The ever changing, unpredictably of the seasons from year to year and how that affects plants and animals is something that I find endlessly exciting. I am one of those people that remembers within a week, and usually within a day or two, when flowers first open, shoots appear, or trees bear fruit from year to year. I may not always remember to grab my phone as I head out the door, but I can tell you exactly when the wintersweet down the street first started flowering during the past four winters. I am sure this natural inclination is what pushed me into studying ecology. So let me take you on a tour of some of the things growing in our garden this summer.
This year I decided to utilize a bit more of the space around our tiny yard and experiment with a few plants I have never grown before. In front of our house I have a small flower bed that self seeds itself with four o'clocks each year. This year I decided to plant okra, hot peppers, and shishito peppers amongst the four o'clocks.
Before coming to Japan, I had only eaten okra breaded and deep-fried or in Cajun dishes like gumbo. I sort of liked it, but it would never have been on my top twenty list of plants to grow or even buy. It could be my love of natto that made my palate accustomed to sliminess or trying a new way of preparing okra (blanched and salted) but now I absolutely can't get enough of it. I would be satisfied with a whole bowl of okra as a meal. Okra was not just a delicious addition to our flower bed, but an aesthetically pleasing one too, since the flowers are absolutely gorgeous.
|light yellow and deep burgundy okra flowers|
Shishito is a pepper that I have rarely bothered buying because they taste like bell peppers and are a fraction of the size. However, I was guaranteed by the lady at the plant store that these shishito were very spicy so I decided to give it a go. I have decided that they are absolutely fascinating peppers. Most of them have no spiciness whatsoever, but very occasionally there is a spicy one. I'm not sure I would ever grow them again, but they do produce quite well and since they aren't so spicy, the kids don't mind them.
|Hot peppers ripening|
Cilantro is something that I have tried to grow multiple times without too much luck. Dustin and I absolutely love and you just cannot buy it in Japan at least in our area. Every time I plant it, I get a pot of gangly, pitiful looking cilantro plants that never seem to bush out. We do get a meal or two's worth and that is usually enough for to help stave off the intense cravings until I can plant some more.
We also planted tomatoes on our side yard in our usual spot next to the compost bin. Within no time they turned into a dense tomatoey jungle that began to trail over the side of our wall and into the ditch. Our neighbours often come by and give me gardening lectures about how I should trim every side branch off to turn them into tall skinny tomato trees, which is how everyone seems to grow tomatoes around here, but I find that the plants just produce way less when I do that. Last year I was very careful about pruning but it was the worst tomato harvest I'd ever had. This year I only pruned occasionally, mostly let the tomatoes do their thing, and had huge yields despite the all the rain. I actually tried weighing all that I harvested over the summer and somewhere around 25 kilos I stopped bothering. All this from only 3 plants!
Our house is right next to a small train line and the whole strip beside the train tracks used to be filled with vegetable gardens. About a year ago the neighbourhood was given a letter from the city saying we weren't allowed to plant gardens in this space. The majority of people complied but there are still a few gardens here and there. When my brother was out visiting in May, he encouraged me to feign ignorance of this letter and clear some space to grow some more vegetables. I pretty quickly caved to his bad influence and now have a sneaky secret garden. I decided to plant only short, non obvious plants, that couldn't be seen quite as easily from the train or street. So I chucked in a few sweet potato vines, cucumber plants, and peanut plants (which promptly died). I am curious to dig up my sweet potatoes soon and see if they grew!