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Vegetable Gardening in Japan


Hiroyuki
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After the snow melted, my son and I started vegetable gardening, and I have come to realize one important fact: Nothing can be had without money. Unlike my son, who likes nature, I wanted to start vegetable gardening mainly because I though it would cost less than buying vegetables at a supermarket. Now I know how silly I was.

So far, I have spent:

597 yen for a 20 kg bag of slaked lime

1,480 yen for a stainless steel, home use hoe

1,480 yen for a stainless steel, three-forked hoe

1,970 yen for a 20 kg bag of additional fertilizer

5,527 yen in total!

Besides, I must have spent thousands of yen on planter boxes, bags of soil, seedlings, and seeds.

As for fertilizers, I considered composting with EM bokashi and with red worms, but I found that a 1-kg bag of EM bokashi cost 300 yen, a special container for EM bokashi fertilizer cost 2,200 yen, and red worms cost around 8,000 yen per kg!! I instantly gave up the idea of composting.

I think I'll post some photos here if I succeed in growing some vegetables. In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences in vegetable gardening here.

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Like you I'm starting out with gardening in Japan: this is my first season. And like you, I've found that you can sink quite a bit of money into it. But that's largely to be expected. Almost any new pastime involves considerable setup costs. There are certain areas where gardening becomes quite cheap though. For example, compare the cost of vegetables that you buy from the shop to the cost of a packet of seeds. If you can successfully grow a crop from seed, it's a fraction of the cost of buying them. Take rocket/ruccola for example: never seen it for less than 100 yen a bag at the shop, but a packet of seeds contains hundreds, and costs 200-300 yen. And it's ridiculously easy to grow. Tastes great too.

When deciding what's worth growing and what isn't, other factors you have to think of, after the cost of seed, is efficient land use, length of time to cropping, amount of labour required, susceptibility to pests/disease, and the flow of the seasons: you can't realistically compete against farmers with greenhouses or against commercial hydroponic systems, so you'll have to make do with your shorter growing season. It would be naive to grow vegetables only to save money, although you can undoubtedly do so once you've got your garden going.

There are two other very important advantages: variety and freshness. Many vegetables and herbs just can't be bettered if you have access to your own garden and eat them straight after picking. I'm thinking of something like basil for example, where I now find that the stuff that comes from the shops has quite an unpleasant almost spongy texture compared to the homegrown stuff. It's the same for so many other vegetables - tomatoes are the one many gardeners cite because shop tomatoes can often be flavourless.

The issue of variety is mentioned on almost every website devoted to gardening. Think of things like tomatoes, beans, chillies etc where literally hundreds of varieties are available as seeds, but go to the supermarket and you might be choosing from 5 or 6 if you're lucky, down to only 1 type for most herbs (where as a grower, you really can enjoy having different types of basil, rosemary, thyme, etc.).

I think you'll eventually find gardening really rewarding. I'm an instant-gratification kind of guy, but I've really enjoyed the slower pace enforced by growing plants. It teaches you a different way of looking at things.

About the compost, I don't know what setup you've got, but if you have a reasonable sized garden, you can just make your own compost pile without the bokashi (in other words, it's free). The easiest system is an open pile, which is basically a heap of organic garbage where your main input is to keep a balance so that decomposition is controlled and you don't end up with a putrid mess. It's not very difficult. No compost pile is odour-free, but if you've got it right, it's not foul smelling either.

I have little choice but to go with bokashi, because I live in a danchi, and it's just not worth the risk of aggravating the neighbours. We actually use our bin indoors, as it is designed to be used. I agree that at 300 yen a kilo, it's not especially cheap, but I'd rather be doing this than throwing all my food waste out with the trash to be carted off to the municipal incinerator. Once I started composting a couple of years back, I realized what a criminal waste that is. Anyway, it's nice not to have stinking garbage bags any more, and of course the amount of garbage we throw out is now considerably reduced.

Good luck with your gardening, and I for one will enjoy seeing your photos.

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Like Ohba says, the initial cost can be quite high but it will get cheaper as the years go on.

I have had a small garden of some sorts going all year round for quite a few years now and I spend very little money on it except for buying seeds/seedlings. I use both planters and the dirt in my backyard and I keep recycling the dirt so I don't have to keep buying new stuff. It is a strange world we live in when we actually start paying money for dirt. :hmmm: I do very little int eh way of fertilizing and use a simple spry of dish soap and water to keep away bugs. I have quite a bit going in my garden right now, I will take a picture tomorrow because it is too dark to see anything now!

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I remember when my uncle bought an expensive fish-locating radar for his boat, and he told my aunt to think of how much they would save on fish :laugh:

The priceless thing about gardening is the connection it gives you and your children to the food you eat. I always remember the incredible flavor of the vegetables my mother grew to save money--much better than the pathetic supermarket produce. You can't put a price on memories, or the carrot you grew yourself.

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How does that work by the way (the soap spray)? It's not harmful if you're going to be eating the leaves a few days later?

It is just soap! :raz:

It is really diluted quite a bit, I have eaten food the same day I sprayed it and after a good washing you can't taste anything.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Thanks everyone for their replies.

After reading your posts, I remembered that I had a bottle of chikusaku eki (bamboo vinegar), given to me from the construction company as part of a year-end gift. I read the instruction sheet, which says that the vinegar lessens the odor of composting and promotes fermentation. I will try composting using the bamboo vinegar and report back.

In the meantime, as I said in my first post here, feel free to share your experiences and post pictures of your gardens!

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Thanks everyone for their replies.
good luck, hiroyuki, on your new endeavour.

everyone has already said so, but imagine that you only ever ate ramen. and then one day you decided to learn to cook. you need a good knife, a good pan, a good pot, some spoons, a rice cooker... and these are just the non-specialised things... they add up. even if you buy used or buy very frugally. it all costs to begin.

"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo
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I'm a bit busy right now to reply thoroughly....but don't forget that the garden of a new house needs extra love and care (= money and hard work!) to replace the good topsoil that is removed or disturbed when the house is built.

My garden now is too shady to grow many summer vegetables. However, we used to have a vegetable garden, and our children learned so much from it.

Composting is a great idea - Ohba, can you tell me about your bokashi set-up please? I used to use it, but the plastic container finally got old and broke. I'd be interested to hear about what's available now. (I'm secretly fascinated by those indoor gadgets that speed up composting, because our compost was a bit too close to the neighbor's front door...).

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I'm a bit busy right now to reply thoroughly....but don't forget that the garden of a new house needs extra love and care (= money and hard work!) to replace the good topsoil that is removed or disturbed when the house is built.

This is the yard we were planning to grow vegetables in, but after the snow melted, I gave up that idea because it would take a lot of money and work, as you say!

gallery_16375_5_23310.jpg

This is the west side of my land. My son and I are planning to turn it into a "kinoko (mushroom) land". We have three shiitake logs right now.

gallery_16375_5_38638.jpg

This is the piece of land that my son and I are growing vegetables in. It still needs a lot of improvement!

gallery_16375_5_55868.jpg

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After much searching, I found bucket composting. No EM bokashi or red worms required. No bamboo vinegar, either. All you need is a bucket (preferably two), rice bran, soil, and food waste. Anyone tried bucket composting??

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Composting is a great idea - Ohba, can you tell me about your bokashi set-up please? I used to use it, but the plastic container finally got old and broke. I'd be interested to hear about what's available now. (I'm secretly fascinated by those indoor gadgets that speed up composting, because our compost was a bit too close to the neighbor's front door...).

I use two containers to keep the cycle going (3-5 weeks to fill it up, then stand the container outdoors for 2 weeks). The final product hasn't broken down fully the way compost would, so the food is often quite recognizable as similar in form to what you threw into the container. Once you dig it into the soil, however, it breaks down very fast.

You can get the equipment through Rakuten. I have no idea about durability of the equipment because I am less than six months in. As a system, I'd probably prefer to compost if I had the land and some privacy from the neighbours. It's more satisfying to have an end product that looks like rich, dark soil. But not having that choice, bokashi's a good second best.

Edited by Ohba (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

I can't seem to get my tougarashi to sprout. Any have any tips for germinating tougarashi, or peppers in general? My window box Japanese garden is coming along nicely, but it is mostly western herbs and a goya plant.

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tips on germinating chile seed right here...but my guess is that it's just too cold, especially if you are trying to sow them directly outside. Try starting them inside, and preferably in some kind of medium that you can just transfer straight to your outside spot when the time comes, without having to pull at the roots - the less shock when transplanting, the better, especially for basically tropical plants like chiles being grown in the "wrong" climate.

Ohba, I think you're OK for a while yet :biggrin: - my plastic EM composting containers didn't disintegrate for 10 years, and then only because they were left in the sun.

Hiroyuki, I was thinking about your yard...why don't you consider something like the "square foot" gardening system?

When I first read about it, it was called the "pocket handkerchief" system, but much the same thing...I'd use 1-meter square plots, divided into 9 or 12 squares.

In your climate, if you raise the beds a little bit (that is, put something round the borders to contain the soil), you could probably just build up your new, good, compost-rich gardening soil on top of the ground surface...eventually roots and worms will break up the ground below. (It wouldn't hurt to give it a little dig though - no need to get too deep).

You can start one square straight away, and use your second square for composting. Use EM or nuka or something to get it started, then cover thickly with soil, and plant on top - the vegetable waste will have broken down by the time your plants' roots grow far enough down to reach the compost. (Don't use meat or grease etc in this case - takes too long to break up, gets stinky, and may attract animals).

If you really want minimum effort, I suggest you half-bury your planters in the ground. That way, they won't dry out so fast.

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Hiroyuki, I was thinking about your yard...why don't you consider something like the  "square foot" gardening system?

When I first read about it, it was called the "pocket handkerchief" system, but much the same thing...I'd use 1-meter square plots, divided into 9 or 12 squares.

In your climate, if you raise the beds a little bit (that is, put something round the borders to contain the soil), you could probably just build up your new, good, compost-rich gardening soil on top of the ground surface...eventually roots and worms will break up the ground below. (It wouldn't hurt to give it a little dig though - no need to get too deep).

You can start one square straight away, and use your second square for composting.  Use EM or nuka or something to get it started, then cover thickly with soil, and plant on top - the vegetable waste will have broken down by the time your plants' roots grow far enough down to reach the compost. (Don't use meat or grease etc in this case - takes too long to break up, gets stinky, and may attract animals).

If you really want minimum effort, I suggest you half-bury your planters in the ground. That way, they won't dry out so fast.

Thank you very much for your suggestions, Helen! Coincidentally, I've been thinking of using boxes like these to grow vegetables in. Thanks to your link, I'm beginning to think I'm not as stupid as I thought I was.

gallery_16375_5_59870.jpg

The current status of my son's kinoko land.

gallery_16375_5_56622.jpg

We have three shiitake logs, and hidden in the steel shelf are hiratake and maitake logs, which I bought from here.

4,725 yen for three boxes of hiratake and maitake logs each (six boxes in total).

Approx. 2,300 yen for the shading sheet.

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Bury those boxes in the ground! :biggrin: You won't regret it! It seems as if there's no difference, but really, the box means you only need a small amount of "good" soil, while still having the advantages of ground insulating moisture and temperature content.

OK, OK, but the soil in my yard is too hard to dig :sad: , so I'll have to just place them on the ground.

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I think Helen's right about the chillis. They take a while to germinate, for me it's been three weeks to a month up to now. Am I right in thinking this May has had much less sunny warm weather than a normal year? With the summer on the way, chillis should be able to germinate much faster, so if you've got any seeds left, keep planting. Same goes for a lot of other plants. e.g basil should germinate and grow quickly now, as should a lot of herbs.

Edited by Ohba (log)
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This has been one of the rainiest (and quite cold to boot) Mays that I can remember.

I finally took some pictures of my garden though after almost 2 weeks of rain I need to do some serious weeding.

raspberries and figs (in the planter)

gallery_6134_2590_22768.jpg

the wild dokudami

gallery_6134_2590_30868.jpg

the mint that grows like weeds

gallery_6134_2590_34107.jpg

the 'trees' in the back from L to R are kinkan (kumquat) bay leaf and sudachi

on the left in broccoli and te very right are two shishitou plants

in the planter under the kinkan is parsley and oregano

the front 3 planters are shiso, basil , majoram and rosemary

gallery_6134_2590_72734.jpg

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I can't seem to get my tougarashi to sprout. Any have any tips for germinating tougarashi, or peppers in general? My window box Japanese garden is coming along nicely, but it is mostly western herbs and a goya plant.

Probably more information than you'll need, but there's a very nice chilli site here:

Fatalii's Growing Guide.

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It has definitely been cold this year.

Mint! I have my mint growing in a rather dry spot, where the woolly types of mint (e.g. apple mint) seem to do better than regular mint. However, my husband helpfully pulled all my mint and some lilies out during municipal "clean day" last weekend, so I have planted a small spearmint just to try my luck again.

I've been feeding my family dokudami salad - the very young leaves and shoots at this time of year are not bitter. They have an orangey scent with a hint of coriander (and sure enough, my son who hates green coriander is not too fond of dokudami either). Dokudami went well with bland yama-imo.

I remember reading about a guy in Shikoku who woiuld roll his seeds up in little balls of dirt (maybe aka-dama, which is basically clay), and then just toss them round in his yard. He maintained that the soil "capsule" protected the plant perfectly until the next rain, and then nourished it until it had sent roots down into the ground, without him having to do any digging!

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Mint!! I want to say something about it.

Do you know that Japanese mint (hakka) has the highest content of menthol in the mint family?

Shiozawa is a place where hakka grows wild, and I have transplanted some in my daughter's flowerbed. I'm going to use the leaves to make my version of mojito! :biggrin:

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So, Helen...,

do you or any of your students practice square foot gardening? There is little information on this method in Japanese, so I ordered this book:

All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!

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Hiroyuki, I don't get to teach the students who major in practical horticulture - the students I teach are mostly doing more academic courses, with only a small amount of practical work.

The last few years I let my plum trees grow so huge that they completely shade our tiny vegetable patch...which is already heavily shaded by the 3-story apartment house next door :sad: . So I have only a few herbs along the side of my house and in planters, and no vegetables growing at present.

However, when I was a student in New Zealand, students used to rent houses in groups, which meant that we had only one season to make a garden and harvest the vegetables (we must have been very unusual university students - one of my friends even kept bees...).

In those days I discovered that raised beds planted in wooden frames, or ridge-and-furrow gardens, created warmer soil, and allowed me to use rich soil more efficiently.

I have the old Square Foot Gardening book, but not the edition you ordered.

The author has a section on cold frames, where he suggests setting the frame at an angle in the ground. This is also useful for ordinary raised beds. In other words, if you dig out the south end of your square a little, and set your frame on that slope and then fill it with soil, your entire raised bed will get maximum sunlight and warmth.

I used that slope technique in New Zealand by making big ridges and deep furrows - much bigger than usual.

If I poured water into one corner of my garden, it would run along all the furrows and down the slope to irrigate the entire square. The ridges were big enough that I could plant tomatoes and corn along the top of the ridge, where they had good drainage and plenty of sun, with beans or potatoes beside them, and lettuce near the bottom of each ridge, where the soil was moistest.

You can use containers, but you will have to work much harder at watering your plants - if you use a frame with no bottom, you will have the advantages of good, warm soil and fast growth (containers) plus the advantage of better water supply (growing in the ground). That "mesh" box you show should be lined around the sides with plastic, or the soil will dry out too fast.

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