Into the Dirt: Growing a Taste of Japan in Michigan

Garden aficionado and JCMU Fiscal Officer Kitty Douglass-Harris snaps into action as the weather warms. Part 3 of this blog series has her updating us on the layout of her garden, with comments on the use of soil and fertilizer in the U.S. and Japan.

Finally, some sunshine! Mother Nature gave us a wonderful gift this past month – sunny weather with cool breezes, and a little bit of rain (but not the downpours we’ve been having for weeks on end). I took the hint and have been working hard on the veggie garden.

My garden consists of three individual beds that are each about 15-20 feet long and 3 feet wide. They are in a south-facing patch in my backyard, which regularly gets between 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day (when the sun shines, that is). Since this is the first time that I’ve planted out these plots in a number of years, the soil has been left fallow, but still in pretty good condition. The first step was to till the beds, which loosened the soil and allowed to me to remove the weeds that had grown. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a small garden tiller from my colleague, Chad (another gardener in the JCMU office) which made pretty short work of the rows.

In turning the soil, I did discover some clay, so I decided to amend it with some additional garden soil from my local hardware store. I noticed while I was living in Japan that many of the vegetables gardens are fertilized using ground fish meal or compost made at home by the gardener (those that didn’t have irrigation channels in their gardens, that is). Below, you can see the rows in progress: the first is amended, the second is tilled but still waiting for more soil, and the third (nearest the fence) awaits tiller treatment.

The early stages of my garden

I did try to start some seeds in trays indoors about three weeks ago… without much success. My seedlings (those that did sprout) were yellow and tiny – likely due to lack of light. These were mostly my tomatoes and non-Asian vegetables, though I’m afraid that my Japanese cucumbers were some of the saddest seedlings in the bunch. Conceding defeat, I traipsed out to my local garden center to check for some replacements that could go right into the ground. I was very pleased with what I found – a number of varieties were available, including these Japanese eggplants (aubergines/nasu)!

Eggplant (nasu/ナス)

The first row is now fully planted, and as we are due to have sunny weather all week long, I’m hoping to have rows #2 and #3 done by next weekend. I’ll be keeping a careful watching on the seedlings to make sure that they receive enough water (drought is just as dangerous as flood, as any farmer will tell you) as well as to ensure that weeds don’t crowd them during these early days of development. Hopefully, we’ll see a strong showing for harvest towards the end of the summer!

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