Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Permaculture Project begins at last!

Back in the summer we had Biwa fruit in abundance (Loquat) and from beginning of October to early December we got lots of delicious Persimmon. Our friend Carlos got us a telescopic fruit picker which came in very useful to take the highest fruit without necessity of climbing a fruit ladder. Our daughter enjoyed picking persimmon with me too. We had so many we even used them as balls to throw for Jenny our dog.
She actually ate a few!

As mentioned before, our plan is to make our garden a permaculture project.
Until recently I'd been working so much on the house in my spare time, I didn't have time to start work on the garden, but slowly preparations were put in place, so come end of December I'd be able to work on the garden during our quiet business season.

I'd been reading books such as Gaia's Garden - A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway (an excellent book!) as well as selectively reading blog posts from www.permaculture.org.au & other good publications to learn about the practical methods of cultivating foods.

The first thing I thought I'd have to do was to make good compost, so I asked my wife to find a source of good cow manure... Being a natural place that grows it's own food for the children's consumption, she asked the Kindergarden where our daughter will be going from April this year. They put us in touch with a local farmer supplying top quality organic beef... and in early December we got a 2 ton truckload of it!
Never having bought anything like this before, I was warned by a friend the night before (Carlos) we might get slurry (yikes!) but what arrived was beautifully prepared compost made from brown rice husks and cow manure, ready to use. A great result as this would save a lot of time & effort. Only 8,500 Yen - so a bargain to boot!

In any case, I still wanted to make our own compost as we'd have a lot of waste to get rid of and we were keen to make use of food scraps. A friend's father who is a successful home vegetable grower from the UK kindly sent me some instructions via e-mail on how to make good compost, including plans for an enclosure!
So I used old ceiling boards and beams that were now piled as firewood & cut to size to make an enclosure. It's screwed together so the planks can be removed in minutes with a portable power screwdriver, so it can be turned when needed. Cost to produce - NIL!

We promptly begun to fill our new enclosure with layers of cow compost, leaves, sawdust and food waste, sprinkling with some water in between.

Meanwhile, I'd also been buying new parts via Ebay from the US for my second-hand and well used Stihl Chainsaw, as well as some safety equipment... Stuff like this isn't easy to find in Japan and usually more expensive. I find the convenience of shopping online saves time too.

In the first afternoon of the beginning of our permaculture project I cut down three trees, burnt all the branches, roots and greenery and saved the thicker limbs under dry shelter to be used as fire-wood in the future. I was surprised that roots fresh from the ground could also be burnt, as well as ever green leaves on branches. I guess a very hot fire will burn almost anything, really, but it's a great way to get rid of unwanted bulk!

One of the first trees I also cut down was the leaning Persimmon next to the very old Bonzai pine in front of the house (Apparently the Bonzai is about 400 years old!).
The Persimmon was also very old and although it still gave fruit, it wasn't all that tasty. Interestingly, the centre of these Persimmon trees are black!
I went on to cut about 25 trees down in all from the area that will be our orchard. It's amazing how fast a chainsaw can work. Some of the trees were cut down and into small pieces within minutes!

On 27th December Mark, Faith and their 4 youngest children who are close friends we'd spent Christmas with came over for a BBQ.
Using some of the wood & roots from trees we'd cut down we made a nice bonfire that lasted all day. Great for keeping warm whilst looking at the stars at night!

Faithy (Facing the camera) talks to one of our new neighbours & friend.

During the day, naturally conversation turned to what we'd been doing in the garden and the idea came up for their 18 year old son Jun to come and work with me over new year's break since they'd planned to spend some time camping nearby...!

We recently invested in a well used but good condition Hitachi 0.8 ton digger. The intention was for use in removal of tree roots primarily, but seems it will also come in useful for other projects along the way. Had thought I'd only use it a few months, but it's been so useful I think it'll have to stay as a permanent tool on our land.

Come morning of 30th December Jun arrived and soon took to the digger like a duck to water. Together within 2 days we'd dug up and mostly burnt many of the limbs and roots of the unwanted ornamental pines & other species in our future orchard!

After digging, we had to smooth all the soil again, then cover with about 2 inches of compost, to help enrichen the soil.

Meanwhile, my wife & I had also recently been shopping for saplings.

We have the already long established Loquat, Persimmon, Cherry & Yuzu and now for less than 30,000 Yen we'd bought: 1 x Almond, 2 x Kiwi (Male & female),1 x Fig, 3 x Tangerine, 1 x Blood Orange, 3 x Lemon, 2 x Lime, 1 x Peach & 1 x Nectarine with space left for 1 x Apricot, 6 x Blueberry, Strawberries & a variety of melons (Planting in Spring after the last frost)!

This is how zone 3 (Orchard) of our permaculture garden looks now with fruit trees carefully located so they'll hopefully receive the summer sunlight hours & exposure they each need.:

Some of the newly planted trees have wilted, so I'm not sure what happened. It's possible the roots were frozen in overnight frosts. I'll keep watering them and see what happens. I may need to replace a few of these young trees, but they're not hugely expensive.

The bare soil is covered in compost and shortly we want to try sowing Dutch White clover (A great nitrogen fixing ground cover), which if I'm right in my learning will work well with high carbon compost. I'll also add other carbon producing plant seed, not sure what yet though... possibly grass or wild oats?

We've left open space for an area in the middle, closer to the gate for making a fire & our gas BBQ and sitting outside to enjoy the stars at night, or just relaxing whilst eating fresh fruit in future!

The idea will be to make a semi-permanent stone enclosure, with a three legged stand on which to hang a nabe pot and cook outside from time to time. The BBQ stove will work either off a Propane tank, or be plumbed into the existing propane supply for the kitchen. We had the gas installation people fit a tap outside for such possibilities. Haven't decided yet.

On another patch at the side of the house, from 2nd January in the afternoon we begun digging up tree stump & roots to make our herb garden & burning the old stuff…
Finished smoothing that area the following morning.

As the well-water pump is in the building very close by, our vision is to have two Japanese rotemburo wooden tubs with a simple wood burning water-heater all located on a raised concrete pedestal nicely tiled. If I can find this heater in Japan, this is what we would use:

It circulates water using the principal of thermosiphon (the pumping action created by rising hot water), eliminating the need for a circulating pump or any other form of power.

This also means it'll heat water for free for us. Only downside is it takes hours, so if we want a bath outside we'll have to plan well ahead, or have a cool dunk in the summer heat.

The rotemburos will be overlooked by weeping cherry blossoms, Japanese maple, plum, lemon & be enclosed by the Satsuki Azalea that's currently occupying our future vegetable growing area (See below).

We've also ordered 4 lemon verbena shrubs, which make delicious tea, something I remember from my grandmother's garden in Portugal. Perhaps we'll also be able to put fresh herbs such as lavender into the bath by just picking it and tossing into the water as it heats up.

We might make a fence of bamboo, for bather's privacy, but that would come be later. There will be a wider hard stone path along the adjourning side border of the house. The remaining space will be set aside for a herb garden here as this area is behind the kitchen and thus make zone 1 of 4, of the permaculture design.

The two bathtubs will eventually be covered with a simple wooden roof that may be opened up using the same sort of wheels as we used for shoji doors, operated by a rope & pulley system. This way it should hopefully be possible to enjoy a soothing hot bath under the moonlight and stars some nights, or shelter from falling leaves from trees behind, sun, rain, etc. We want two tubs. I enjoy having a very cold bath and a very hot one to jump between; it's a great way to soothe tired muscles & improving blood flow!
The finished bath water will run off into a drain that feeds a bog area in the forested land at lower level, where it will meet other grey waste which will be treated…

During their recent visit Mark, his children and I went into the lower forest to explore for the first time; as having recently cut away some bamboo & older trees an easier path had become available…

We found lots of old wood & trees. Some are huge & very beautiful. So the idea hatched to cut away some very thin pines (Too many trees & lack of light), giving space for the more beautiful trees to be visible & thrive whilst leaving a clearing in the middle…
There, perhaps in the summer – I'd like Jun to build a pretty pond using our digger, line with plastic sheet bordered by rocks, etc…. Treated grey water & rain water from our roof would flow from the bog area, suitably purified into a pretty pond populated by ducks, geese and fish, washing out to a dried up stream that flows further down into another marshy area, quite far down on the edge of our land.

I’d wanted a pond but hadn't come up with the idea of where, but this could be the solution, I think.

We have a lot of Azalea, so it's to be spread around zones 1, 2 & 3 of our project and anywhere else we can find a use for it.

This is what they looked like last April. Once transplanted lower shoots will sprout where there is sunlight.

Over part of the last week, Jun has been transplanting some of the Azalea shrubs to the entrance drive, in preparation of our (2) vegetable patches which will sit side by side. Shrubs are good because they house birds and predatory insects in the summer, which help keep the veggie & fruit eating pests at bay.

Below are pictures of work in progress on the drive.

Settled in!

Despite much slower progress with renovations now we are moved in, we are loving our new home!
Unpacking has taken us a long time as we sorted through boxes and discarded or gave away what we didn't need any more.

We now have a temporary office in the first lounge (Until I finish plastering upstairs & doors are put in!)

We've found a great Steiner kindergarden school for our daughter, not too far from the beautiful beach of Naruto. It's about 20 minute's drive each way so my wife will be doing the trip twice a day in addition to looking after our soon to arrive baby boy, so she'll have her hands full!

We went to an open day on a weekend and enjoyed all sorts of activities from nailing small pieces of wood together, to painting little wooden plaques.

It's a school where parents take part in some of the activities regularly, so for example the mothers take it in turn to cook for the kids. Should be good for meeting more naturally minded people!

As winter quickly arrived my first priority was to finish the wooden doors between the lounges and fit a temporary wall between the children's bedroom and central lounge. I fist sanded them completely to remove cat claw scratches and wear from hundreds of years use, then stained and sellac'd.

It took me a while to chisel holes for wheels in place and use the router to cut channels in the bottoms of the other shoji doors to separate the office / lounge & main bedroom from the walkway so we could use brass rails like the rest of the house. My wife was better than me at fitting shoji paper. With these finished, we were able to use the temporary paraffin heaters at last.

The last batch of Brass wall plates finally arrived from the States, so I was able to fit switches in properly.

Other electrics were completed by Arnie and the kitchen's trim was completed. Upstairs is pretty much finished except for plastering, which I need to get around to soon!

There's still much to do. Arnie got an ear infection in the middle of December and so progress stopped whilst he recuperated.

In between, family life has resumed now we're all together again. Our little one enjoys ballet lessons, the local natural hot spring & we occasionally take her to the zoo and with our dear friends Mark & Faith + family not so far away, we've been seeing a lot more of them too.

We were fortunate when two of our friends in Yokosuka found a nearly new American sized gas stove & tumble dryer! Stuff this size isn't usually available in Japan and I'd been trying to figure out how I was going to buy & import from the States. I'd even gone as far as buying online but my success in getting orders through were short lived. Can't ship stuff this large or heavy to friends in the military.
So I phoned and made an appointment and collected our Hiace. My daughter wanted to come and fell peacefully asleep all the way to Yokosuka. I successfully bought both machines for equivalent of $600 USD and fitted them both in our van. The stove only just cleared the roof!

I needed to go to Kansai on business so I took the opportunity to go to Shodoshima and load the Hiace with used roof tiles from a house my wife's parents recently had demolished. Each tile weighs around 2.5kg and the poor Hiace only managed to take about a quarter of the 6 ton neat pile of tiles!
It looked very over-laiden with sagging tyres when filled, so I pumped them up before driving it very slowly onto the ferry back to the mainland. As I walked away noticed one of the rear tyres was looking even more flat...
Came down to the parking area about an hour before arrival to Kobe and my suspicions were confirmed. A puncture and a heavily over -aiden car. Opps!
I tried to use the scissor jack but it begun to bend as the wheel was almost off the ground, so that wouldn't work. Fortunately a truck driver next door had a bottle jack I could use. Using the two together I managed to change the wheel just before the boat docked - Phew! There's always a solution to these problems if we persevere...
Driving back to Chiba on 23rd December, the Hiace cruised and returned much the same economy as usual from it's workhorse diesel engine, but I'd already decided I wasn't going to subject it to any more trips to carry tiles. I'll rent a large truck next time, I think...

There's another 3 loads this size of around 4 - 4.5 tons to collect from Shodoshima.

Christmas soon arrived and we'd already dug up a tree from the back of the house then potted it. Seems to have worked well, it's still green today despite a few weeks inside the house. I'll dig it back into the ground soon keeping it in it's pot, ready to use again next year. I figure it won't get too tall for our lounge for a long time yet!

There's still much I want to do on the house and the children's room still has unpacked boxes, but until the office upstairs is finished they'll have to wait.

One of our priorities is to fit a good sized quality wood burning stove. We've researched how to do this through a thatched (underside) roof and the safe solution is a double walled flue with a rectangular chimney through the roof. We've decided on a Vermont Castings Defiant Stove. We considered the options of buying in the States and shipping here then doing the installation ourselves, but I really don't fancy being up on the roof. Besides, although it's about double the cost to buy in Japan compared to the US, by the time we consider shipping, duties, lack of warranty, etc. it's only going to save about 20%, so we'll bear the pain to make the gain.
We already have a lot of firewood and the land probably grows more than we can burn every day for a year, so eventually the stove will pay for itself. It will also add value & charm to the house of course. We're looking forward to cooking with a dutch oven (Cast iron pan) & baking pizza over the embers in future.

(Picture saved from a google search)

My wife is about 3 weeks from giving birth to a baby boy - who is to be born at home with the help of a midwife and two friends who will assist with looking after our daughter too.

About a week into the life of our son, or perhaps a bit longer, I'll take my wife & children to her parent's place for a month or so, which will enable us to complete the stove installation and other work, hopefully.
This morning we have an appointment to see a local stove specialist at his home - as recommended by a local friend my wife has recently met.
We're looking forward to meeting him and hopefully finding our man for the job of supplying & fitting our Vermont Defiant stove system... brrrr!