Friday, June 30, 2006

A little late, but...

Okay, so about 2 weeks ago all the rice was planted here, but I only discovered the photos today, sorry.... Anyway for anyone who is unfamiliar with rice planting here is a very basic introduction. After being plowed the rice fields are flooded and then plowed again twice - once as the water is first put in and then again when it is "full" . At this stage it is also leveled as flat as possible. A few days later the fields are ready for planting. Most farmers now use ride-on planting machines so compared to the past when everything was planted by hand it is not such a back breaking job (unless you are the female of the household, but I'll come to that in a minute)., but still pretty time consuming. The machines are pretty amazing (well to an uneducated Kiwi they are!). The trays of rice plants are placed on the machine and it pulls off a few plants at a time and buries them in the mud at set intervals. The driver just needs to keep driving in a straight line!
Unfortunately the machines are not perfect though and this is where the women come in.... they get to plod into the rice fields after the machine has finished and fill in the gaps that the machine has missed. Back breaking work that I have so far managed to avoid....

In my own garden the weeds are piling up, and with more rain forecast chances of clearing them are not looking good. There are now cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes ripening everyday, but I think I am going to have to find a good "crow scarer" soon if I want to actually harvest any of the tomatoes. Right now there are lots of lovely ripe tomatoes scattered all over the garden - most of them with big holes in them!
The other thing that is "ripening" in the garden at the moment is the artichokes. Actually Tom wanted to eat them, but having experienced the painstaking task of preparing artichokes for cooking I was more interested in letting them flower. I think Tom agrees now that that was the right decision as they are looking beautiful in the garden now. Even the builder took a photo on his mobile telephone yesterday!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Slow Progress

I have heard from many people that building a house is a frustrating process. So far our experience has been the same! Actually the people who are building it for us have been really good in general - they didn't even complain when I asked to move a doorway, re-angle the stairs and build a couple of extra walls to make a window seat for me to read my books on (oops - for "guests" to read their books on....). But, the roof has been the biggest problem so far. As I've said before it is the rainy season here, but last week we had an incredible run of beautiful weather - definately enough to put the roof on! The preparations all seemed to be made, but the roofing people just never turned up. Anyway, we eventually discovered that the materials for the roof hadn't arrived yet (they are imported from America) hence the delay. And then of course after they finally did arrive it really poured with rain for a couple of days halting work again.... But, I am happy to say that today it was all action here and not only is the roof over half finished, the outside walls are also half on. The ceilings inside were also put in today so the place is really starting to look like a "house".

On a different note, the garden is definately not slowing down at the moment. The combination of lots of rain and very warm days has meant that the weeds in particular have taken off! I really need a whole week in the garden to clear them, but as I have outdoor education programs all next week and my live-in baby-sitter/weeder/vegetable collector leaves tomorrow morning I think it will be another week before I can actually attack them. Maybe I'll just get the weed-eater onto them! The tunnel house is also empty now so I really need to start preparing it to plant some more of my zillions of tomato seedlings. Any WOOFers welcome!!!
Rain, rain and more rain! The creeks have turned into rivers!

The grape vine has finally produced it's first grapes. Now if only the leaves would spread over the whole support we would be able to have some shade too.....

A small zucchini that turned a little bit too big overnight....

By the way, the sunflower at the top of the page is one of the many self-sown seedlings that I transplanted earlier this year. You may remember that I wasn't sure if they were sunflowers or zinnias..... all I can say is I'm glad I planted them at the back of the garden. They are now making a nice, very tall fence!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

New Jam Season

As the temperature creeps higher and higher here the strawberries and wild strawberries disappear, but in their place come new fruit just waiting to be made into jam. Thanks to Mum and Mickey I also now have a great supply of dried apricots to keep producing all year round! One of the latest editions to my "range" is Loquat and Apricot Jam. Unfortunately it was not a good year for loquats due to heavy rain while they were flowering, so there is very limited stock. This is probably a good thing actually as although it tastes pretty good, peeling and stoning loquats is not the easiest task!
Tonight I also made a discovery that will hopefully make my jam making a lot more consistent. Jam really does set when it reaches 220 degrees! Well fresh apricot jam does. To be honest I was a little doubtful of my new thermometer, but decided to risk it tonight and stopped cooking the jam at 220 degrees even though it looked too runny. The result - perfectly set jam! Well it looks pretty good at this stage. I guess the test will be tomorrow when it is spread on my toast...... Anyone want to pop over for breakfast?

Monday, June 12, 2006


This July I will have officially been living in Japan for 10 years. Since we started building our new “guest house” I have been thinking a lot about the concept of “home” and I have decided that I am one of the lucky people who has two equally important “homes”. There are many things about Japan that I love and often there are times when I feel more at home here in my little community of old people than I do when I go back to New Zealand and am surrounded by people I don’t know, listening to a new type of English spoken by teenagers that I don’t understand and watching dramas on TV that are completely foreign to me. At other times I get excited when I find something here in Japan that is related to New Zealand. Last week I raced across the supermarket when I saw the distinctive “Cadbury” purple display box only to discover that it was not filled by Cadbury chocolate, but by Cadbury chewing gum. A great disappointment! More luck at another supermarket though when I found they stocked New Zealand Hokey-Pokey icecream. Of course whenever anyone comes to visit they are giving huge lists of things to bring with them. There are some things about New Zealand
that I can never do without - of course family is one of them (by the way for anyone who is feeling a little shocked by the above photo - no I haven't aged a lot lately, it is just my mother helping out in the garden!).

So anyway, back to the house story….. after Sunny suggested “Kiaora Cottage” as a name for our new guest house (which, by the way I think is a great name, but Tom is still thinking….) I have thought more and more about how to incorporate New Zealand into the house and into the garden. My friend is making me some stained glass windows to put into the house and yesterday we decided to try and incorporate some New Zealand native plants into them. And that got me to thinking about how important it is to me to have little touches of New Zealand in my garden. And then when I thought about it I realised that I currently have 4 New Zealand natives in my garden that I have grown from seed, bought here or “smuggled” in from Dad’s garden in New Zealand.

So just in case you are interested here they are….

I know they look like weeds, but they are actually "Renga Renga Lillies". No flowers yet, but as they were grown from seed I guess they are just taking there time.

Another tree grown from seed that is still waiting to flower is my "Kowhai Tree". Apparently they take at least 7 years to flower and mine has been planted for about 6 years, so maye next year I will get to see the beautiful yellow flowers.....

One tree that isn't short of flowers is my "Manuka". I have two that I managed to buy here - one white and one yellow and have also got three very small ones that I started from seeds.

My final native was dug out of my father's back garden and is a "Cabbage Tree". I think there are about 4 planted around the garden and another two in pots.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Three Vegetables within one plant

The long patch of dry weather has been broken and as a result the zucchinis had one extra day to grow before I could get to them. The result...... another basket of zucchinis and some very big marrows! I’ve just had a discussion with my mother about the difference between a zucchini and a courgette. She was convinced it was just an American and British English difference, but (as the Cook’s Garden Book told me) it actually relates to a size difference. Courgettes are the baby fruit (approx. 14X4cm) and zucchinis are the fruit of the same plants harvested when 15-20cm. For anyone who has never grown zucchinis I have one piece of advice - if you are trying to decide whether a zucchini is ready to pick today or whether you should wait and leave it for another day... pick it today! I don't know exactly what happens when a zucchini reaches a certain size, but all of a sudden it just explodes and overnight it becomes a giant marrow. Fortunately marrows can be stored for a long time and they can also make good jam (as long as you don't boil it too long and make it into a sticky mess like my first attempt this year). Unfortunately zucchinis don't last so long and currently I haven't gotten around to selling any of them so the fridge is overflowing. Within the last two days alone we have had: Pineapple and Zucchini muffins, Marinated Zucchini Salad, Couscous with zucchinis, Chicken and Zucchini slops..... and guess what kind of bread I will make for tomorrow??? Any new recipes are very welcome!

Unfortunately the rain has put a stop to the building progress, but the forecast is for sunshine tomorrow. We're off to the park!

A wider view of our new building and my garden (to the left). The garden is looking a little worse for wear after heavy rain and wind yesterday. I knew I should have staked the sunflowers sooner.....

Potato harvest has begun. I think I'll pull the rest soon before the real rainy season comes and rots them all...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Thanks to a looooooooooong patch of dry weather the new "Guest House" is really starting to take shape. The outside walls are up and the children have been enjoying playing games after the builders go home for the day. They take a shower, go to the toilet (poo-wee) before settling down in the lounge for a break before cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Unfortunately there are no stairs for them to climb up yet to have an evening nap. Maybe next week.....
The long, hot patch of weather has also meant the rice plants have taken off and are ready to plant - although the rice fields aren't ready to have them planted in. The zucchinis are being picked in bowlfuls and if I forget to look at them for one day I have big marrows ready for jam! Fortunately my mother arrived today laiden down with kilograms of preserved ginger and dried apricots so jam production can begin again in force. I currently have four varieties in stock, which I discovered make a reasonable gift basket. Hopefully I can find some places to start stocking them and start making some pocket money!
The rest of the garden is looking..... dry. Cracks are appearing everywhere and there are zillions of lettuces are in need of a good home. I've been distributing them around the neighbourhood, but there are still a big surplus. I've discovered one thing this year..... Japanese people living in the countryside do not consider any variety other than "real" lettuce to be lettuce. This makes it a little difficult to sell! Of course those who receive them for free say they are delicious - I guess I just need to do some more educating! The first load of gherkins is in the pot soaking ready for pickling tomorrow, the onions are pulled and the potatoes are almost ready. Now all we need is rain and some extra time to sit and enjoy the progress......

Friday, June 02, 2006

Crazy or Courageous?

Yesterday I ran into a friend, Robert Thomson, who is about to embark on an amazing journey. He is a fellow kiwi who is living in Japan and working at a local university, but from July he will set off by himself on a 200 day, 12,000km bike ride. Now for someone like me who can't even think of sitting on a bike for 200 seconds, that seems fairly impressive. But it doesn't stop there - in his own words his plan is
"to cycle on a recumbent bicycle from Pusan in Korea, to London, ensuring that the route stays between 38 and 52 degrees north. Easier said than done. The biggest challenge facing Rob Thomson won't be the 4500m passes on the Pamir Highway (highway 'on the roof of the world'), the fermented horse's milk in Kyrgyzstan, the scorching heat in western China, or the frigid mid-winter crossing of the Swiss Alps. No, the biggest challenge in keeping between these latitudes for the duration of the trip will the the bureaucratic black hole that is central Asia. Invitation letters, visas in advance, set entry and exit dates...these will make for a real test of his planning and patience."
Some would call him crazy and others would call him incredible, but if you are interested in following his journey please check out his homepage (he is a bit of a computer wizard too..). The address is:
For some less energetic activity you could always come and dig the potatoes here!