After nearly 20 years in big Tokyo I was feeling burned out in my not-so-successful "career" in the service industry, knocking on several after a chance discovery of cheap old farmhouses we set out towards the countryside - but still close enough for my wife to further pursue her working live, commuting by Shinkansen while I would take care of the house and kids and build my own little cafe at home...
Our first bump came when we realized that the bank wasn't willing to give a loan for an old rundown house on some worthless property in the "Hinterland". So, we changed plans and will be building a new house. We already bought the plot last year, with about 400 square meters size, and I have started the vegetable garden beforehand, next project will be the garden house.

23 June, 2011

The Garden, this week

After having been unable to tend to our garden last week I went Tuesday, two weeks after last ripping of some weeds, to see everything green, the vegetables as much as the, in this most favorable weather of rainy and sunny days, always growing weeds of different kinds

The castaway of caraway, it's in there somewhere I know it!

The potatoes are blooming

The potato bugs are playing around

And the mulberry tree is growing fruits, lots of them. It probably helped that I cut off a lot of smaller and bigger branches last autumn in a radical action to take care of the long neglected tree.

The afternoon than was spend with family, enjoying the sights of cake, coffee, and Hannah

Today I took the very first train to head to our garden, carrying most of my tools in my trusted, wheels-equipped backpack. The good thing here on the countryside is that I can leave the bigger tools there without worrying that somebody might take them. Actually the only thing I worry about, beside the weeds, would be that the heavy rain, after all we are in rainy-season, might soak my wood.
The weather in the morning really wasn't inviting, overcast and after a short time it started to drizzle. So I unpacked the camping tarp that I had wisely deposited before, it was fitting nicely over the house's frame, and started on today's work, which meant chiseling. With electricity I would have the choice of using my small router, or the circular saw, or drill many holes...but without that juice, I had to do it "old style" - by hand.
While the back and side walls are in 2 by 4 panel construction, the front wall is more like a post and beam affair. My first thing, after cutting the 4 posts to length, was to create a groove for the top-running 2 by 6 beam to anchor in. I selected and marked the front faces and order, than used a double scribe to mark the position of the groove

I than hand cut the sides with my new Japanese hand saw, after the old one really was too slow to use for a big job like this; very sharp, my left index finger could tell you a story about it...

Turning the wood sideways to cut to the right depth

Happy chiseling away, it does take time, but it is also nearly like meditation in motion, just the sound of the hammer and chisel action, the birds, the wind; forgetting about the worries at work or elsewhere and just concentrating on that peace piece of wood in front of me.

Lots of sweat and wood chips can see here the bottom ends, which will interlock with the frame
After that I started the grooves for the middle beams, only to have a change of design forming in my mind, which will require the first beam to be set higher than planned, thus having to redo the grooves for that.

After a late lunch of onigiri rice balls and a cold beer at the close-by super market, I turned my aching back towards the house and my concentration to the vegetable garden. The weeds in the caraway corner where really getting too high, so I thinned them out by removing the species that was all over the place - that sure couldn't be caraway, and in the progress I finally spotted a few timid plants in a line, hidden deep inside the jungle -  my caraway! Well, at least I think so, judging from form and position.

Still lots of green left, especially around the potato plants I leave some bigger weeds, in the hope that the bugs don't concentrate too much on my potatoes only. On the right is where I dug out the last radish and also planted some spinach, and that earthen spot on the left is where I planted some rhubarb two weeks ago. I had ordered the seeds online, and for the rhubarb I had to wait for more than a month, that's why this late.

18 June, 2011

It has been quite a while that I snapped "rolls of film" at Hannah, mainly because of longer working hours and building The Garden, but today was an early-off day, so I took the chance while playing with Hannah on the floor to hold down her developments
Sitting in her whole beauty, 9 months and 2 days old, and actually not much heavier than a month ago, because she started to use more of that stored energy, wiggling around in my arms and "moving" around on the floor (more about that later)

Hannah loves to play with balloons, pouncing or scratching it

Also this was the first to time to play with a helium-filled one that would float up when let free

Hannah has gotten more and more hair, especially in the middle, making her look cute like Kewpie!

Well, not always of course...

And sometimes even less

So, here's what Hannah loves most about balloons

Searching for the knotted end



Pulling more!

Let go, and repeat

Hannah has also started to move around more on the floor, rather quick actually

There is only one problem

It's only working backwards!

Docking in

I just hope she will not drive car like that backwards: bouncing off left and right, until cornered in!

08 June, 2011

In The Garden

This is how our garden looked yesterday afternoon after I spent another few hours weeding and seeding. It was the first time that I really felt it looked like a Garden and not like a big neglected property with small patches of vegetables in. Sure, there is still a lot of weed around, but partly I will leave it that way to not have the open earth   totally dried from the hot summer sun. And the partitions might look very differently next year, except for the artichoke and caraway plants, if they make it. Because I still haven't found the caraway plants yet between all those fast growing weeds. I smelt some leafs that I thought might look like caraway, but couldn't detect any flavour. At the back of the pic you can see the Mulberry tree which seemingly has decided to bear fruits without blooming before...or the flowers stayed on for only a few days, cause I haven't seen any.
In the front is "The Hill", the separator between cultured garden and wild growing weeds where the house will be built. There is just nothing else to do with all those stuff I plugged from the earth, I would love to make it to compost, but that would also include the seeds, meaning I will have new weeds again growing from my compost. Having said that, I really have no idea when this battling of weeds will go down to a more human level, esp when I look at what is still going on below the Mulberry tree..!

So this morning, my second off-day for this week, I finally started building the Garden house in earnest. I went to a big home center half an hour drive away where they have a bigger choice of woods and, most importantly, free use of a larger truck to transport the stuff home. And at half past eleven, I was finally ready to start, with beautiful weather, also a bit humid, but a cool breeze was blowing making it not too unbearable.

I had my measurement list close by, starting with cutting the 2 by 4 for the bottom frame, marking the nailing points, nailing half through while the wood was on the side, making it a bit easier on my back

The frame, ready on the blocks. I wanted to run a few screws in as well to make it more stable, but had to found out that my battery driver lasted for only half a screw before stopping...There is no electricity around here yet, meaning I will be doing a lot of cutting by hand! The friendly neighbor had offered to let me plug in my cord at his home some time ago, but it seems that his and my off-days never seem to match.

I nailed in some supportive wood because it turned out that my optimistic choice for the cheap bottom plates was not as stable as I had hoped for. In the front you can see the international members of my toolbox: nails and wood bought in Japan as well as the half-hidden scribe and the hand saw which looks so thin because it's teeth, like all Japanese wood working tools, are cutting on the pulling action only, not at the pushing. The 2-meter measure with pencil and that carpenters hammer are tools I had sent over from Germany because you just can't find them here and that nice 45/90 angle tool I had found a few years ago in a big diy-shop in paris, right next to Notre Dame!

After finishing the frame I put in some insulation foam boards by tapping small nails half into the wood and laying the cut boards into them. I intend to use this house for a long time to come, and as such it might be used in many different ways, not only as a diy-shop or gardeners house. And keeping the inside warm while cold wind is blowing below the floor might not be very successful. The walls will go up in wood only for now, but those are much easier to insulate later from the inside. And those boards at 20 mm thickness are only a few bucks for one plate. In the middle I left one field open to use later as a cold storage space.

Finished for the day, cleaning up, stacking the wood on the platform and covering everything against rain.

03 June, 2011

Gardening day

Yesterday was my day off, and same since April on off-days, it was bad weather. Not only "bad" as in cloudy or rainy, but also as in "cold!". Mainly for that reason it took me quite a while to get out of the cold house into the cold outside. The other reason was that the weather forecast suggested a turn to the good from midday, but that remained wishful thinking. The thing about living high up (950 m) is that when bad weather hits, you are surrounded by fluffy, cold, misty, clouds, you are inside them, not below. Thus the temperature stays about the same from early morning until evening, because no sunshine comes through. But just driving down to our land next village, the situation changed: it was still rainy and cold, but below the clouds...not much better to be outside, but still not as depressing because you could actually see farther than just 50 meters.
So I hit my potato plants which had grown rather unattended, did the thinning while "removing" a few bugs, than put some mineral fertilizer besides the plants and shoveled some earth on it, creating those potato ridges I remember back from my days growing up on the North German country side...albeit a bit smaller in size.
Fresh dark earth not only smells beautiful, but also looks beautiful, especially when it is surrounded by lots of green ... weeds! The green square is where I planted some caraway seeds. Of course it was fresh, dark earth when I seeded them, but it seems these seeds take time to germinate, and I have not the faintest idea which one are weeds and which one are caraway, also I did plant them in a row, so that should make them recognizable. Just hope they make it in time before the weeds grow too big.
In front of that is a row of red radish, called in Japanese "hatsuka daikon" 20-days radish for their speed of growing. Okay, they are not that fast, but still, it really does take not long to grow into something eatable size. This was my second time to collect the bigger ones, also some of them had already given in to the long period of rain and had split in half. I harvested a few handful and there is still a lot left for next week.
The black earth in the front row indicates where I planted a few... spinach, thats it. I actually had intended to plant carrots, but there was too much gravel still left in the earth and I am not a fan of octopus-like creatures holding onto stones growing in my earth and since it had started to rain rather steadily on my back, pressured for time, I went for the above-earth seeds. For the markers I again used my weather-proof yet natural bamboo sticks, recycled from my wife's Kendo Shinai (bamboo swords) which become soft and dull after too much powerful hitting each other. They are actually recycled recycles, because I first used them for my potatoes, but since those are bigger now than the surrounding weeds I have confidence that I will distinguish them even without markers. 
The main reason that there is so much green is of course that getting rid of all the weeds would leave the earth open to the elements of wind and rain, so it is a kind of "protection" actually. Not to mention that it would take me about 8 days a week to keep them weeds off and would result in a big heap of torn-out weeds in the middle of the property raising  upwards.

Lots and lots of (unwanted) green. And the Mulberry tree is doing nicely, too, thank you. This autumn though I will go to it again with my saw, cutting it back again while trying to put some shape into it.

Well, looks like somebody totally overslept the fact that this is not a dirt-trail anymore but a real road! Okay, actually not yet finished, because a road is supposed to be at least 4 meters wide, and this one is only 3 meters, because someone at town didn't inform one of the property owners about their plans and thus they are still in the talks as to how much to pay to this person to go 1 m closer to his house, which is already very close, because it's the north side and their lot is a bit smaller than ours, to widen the road to a safe-by-law width. As for me, this might as well take some years, so I can enjoy the view of the fields to the back, which will be turned into housing property once this connecting road is fit to be called such and not just a gravel-track with a weed growing in the middle of it.

In the evening I enjoyed the fruits of my labor and some more, because it  isn't really that much yet....! Having said that, the radish and leaf salad tasted great, with some boiled chicken thrown in and a vinaigrette (because French always sounds delicious and ups the level) made of sour-plum "ume" juice that had been sitting in my fridge for quite some time unused but now found it's destination-to-be, some Aceto Balsamico for the sweetness, and rape seed oil. And, spotting the "Italian" written on the plate, I grated some hardened Parmesano cheese on top of it. Goes great with the "お疲れ様/Otsukaresama/Feierabend/After-work beer.