Friday, June 29, 2007


Yesterday was my husband's birthday, so going with the "bee" theme for this year I tried to make him a bee cake. Considering it was made during a rather long power cut it didn't work out too badly, mind you when I asked my son what he thought it was he had to scratch his head for a few minutes before coming up with the right answer.
Next is my son's birthday... he is already requesting Thomas the Tank Engine - my advice to any new mother (or father!) - don't ever make a "shaped" cake unless you want to continue making them for the remainder of your children's life.....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Communicating without words

Last night we had a group of 5 ladies come to stay with us. Actually they were part of a group of 24 adults visiting from Korea to study about agriculture in Japan. They didn't arrive until 8:30pm and were asleep by 9:30pm so the evening entertainment mainly consisted of trying to work out what kind of agriculture they were involved in and where they came from in Korea. As you may have guessed their Japanese was just as limited as their English - which was non-existant! It reminded me a lot of how I spent my first months here in Japan - sign language and laughter!
This morning I was left on my own with them to eat breakfast and get them to their pick up point by 9am. I think we all survived well, although I'm glad we didn't have the whole day together!
On Saturday night we have a family of 5 coming to stay who are Japanese, but would like to speak some English together. Here's hoping the conversation flows a little more than it did today!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Playing with vegetables

A while ago a friend asked me to send her a box of vegetables on a regular basis. I have been playing around with the idea and as she is coming to visit this afternoon with some other friends I offered to make anyone interested a "trial box" - more for me to try it out than anything else. So this morning while it was raining I started to assemble the contents for today's box. I had so much fun! I am really interested in trying to increase the volume I can provide in the future and some of the concepts I would like to put into the boxes are...
  • Making them as environmentally friendly as possible. Of course the vegetables are organically grown, but I am playing around with different ways to package the vegetables using recycled materials. My daughter showed me how to make great little boxes from newspaper and advertsing paper so that is a start. I have also started another blog (just for fun) with the description of the vegetables and herbs contained in the box and ways they can be used - the theory is that this will eliminate the need for including any printed material in the box. For anyone who can read Japanese... the blog address is: Josgardenjapan it is just in the construction phase really....
  • Including some kind of vegetable which most people here have never tried before. I grow many "unusual" vegetables here which are suited to Japanese cooking, but as no one knows how to use them I can never sell them. By adding cooking ideas to the blog I hope they will discover new vegetables and increase the sales of "unusual veges"! This week there are zucchinis and silverbeet.

  • Including a "special jar" with each box which contains a handmade item such as muesli, gherkins, salad dressing, pesto, jam etc. The theory is that the jar will be returned and refilled with something new each time and if there was something that they particularly liked they could purchase larger quantities of it later. This week it is Jo's muesli.....

  • Including some fresh herbs in each box with ideas of how to use them. In the right season including a seedling of fresh herbs so they can grow them themselves. Many people in Japan grow herbs, but have no idea how to use them. This week there is fresh basil and a herb tea set (lemon verbena, lemon grass and lemon balm).
  • The boxes will contain seasonal vegetables and therefore the purchaser cannot actually choose the contents, but can tell me if there are any items they really don't need or want.
Now all I need to do is work out a way to transport the boxes, grow a greater volume, spread the word about the boxes and of course sleep in between!

This week's box includes: red potatoes, red onions, mini tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, silverbeet, mixed lettuce and herb tea set. And muesli of course!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rice planting again....

So my promise of keeping you up to date with the state of the rice seedlings didn't quite work out.... sorry! While I wasn't watching they grew to full size and all of a sudden it was time to start planting them. The first few fields were planted today and the remainder should be finished over the next couple of days (providing the rice planting machine doesn't break down again like it did today....).
Every year I learn a little more about the rice planting process and this year my big lesson is that "the trays of seedlings are very heavy". I was given the wonderful job of transporting the trays to the different rice fields today....
I wrote a little about the rice planting process in last years blog (see this link if you are interested.... ), but as another summary....

The seedlings become a mass of roots in the trays, almost like a very thick carpet, and this carpet of seedlings is fed onto the back of the rice planting machine.
The machine is then driven into the field - large wheels are essential due to the fact that it is moving in pretty thick mud.
After careful calculations of where to start so that you will be able to finish at the ramp into the field (kind of like the ad about the man who painted the whole room and discovered he had no way of getting out!) the tray is lowered into the mud and funky little things go round and round pulling off a few seedlings at a time and pushing them into the mud.
The final result.... rows and rows of rice plants. Now all we have to do is wait and hope the big snails don't eat all the plants before they have a chance to establish themselves (a story for another day!).

Thursday, June 14, 2007


It is official. That's right, the rainy season has finally arrived. Basically what the rainy season means is that it rains on and off all day for a few weeks with nice warm patches in between - perfect weather for weeds, but not so great for getting washing dried!
While the rain is here I am trying to make lots of jam and generally tidy up around the place while making outings to the garden to collect the large number of zucchinis and tomatoes that are starting to appear. The cucumbers are also starting to take off so anyone in need of cucumbers please let me know!
The major effort in the kitchen at the moment is loquat jam.... Before I came to Japan I never even knew what a loquat was, but I am now becoming an expert. They are kind of like a watery apricot, but with skins that you can't eat. They also have at least 2 large stones in each one which means making a pot of loquat jam is not the fastest thing in the world! By the time I have skinned and stoned them all the amount of actual fruit is minimal, but it is worth it. This year I have made two kinds of jam with loquats - one mixed with dried apricots (my personal favorite) and this year I also made loquat jelly - even less return on the fruit, but no need to skin them.....
I guess I should have read a little more about loquats before I started out this year. The one main thing I learnt (first through practice and then confirmed by research) is that loquats stain your hands so you should wear gloves when processing them. I guess the stains will disappear eventually!

Today we had another nice surprise when we found yet another bee swarm under the bridge by our house. I don't think it is from one of our hives, but it was definately an easy one to take off! I think we are trying to find a different owner for this batch though as my husband has given up making hives for this year. I hope it is not a sign of more earthquakes to come......

Monday, June 11, 2007

You know you have lived here too long when...

As the weather warms up more and more of my little slithery friends start appearing. Until now every time I have seen a snake I have jumped up, ran away and not gone near the area that I saw it in for about a week. Recently however I have started to become more interested in them and rather than moving away I will often move a little closer to see what it is up to. I think that maybe we could become friends - well at least companions - anything that eats mice has to be good!
Every day lately I seem to see a different kind of snake. Some of them have really beautiful patterns on their skin if you look closely. One website I found listed at least 30 different kinds of snakes in Japan. Most of them are harmless, but the one to watch out for here is the one in this photo (don't worry, I didn't take it!). It is called the "mamushi" or viper and it is poisonous - although not so bad that you are likely to die from it. Apparently you can tell it by its unusual triangular shaped head - if you are brave enough to stare it in the eye! I like the comment on one website I found.....
You may be subject to an attack by a snake if you have touched fishes or frogs, as they will smell it and may mistake your fingers with a possible "meal".
I guess maybe I will need to choose between my frog friends and my snake friends!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Daylight hours

I think I've commented recently about the fact that it is getting really hot here lately. Summer is definately here. The heat in the middle of the day is pretty unbearable, but I am finding it difficult to avoid that time of the day. Why not garden in the evenings when it is nice and cool I hear you saying. It is summer, the days are long are they not?
If you are thinking that you would be correct, but... here in Japan they have no daylight savings, so the current hours of daylight are from 5:03am to 7:22pm. That's right - it is dark here by 7:30pm even in the middle of summer.... great for barbeques! Of course I could get up at 5am and do a couple of hours work before I get the kids ready for school, but......

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Too good to be true

Something very strange seems to be going on in our neck of the woods lately. It all started yesterday when I came back home from helping to mix and lay concrete in the 30 degree plus heat (a long and not so fun story!). I was wandering through the garden when I discovered this big batch of bees just hanging around on the bottom of my hanging basket. You couldn't get an easier place to capture them from if you tried! The strange thing is that the bees don't usually swarm at this time of the year.... and then the same night that they swarmed we started having a large number of earthquakes... in fact we just had yet another one while I was writing this. I have counted at least 8 so far in the last two days and I know there have been more while I have been driving etc. A lot of the area near us is volcanic and I don't know if it is related or not, but it is a little unnerving. I slept with the kids last night just in case the shakes became any bigger and we had to do something more than just sit and hope!
Another strange thing that is happening right now is that we should be in the rainy season, but in fact we are in an incredible drought. I tried to water the garden with the pump tonight, but after about one hour and very little progress I gave up. A lot of the rice farmers are getting very worried as they have no water to fill their rice fields. It could be a difficult year!
As for the bees... I just put them in their new home all by myself. My husband was on strike and so I decided that I may as well give it a go. No problems yet - just have to keep my fingers crossed that they will stay. I really don't feel like hearing "I told you so" in the near future!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Kitty and more

This weekend was full of more adventures. For anyone unfamiliar with Japanese things - one of the most famous "characters" here is "Hello Kitty". Despite being born in London she spends most of her time just down the road from us at a theme park called "Harmony Land". It is a theme park designed for reasonably small children and every year the children have a kindergarten outing there. The first year it was pretty fun, the second a little painful and the third... well what can I say! There is only so much of Hello Kitty that you can take. For anyone who is unfamiliar with this character here is the link to the official homepage... Hello Kitty!

On a much more intersting note we had more guests at the cottage last night - two Americans, one Australian and a Dutch lady. Despite a day of rain the clouds managed to go away just long enough for us to enjoy tea outside and then wander around with the fireflies and a saxaphone at night.
It just happened to be one of the guests birthdays and I had just happened to have made a cake... lucky!

The fireflies are out in full force at the moment. Magical stuff each evening. If you didn't catch up on them in last year's blog ... we have fireflies in the river just in front of us and each year they appear at about this time and light up the nights for a couple of hours as part of an elaborate mating ritual. Apparently there are at least 136 different species of fireflies and each species has a different series of flashes. Each male of a species signals in a certain way to a female, who responds with the appropriate flashing pattern. The male then moves in closer, repeating the pattern. BUT..... "In general, males will not fly down to a female that sends the wrong species signal. But, some females of differing species have evolved the ability to mimic the response flashes of species other than their own. As the male flies down to a mimicking female, he is captured and eaten, gulp!"
Just another piece of useless information for you - I hope it makes you weary of those who are flashing at you!

Friday, June 01, 2007

New Season

Today is June 1st. This means that everyone can officially change into short sleeved shirts (despite the fact that it has been over 30 degrees many times already this year). I won't go into this aspect of Japanese society, but I it makes me laugh every year....
Just in case some of you thought I had given up on the agricultural side of things in favour of being a tourist guide... I haven't! In fact right now (despite the lack of rain) the garden is starting to look really good - very few weeds (well less than last year...) and lots of produce starting to come ready. Last year I wasn't able to plant anything in the tunnel house until after the rice was planted, but this year I have been able to get in early and it has been incredible to watch the difference in the speed in which things grow in the house compared to in the field.
A group of friends from Oita city has asked me to start a mail order vegetable service for them - supplying them with whatever is in the garden at the time. This is becoming quite popular here now and I think I will play around with the idea this year and if it works out okay I may pursue it a little more seriously next year. Having eaten my peas raw in salad today I can't imagine why anyone would want to buy the tasteless ones in the shop - fresh and natural is definatley sweeter!