August was….

FandudeHot, HOT days!

Fireworks

Fireworks on the weekend.FeetStepping lightly on history (at Nishi Hongan-ji in Kyoto)

Lunch!Lunches at home (no kyuushoku!)

underwaterUnderwater adventures at Ishigaki.

lunchOur wedding anniversary; and the most nicely decorated rissole sandwich we’ve ever seen (not to mention those ginormous beers)!

August was sandy shoes and sunburnt bottoms, scraped knees, sleepless nights, wasp stings, far too many drinks… and lots and lots of fun! There have been adventures with new friends, not to mention an adventure or two with just the two of us! It’s been social, wonderful, very, very steamy… and we’re both a bit glad that it’s over!

Roll on September and the beginning of autumn!

Gem and Kin

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The Horror: Repairing A Devastated Garden

By Gem

Those who’ve been Enroute for a while know that I have a decent collection of herbs and vegies potted up on the balcony to help supply our little kitchen. You’ll also know that we recently went away for five days during the peak of summer. This is what greeted me when I returned:

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Yikes! Time for a repair job!

Making a Speedy Recovery

Speed is important right now for two reasons. Firstly, I want to get us eating our own produce again ASAP. Secondly, Shiga might be warm right now, but within a few months the cold will return. To fix your garden or start a new garden at a time like this, you need to think fast and make the right decisions about what to plant.

Here are my selections:

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I’ve picked some fast-growing options for the short term and medium-length options to keep us eating until the snow flies (stupid Northern Hemisphere and its stupid “actual winters”). It’s too late to replant any of the fruiting summer crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, or aubergines. Winter vegetables do exist, but I’m not used to snow OR to balcony gardening, so winter crops are probably beyond me as long as I’m in Japan.

My speedy selections are:

1- Supermarket Herb Pots

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I bought basil, more flat-leaf parsley and two pots of salad herbs (lots of mizuna, not much lettuce from the looks. Bummer).

When money is no object, remember that the best seedlings always come from nurseries. The varieties are better-selected for home gardeners and the plants themselves are properly hardened, so they won’t curl up their little toes and die on you the second the sun touches them.

When you’re going cheap and nasty, though, supermarket herbs are a good option. These plants are intended for consumption rather than planting, so they are not even slightly hardened and will need a lot of cossetting from you. Generally, though, they cost half as much as proper plants and you usually get a lot per pot.

I gave my planters a very, very good soaking (seriously, the soil had gone badly hydrophobic, so I had to dig through every centimetre of soil and mix water through it. An easier way to do this is to simply purchase a soaking agent to help your soil absorb and retain water.) Then I planted the seedlings on an extremely overcast day and soaked them again. If the day had been sunny, I would have used pieces of cardboard to shield the plants.

2 – Asian GreensIMG_1176

Super cheap (because they grow from seed) and super-speedy, Asian greens are the shiznit. The seedlings will be established in just a few days and you can go from planting to cropping in just weeks. This speed and low cost also makes them a good option if you’re into microgreens.

These little guys are also TOUGH and will take some fairly serious abuse from you as seedlings (although you’ll want to start treating them nice when they get older, so that they’ll crop well for you). I chose Kokurakuten (or spinach mustard) as well as Pak Choi and direct-planted them. My favourites are usually Choy Sum and Tatsoi, but I didn’t find those here.

3 – Tomato CuttingsIMG_1179

“But Gem!” I hear you cry, “I thought you said it was too late to plant fruiting crops! Why are you recommending tomatoes at a time like this?”

It is too late to PLANT tomatoes, yes. But for a flush, late season crop, just when your tomato plants are getting a bit tired, tomato cuttings are brilliant (thank you, Jackie French!). The above picture is a cutting I took just a few weeks ago; it’s already flowering and even has a spray of fruit.

The best way to take a tomato cutting is to select one of your best performers of that season and then mulch it REALLY heavily, or bury the lower branches in soil. Then, once some roots have started to form, yank that branch off and replant it. Bingo, brand new tomato plant, eight times the size of any seedling you could buy and one hundred percent ready for some serious, tomato-growing action.  If I hadn’t already taken cuttings of my cherry tomato, I would do my best to find a surviving bit and do it now. They really do grow that fast!

4 – ViolasIMG_1178

Tough, colorful and fast growing violas are always a good flower when you’ve got a bare spot or two and you’re in a hurry. In Australia, my usual go-to options are huge pansy-faces and heartsease, but these look similar enough to get me by. You can plant violas almost any time at all, and as long as you take the most basic care of them, they will just keep on blooming for you. That includes the winter months of this stupid frozen hemisphere, although you’ll want to get them indoors before Christmas. The only better option I know is alyssum, but that is harder to put in a vase (also, I can’t find any).

5 – Mid-term vegiesIMG_1183

These are still reasonably fast-growing options, just not up to the insane speed-levels of asian greens.

The speedier ones are lettuce and spinach (both for salads and for cooked dishes). I’ve planted these guys in seed-raising pots and will transplant them once they’re a reasonable size.

Slower-growing, are beans and chrysanthemum greens. In warm weather (which this still is), the beans will shoot within a few days of planting and should crop for at least a little while before the weather gets too cold. The chrysanthemum greens take a moderate amount of time to grow, but are very cold-resistant and should survive the first part of winter, even if they don’t get much bigger once the weather turns cold.

Luckily, despite heavy fatalities, there were some survivors, which means that my selections were probably a little different than if I had had no remaining assets in my garden.  My tomato cutting, some herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, chives, flat leafed parsley, lemon balm and sage), some flowers (pink cosmos, morning glory and New Guinea impatien) and, surprisingly the zucchini, although the early crop has been sacrificed. All of these plants look like hell, but they’re already on the way to making a recovery.

I still weep for the fallen (especially the lettuce and my beautiful little miniature sunflowers!), but at least the damage has been repaired as far as I’m able and we won’t have to wait until spring to have fresh food!

What are your speedy go-to crops?

Gem

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Ishigaki Island

 

By Gem
278Well here we are, back at work and back from three days in Okinawa. We had a wonderful time in the Yaeyama Islands and feel much better for it, despite receiving a scrape or two from some coral as well as a really stupid-looking triangle I managed to burn around my glowing white butt.

The triangle is brown now. The butt is still white.

With the end of third term, our Japan countdown has started. It’s only eleven months now until we’ll be back in Australia and we’re starting to feel a certain amount of pressure to make the most of our remaining time. With that in mind, we figured, it’s summer, the kids are on break and hotel air conditioning is included in the price. What better time for a trip away?

240Ishigaki starts being lovely as soon as you land. Kin made a dash for the luggage carousel, while I made one for the Ladies, but even those activities were made more pleasant than on the mainland. The orchid decorating the washbasins was deep gold, cheerful and actually alive. Meeting Kin at the carousel, it was the same; the entire airport was full of colourful plants and aquariums with brilliant local sea life. 247

Ishigaki is basically a tourist trap; a pleasant, reasonably-priced tourist trap that actually has the history and the natural attractions to back up its reputation. They want to be certain that your time is enjoyable from start to finish, I suppose, so the airport was just the first step.

The Ishigaki landscape looks a lot like Northern NSW or Queensland if it had been settled by Thai or Chinese people. The architecture is completely different to our area of Japan; lots of very solid, blocky little ground-hugging structures with very different lines and shapes to the ones in Honshu. Also a lot of cement! I suppose there isn’t a lot of hardwood available in a climate like that and you can tell that they must see some really nasty weather sometimes.

315We’d booked rooms at a basic (but nice) Minshuku, so we hopped off our bus at the ferry port, found it very quickly (thank you, Google Maps!) then dumped our bags and headed out to find bikes to rent.

Now I know I usually rave about bikes being the best way to see a place, but I will actually admit this isn’t the case on Ishigaki. The recommended way of getting around the island is by rental car and I can definitely see why; the cars are very cheap and the island is very hilly! Nevertheless, we boarded our gearless mama-charis and headed off to adventure.

314We spent a LOT of time on those bikes over the next three days. DAMN does that island have a lot of hills! We managed to survive the experience, see a lot and have a lovely time, but if you can, just rent the car. You’ll be happier in the long run.

Most of our time was spent cycling the (many, many) hills of Ishigaki or exploring the awesome coral at Yonehara Beach; we spent two extremely happy days on that reef alone (I could probably spend the rest of my life there).

288 329 327 306Still, we did manage to haul ourselves away on our last day to visit Taketomi Island, which along with a star-sand beach and its own selection of fabulous reefs also has a very, very old town, which has maintained a very traditional Okinawan style of living.464

It also has some seriously nice sugar-cane icecream, which Kin ordered and I promptly stole after tasting (he stole my mango sorbet).461

Sadly, we didn’t get to Iriomote Island. We only had three full days on the islands and we spent most of them on Ishigaki. To be honest, we probably should have based ourselves on Iriomote instead, but Ishigaki coral is amazing and the town has attractions of its own; the food is cheap and awesome. Soba is a bit of an island specialty, and they serve it in a variety of ways, but it was mostly the preparation and seasoning of the food, rather than differences in the specific dishes, that made it all so enjoyable. 346345

The green bubbles above are umi budou (sea grape) , a really, really delicious, crunchy seaweed that was served as an entrée at a few of the restaurants. Apparently we are much too far north to be able to get it in Shiga (we have the nasty, petrol-flavoured, scraped-off-a-rock hajiki instead) but I’m already dispatching spies in Australia to hunt for it during their coastal and ocean photography missions.

Perhaps most importantly, we pursued our joint hobby of finding and irritating crabs of various species. The Yaeyama islands are the hermit-crabbinest place I’ve ever been, and we managed to aggravate individuals both large and small.336 337

We strongly recommend Ishigaki and the rest of the Yaeyama islands to homesick Australians and people who enjoy nature tourism. They also have a lot to offer people who enjoy a bit of luxury on a tropical island, but we didn’t do those bits, so if that’s what you’re into, you’ll have to Google it.

Kin is popping some more of our photos up in an album on our Facebook page, so click here for lots of pictures of furious crabs!

Gem

XX

P.S. I’ve tried to avoid giving you a bunch of boring travel details, but if anyone is actually planning a trip and wants to know more about getting to or staying at Ishigaki, I’d be thrilled to share!