Saturday, June 11, 2011

Farm life - living shade

I got the idea reading this article in the Asahi Shimbun (a Tokyo newspaper). It talks about charity organizations giving out seeds so that people can plant shade curtains near their house.

These living curtains, usually made of fast growing vines like squash or morning glory, shade the wall from the sun and the heat of the day - reducing the need for air-conditioning and lowering the internal temperature between 2 to 5 degrees.

For me, the great thing about them is how beautiful they are. The air can flow right through them, creating a gentle rustling sound and a cooling breeze. I think it's a great idea.

Sadly, I can't grow a curtain of shade outside my bedroom window. It gets the full brunt of the sun in the evenings making it the hottest room in the house (by at least 4 degrees) in the summer. So my solution...

...Hanging baskets. This city is famous for them after all. Though, to be completely honest, I don't much like them. Too many flowers! They tend to be just too showy and think they are better than they are.

So, instead, I bought leafy plants that will hang down and provide a different sort of living shade. They are all sun to part sun plants that can withstand some mild drought. Not as fragile as most of the plants they were selling for hanging baskets.

Oh, and by the way - no, I don't speak Japanese. I get the English version of that newspaper on my Kindle.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Back to Basics

Just wanted to mention, the electronic version of Basic to Basics is on sale at for a limited amount of time.

I absolutely love this book. It's been around for ages, so if e-books are not your thing, I bet you could find it at a flee market or your local second hand book shop.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Farm life - Mr Quail

While Mr Quail waits for his lady friend to hatch out her eggs, he has been hanging in our yard. Actually, he's become quite tame and even let me take his photo.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Farm life - compost

Look at that beautiful soil:

All, alright, it's ugly now, but in a few weeks, it will be dark, rich earth; just itching to make plants grow.

There are lots of way to transform food waste into soil. My favourite way, developed when I got my first allotment garden. The topsoil there was less than an inch before it hit hardpan, so there was virtually no way to make things grow.

Being the cheapskate that I am, I wasn't interested in buying soil, so I decided to make my own using a method common about a hundred and fifty years ago: trenching.

First, you dig a trench, then you put a medium amount of compost material in it. If you have a lot of things to compost, don't fill up the trench too far, just save some for the next trench. Believe me, less haste makes more speed. This goes for everything in gardening.

I usually put a small scoop of lime in with the compost. This helps reduce any possible smell that would attract critters to dig it up. Also, it helps balance the PH of the soil.

Next I chop up the compost with the edge of the shovel. This makes it degrade faster and reduces the bulk for the next step.

Next, dig another trench beside this one. Use the soil from the new trench to cover the one you just made.

If you dig too close, then you end up digging up what you just buried.

When all is said and done, it should look something like this:

A mound of dirt with compost under it, and a trench next to it waiting for more compost.

When the time comes for more compost to be trenched, re-dig the trench. It tends to fill in over time. The deeper the trench, the better things are.

If you want to try this method, take the time and do it right.

One advantage to this method I've found (aside from not attracting rats) is that the soil gets dug an extra time or two during the year which reduce weeds and somehow increases worms.

You can also use this to compost most garden waste like bean stocks (chop them up small). Not tomatoes or potatoes though - it encouraged disease in the soil.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Farm Life - grey water

Two days ago was the last of the rain. Traditionally we won't see water falling from the sky again until the last two weeks of Augusts.

It's time to start watering the plants.

So that we don't run out of water during the summer, we have a grey water system just for watering the plants. Grey Water is water that has been used for things like washing clothes or dishes, but is still safe to use for watering plants and such.

It's not toilet water - that's called brown water and goes directly into the septic system.

The water from our kitchen, bath and laundry go into a separate tank near the house. From that tank we can pump the water into buckets or, if we are watering the garden at the bottom of the hill, we use a hose that is gravity fed.

The overflow from the grey water is purified before it returns to the brook and pond. Flowing through a series of 8 small ponds with different plants in each, that purify the water, and the small waterfalls between each pond that aerate it.

We can quickly tell how clean the water is by measuring how many mosquito larvae are in each pond and by how healthy the plants are doing. The ducks take care of the mosquitoes before the little bugs get their wings, so no worries there.

The best plants we've used so far have been the Marsh Marigold and the Water Iris. We also have a couple of types of reeds that flourish under these conditions. You want plants that like a high nitrogen content.

The most important thing about having a Grey Water system is that you don't use any chemicals that might alter the delicate balance in the water tank or that might harm the filter plants. For example, chlorine bleach is out of the question, but Hydrogen peroxide is quite alright because it degrades into non-toxic substances. Same goes for shampoo, dish soap, laundry soap. Note the lack of 'detergetns' which often have fillers in them that are either harmful in themselves or degrade into harmful substances over time.