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So excited, must talk about my 1/4 acre!

May 8, 2004

We are about to sign a contract for our dream home, on a quarter acre in the mountains, about 7Km from where I teach. At the top will be the house, with a long, narrow greywater wetland ending in a pond for the ducks we will get. The bottom of the land, just above the neighbor's rice paddy, will be the vegetable garden, and in-between will be a forest garden of fruit and nut trees, nestled in between the bamboo groves on both sides of the property.

But I won't be able to work on most of that (besides the greywater system) until next spring. And one of the conditions of the purchase was that we use the owner's cousin's brother's construction company to clear the bamboo and grade the land. So we will have a fifth of an acre of raw earth, scarred by heavy machinery, on a gentle slope to the south. There is no way out of that. I tried, even offering to pay them not to do it. Nope. Part of the deal. (sigh)

So my plan is to take all the packets of seeds that I have been collecting for the past few years (close to a hundred varieties), and make seed balls with some clay and compost. I am pretty excited about this actually. I will use alfalfa and oats as the base (I have a pound of oats and alfalfa each) and about another pound of various seeds. Then I will sow the balls on the land after the machinery is done. While my poly-culture/cover-crop is doing its thing, I will be finishing the interior of the house, and waiting for the new baby.

I think I will set aside a small corner of this to see what happens after the next year. Will they re-seed? Will weeds take over? Hmm...

Thanks for listening everyone! If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them! And keep your fingers crossed for us... we still haven't heard from the bank...

Eric in Japan

Comments (24)

  • Eric_Burke

    We took two more steps on the way to our dream.
    Yesterday we met with the builder, who is going to donate fir to panel our toilet room with the composting toilet! He was almost as excited about the sawdust toilet and greywater wetland as I was! He has never heard of this system in Japan, and wants to use ours as a testing ground it seems.

    Today we had a meeting with the owner and put down a cool million as a downpayment, with the other two mill due in a month or so. Yen, not dollars of course. For all of you wondering: +/- $9,000 US. Now we just need the bank loan for the house construction...

    The construction guy who is cutting the bamboo is going to leave the trees! Two Japanese plums, and a REALLY big persimmon. The other trees I want to replace with some fruit trees.

    Does anyone have any ideas for a persimmon guild? This is what I have thought of so far.
    I want to put a goumi (relative of russian olive, N fixer), and some wolfberries under it, with a ring of garlic and daffodills at the drip line, and a mix of nitrogen fixers and high carbon inside the ring. Maybe my alfalfa and oats from the post above, with some comfrey for good measure.

    Thanks jessiecarole for your post on the SCM conversations forum! I appreciate it!

    Eric in Japan

  • Eric_Burke

    Yesterday, I sat down and played in the mud. I made seedballs to spread all over my new garden, since I won't be able to tend it regularly over the summer.

    That was such an amazing experience, making seedballs! I took 5 parts of clay, 3 parts of compost, and one part seeds (94 kinds of vegetable seeds, if you can believe it! All the old seed packets I have bought and used only bits and pieces of for the past 5 years!)
    I mixed the clay and seeds together, added the compost, then slowly added water. I am afraid that I may have used too much water, and that the seedballs will sprout before I can sow them.
    The most interesting thing was how the balls organized themselves! I would pick up a pinch of the mix, and start rolling it between my palms, and it would crumble. But then, I would feel it coalesce into 4, 5, or even six little tiny balls the size of raisins, and then into one large ball like a big grape. If I kept on rolling it, it would break apart and start over again.
    If I had to do it again, I would make a MUCH smaller batch. I mixed up 18L of soil worth, and started rolling at 8:30PM, and finished at 12:00AM. All the time sitting on the ground. Now they are drying on the porch in the shade.

    And today, I visited the site again. The poor bamboo forest has been uprooted, and the roots dug out. The scarred land was crying out to me, but it has to wait a bit longer. But there are more trees than I thought. I am already imagining what the seedballs will do to the barren dirt there. What will it be like? Which seeds will take? Will I just have a big field of alfalfa and oats? Or will the cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli and so on find their own niche? I will keep you updated with photos when I have the time. And try making seedballs! It was really a powerful experience.

    Eric In Japan

    Here is a link that might be useful: How To Make Seedballs

  • jessiecarole

    You must be very excited, Eric! I wish this forum was still as active as it was in the beginning.

    I find the seed ball concept very interesting, as I tend to toss seed and be delighted when they grow. I have plenty of clay and this will inspire me to make compost. I can imagine preparing a bed (which would, for me, mean raking back the top, rough layer of OM) and scattering the seedballs.

    I would like to know how you came to live in Japan, if you care to tell us.

    do continue to update us on the progress of your place.


  • Eric_Burke

    Well, I came to Japan as a college student 10 years ago. The plan was to stay for six months.... To make a long story short, I fell in love with Japan, then with a Japanese woman, and now I am here for good. I will always be an American, but I have felt myself drifting away from it a bit, mostly for political reasons. But that is not a subject for a GW post.
    But on an update, the seedballs are dried and boxed in two cardboard boxes, and the upper tier of the land is cleared and ready to build on. The bottom is still being de-rooted. That should be done next week I think. Then I will be scattering seeds just in time for the rainy season.
    Does anyone know if you can burn bamboo in a woodstove? Will it work OK? Because I have a LOT of bamboo now, and we will be moving in in September/October.
    Eric in Japan

  • Eric_Burke

    Well, I finally got to spread my seed balls. I rode my bike up the mountain between classes, and tossed them out. Now I just wait for the rainy season to do its work. There are still four Japanese plum trees, two persimmon, one "Kiri", and a palmetto on the land. I am so excited to see what will happen.
    Well, it is back to class now. More later, particularly when they start to sprout!
    Eric in Japan

  • Eric_Burke

    One week later, the seedballs have sprouted! I went up to the mountain on my break, just like last week, and I found that my seedballs have dozens of different seeds sprouting from them! It is so amazing! In some of them, the force of the sprouting broke the ball in half, and I found the other half a centimeter away! Now was that natural, or did something distub it? But it is really neat. I could tell that quite a few of the sprouts are radish/daikon, and there is at least one oat growing from each ball. Now for the natural thinning. Survival of the fittest (for each microclime, at least)! I will keep records of which plant won the battle in each location, that way I will know where the best places are to plant (purposely) each veggie in the future.

    I finally looked up "Kiri" in my dictionary, it is a paulownia tree. And it has another sprout from it! In Japan, they say that you should plant a paulownia tree when your daughter is born, that way you can cut it and make a dresser for her dowry. (No, they don't still have dowrys here) Man, those trees grow FAST! The three year old tree's trunk is as thick as a grown man's calf. No wonder you can make chest out of it in 15 years. (again, nobody marries at 15 anymore here. Average age is around 30.)

    I am just so excited that my balls are so.... If I say "fertile" here, it sure makes that sentence sound dirty. Let's try this- I'm sure glad my SEEDballs are doing so well.

    Eric in Japan

  • Sandra_olderthandirt

    Eric, this is your milk of magnesia in minnesota, I liked reading about you 1/4 acre. I look forward to seeing it some day. I have a question, will the persimmon trees have fruit? or are they just going to be pretty? I am really excited about your new digs too.

  • Eric_Burke

    Thanks Mom!
    The persimmons are going to fruit, according to the previous owner of the land. But they are not sweet persimmons, so I will have to dry them- But I love them even more when they are dry, so that is not a problem!
    To dry a persimmon, peel the skin off, but do NOT remove the thick stem at the top. Tie the persimmons to a long string, and hang them up to dry for a few months outside. When they are shriveled and dark brown, and have the texture of leather, they are so sweet and delicious. I will be eating them well into spring!

    Eric in Japan (glad his mom is finally on GW too!)

  • crabjoe

    I just stumbled on to this forum and now you have me wondering what this 1/4 acre lot looks like. It just sounds wonderful! Please post pics so we, atleast myself, can see you place.


  • Eric_Burke

    A friend and I went up to the land today to check if the well was done. It must be, because they have the pump attached and ready. Whew. They didn't know if they would find water, since there are springs above us, and the ground at one meter is so hard, according to the ground test, it can support a 20 story building or something.

    After that, we set my daughter (1 1/2) to play in some loose dirt with her toy bucket, rake, shovel, and sifter (taking after her old man I guess), and we dug some monstrous holes, which we filled with a rich compost mix, and planted a paw paw tree, and a goumi (in Japanese, gumi). The paw paw looks like a tropical fruit, and tastes like banana, pineapple, and mango. But it is quite hardy. The goumi (a relative of the russian olive) has little red berries, almost like cherries, that are really tart unless they hang on the bush until they start to shrivel a bit. The goumi also fixes nitrogen, so we put it near the pauwlonia-passion fruit guild.
    After, we spread the remaining compost on the square foot corn, sunflower, pole bean and soybean guild. I have two 4x8 plots marked out, with corn and sunflowers in the middle of each square, pole beans in the center intersections, and soybeans on the outer intersections. Will it work? I dunno. I can't get up there to water it regularly, so it is an iffy propostion.

    From my earlier seedball experiment, I have found that the oats and alfalfa really dominate. But some places have tomatoes (but I don't know which of the 15 kinds I included in the seedballs they are!), others have cucumbers, and a good distribution of lettuce plants.

    I am working on a website of my land, but it takes time. Please bear with me. I should have some photos ready soon.

    Eric in Japan

  • Eric_in_Japan

    I finally got around to posting some pictures on my webpage! Take a look!

    Here is a link that might be useful: garden pictures

  • Eric_in_Japan

    Well, the seedballs are doing fine, but the lambsquarters are coming in with a vengance. Which is good in a way, because the shade is keeping the lettuce from bolting, but bad because the lambsquarters are beating my tomatoes!
    What do you think? Pull them?

    Eric in Japan

  • Gambol

    Well... I first thought, "if it competes with the tomatoes, remove it" but then I thought about the lettuce...

    I started reading Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution today and it makes me say, "let it go and us see what appends..."

    If some of them really make the tomatoes suffer, then maybe remove it. That is my opinion about it for today :) Maybe tomorow I will think differently :)

    What are lambsquarters anyway? I'll make a little search...

  • Gambol

    Ok so I first found this page http://www.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/cheal.htm
    It has pictures and latin name "Chenopodium album" so I guess that is what we are talking about.

    If it is the weed in question, then you can easily turn your problem into solution by eating the Fat hen!

    "Uses: dye, soap, anthelmintic, antiphlogistic, antirheumatic, contraceptive, laxative, odontalgic, flowers, leaves, seed" See link below for details.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Chenopodium album

  • TomatoDavid

    Dear Eric
    My wife is Japanese too and organics is my great interest so I found your postings absolutely riveting. I love the look of your block, and pretty well everything you've done and got. We live in Sydney and just moved into a 700 sqm block of pure sand. Well, now pure sand under as much horse manure and alfalfa as I can find (we're surrounded by horses here). I'd be interested to know how your wife feels about all this. My beloved could stand a few more roses and azaleas but the kids love the weeding, the seeding and especially throwing cow manure at each other. Anyway, well done, it looks great.

  • BelgianPupWA

    It's fascinating reading through what you've been doing for the last few months!

    Re: pulling out the weeds: Thinking ahead, what would they be replaced by? Something worse or something better? Nature hates bare ground, you know.

    Re: persimmons. I have never heard of that technique for ripening persimmons before. Usually, you pick them, then lay them out (not touching) & wait until they get soft, which is when you eat them. Before they're soft, they can really pucker your tastebuds!

    Good luck, & keep posting while I drool over all that bamboo!


  • Eric_in_Japan

    Tomato David,
    Congrats on your new property! Sounds like you will have some very nice soil by next year. My wife is looking forward to having a big chunk of wildflowers all around the house. Being Japanese, she is not as into having a patch of green grass as I am (although I just want a little one).

    I was thinking about the weeds, and decided totake a number of different approaches. One is to thin by cutting most of them off at the base and leaving them to rot in place. A second is to pull and mulch the desirable plants near them. The third is to cut, carry, and compost them. I am not too worried about bare ground, the vetch and other plants are spreading like wildfire.

    Now I have found some serious bamboo coming out of a few roots that got left behind. They are all pencil thin whips this year, but I don't want them to get established where they are now. I have a space set aside for them at the bottom of the hill, surrounded by a 50cm ditch.

    On the other hand, I have harvested a lot of cucumbers already! It was fun, walking around, then seeing a beautiful straight eight cucumber hanging from a vine climbing a lambsquarter! I found a lot more after that. But you really have to look for them in all that jungle.

    Eric in Japan

    Here is a link that might be useful: {{gwi:1141328}}

  • BelgianPupWA

    Your crops are coming in!


  • madspinner

    Really fun to keep coming back to see your pictures and information. What a great experiment! If you tried that here, the weeds would just take over and all you would have is orchard grass, daisies, and thistles! Well, we have other weeds too, but you get the idea!

    Good luck and keep posting!

  • swanz

    Great thread Eric..Pretty interesting to see if a family can
    produce much of their own food with just 1/4 acre..


  • bruc33ef

    By now I'm sure you have your house up. But since Bill Mollison says (in his Permaculture writings and videos) that the worst place to put a house is at the highest part of a property, I'm interested what your thinking was about that.

  • Eric_in_Japan

    I must admit, there are some disadvantages to being at the top, but the well doesn't have to pump so hard being up top, and we have a nice view. I think it all depends on the person.

  • brendan_of_bonsai

    I was shocked to see continued posting after reading "waiting for the new baby" On most forums you get a member talking about their baby about to be born then they disappear for about 6 years.

  • Belgianpup

    Eric, reading about the awful earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I wondered if you and your family are all right?

    Sue in WA State

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