Thursday, May 25, 2006

Drastic Times Call for Drastic . . . Compost Implants

In my most recent gardening post I mentioned a couple of problems . . . but my list was naively short. For one thing, I later discovered that the nitrogen given off by the roots of the bean plants won’t be available for the nitrogen thirsty corn to use until at least the second year. Since we’re leaving next August, we’ll probably never reap the benefits of the Three Sister arrangement in our Kazamaura garden. Also, in my reckless eagerness, I planted the corn too early and too deep . . . after nearly two weeks it still hadn’t sprouted. Moreover, I didn’t think it necessary to water the garden because it rained once and no one else seemed to be watering their gardens. It turns out, though, that probably the reason no one was watering their gardens was because no one had yet planted anything except potatoes. The result of my ineptitude was the barren waist you see in the photo above, my once proud mounds parched and sterile.

As a step toward rectifying the situation, I emptied out our composter (Stinky) and divided the contents into sixteen piles. (Halve, than halve the halves, then halve the quarters, then halve the pieces of eight).

Then I carefully made square incisions in my earth mounds, lifted the squared surface areas and implanted the compost.

In the process, I uncovered the doomed corn seeds of my first attempt that never succeeded in breaking through to the surface. Finally, I re-sowed half of the earth mounds and left the other half until warmer weather.

Since then there has been adequate rain, quite a few corn stocks have sprouted, and I’ve re-sown the corn in the remaining eight earth mounds. Our unloved and largely ignored potato plants have been doing fine all along. Potatoes never let you down—unless you’re Ireland in the 1840s . . . or the junior high school garden next to ours. Their potato plants are tiny compared to ours, even though we planted later.

Happy Days

When Yuko and I aren’t frolicking in our garden, we’re usually eating ice cream.

There is no real ice cream in Kazamaura, so we drive over the mountain and through the cherry blossoms to the part of Shimokita that is connected to the rest of Japan. Actually, the sad truth is that although this cherry blossom tunnel is over five kilometres long, it only lasts for about a week . . . .

One day we might share a scallop (the shell fish called hotate in Japanese) flavoured soft cream—which is basically like vanilla soft cream, only saltier.

Another day, we might try the flavours at Steak One in Mutsu. On this particular occasion I got the green because that’s my favourite colour and Yuko got the pink because pink was cherry blossom flavoured and we were enjoying the cherry blossoms that day. Yuko reports that the cherry blossom flavour was quite good, but I’m afraid that my wasabi flavoured soft cream lost its charm after the fifth bite or so. At first I thought “hmmm, like sushi, only less fishy . . . and its kind of macho to eat a horse radish flavoured soft cream that burns your stomach.” Later, though, the oily texture really began to bother me and the task of eating the thing became tedious to me. What’s more, Steak One is that restaurant of your dreams where they fill your cone to the very tip of the bottom. It was only with great difficulty that I finally overcame my foe and defeated the wasabi soft cream, swallowing its essence and absorbing its powers.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Three Sisters

A Diorama at the New York State Museum of an Iroquois Village Cultivating the Three Sisters (I found this picture on the New York State Museum website)

The Three Sisters: Except that Due to My Agricultural Language Barrier I Accidentally Bought Pea Seeds Instead of Pole Bean Seeds. Okay, okay, I should have been able to tell from the picture on the package, but . . . I was in a hurry.

The Diagram I Chose to Model My Mounds On (which I found on this NativeTech website)

Moonlighting in Its Most Literal Sense

(Relatively) warm weather broke out here in Shimokita over Golden Week and the old folks of Kazamaura began to till their gardens. Observing this I began to feel obligated to begin working on my own patch of earth that I borrowed from the junior high school. However, before guilt had a chance to spur me on to action, the landowners who rent the parcel of land to the school went over the whole thing with a tiller and formed tall and beautiful furrows. My self-assigned task was to demolish these furrows and replace them with mounds for planting my three-sister units. Now, the sun sets early in eastern Japan and these days I am kept at the junior high school until about half past six by which time it is dark. Consequently, my first attempt at making my mounds was in the dark.

That didn’t work out so well so the next morning I hopped out of bed at five o’clock (by which time it’s quite light at this time of year) and finished the job, redoing what I’d done the night before. I took a 120cm (4ft) piece of yarn with me and used it to cut a stick down to size. Then I folded the piece of yarn in half and marked the centre of the stick. Using the stick I measured out the 120cm spacing between the centre of my mounds and also marked the midway points between them. Then I stuck the stick into the centre marks and piled up the earth from the furrow on either side of the centre marks using a little spade that barely came up past my knees. Afterwards I flattened the tops of my little earth cones in order to form mounds about a foot (30cm) high and with flat tops about 20 inches (45cm) in diameter. I mention all this in painful detail because I haven’t been doing many artistic things lately and I am quite proud of my earth mounds.

That’s why I’m displaying them here in the context of the larger garden area . . .

. . . and here, more or less on their lonesome, and from a different angle . . .

. . . and here, from yet another, more imaginative angle, with the proud gardener contemplating his creation.

In fact, for good measure, here’s an aerial view of a single mound, with the corn seeds ready to be pushed 3~5cm into the soil. I was a little confused about the spacing here since some of my sources said to plant five or six seeds “in a small circle” while others, that I read after the fact, said to plant the said five or six seeds six inches apart from each other. It was probably a bit early to plant the corn anyway, and I have quite a few seeds left, so I’ll most likely just plant the leftovers a little later on, using the six inch spacing rule. Then I’ll weed out all the weaklings, leaving three or four of the sturdiest plants. Once they’ve grown to be about four to six inches tall, I’ll plant the pole beans (as opposed to the peas) and the squash six inches and eighteen inches, respectively, from the corn plants. Then I’ll take some more pictures.

My rationale for doing something so drastically different from the surrounding gardens was that it might spare my plants from unfavourable comparisons with larger, better plants cultivated by my more experienced neighbours. Unfortunately, my radically circular garden is already becoming an object of curiosity and/or critical attention and I have a couple of other problems to deal with. First, the soil of the junior high school plot is exhausted and of very poor quality and I don’t have enough compost or natural fertilizer with which to improve it (the school janitor has offered me chemical fertilizer but my whole point is to avoid that sort of thing). Secondly, the minimum optimal area for growing corn is 10m by 10m (for purposes of pollination) and, as the photos show, the plot of ground lent to me lacks breadth.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lucky Pierrot and the Burger of Whale

As a general rule, I shun fast food establishments. Occasionally I make an exception for MOS Burger. I always make an exception for Lucky Pierrot. Fortunately for my health, Lucky Pierrot only exists in Hakodate and although I can see Hakodate from my front yard I am separated from it by a ferry ride that is just a little to long and a little too expensive. I would like to start a campaign to invite Lucky Pierrot to open a franchise in Oma, but I am already bogged down in the Find a Bear Campaign and should probably refrain from embarking on any new ones.

Naturally, Yuko and I dropped by for dinner at Lucky Pierrot on the way back from Sapporo. Actually, Yuko probably would have enjoyed eating at a classier restaurant more, but . . . I mean . . . we were in Hakodate. Since I had my camera with me this time, I felt morally obligated to order Lucky Pierrot’s #2 most popular burger: the Whale Burger. I would have much preferred Chinese Chicken (Lucky Pierrot’s #1 most popular burger) but sometimes one must make sacrifices.

As you can see, whale meet is dark and looks a little like liver. It also tastes a little like liver. In fact, it really doesn’t taste good at all—a fact I was already aware of before I ordered my whale burger.

But Which Whale is My Whale?

Lucky Pierrot is famous for its gaudy décor. In this particular franchise, across the street from Goryoukaku Park, the place of honour is occupied by a plaque commemorating the time that her former imperial highness Princess Sayako (now Mrs. Sayako Kuroda) ate a Lucky Pierrot burger. Next to it is a poster of all the different whale species in honour of Lucky Pierrot's #2 most popular burger.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Takahashi BBQ II

My father-in-law long dreamed of the day when he could preside over family barbeques at the family estate. Those days have come, and this Golden Week provided an occasion for the Second Great Takahashi-Elliot-Watanabe BBQ.
Fire and Man. Man was made to till the earth (note the big garden in the background) and to huddle around fires, to poke the fires, and to roast the flesh of many beasts on the fires.

Sometimes, though, man gets too close to the fires, and his hair is singed. This happened when my father-in-law tossed a pile of dry hiba branches onto the fire. I was sitting by the fire, the fire leapt up many feet into the air, the wind blew mightily in my direction and the flames engulfed my head. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to fling myself backwards head over heels and onto the ground, or I might have lost my eyebrows and whiskers as well. One of my worst recurring nightmares is of me losing my beard and moustaches in a shaving (or pyrotechnic) accident, and I shudder to think how close that nightmare came to coming true.

The Flesh of Beasts, Destined for the Fire

The basement of the Takahashi house is entirely above ground, which means that the kitchen is on the second floor. In order to facilitate the transportation of food and materials to and from the fire ranger brother-in-law #1 put his rope craft to practical use.

Sister #1 put things into the blue bucket and lowered them down to her waiting husband below.

Nephew with Hamburger

Sister #1 with the Rice Balls (there were six of them, but Yuko took one to “feed to Emma-chan”----our soon to be born daughter)

Rice Balls and Squid . . . what one DOESN’T generally find on a grill in Canada

With a grandson to distract her, grandma doesn’t eat much anymore. What will happen next barbeque when, Lord willing, there will be THREE grandchildren?

My Father-in-law’s BBQ Pictures . . . because he takes better photos than I do . . .

Me (Luke Elliot), Sister #1 (Ruth Anna Watanabe), My Wife (Yuko Elliot), and Brother-in-law #1 (Jun Watanabe)

Sister-in-law and Brother-in-law Takahashi (My Wife’s Brother)

Mother-in-law and Sister-in-law, Sandwiching Nephew #1

The Takahashis Visit Kazamaura

The day after Hans and Mirjam departed, Yuko’s family arrived. While her parents had visited us in Kazamaura once before, it was a first for her brother, his wife, and their little son. Unfortunately a combination of fatigue and gloomy weather prevented us from taking them around to see sites, but we did all make our way down to Waido-no-ki to visit the Muraguchi’s. While their main business is lumber, they also run a little workshop and café full of hiba products.
Resting in the Hiba Café

Mr. Muraguchi Entertains Our Nephew with Gifts of Hiba

Our Little Nephew, Souki, Demonstrates How Delighted He is With His New Hiba Toys

Mr. Muraguchi likes to promote his website by occasionally offering prizes to people who become the something-somethingeth visitor to his homepage. Both Yuko and her brother like to compete for these prizes, and some months ago her brother managed to hit three prize numbers in a row. Consequently, he was loaded down with Muraguchi hiba products when we departed.
Yuko Relaxes in a Corner of the Workshop

I Amuse Myself in Another Corner of Said Workshop

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Welti!!

Hans and Mirjam Contemplating Koi ("Carp"--or "romantic love," depending on the accent) in Our Local Park

Last week we had the honour of a visit from Hans and his lovely bride Mirjam as the last stop on their honeymoon tour of Japan before they flew back to Switzerland. Hans served as a short term missionary with my parents last year.

Sadly, it was too hazy for Hokkaido to be visible, but they had the opportunity to watch the local fisher-folk harvesting a seaweed called funori. For a closer look at funori, view Keitai Cinema’s Weed of the Sea on my video blog.