Monday, June 30, 2014

First time in many years

Every year around this time the amount of food on the dinner table that is homegrown increases to the point that it is faster to count the food that has been bought than the homegrown food.  My children tend to get a little sick of me pointing out all the vegetables that I have produced - that is until today when I pointed out that the corn was from the garden, something that hasn't happened in many years.  They were suitably impressed!  Usually the rainy season combined with the bugs, birds and other animals means that it is destroyed well before it makes it to the table.  I have noticed that there are a few cobs which are looking a little worse for wear, but tonight's were perfect!  Nothing like picking corn and having it in the pot less than 10 minutes later.

Right now the food that I could put on the table that is homegrown (fresh): asparagus, beans, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, corn, eggplant, zucchinis, small green peppers, basil, garlic, boysenberries, and many herbs. And of course eggs and rice! Melons, watermelons and pumpkins are not far away and there are plenty of broad beans, peas, bamboo, shitake mushrooms, green ginger, strawberries and raspberries in the freezer.  I'm guessing the heat of summer and general busyness is going to mean that it will all just turn into a weed patch soon, but for now not too bad for a part time farmer! 

Saturday, June 28, 2014


We eat quite a lot of gherkins (aka pickles) - in sandwiches, salads etc. so every year I plant a few seeds and hope to get enough pickling cucumbers to make a decent batch of gherkins.  In general I get a reasonable number and the rainy season hits and the vines all shrivel up and die.  Usually I am grateful for this as there are only so many gherkins that can be used in one year... (Un)fortunately this year my great tunnel house is meaning that the rainy season is here, but there is no effect on the pickling cucumbers.  They are producing nicely every day.... every single day....   
I think this morning's batch of gherkins was the fourth for the year and now the outside ones have also started producing I'm thinking it may be time to accidentally slip when I am weeding them and pull the odd vine or two out!
I have tried many different recipes but my favourite one is one that Dad got from one of his friends.  Very easy and very delicious!

For 2kg (I just vary it depending on how many I have at the time)

Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of salt over the pickling cucumbers and cover with cold water.  Leave for 24 hours then drain.

Boil together:
3 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons celery salt (I use seed)
4 teaspoons mustard seeds
Sprinkle of dill seeds
2 large cloves of garlic - crushed

Add the gherkins and cook for 5-10 minutes until soft.  Watch carefully - I usually don't boil it very long at all as they seem to shrivel when they cool.  I tend to just wait till they have changed colour.  Bottle and store for 6 weeks before eating.  They will last for many years if you have sealed them properly...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rice planting 2014

The yearly rice planting is over.  The men finished all the machine planting the other day and I finished the last of the hand planting today.  Unfortunately (?) I had to work over the weekend so I wasn't able to help out with the main planting, but was given responsibility for filling in the gaps in the last field today.
For those who are not familiar with rice planting, basically the machines do all the hard work, but there are still areas that the machines haven't filled in properly that need to be planted by hand.  Literally back breaking work!  The amount of hand planting depends on two things - the shape of the field and the skill of the rice planter driver.  The less square the field is the more areas there are that need to be hand planted.  The less skilled the driver the more areas there are that need to be hand planted.  Unfortunately most of our fields are far from square and my husband is just taking over the reigns from his father and is therefore not as skilled as he could be.... which means many areas to fill!
The basic way of planting the fields seems to be to leave a section around the entire field and then go up and down until it is full and then do one final swoop around the entire field before hopefully arriving at the exit point.  It means that the main areas to be hand planted are where the vertical lines and the final swoop around the outside meet as well as the corners and the exit areas.  It is not difficult work -  you just pull off 3 or 4 rice plants and stick them in the mud.  The problem is that you are doing it while standing in the deep mud... which often has sharp or moving objects in it.  Basically you have to just hope that the squiggling is an air hole letting off steam and not a snake going for a swim.  And of course for straightness freaks like myself the real challenge is to make the lines as straight as you can.  I'm sure it doesn't actually make any difference to the harvest, but I get twitchy if I drive past lines that I have planted that are too crooked....

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Don't look up!

 I usually have the policy that I put on blinkers when I am in the garden.  I look straight ahead at the area that needs the most attention and try to avoid looking even slightly sideways to prevent me being sidetracked by one of the other million areas that need weeding etc.  Sometimes I stray a little though and yesterday I was silly enough to look up - and discovered a hairy delight!  After a bit of research it appears that it is the caterpillar of the Giant Japanese Silkworm.  It is definitely giant and I guess hairy could also be interpreted as silky....whatever it is it is interesting from a distance, but I'm not keen to get too close.
I'm hoping that it just stays in the tree and doesn't have lots and lots of friends who like dropping down on unsuspecting people who happen to be wandering underneath them!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The planets aligned....

Every year I plant potatoes in spring and autumn and every year I have mixed results.  However no matter how bad the harvest is I still usually get more than enough to last until they start sprouting . This is because I have the bad habit of looking at the bags of seed potatoes in the shop and thinking that there are not really so many in a bag and therefore buying far too many.... and then of course I need more than one variety, often four or five varieties and therefore the number of potatoes I plant is always far too many.
This year I took a bit of extra care with them, thinned them out a bit, put a bit of extra fertiliser in with them and.... the ones that I have harvested so far have been the best I have ever had.  The only problem is the huge volume of them... and if you read the last sentence carefully you will have realised that I still haven't actually harvested them all yet.  There is still one more variety to harvest.... I'm kind of hoping that when I dig in I will not be rewarded with huge nuggets of deliciousness.  There only so many potatoes one rice-growing family can eat in the 4 months or so before they start to sprout beards and there is only so much room in the secret hole in the cottage floor!

Monday, June 09, 2014

Feeling far away... again!

With all the modern technology these days and the general busyness of my life there are not many days when I feel like I am a long way from "home".  My family visits a lot, we chat on skype, I often have the New Zealand radio station blaring while I am cooking, I keep up with all the New Zealand news with the online newspapers.  I can even do my shopping in New Zealand via the internet and have it delivered here to Japan.  But the one thing you can't do via the internet is give someone a huge hug.  I'm thinking of my family in New Zealand today and wishing I could be there to give them just that. 
My grandfather died early this morning after going down hill quite quickly.  I think he was probably ready to go in the end and from what I have heard it was all very fast and peaceful.  Chances of me making it back for the funeral are pretty slim.  We managed to visit him on our whirlwind tour home in March and for that I will always be grateful.  For all his strange ways he still played an important part in all our lives and I thank him for that.  My best memories of him are playing endless games of table tennis in the summer holidays (his biggest advantage over us was that when he took his shirt off his boobs would wobble so much we couldn't concentrate on the ball!) and the time he came to visit Japan when Emily was still tiny.  
Cyber hugs to all my family in New Zealand..... looking forward to some real ones in the near future.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The berry season continues

The strawberry patch seems to be almost finished for the season, which is fortunate as now my daily activity needs to move on to picking the raspberries.  At the moment they are covered in mostly green berries, with quite a few red ones starting to appear.  Unfortunately, like all other years, their production coincides with the rainy season and the combination of heavy rain followed by humid, hot weather usually means that a lot get lost to mold.  I have put a very basic roof over them in the hope that it will save at least a few of them from rotting, but only time will tell.  In the meantime I am happy to collect a few hundred grams worth every day and squirrel them into the freezer until there are enough to actually do something decent with them.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

New wave of veges

Just to prove that there is more in my garden than just flowers... the next wave of vegetables is starting in the tunnel house - just ahead of the outside veges.  The first tomatoes are turning red, the cucumbers and gherkins are growing bigger by the second and the eggplants are slowly growing too.  Of course the beans are still producing well along with the asparagus.  Hopefully the heavy rain we have had over the last few days hasn't done too much damage to the outside garden - there should be plenty of raspberries coming along with zucchinis and of course more peas and beans!  If only I had 30 hours every day to actually spend in the garden I might manage to get them all picked.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Bucket of flowers

Today's loot before putting into vases

Terrible photos, but just to show that the flowers I am picking every day are increasing... and increasing.... and increasing!  The problem is that if I don't pick them they will stop producing, so I feel the need to pick them every day.  There are many more kinds that are also flowering, but there is a limit to the number I can deal with each day.  If the typhoon like winds that we are having right now don't blow them all away I'm thinking I will be asking every one who comes to stay to bring me a new vase this year! 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Bugger Off Part 2

Most vines on the left are in tact... not so for the right hand side!

Right hand side

Left hand side

Replanted and covered with shiny tape
Do you remember in March I wrote about some meddlesome moles that were causing a slight problem in the tunnel house gardens?  They seem to have decided that there are better bugs somewhere else and I have had no problems with them lately, which is very fortunate as I am now dealing with another enemy.......
Every year I plant sweet potatoes and try to keep on top of weeding them.  This year I sense that my weeding time in the garden is going to be limited so I gave in and put down black plastic mulch and planted the vines through small holes I made in the plastic.  Every time I went to check on them I was impressed by the lack of weeds, but confused as to why the majority of the plants on one side had simply disappeared.... or at least been removed from the holes and left to dry out close by.  And then one day when I wandered down to inspect them I discovered the culprit... a CROW!  The stupid birds had decided that they would use my sweet potato patch as their play pen and were having a great time simply pulling out the vines... they don't eat them, they just pull them out... more than slightly annoying!  
Today I bought some new plants and replanted them in the original holes and got out my shiny tape which will hopefully deter the crows long enough for the plants to get established.  If not I'm thinking I might have to pitch a tent near by and use my teaching voice to scare them the way I scare the bad kids in my classes!