Posted by: myhobbyis | November 20, 2009

Onion Collars

november 20th (Thurs.)
I was thankfull for the spotlight I have mounted up on the outside of the outbuilding wall trained on the vegetable field today. Reason being, with no time to spare before my onions get munched to death by those cutworms tonight on a moonless night, by the light of the spotlight, I individually took each one up, wrapped around the stem of each seedling a strip of the milk carton and then replanted them.
In total now, these seedlings have been planted 3 times; once inadeqautely by me, secondly expertly with the help of the neighbour and finally with their carton collars.
They must wonder if they are ever going to be left in piece to grow !
Actually I say I did this to all but I left a portion un collared as a ‘control’ , to confirm it is the collar that is effective or not.

I’ll be looking at them closely over the next weeks.

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 28, 2008

I get my office table !

November 28th (Fri.)

I feel rather bad about calling that nice 2nd hand shop owner the ‘dealer from hell’ now.
As you may have guessed I’m feeling rather pleased with myself as I returned home tonight with a broad grin on my face and the coveted pine table, bench and chairs all crammed into my tiny jeep and purchased at the price I originally wanted.
So this time I bypassed the ‘killer Grannys’ I’d fallen foul of last attempt and searched for the main man,
the ‘dealer from hell’, to shave off some yen before I purchased the table set.
I found him in a quiet corner of the property I never knew existed surrounded by a confusion of dismantled refridgerator parts and a wrinkled old man who was obviously in charge of repairing the fridges and such like prior to sale. He looked like he’d never seen the light of day and his greased up overalls were wearing him so frail he appeared.

“Ahh…Hello…” I called. Getting a disolutary nod in return.
” Thanks for shifting the piano last time…..” Another nod. It was obvious he wanted to know one thing and that was what I wanted him to come down on.
“Could you come down a little for me on the pine table set in the West hall ?”

The old raisin in the overall let out a cackle and his face wrinkled up even more which I previously thought was impossible.
The ‘dealer from hell’ seemed no less surprised than me at the ferocity of the cackle emitted from such a thin frame and took a side long glance at him.

“I’ll come with you and have a look”. He said still eyeing his beaming crony as if wanting to escape from his side.

I thought I’d soften him up with some small talk. The huge playing field size car park was currently being used as the the temporary staff car park for a new supermarket down the road meaning it is almost full of cars instead of the usual 2 or 3 lost in an ocean of tarmac.

“There’s so many cars today I thought you were having a sale ’till I found out otherwise.” I quipped.
“Sale !?” He scoffed, ” If the stuff was any cheaper I’d be giving it away !” he went on as we passed
a kitchen unit now tipped up on one side due to a missing caster, it’s stainless steel now stained rust with 6000 yen (30 pounds) scrawled across it’s top in marker pen…..Mmmmm, I begged to differ but bit my tongue.

However on reaching the West Hall and looking at the table he was as nice as pie about coming down to the price I wanted and it was with great satisfaction I handed over the cash to the same killer granny who’d vexed me on my last trip.

Moral of the story is deal with the main man in all negotiations.

Once home I set up the table in it’s place outside, where I plan to build the loggia and pizza oven next year. I enjoyed a beer watching the stars and although it was freezing cold I tried to imagine sitting here through the long hot summer next year with the cicada’s din in my ears, a red and white plastic check tablecloth (nothing else will do) laid over it, a glass ashtray though no one smokes and a maybe a cut flower in a little vase now and then. If I closed my eyes I could see it all.

The table in use, ‘here young fella me lad, try some chardonnay’

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 27, 2008

Bacon Fix

November 27th (Wednesday)

The bacon cure I ordered from a company in the UK has finally arrived. Since all efforts of buying from the company directly failed (emails, even a phone call) my mother kindly bought it then sent it on.
It comes as quite a relief to get it in my hands untouched as the white powder in a plastic bag looks remarkably like a heroin consignment and I had visions of custom officials in a white room jabbing their little fingers into my precious cure like you see in the movies.

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 25, 2008

Potty about pots.

November 25 (Tues.)
Keith Floyd when asked what his all time favourite food was said ‘Oysters and a glass of bubbly sat on a dustbin anywhere’. Just wanted to put that in there as a tribute to the man.
My tastes are more humbly and true to my English roots; good boiled potatoes, hot from the pot with a generous sprinkling of sea salt, lashings of butter and a glass of good ale pretty much hit the spot everytime ! And that’s precisely how I served up the first of our potato harvest. Meager harvest as it was, I was amazed that we got anything at all. Those cutworms dessimated the potato plants before they bloomed but I just left them as they were hoping some tubers may develop down in the soil as they did.
We should get a few meals out of them even if this year the bountiful harvest it looked like I was in line for when that long line of plants came up was scuppered.

Needless to say the taste of these homegrown was indescribably good ! Of all the crops potatoes for me are the ones that realy just knock the spots off their supermarket bought brethrens.

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 24, 2008

Rain, deer.

November 24th (Mon.)
Today was forecast rain and I thought I’d get the excuse to tootle about indoors doing odd jobs but no such luck, the morning was clear enough for me to feel guilty if I did little.
So I was out with the rotivator and set up the V-cut farrower on the back of it to cut the first of many drainage ditches which will bisect the future olive grove between each tree to take the water away from their roots.
There’s always a certain amount of buggering about with setting the farrower up and today was no different. Eldan was quick to find me. With his ‘Bob the Builder’ obsession the boy can pick up the clank of a wrench at a 100 yards and was quickly by my side shouting in my lughole

‘Daddy, what’re you doing ?’

He seems to have one volume at present, very very loud.
Aware that this task was a little beyond him as I did battle with the farrower he put his hand on my shoulder by way of support instead.

I proceeded to cut the long drainage channel out along one side of the field with the farrower with Eldan following behind me in the resultant trough. We always have a little chat about the dangers of the plough, and how he should keep a distance before proceeding on such joint ventures but I think it is far better for him to have careful exposure to these dangers from this age so he can grow in awareness. This goes for other things like the open brazier in the living room or the drop from the upper field to the garden. When I sit down and think about it there are a whole load of dangers the average 3 year old wouldn’t come into contact living in a surburban house. Jolly glad he has the chance to experience them all.

To quote from ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome. On asking their absent father if they might camp on a big island in the middle of the lake the children receive this telegram from him:


A little harsh perhaps but to the point.

It was breakfast, choriso, wrapped in tortilla with cheese and lime pickle mayonaisse (see the culinary peculiarities that ensue when daddy doesn’t buy enough food at the weekend). And after breakfast luckily the rain had set in for the day so it was down tools and inside to do this blog, drink big mugs of tea and tell Haine to get his smelly ass of the sofa about 20 times.

I looked out at the drainage channel I had created from the safety of the living room window and was happy to see it filling up with rain as intended.

[i]My son eating the dinner he had helped to marinate 3 days before, Venison steak. [/i]

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 23, 2008

A Rose by any other Name

November 23rd (Sun.)
Today I ploughed ahead (pardon the pun) with preparing the olive grove. I hit a small snag, the cut grass I
had laid on top of the field after initially ploughing the field last week had rotted down little and did nothing but foul up the tithes of the rotivator. I was left with little choice but to rake them all up and put them off the field once more.
Just plain inexperience there. I’m doing so much stuff that’s new to me and having to think, research or just imagine what’s got to or going to happen next week, next month or even this time next year. A bit of straw on the field sets me back half hour or so but I’m worried of a big blunder that may set me back months or a year. I brood over decisions long and hard.
Well, straw racked up I set the rotivator to plough as deep as it can, the axle of the plough buried in the soil with the rotivator’s headlamp pointing at the sky almost. This was to be about the last time the field was ploughed and so it was essential to go as deep as I could. Problem was with the rotivator in it’s easy rider style position I found the engine would suddenly splutter and miss. I guessed the reason was because the fuel tank feeds from the front of the tank fuel was at times not feeding down. Keeping the tank well topped up and pushing the rotivator up to a level position a little when it spluttered solved it. I grew quite attached to this, the farm workhorse, today, watching how it toiled to do my bidding, get the job done and not conk out. We bonded !
Come lunch the field was deep ploughed and ridiculously soft and yeilding when walking over which Eldan also discovered as he played at moonwalking over it.

After lunch,and after doing pH tests on the soil and calculating how much I needed (Oh, how I hate maths !) I went off to the home centre to pick up the lime. Eldan volunteered to join me and lasted until the bridge, 4 minutes down the road before dropping off to blissful slumber which lasted until our return. Yasumi had requested he buys a present for her and so before sleep over took him we did talk about what to buy her. The conversation went like this:

Me: What shall we buy mummy then ?
El: Mmmm…how about something Bob ? (by which he means Bob the Builder, his idol)
Me: Does Mummy like Bob ?
El: Yes…she said so.
Me: Really! I think you like Bob.
El: ….It’s ok. She likes it.

Ah..the gift of giving. Since Eldan in his slumber was unable to buy the gift he wanted..I mean he wanted to buy her, in the same spirit of unconditional giving I bought something I wanted anyway to give to her….a rose bush.

Eldan woke up on our arrrival home and remembering the present conversation blurted with his waking breath.

El: I want to give present to mummy.
Then on seeing the thorny, flowerless rose plant
El: (Hands on hips pose) What’s this ?
Me: A rose bush.
El: It’s not good.

He gave it all the same and she was chuffed , even though the bush, in it’s winter state, was little more than 2 thorny branches lopped off at a foot of growth.
I’m yet to decide where to place it, it’s a classic flaming red cultivar called ‘Timeless’, ‘because you are’ I swooned at my wife as we gave it to her with a cheesy grin prompting her to gurn.

Against the cottage wall with a white rose beside it is favourite at the moment. White and red like the Queen of heart’s roses in Alice.

I decided to get that lime ploughed in that evening even if it meant working in the dark because rain was forecast tomorrow and the soil would be claggy and heavy, totally wrong to accept the powdery lime.
I broadcast the lime by hand, 60kg, until the field looked like it had a fine snow on it.

Then on with the plough which was easy now the soil was so airated, the rotivator moved through it more like a ship on a milky brown ocean.
And so the field was set up to start it’s new life. The calcium carbonate will break down into the soil, making it more alkaline, welcoming to the olives and also the clover that I’ll broadcast in spring. A good days work with promise for the future.

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 22, 2008

Hen pecked

November 22nd (Sat.)
Yet another long weekend thanks to a national holiday on Monday, there are a startling number in Autumn it seems, not that I’m complaining.

This Saturday we went to a chicken farm with our friends. See the fun days out us we have in the country ! While other families go to Tokyo Disney land and Universal Studios we go to a Chicken farm with a large board saying they have 8500 chickens and free chicken shit if you bring your own bags !

Actually it was fun, we had a lunch which comprised solely of chicken and it’s by-products. Our friend kenjiru, exceeded my grandma’s recommendation of 1 egg a day by around 10 fold. At one stage I couldn’t see his face for the heap of egg shells heaped up on the table. He opted for the ‘eat as much as you can’ egg course ,which comprised of stirring in as many raw eggs as you like into as many bowls of white rice as you like. mmm..I passed on that. After such culinary treats we went to view the poultry, not all 8,500 but the few display birds they had in a pen you could enter.
We both felt glad we were going into duck rearing instead of chickens, even in this low intensity there were many with manky feet, bullied and pecked to semi baldness little critters and the pen was of course the kind of scorched earth grit that is the only thing can survive chickens. Eldan loved it however and didn’t want to part with his new clucky friends. I think he’ll enjoy having ducks which are far more loveable.

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 19, 2008

Huntsman’s Holiday

November 19th (Wed.)
It occurred to me the the kids at school drink little cartons of milk each day and these would be just right and in no short supply to make up the protective sheaths for the plants against the ‘cutworms’. The idea of making up cardboard condoms for the 350 onions I’ve just planted doesnt’t fill me with delight however.

The neighbour, came around while I was in the shower and my wife offloaded a hefty weight of something cold, and soft wrapped in newspaper as I stood wrapped just in a towel.

‘They went to Hokkaido, it’s a gift’.she continued.
I opened it up gingerly, ‘They went to Hokkaido and they get us a chunk of deer ?!’ I exclaimed as the contents were revealed ‘Yes, …It’s Ezo-shika ‘(Ezo deer is a unique sub species to Hokkaido).
I couldn’t stop laughing.
Don’t get me wrong it was a great gift, and I was very happy to receive it. It’s just it struck me that most people go on holiday to get away from their day to day hum drum life. Our hunting neighbours surrounded here by bleating and barking wild deer every night, go on holiday only to return with more of the same. Tickled me .

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 17, 2008

Bear makes an appearance.

November 17th (Mon.)
Apparently a bear has popped it’s furry head out from the forest a bit away up the valley from us causing something to talk about in the hamlet. I wonder why it did that ?

Posted by: myhobbyis | November 15, 2008

cutworms and onions

November 15th (Sat.)

My wife’s turn to be sick this weekend. Will everybody stop getting sick for a few days ! Must be the weather which has turned chilly.
This weekend I got on with ploughing in the stubble on the future olive grove. I’d spent a lot of time during the week researching the best way of preparing the field with soil amendments prior to setting it up with drainage channels and mounds for the olive trees. The soil has to be prepared in it’s level state before this.
Luckily since the Australian government seems to be strongly supporting olive production as a new agriculture there is loads of great scientific information on all aspects of olive production including soil preparation online.
As an outsider it appears to me that having stormed on to the international wine scene by bringing a new analytical approach to old world wines they are trying to do the same with olive production. In olive’s heartland, Spain, Italy and Greece I imagine things are done a certain way just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Australia is coming back with in depth analysis of what conditions and cultivars are right for the situation of the country and for the production of olives in general. It’s useful stuff for me.
The primary point with olives is they prefer a calcareous soil (high in calcium carbonate) at the high end of the usual soil pH scale. So adding agricultural lime to a depth of 2 feet is a high priority to put the pH above 7. Interestingly, while it is generally a bad idea to plough to a depth that mixes top and sub soils, for the preparation of the grove it is advantageous since the lower sub soil is often more alkaline than the topsoil.

So that’s the plan for the present. An amendment of a potash supplement will be added locally prior to the trees going in next year and I’m still mulling over whether to add the gravel we don’t need from the drive.

The field looks a right mess with all the stubble especially because I took the unusual step of spreading the grasses and weeds I’d cut and heaped up back over the field once finished. The reason for that is since we have until next year before the ground needs to be a fine tilth for the broadcast sowing of the clover to establish the pasture those grasses and weeds have plenty of time to rot down into the soil as a green manure.

The ‘toi obaasan'(pronounced Toe(as in the things on your feet)/ee ) came around with 6 cabbage seedlings she was donating to me. I squeezed them in and she investigated my disapearing crops did I mention my lovely potatoes have been desimated by something munching into them right at the base of the stem. Where as leaf munching caterpillars while not favourable allow the plant to come back once the pest is picked off, attacks on the stem cause the thing to keel over and it’s really game over.
So what is it ? I thought slugs and encircled the plants with salt as a precaution. So much salt that Mao (you know, the one who said ‘London in Paris ?’) on seeing them said ‘oh, Did it snow here ?’ in deadly earnest.
Toi grandma quickly got to the root of the problem (pardon the pun) finding a little ugly brown caterpillar buried in the soil and exclaimed ‘iru,iru!’ (they’re here!). Within a few minutes of her rooting about with her fingers at the base of the plants she had a palmfull. They being ‘cutworms’, I hadn’t heard of this particular evil before, they are the larva of a number of moths that eats the stems of plants in the night and then hides itself in the soil during the day. As such they do not fall prey to many predators although I imagine putting the ducks on the field at times to turf them out may help reduce numbers.

Toi obaasan suggested she put down a mild pesticide to contain them and grudgingly I accepted until I can find an organic solution to the problem. I have since done that, a very simple and elegant one. Apparently a coil of card wrapped around the stem of the plant and pushed down an inch or so is enough to stop them.

She helped me with putting in my onions, well no actually that’s a lie, she looked how I’d put them in in clumps, exclaimed, laughed a little, then showed me how it should be done with the pace and ease of someone who’s worked the soil for 70 year as she has. Onions are put into the soil as ‘sets’ which mean they are about the size of a small spring onion with a long willowly stem so the thing is just plugged into the soil with the fingers. We had 15 left out of 350 with not an inch to spare along the row. With the rain coming on strong I said well, 15 I can live with not planting and was ready to call it a day. Predictably the words came as she looked at me incredulously with just a hint of a smile :

‘Mottainai!!’ (what a waste !)

I felt ashamed and made no more complaint as she squeezed in the remaining 15 onion shoots between plants, at a little corner at the end of a row, she was even going to put a few in a flower planter at the front of the house until she spotted another unused few inches of space on the row. ‘Finished’ I thought until she spotted my red salad onion shoots all bunched up as my onion ones had been and proceeded to uproot them. ‘Now what are we going to do with these!’ she exclaimed laughing.

They ended up being put in a temporary home between the onions until we’ve eaten the mizuna salad leaf which is ready now where they’ll be planted out.

The veg as of this weekend

I learnt a thing or two in that 20 minutes, chiefly not to be so fussy about plant placement. I found pleasure in the game of filling every inch of the row with the promise of a bountiful harvest, even if
I’ve got onions here , there and everywhere now !

Later that day I spotted 10 Welsh Onion sets I’d previously thought I didn’t need sitting on the shelf of the seed house, their green shoots curled up towards the sun, I picked them up and without a second thought headed off to continue the game . I knew just the place for them . . . .

That evening I went around to her house to give her some of the mizuna salad leaf I’d picked for our dinner as a present.
I managed to give it to her (a rarity) but as usual I didn’t come away empty handed as I got a bag of sweet potatoes, then just as we were about to eat she came around with a bowl of vegetables stewed in a soy broth.

The mizuna ready in the field

‘I don’t suppose it’s very tasty but try it anyway’ she said in her usual self-deprecating way.
Give one gift get two back, always the way of it !

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