how it works, etc... 
Aquaponics Mark I- Flood and Drain
  So the result is- my new aquaponics system. It is small. It takes a total of 2.16Kw per day (I'll get into that later) and it has two little tiny fish I named Hill and Bourne. The system has evolved a little since then, and will probably continue to change over time. 

Lettuce sprouting after 12 hours... not bad, eh?

The next aquaponics post will go into more detail about the system.  Until then- Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Every Gardener Needs a Helper
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in effort. This little dude spent 30 minutes raking up grass to mulch daddy's garden. And you know, 30 minutes in kid time is like two hours in big people time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


What is 1089?
How many muscles in my back ache?
How many rice plants can fit in 100 square meters at 33cm spacing?
How many times I had to bend over to stick a seedling into the terrible soil of my "paddy"?

I am glad it is done. I figure about 1000 plants will survive to harvest. At least I hope so. The paddy is 4x the size of last year, and has some serious water holding issues. My neighbor told me "Eric, you have to take out all the sand and put in 15cm of black or red topsoil or you'll never get a decent crop."
I tend to agree with him, but I am pretty stubborn (and the thought of finding 15 cubic meters of quality soil is a bit daunting).
Meh, we'll see how it goes. If it doesn't go well, I guess I have a wheat field next year.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Borage flowers

What to do with a spouse who doesn't understand my need to grow a garden?
I love her, but she views my garden as her rival. Which in my opinion isn't fair.

  1. I spend a lot more time with her than I do in the garden (as anyone who sees the weed-choked paradise that is my garden can attest). 
  2. I talk to her more than I do to my garden. 
  3. I don't cut parts of her off, cook them and eat her like I do to plants in my garden. 
  4. I don't cover her with straw to smother her like I do to my garden.
  5. I don't shovel manure over her like I do to my garden.
  6. I don't pound pointy bamboo stakes into her with a wooden club like I do to my garden.
  7. I would be much angrier if a wild boar damaged her than I am when they damage my garden.
I have tried getting her interested in gardening with me, but she is too clever to fall for that. My father told me to marry a woman cleverer than myself. Apparently it backfired in this respect.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Insect ID Help

So today I saw some insects in the garden. I am pretty sure they are not all harmful. Click to view them larger.
Here are the four contestants on "NAME THAT BUG!"

1. On a black raspberry leaf

2. Also on a black raspberry leaf

3. You guessed it, on a black raspberry leaf

4. On my fava beans

If you have any information about these insects, please comment below!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Taking Care of Business

Well, about five months ago the wife told me: If you spent half as much time working on the yard as blogging it would look a lot better. Now she was angry about some other things at the time, but there is a kernel of truth. I took a good hard look at the yard. It wasn't pretty. So I took a blogging vacation to clean it up, and let's face it, to passive-agressively react to her comment by cutting back on my third favorite thing, after family and beer.
But then I figure- hey- she never reads this anyway....
A reciprocal roof built in the sandbox with some bamboo (the  plastic livestock and funky  boots are the youngest's)

"Daddy, make a bridge and tunnel for my dump truck!" so I did.... I don't know what to call this type of birdge- any help?

Nectarines in bloom in early April

The expanded paddy. 100 square meters this year!

Will it keep boars out? Only time will tell. (but it worked last year)

Indian Blood Peach blossoms in Mid April.

Strawberries are blooming. I would feel safer if I could see bees....

Monday, January 7, 2013

Coconut Banana Corn Flakes

Happy New Year!

I poured a bowl of corn flakes and cut up a banana before realizing we had only a quarter cup of milk in the carton in the fridge. Who does that? Anyway, there was also half a can of coconut milk left over from a coconut banana pudding we made yesterday.... Well, it says milk on the label...

You really should try this. It was amazing. The crunchy cornflakes, the sweet bananas and that coconut.... This is the way corn flakes should be eaten.