Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chamomile Power!

I have no idea whether I can fully give the credit to the chamomile or not, but.... for some reason some of the lettuce seedlings that I was about to throw away have now started to come alive again. I sprayed them with some weak chamomile tea and a day later they look like new plants! The new seedlings that I also pricked out a few days ago have been sprayed and so far (fingers crossed) also show no signs of wilting. I am not sure how often I should spray them, but as I have a plentiful supply of self-sown chamomile at the moment I figure be safe - spray every day! We are heading into a couple of rainy days again so it will be interesting to see if there is any negative change due to lack of ventilation again. I hope not!

Here are some pictures of the seedlings that have started to grow again as well as some of the many seedlings which are getting close to being put out to rough it in the big wide world of the garden. Here's hoping that make it that long!

And then of course if they do make it into the garden there are some different animals that they are going to have to contend with. Recently I've decided that coming from New Zealand I have led a very sheltered/safe life......until now! Yesterday I tried to turn the pump on by the river, only to discover a very long black snake coming out of the water straight for me. Stones, sticks, screaming didn't do anything to deter its path, therefore the plants were hand watered via the watering can. I haven't been brave enough to go and check it out again.....
The other animal that I am having huge problems with at the moment is moles. They are everywhere in our garden and as I'm sure you know love to dig tunnels. Everywhere I dig seems to collapse under me. I know that the tunnels worms dig are good for aerating the soil, but I'm not so sure about mole tunnels! This is one of the "cute" holes that I find everywhere.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Jam progress

Jam production and sales have begun! This week has been an interesting one. I made a double batch of "Carrot and Apricot" and another double batch of "Strawberry" jam to begin to test the jam market here in Japan. I made three different sizes to see which are going to be the most popular and as I suspected bigger is definately not best here in Japan!
Despite the fact that the smallest jar is close to twice the price per ml of jam as the biggest jar, the smallest jar is definately the most popular. The reason for this is the Japanese custom of giving gifts. Jam is not something that is devoured for breakfast every morning on a slice of toast here. In fact, I'm not exactly sure when people eat jam here, but..... if it is something a little different, nicely packaged and small then it is a perfect gift for someone. This means that instead of buying one jar of jam for your breakfast toast, you buy three jars of jam to give to others. Perfect for me as it increases my profit margin as well as the volume I can sell.
My first real testing ground was a flower arranging class that I have been going to about once a month. Everytime there are different women who go and this week I figured I would just take some jam along and see what kind of response I would get. Despite there only being four other members there I managed to sell about 15 jars of jam and could have sold even more small jars if I had had any more.... as much as I don't like selling to "friends" I figure it is perhaps the best way to test the market.
I also had a near miss with a tourist bus last week. I saw that a small bus load of tourists had come down the mountain from their hiking and was about to try and convince them that they were in great need of jam made from local produce when I shoved some jars in a box, ran out the door only to see that the bus was pulling away. I will definately be more organised next time (and I'll try to take the children with me as an additional draw card!).
My next testing ground is a local festival next week - I have been asked to sell some jam at the "Green Tourism" stall so I hope I can sell some more. Roll on the real fruit season so I can extend my range!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Rain, rain and more rain!

The rainy season seems to have arrived early here in Japan. Actually it seems to be arriving every weekend and then going away during the week. which is great for the garden, but not so great when you are trying to pull down a shed in preparation for building a new "guest house"!
Along with the rain my problems with my seedlings are continuing. I transplanted a lot more lettuces yesterday and noticed that some have already started to have their necks "constricted". I have started making some chamomile spray to see if it can help solve the problem, but it will take a couple of days. I wonder if the remaining seedlings will make it that long!

One of the things that has really been taking off in the garden lately is my coriander. I planted a couple of plants in autumn and now they have started to grow into bushes. I also have lots of seedlings too - mainly because I was a little confused about the name of the plant and therefore bought far too many seeds! For anyone as naive as me here is a lesson in naming..... Cilantro and Coriander are the same thing! Well to be precise "Cilantro" is the name of the leaves and "Coriander" is the name of the seeds from the same plant. Today when I went for a wander I noticed that it has started to flower so I guess soon I will have both Cilantro and Coriander all in the same plant. What a bargain! Now if only I could force myself to like the taste of it......

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Good and Bad things about Spring

Spring has definately arrived here in Japan and my biggest pleasure at the moment is wandering around my garden and discovering all the things that I have planted over the years that are popping up all over the place again. Tulips are flowering in places that I had forgotten about, different kinds of sage have also starting to flower, plants that I have no idea what they are are also starting to get bigger. It is exciting to watch them grow and to not know what they are! Today I transplanted a lot of little seedlings that had self sown in the rice field that I used for growing flowers and vegetables in last year. The only problem is that I am not exactly sure if they are zinnia plants or sunflower plants. The sunflower plants grew to over 2 metres last year so I have replanted the mystery seedlings along the very back of the garden, just in case!

On a not so positive note, one of the main problems of spring is showing its horrible face in Japan at the moment. That is ..... rain! We have had so much rain lately that I haven't been able to open the tunnel house very much. This has meant that there has been no real air circulation in the house and as a result a lot of my carefully divided lettuce and herb seedlings have started to die. I think I'll whip up a batch of chamomile spray to try on them tomorrow. It is supposed to help with "damping off" and must be better than watching them all die. Any other suggestions are more than welcome!

Some of my other seedlings are starting to make a better start in the garden though - this is a picture of a sage plant that I started from seed last October and that has only just started to grow bigger after being transplanted into the garden. I'm hoping some more of my seedlings actually make it to the replanting stage......

Saturday, April 15, 2006

New Business

Today I took my first step into the new world of the Japanese jam business. I have been making jam for many years from excess fruit and vegetables from our garden, but have only ever put it in our cupboards or given it to friends. But from today I hope to slowly make this hobby into a business - the main word to note in that sentence is "slowly".......
So today it was into the garden to pull out the last of this season's carrots and voila - 20 jars of "Carrot and Apricot Jam" were produced. Thank goodness my New Zealand food processor decided to work today (thanks Dad and Dawn!) so I didn't end up with grated fingers! Judging by the jam that was spilt all over the bench it looks like it will set properly and tastes pretty good - anyone with "Cook's Garden" recipe book check out page 56 - it is definately worth trying.
Anyway, the next step is the labelling...... I have been playing around with some designs, but the major problem is finding a name for my new business. The name of the mountain behind our house is called Mt. Tsuwado so I would like to call it "Tsuwado Farm", but Tom doesn't like that name. His suggestion is "not Tsuwado Farm". A great help he is! If anyone has any suggestions please let me know. I like the following logo, but again Tom isn't so impressed. Again any suggestions are welcome!

Today I had another lesson in Japanese agriculture. I asked Tom to get me some soil for growing my seeds and seedlings so he went off in his father's little midget truck and returned very pleased with himself. However unfortunately he had asked the shop for "soil for seedlings" which was a very logical thing to ask for unless you live in Japan...... The soil he arrived home with was tiny little balls of dirt which are indeed used to grow seedlings in - rice plant seedlings! The result was half an hour of shovelling the soil into bags for Tom's father to use later and a trip to the shop to get some more appropriate soil......

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Another mistake....

I've just spent all morning in the tunnel house and in the garden trying to sort out some of my lettuce seedlings. I have lots at different stages of development and quite a few that really need to be planted out. Unfortunately we have had so much rain lately that my new garden is like a big pile of mud..... So I spent a lot time trying to fit seedlings in between onions, silverbeet, brocolli, carrots etc. in my other garden. I am hoping that the different stages of development will allow me to harvest one in time to leave room for the other to grow. Either that or we will just have lots of very squashed vegetables!
Then at lunch time I thought I would harvest some of my zillions of chamomile flowers and try some "fresh" chamomile tea. For some reason I had the image that chamomile tea needed to be made from dried flowers, but after researching in my book I discovered that was not the case at all. So anyway, I can recommend it - not at all bitter. The only thing is that I forgot that it also said in the book that chamomile tea is very good to drink before you go to bed as it helps you to sleep...... oops! I can see that my afternoon's work outside might be replaced with a little nap on the sofa!
Here are a couple more pictures from the garden..... (the flower basket at the top is made from spring flowers from the garden).

Purple Asparagus. Unfortunately it is only in its second year so we are being brave and waiting one more year before starting to harvest it. Well that is the plan anyway!

Mike - you are definately ahead of me on the chilli stakes this year. Mine have just popped their heads up. But last year I had so many self-sown ones that I wasn't even going to bother planting them this year. Having said that I'm sure this year none will appear in the garden.....

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rainy day and wax....

Today is the first day in a long time that I am at home by myself and have nothing in particular that "must" be done. So, I stupidly decided it was a great day to clean the bathroom and wax the floors. Of course if it wasn't raining I wouldn't have even thought about it, but as it is pouring down I needed to find something to do inside. Next time I think I will just opt for a quiet day with a book.... although this way I did discover a new way to polish my nails! Anyway, right now the wax is drying and the rain has stopped long enough to let me take a few photos to show you what is happening in my garden at the moment. I hope you will be able to come and see it in person soon!

This is my challenge for this year. A new tunnel house and a rice field. Now all I need to do is plant it and keep the weeds under control.....

The start of my seedlings.

Lettuce Seedlings

The first thing up in the new garden... potatoes!

My solution to weeds... oregano! I plant it anywhere that I can't usually control the weeds and it seems to take control of the situation for me.

Emily's latest snack....last autumn's self seeded borage

It survived a plane ride, a winter and now seems to be taking off. Here's hoping there will be rhubarb pie in the very near future!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

First attempt at Japanese agriculture

Although I played around in the rice fields last year, this was my first real attempt at agriculture here in Japan. I teamed up with my father and mother-in-law to grow "rape buds" to sell to the local agricultural union. It was a bit of an adventure into the unknown as I had never even seen a rape bud let alone grown one. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for!

It all began in September last year when my father-in-law planted not just one, but two rice fields with rape plants while I was away in New Zealand on holiday....

From November to March I spent most days harvesting the buds in the morning and then packaging them all afternoon, evening and well into the next day. Rainy days became a dream come true as you can't really pick them when they are wet and Fridays were always a holiday and the day most looked forward to each week. The work wasn't hard, just very time consuming.

And of course you are wondering was it worth it?? Well..... money wise it all added up to a couple of tickets home to New Zealand or a couple of doors for our new "guest house". If you looked at the daily totals it was a lot of hard work for not very much money, but in the end it did add up. It was also satisfying to count the finished products and take them off to the market, but..... it definately isn't an experience I want to repeat again next year. With two small children to look after it is just too time consuming. Maybe after they go to university I will consider planting the same volume again!

Describing what is actually done is a little difficult, so here are some photos to show you the process…

The rape fields....

Lying the buds out to wilt

Buds ready for packing

Packaging the buds

A finished bundle

The finished product