Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fighting with BUGS.

The other day, R said to me “You are becoming a real farmer.”

I hope to become a farmer – I know I can work in our garden only summer tho.

To become a professional farmer, the person required to have knowledge of chemistry, bugs, relationships of all kinds of bugs and plants, weather, etc, etc! I do not understand why farmers tend to be looked down upon as a occupation. Their knowledge is practical and useful as well unlike people who deal with non-practical ideas and get high salary. It does not make sense.

R and I discussed briefly having a chicken in the garden as a patroller of pests and I would love to, but it is not our reality now, maybe next year or a few years later. Right now, we have Que to find rodents. She seldom attacks them, just watch, though, I really do not want her to have a contact with rodents since they carry diseases, but it is good to have a cat to discourage them to live in our garden. It is amazing she seems to scan her environment very quickly and detects small movement on the ground that humans are not aware of.

We found a vole thanks to Que. I have not seen any voles after that, and have not had any damages. Just in case, I ordered peppermint oil to repel voles or mice.

Since I am popular among mosquitoes, I minimize to expose my skin as much as I can. Only my hands and face are exposed in my “farming” style. I wear long pants, long socks, T-shirt + arm covers, a towel on my head + hat. It is really hot, but as long as taking water often, no problems. I found it is very nice to feel breeze in soaked T-shirt by sweat. It takes me to a refrigerator from sauna within a second, and I can look forward to the next breeze. Exciting, isn’t it.

Arm cover (below).

And, cotton snood around my neck.

I found this is very useful to wipe sweat. Unlike a towel, it stays around my neck while working and just rotate it when the part attached to the neck get wet. I thought this is an excellent idea, so made some for sale and listed on etsy :) They are made with Japanese tenugui, cotton face towel. Cute, isn’t it?

My morning begins with a morning coffee served by R, Que, and R. Que often stays around the backyard and watches me working.

She often stays inside of the sun room as well. I cannot blame her since it’s so hot outside.

A few days ago, we had R’s birthday which is the day of harvesting the pumpkins being ready to cut.

The sizes of pumpkins are smaller than the one we had last year. I think it is because the one last year naturally began to grow from compost at where the pumpkin determined as the good place and the good time, but this year’s ones were planted where and when I liked. In other words, the last year’s one chose where and when to grow, but I chose the environment for this year’s ones.

I have some tomatoes this year that came out naturally and they are growing much better than the ones I planted. Even in the same bed, naturally growing ones and planted by me ones are growing differently. So, I expect to have a good crop from butternut squash and melon that came out from compost as well as the tomatoes this year. It can be said the same for flowers as well. It may be interesting to have a garden next year that is totally unknown what will be growing, but only the compost knows :)

So, about fighting with bugs as the title says.

I have an acquaintance who has a PhD with stink bugs. When I heard about her some years ago, people including me wondered “why stink bugs”? I see stink bugs in a house every winter but I did not mind it since they are harmless. They sometimes surprise me by flying loud or walking on my desk, but that’s it. This year, I realized stink bugs are pests for gardens.

Vegetables come from gardens and there is no garden without bugs. Bugs are everywhere, and millions of kinds of bugs are playing their roles in the ecosystem. We cannot live without bugs even pests since beneficial bugs feed on pests (adults or larva). Many people just do not realize how bugs are important for our life. But at the same time, we need to protect our food from pests. Using pesticide is not an option at all from the beginning of my garden life since it screws up the balance of the ecosystem by killing beneficial bugs and bacteria together, which makes the soil dead. It is just like a lie – one lie generates another lie to cover the first lie -, once the ecosystem balanced off, it keeps falling apart and the system itself collapses.

I do not control the population of the pests in my garden until I see the warning sign of my crop is destroyed. See first if beneficial bugs can take care of the pest and if not, I have to do something. I noticed that there are not many wasps around our garden this year. Wasps are necessary in a garden as they are predators that feed on many kinds of pests.

Tomato Hornworm that was able to grow large without a presence of wasps. This guy was really big as it reminded me of a pig. It intimidated me when realized to be attacked by swinging its body and the dance was strong enough to shake the tomato plants itself. It also sounded teeth to threatening me.

Harlequin stink bugs can destroy entire crops if not treated, in the turnip green and mustard green bed.

I was initially picking them by chopsticks and drop them into soapy water. But it appeared to me the population is large and I need to do something else. I did some research and learned the best trap for stink bugs introduced by Virginia Tech university research group as the best trap.

According to the research group, stink bugs are attracted to the light and dive into the soapy water in the pan directly. Unfortunately, it did not work for me. Since I realized stink bugs do not bite or sting, I started to catch them directly by my hands. Also, every time I pick the vegetable to eat, I often found a group of eggs on the back of leaf, so I was able to eliminate 50-100 future harlequin bugs every day. I now think their population is under control.

I did not know I actually took a good strategy without knowing about the harlequin bugs. Many farms seem to plant turnip greens and mustard greens for the bugs to protect the main crops such as kale, tomatoes, and squashes. Apparently, they eat most of plants, so giving them a home to stay and burn the bed when the population becomes large.

Another bug – Squash Vine Borer.

They live inside of vine of squash family such as pumpkin and zucchini. I did surgeries three times to take the larva out from pumpkin vines.

One of the plants survived, one is still alive, and one was dead but still left a pumpkin.

This is my second year of managing the vegetable garden, and is bringing me a lot of new experience. I hate to see my plants die due to these bugs, but this is merely a process of wild nature. There is a reason for plants to leave a lot of seeds for the next generation, that is because most cannot make it. I admire a plant that was able to grow big after so many possibilities of being abused by the environment.

I would be able to do better next year with my new experience from this summer, and I look forward to the next year already.

Friday, June 30, 2017

"You are in my prayers"

R's relative's mother has passed away yesterday.
The email from her included the phrase "Keep us in your prayers" which is very common in the U.S. Her email was very short and I have met her only once, but when I saw the phrase I felt what I did not feel before due to lack of my understanding of American culture.

6 years of college education (actually 7 years including an ESL year before being able to take credit classes. I took my first PSY class (101) in 2012 January) taught me a lot about the U.S. A lot of negative things, but people are the same everywhere. Culture, including religions accordingly, gives us a different mind set that derived from ways of survival based on what and how much resources we have. It's not something to fight about pursuing righteousness, we are just humans that can adapt environment.

I shrunk a lot by realizing how much I don't know and R knows much, much more than whole of my life, but my quality of life increased very much. He is my man, and we plan to marry after my graduation. He can put up with everything of me and gives me whatever I want, and we appreciate each other. I do not know what he is getting from me, but he says he won't leave me, so that's ok.

I did not know how "community" works in this country since it's a lot different from Japan. I think I made a huge mistake in Fairfax community, where I used live before moving here, when I left there. I did not make an official announcement to the group about I was leaving. I thought I would come back and nothing would be changed, but things do not go that way. Also, I misunderstood what individualism is as people do whatever they want when they want to do without restrictions or social obligations. I had some distance between them and me with confusions. My culture does not suggest to discuss private matters in public, but I felt people know everything about me from the events (which only people who know my history in Northern Virginia understand what I mean). I now realize that I was fully accepted there, but I, without knowing, rejected them. I kept myself quiet, but I think I should have opened my mouth more to explain who I am, but I did not know what to say since I thought I can't please them and I do not want to bother people.

I am hoping I can relate myself to people around me better with the new understanding of American culture in future. It would be difficult because I need to make myself comfortable as well by establishing me as an individual.

This summer, I am mentally too tired to go out to see people. I am so far skipping all of university's events and social gatherings that I was not supposed to miss, although I wanted to see a few people I like. My garden is my whole world right now hoping myself to charge energy for the next semester.

Every morning, I look forward to seeing the growth of R's birthday gift for this year.

I have almost a month. Hope they survive until then.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Gardening Days

A month has passed since my summer break began. I have been enjoying working in my garden every day, which can be actually physical exercise by digging or tilling the ground to make new beds, transferring compost to the beds, and carrying bricks to frame the beds, etc. I got tanned this year as well as last year.

I am trying to do organic garden which rely on the ecosystem in my backyard to grow vegetables. I see there are many earthworms under the soil this year. Once a nice ecosystem is established, I do not have to worry about taking care of pests, sickness of plants, and fertilize the soil because all would be taken care of by the nature. I still need to protect leafs from butterflies trying to ray their eggs on by covering them with nets or something, though, I do not need pesticides and fertilizer also no tilling after the first year, which is the whole point of an organic garden.

I am realizing that I am taking more time to make compost than working with soil and taking care of the plants in my garden. Once the plants are planted, they grow without much of my hands. Also, I have not had a serious pest problem for far.

For example, I was wondering why ladybugs were staying on parsnip flowers even before many aphids appeared. They were even mating so often, and I understood they knew their food will appear soon.

Now the flowers are occupied by aphids,

and I started to see many ladybug's babies walking around the flowers that average 10 on the parsnip plant,

and I found they turned to be pupas today.

The parsnip flowers would be an excellent environment for the ladybugs with plenty of food. I hope they populate more and eat all the aphids up!

My garden speaks a lot to me every day. Since I wanted to record more details of my garden, I started a new twitter account only about my garden.

I can do the same on Facebook though, I do not want to overwhelm my Facebook friends by pictures of my garden every hour. Twitter is a convenient tool as it works the best on my iPad mini, but Facebook app works so slow, and crashes and freeze so often, which makes me use it less. Also, I do not have time to sit with my computer to make a new post on this blog every day either.

About Que.

She is officially an outdoor cat now. She has managed her first adventure beyond our backyard, and safely came back to home. She now knows where her home is. This is my first time to have an outdoor cat, so I am learning a lot about the part of cats that I did not know about.

I thought she was successfully became a friend with Vella (a female cat that belongs to the people who live in a house across the street),

but she rather stay around home or in our backyard very often lately.
I think she may be feeling that outside of her territory (home and the backyard) is a dangerous world. She has run into home immediately after she saw 4 dogs coming toward her in the next door's backyard, and she has been chased by a big orange cat on the street. I am happy she did not get panicked and eventually lost. So I enjoy her staying around me while I am working in my garden.

Sometimes, she looks so hot outside, but she does not go inside unless I go in. She may be a 50% dog and 50% cat.

We are soon in July. I cannot wait my plants grow faster.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Summer Break!

The Spring is finally over, and I am totally happy with it, but not feeling like "SUMMER!!" since I still have to think of my thesis. My last day of the classes was so pleasant and I enjoy the last moment of no need to be prepared for a quiz.

I enjoyed crocheting charity baby hats instead of studying for a quiz.

This semester, this bag was always with me. It helped me as a tranquilizer which offered me a moment of making my mind blank.

I studied so hard this semester, and finished with good grades, but not sure if this worth for something. It helps me a lot to receive scholarships from Hollins, though. No debt after graduation is nice.

On the day that my last paper was submitted, I cleaned everywhere of my home, and put materials used in the classes, my notes, papers, and exams returned etc in the box of 'school' and pushed it away under back of my computer table. Next day, got some seeds and seedlings for my garden, and planted them.

It's really nice to have my own garden.
Sweet peas.

I almost forgot about sweet peas I planted last fall, and it was becoming like weed. One day, I found white flowers were blooming, and they made peas.

These suddenly appeared and I thought they were lovage since it looked very similar to it. It really smells like celery as well. My friend told me it looked like something else, and it reminded me of I seeded parsnips last fall. Since it did not germinate last year, I completely forgot about it. I checked how the roots is growing, and appeared it not edible, so decided to keep them grow and enjoy the top part.

I have garlic planted last fall, and their leaves (left corner) are edible as well. I have been enjoying nice fragrance of vegetables so far.

Parsnip flower.


Green Onions. They came from the vegetable wastes.

Green Onion flower. We (Japanese) call it 'Negi Bozu.'

Buckwheat flower and a bug.


It has been almost two months since I started to add vegetable wastes that CO-OP lets me take anytime they are available - other people also come to get it -.

I have plenty of old leaves that came from my neighbors and my backyard, they are making big piles. Virginia Cooperative Extension taught me that making layers of ‘green matter’ such as vegetable wastes and grass, and ‘brown matter’ such as old leaves and wooden chips is one of the ways of making good compost, so I have been doing it. It is interesting that there is no smell of spoiled vegetables, accordingly, bugs attracted to it, once it was covered by the leaves.

This pile is a result of old leaves without shredding left for 2 years and it is now a good soil. Its height started at the level of my chest, then shrunk to my waist, then now at my knee.

Today, I was curious how the old vegetable wastes added about 1 - 2 month ago turned out, and could not find any. It became completely part of the soil, which is amazing. The amount of vegetable I added was quite a lot, which included fiber ones like whole celery, they all disappeared!

Gardening is so much fun. It offers me a new story of the backyard everyday and so much to learn. Also, working in a garden become good exercise, practical than going to gym, and it's an activity with R to do together.

I now started to think of how I can manage my time for sewing. I want to do fabric dye this year as well and want to make quilts for etsy.

Anyway, hope my summer turns to be wonderful like the last year.