Tuesday, October 31, 2006


When I left New Zealand 1o years ago my image of a mushroom was a little white button one or maybe if you were lucky a big horse-mushroom found in the paddocks. That was about as far as the varieties went. I know things have changed a little now , but compared to Japan New Zealand is still way behind on the mushroom varieties!
The most common variety grown here are "Shitake" mushrooms. Most people are probably familiar with them in the dried form, but here in Japan they are also readily available fresh - my father-in-law grows them up the hill so we have a good supply. They are grown on a special kind of tree (I can't remember which right now...) and will usually produce for a couple of years before you need to replace the trees and drill in some more spores. Shade seems to be the major factor as to whether they are successful or not.
Today when I went to check on the shitake mushrooms I discovered that my father-in-law's experiment with another kind of mushroom is also working pretty well..... I have no idea what kind they are, but they seem to be appearing everywhere. I also have no idea how they are supposed to be cooked, but mushroom soup might be on the menu next week.....

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sneak Preview

In a previous entry I wrote about a writer and photographer coming to do an article about "Kiora Cottage". Today we were sent the preview to check .... not bad really! The colour article will be published in the local newspaper (the equivalent of the Press or the ODT for any southern kiwis) on November 3rd and basically outlines my backround, why we built the cottage and how we want to use it from now - as well as complete contact details etc. I think it is written really well and should be fantastic advertising. Now if my husband would just get around to filing the rest of the paperwork we might actually be able to accept any guests who respond to the article!
Anyone in Oita prefecture please check out the Oita Godo Shinbun on November 3rd and show it to your friends...... Thanks!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Preparing for spring

Yes, I do know that it is only autumn here, but in order to have some good mulch etc. for the garden next spring my family all helped out and today we started the long journey of making mulch from the stalks of the rice plants. After having no rain for about a month the stalks are definately very dry at the moment so we raked them all up into small piles to await further instructions from my father-in-law.... I think the next step is to let them compost down a little and then put them all in one big heap - alternating with water and something else which will speed up the process. I was amazed by how much hay there was in the one paddock - and I guess I will be even more amazed at how much it reduces down over the next 6 months or so!

This year I have finally made some reasonable compost too - it is amazing how less slimy the compost becomes if you add plenty of dried leaves etc. rather than just using vegetable scraps! This pile has just been removed from the compost bin and is now covered with a thin layer of dirt - keeping the smell at bay! Actually it is pretty good again - just another month or so and it will be "dark, rich looking and will crumble in my hands" - just like the book says!
This year I put a lot of compost into one of my gardens and the growth has been great - much better than the areas where I just put in chicken manure. I know that is what all the books say, but it is good to know that sometimes the books are actually right!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Giving nature a helping hand

As I mentioned in another blog this year is my first try at growing things in the tunnel house. I really am just playing, but it is fun to see things growing at twice the speed that they usually would at this time of year. However, one of the big differences between growing inside versus outside is the lack of nature's little helpers inside. Although I have planted flowers etc. inside the house chances of bees and butterflies making their way in are reasonably limited. So, this morning I started my trial of hand pollinating the zucchinis. I have never bothered outside as I always plant them in blocks and therefore the wind and insects easily pollinate them for me, but after watching a few small zucchinis die away as a result of non-pollination I figured they need a helping hand... so out came the cotton buds and I attempted to pollinate the female flower - I'm not sure if it will be successful, but I was surprised at how different the two flowers were - okay so I really haven't been very observant in the past! Very distinctive male and female "bits". I'm just not certain which part of the female bit needs to be fertilised..... I guess trial and error will help me with that!
Also for anyone wondering about my little friend the snake.... I couldn't face it watching me anymore so it is now no longer around..... but I did see another one yesterday afternoon - it's relatives have come back to haunt me!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More challenges....

Right now I want to go outside and at least try and water the plants, but .... as I went to open the deck doors I discovered this staring at me! It was (and possibly still is) between the front door and the deck doors so escape (for me) is not looking good. I have telephoned my father-in-law and although he assures me that if it is long (which it definately is!) and doesn't have a triangular head (I'm not 100% sure on that...) then I shouldn't worry - it won't kill me. However coming from a country where we have "no snakes" I am not taking any chances.... I think I will just keep using the back door until I am sure all the snakes have gone into hybernation! By the way - the photos are taken from behind thick glass!

On a much nicer note I spread the joy of pumpkin muffins a little more today at one of my "internationalisation" classes at a local primary school. With two classes combined the total students add up to 4 so it is not difficult to get everyone involved. We even made enough mini-muffins from one batch for all the students and teachers in the entire school to have one each... a grand total of 36 (including me...).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cooking Classroom

Today I had my first trial "cooking classroom" in my new kitchen. The architect who designed the house came with two friends and we tested out the size of the kitchen, the oven and of course the eating facilities! All in all a pretty good day - with lots of positive comments and some very good networks to spread the word. They think I should start putting my "mark" on things like breadmakers, ovens etc. and sell them for twice the usual retail value.... one option I guess, but not one I am likely to pursue!
Menu for today.... Pumpkin soup, Palms bread, Pumpkin muffins, Herbed French Bread and Herbed Quiche.
Things confirmed
1. The oven needs to be set 10 degrees higher than usual, but it makes more than acceptable muffins.
2. Pumpkin muffins are a big hit with everyone
3. I need to get some more chairs and a bigger table!
4. Japanese women love to talk (and eat...)

I hope to offer people the option of coming here for a few hours, looking at different herbs etc, making a few things, eating together and chatting in general. It seems to be something that will work well if my three participants today are anything to go by!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Changing seasons

Yesterday I was so engrossed in looking at how quickly my cucumbers etc. in the tunnel house are growing that I failed to notice a small ditch and managed to roll my ankle - leaving me limping for the rest of the day. The result... my plans for spending all day in the garden were changed and I finally got on with making some of this season's jam... "Japanese lime (Kabosu) marmalade". My parents-in-law grow many of these limes (although this season is a particularly bad one) and, although they always leave me wishing that I had an industrial strength food processor, this particular type is seedless - making life a little easier. Today was a trial run and keeping in mind how much my father always complained to my grandmother if the marmalade was too runny, I may have boiled it a little too long - I'm off to try some on toast for lunch! Anyone care to join me?
By the way - the English version of the Kitsuki City introduction now seems to be online. Please keep in mind that I didn't do the writing and I didn't choose the places to visit (except for my favorite tea shop.... therefore some of it is not exactly my words! The English link is O-net

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Attracting the birds

Now that the rice harvest is almost over I am officially allowed to start attracting birds into the garden (they have a terrible habit of eating the rice, so I have been forbidden until now...). Yesterday the children and I made a bird table and gave them some honey water (just like at Nan's house), some stale bread and some over-roasted pumpkin seeds. So far there has been one sparrow and many preying mantis come to drink the water... maybe if the children were a little quieter and didn't run up to check if there are any birds there every chance they have there would be more chance of birds actually coming...

Today the first of my recent "modelling" sessions was published on the internet. It is an introduction to Kitsuki City (the city in which I live) which is written by a journalist, but the way it is written it sounds like I am actually writing it..... It is supossed to be in 4 different languages, but so far only the Japanese, Korean and Chinese translations have been uploaded. If you want to have a look at the pictures (or you can read Japanese) then check out the following link: O-net
Hopefully the English version will be updated soon too.....

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Let the harvest begin...

Today was the first day of rice harvesting at our house. For anyone who is interested here is an outline of what happens....
First the "ladies" cut the rice in the corners of the fields to allow the rice harvester to be able to turn the corner.
Next the men and their machines arrive... The machine cuts the rice at the bottom and feeds it through some amazing invention that separates the rice from the stems, stores the rice in the tank and either cuts the stalks up or spits them out whole depending on whether you want to use the straw later for the garden etc.
The tanks are emptied into 30kg sacks and taken home to the big drier to dry overnight. This removes the outside husks and you are left with big sacks of brown rice. As the rice is needed it is then polished to produce white rice.
Of course in the past this whole process was all done by hand and took many weeks to complete. The whole community worked together to get all the rice harvested and then had big "parties" to celebrate the harvest. Along with the machines this side of things has disappeared along with a lot of the "community spirit". I guess there are disadvantages to having machines after all!
Mind you with machines it leaves a lot more time for sleeping after the harvest is completed!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Extending the season

After my Nanna telling me about her annual freezing effort of grapefruit and Sunny writing about preserving all the produce at her current "farm" I finally got around to starting to "preserve" some of the zillion pumpkins etc. that are lying all around the place today. First it was the pumpkins... I now know why I didn't throw away all my margerine containers - they hold one cup of mashed pumpkin (the required amount for pumpkin muffins...) perfectly. Of course having cooked the flesh I felt the need to deal with the seeds too so am attempting my first try at drying pumpkin seeds to eat... I'll keep you updated as to their success!
While waiting for the pumpkins to cook I decided I'd better also deal with some of the many radishes that are ready at the moment. Radishes seem to be one of those vegetables that all the books say "everyone should grow" - and the books are right - they are simple and fast to grow, but..... what do you do with them once you've grown them? There are only so many you can put in one salad.... I pickle them in a sugar/Japanese lime mix, but again there are only so many of them you can eat too! If you have any other radish suggestions please let me know.... there are still a whole lot ready in the garden!
After the radishes it was on to the okra seeds - one of the advantages of letting the garden get a little out of control is that seed pods appear everywhere.... This year I am going to try and save seeds from different plants and try and get them to grow next year - well that is the plan anyway. So far I have okra and eggplant seeds....

Now I guess I should get on with my "real work" for a while... or maybe I'll just go back into the garden!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Kindness at the chicken shop

It was my birthday on Tuesday and to "celebrate" we bought fried chicken for dinner (the equivalent of kiwi 'Fish and chips'). When we were ordering our exciting chicken dinner an old man who was waiting for his order went rushing out to his car and brought me a butterfly for my daughter. Then he noticed that my son was also there so he rushed back again and presented us with another one.
The butterflies wings are made from "junk mail" and the antennae are made from cigarette papers. If I had seen one sitting somewhere I probably wouldn't have looked twice at it. But the way the old man (I didn't ask his age, but I would say he is in his late 80s) presented them proudly to us and went on to tell us that he made them every day and that today he had only managed to make the two we were given made them very special. Looking into his car the dashboard was full of the materials needed for making the butterflies. Making butterflies for unsuspecting fried chicken buyers is obviously his life now. I look at them every day now and think "if there were more people in this world who made paper butterflies simply to please others then maybe there wouldn't be so many of the terrible things that we see in the news every day". I wonder what I will be making when I am 80 and whether it will make someone's birthday a special day!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

House planting... at last!

Yesterday I finally got around to planting some things in the tunnel house. I have been meaning to do it for a long time but ..... there are always so many other things to do! Anyway, it hasn't rained for a long time so planting things outside is pretty much impossible, so I started on the tunnel house. I know that after my father-in-law sees it he is going to probably re-do it all, but I think my use of the tunnel house frame to hold up the nets for the cucumbers etc. is imaginative if nothing else! Anyway, there are now cucumbers, zucchinis, passionfruit, rhubarb, tomatoes, habanero and plenty of basil planted in the house among all the other seedlings etc.
I've never planted anything directly in a tunnel house before so it is definately a case of "wait and see" as to whether anything will actually grow. I'll keep you posted!
Oh - another piece of advice (I'm such a wealth of knowledge....) if you are doing work in a tunnel house don't spend the morning chatting to your sister on Skype.... tunnel houses heat up fast!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Companion Planting?

As I mentioned in a previous blog we have a slight problem at times with the fragrance of chicken poos from a chicken farm near here floating gently to engulf us.... Fortunately Japan has one solution to this problem in the form of "companion planting to cancel out smells". The tree in this picture is "osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus" - or more commonly a "fragrant olive" and it has an incredibly strong 'nice) smell. We have two planted at our house and fortunately this one is in the direct line between the chicken farm and our house. Although it doesn't completely block the smell it does help a lot! Don't get me wrong, the chickens only really affect us about 10% of the time, but even cancelling them out during that time is a bonus! I highly recommend this tree to anyone with chicken problems!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Famous at last?

The last two days have been full of smiling! Yesterday morning I had to smile for the camera as a photographer and writer came to write an article for the newspaper about our new "guest house". They are going to do a full page write-up in the "lifestyle" section of the Oita-godo newspaper on November 3rd (for anyone living in Japan), which should hopefully be some good free advertising! They certainly took enough pictures to fill an entire newspaper. It will be interesting to see which ones they actually use.

After finally getting rid of them (after two hours of smiling and talking) it was time to put on a different smiling face for Emily's 6th birthday party - 2 cakes this year - sushi and barbie!

Then this morning it was back to being a model as another "reporter" from a women's magazine in Oita came to write an article. This time she forgot to put the battery in her camera so she took the photos on Tom's camera - which was handy as we now have copies! I'm looking forward to a day off from smiling tomorrow!