City life in Japan may not look suited to growing food, but look again! Urban farming consultant Jon Walsh shares tips on tending a vegetable garden, even if it’s only on your verandah or inside your apartment.
In the latter part of the program, NHK Newsline meteorologist Tsietsi Monare explains the risk of heatstroke and offers approaches to fending it off.
Living in Japan.
Hello and thanks for stopping by. I'm Stuart. And I'm Ruth.
Living in Japan is a program for international residents of Japan, whether you're here now or expect to be in the future.
Our goal is helping you make the most of your life.
Ruth, making the most of living spaces is something that many people struggle with, especially in urban areas like Tokyo.
I know. Japan had small living spaces here long before the phrase "tiny houses" became a thing.
Yeah, they present a real lesson in being satisfied with what you've got, of course. But today's program will prove you can do more with what you've got than you think, including "farming."
What? Farming in an apartment?
Well, kind of, yeah. I mean, growing some food of your own, of course.
Yes. Even in tiny houses.
HINTS FROM SENPAISenpai is the Japanese word for someone who's a step ahead of you, like you are. Every month we invite a senpai in so we can listen and learn.
Today, it's Jon Walsh, an urban farming consultant. He's been in Japan more than 20 years, sharing his urban farming know-how. He's held seminars, spoken in schools, and even built a vegetable garden for chefs inside a famous Tokyo hotel! Great to have you with us, Jon.
Thanks for having me.
OK, Jon. What exactly is urban farming?
Urban farming is just what it says. It's basically growing your own food in urban spaces. You can do it almost anywhere inside or outside, and big spaces or small. I show people how to grow food at home and community gardens, and by doing so, people can develop life skills to stay healthy, support the environment, and move toward greater self-sufficiency. And you'll also grow some really good things to eat.
That's always nice.
Excellent. So how did you get started with all of this?
I basically got started with two major natural disasters that happened about 12 years ago. Yeah.
The first one was two major quakes hit Christchurch in my home country of New Zealand. And then the following month, in March 2011 an earthquake and a tsunami hit Tohoku here in Japan. And those two disasters made me realize that if a major quake hit Tokyo, which it could happen today, and supermarkets got destroyed and food supplies got cut off, where would food come from? Yeah.
And so, I basically thought that it would be a really good idea just to be growing food at home. So, I basically started off just by buying a pot and some soil and a packet of spinach seeds, and I put the spinach seeds into the pot, put some water on them, and then started growing. And then within a month, I had a spinach plant, and I was just blown away. I was just like, this is magic. Wow.
Just put some seeds in soil in a pot and put it in a sunlit space and water it frequently. That's all it takes to grow food.
Wow. A friend of mine living in the countryside has made a wonderful garden, and I'm envious. But I thought that wouldn't be possible where I live. But I guess it is possible.
Yes. You just basically just have to try it. And you will make mistakes. And some things won't work. And some things will work, but you just have to make more mistakes. And that's the way to learn how to do what's right.
That's true in life, generally. That's the theme of my life.
But I don't want to make too many mistakes, of course, So I'd like your advice on becoming a brilliant or a better urban farmer.
Okay. Yeah, that's a good point. The first tip is to basically look for where the sun shines. Look for where the sun shines and put most of your plants there. This is a really important tip. Food grows just about anywhere that receives good sunlight. So that might be your balcony. That might be the rooftop. It might be an unused driveway or a car park.
Yeah, I didn't think of that.
Or even inside a large sunlit window. Inside your house.
Inside. Yeah, yeah, inside.
Unused driveway. That's a really good point.
That's a great idea.
Another recommendation is to basically grow food on walls. This is called vertical gardening. Pots can be attached to walls, to fences and gates, or they can even be suspended from like beneath your balcony. It helps to utilize dead spaces that receive sunshine so that you can actually use them to grow food.
All right, so what about those who can't find any sunlight at all?
Okay, that's gonna be a lot of people. Yeah, it is. Good point.
Many people live on the dark side of mansions that don't receive much sunshine. On the dark side.
If you have no space to grow at all, just talk to your friends, talk to your workmates, and ask them if they have a sunlit rooftop or space at work or next to their house and just ask them, "Can I come over and grow some food? And we'll share." A friend of mine, he works at a large legal company here in Tokyo, and he was growing tomatoes inside his office cafe in November. Wow.
And tomatoes normally stop growing outside in September. So, and what was working with him was that his office, thanks to the heating system, was warm inside, warm enough to grow tomatoes inside.
So, it was working kind of like a greenhouse? Exactly.
Superb, yeah. Okay, so not all crops require bright sunlight, do they?
That's correct. Yeah, yeah. Some plants, especially on the green leafy ones like spinach and mizuna and so on, they just need just a few hours of sunlight per day. So, you're going to be pretty good if you don't have much sunlight, just grow the green leafy vegetables. If you have a lot of sunlight, six to eight hours, you can grow things like tomatoes and cucumbers that need more sunlight.
Some of our listeners maybe don't have green fingers, so what crops do you recommend for first-time farmers?
That's a great question. The first thing I would basically recommend is to go with baby leaf. Baby leaf seeds, you can be eating them in about 12 to 14 days from when you sow them. Oh, my goodness.
They grow really quickly. Really quickly.
And then the larger the plant, the longer they take to grow, so we could start with baby leaves. You could grow radishes, hatsuka-daikon. They take about 20 days. Mizuna, very quick growing spinach. Just start with the smaller plants. And if they work, you'll be more motivated to grow larger plants.
Yeah, and how about are there any fruit that you can grow?
Yes, many people would just start with a simple strawberry. Oh.
I'm hopeless at growing strawberries myself, but I know many people that can. So, put a strawberry in a pot or in a hanging planting container, and put it in the sun. Excellent. And water it daily.
Okay. We have some great ideas about what to grow and where to grow it. But how about preparing the soil and the seeds? Surely that requires a fair amount of investment, financially, of course.
No, not at all. What's nice about growing your own vegetables is that you can produce far more with far less than you would likely spend on groceries. This is partly because water and sunshine are free. Yes.
You can pick up a good packet of seeds for about one or 200 yen, and a large 25-liter bag of soil costs about the same price as a large coffee from a coffee shop. Okay.
Flowerpots and planter boxes very cheap. You can buy them from like 100-yen shops and supermarkets. And if you're really keen, you can just make your own. So, you can be really creative when it comes to growing your own food, which is just good fun. You can also use and recycle two-litter plastic bottles to grow food in too.
Wow, wait, how do you do that?
You've just got to cut the bottle in half so that you have two pots. Okay.
And then with the half with the cap, you just place a tiny little plastic pot net inside the bottle so that the liquid comes out. And with the other half of the bottle, which will be the bottom half, you've just got to make some water drainage holes down the bottom. And then you put some soil in there, and then you can either sprinkle some seeds or plant a seedling. And you can also hang them up. Ah.
Hang them up?
Yep. These are what I call "chain gardens." And chain gardens are basically a garden on a chain. It's that simple. And to make them, you just have to get a long chain and suspend both ends, and then you just hook your cut-in-half two-liter PET bottles. And on one chain, you could have up to like 50 different pots.
Okay. Now I'm looking at the photo on our website. Please have a look 'cause it's fantastic. It seems ingenious. I mean, it's great. It makes me really want to experiment.
Yes, you have complete freedom when it comes to using pots. And you don't even have to use pots at all. You can use things like shopping bags or old... shopping bags...boots or coffee cups or group bags or recycle containers or pots or tins or terracotta pots. You can use a whole range of things.
Basically anything. That's good!
Any clean container can be used to grow food. Yes.
Okay, with all the sizes of pots out there, how do you choose the right one?
Okay. Yeah, it's good to go big. Plants basically grow. They'll grow bigger in larger pots. If you put a small if you put a plant in a small pot, they won't grow very big. If you put in a large pot, it will grow bigger. So, if you want a larger plant, more leaves, and more food, use a larger pot.
I call this the "bonsai effect." Bonsai effect!
Basically, if it's small, you want to keep something small, you grow it in a small pot. If you want something to go big, you make the space bigger for it. It's quite an easy, easy concept to grasp.
Okay, you guys, this all sounds really good, but I have a problem, being from Hawaii, that might be a deal breaker. I'm actually quite afraid of bugs, and I'm thinking that if I plant stuff on my balcony, it would invite more bugs. How can I avoid them? Because I still want to have these yummy vegetables, but how do I avoid the bugs?
That's a great question, Ruth. Yeah, the simple way is just to cover them with a net. Oh.
And if you do that, you can keep the butterflies off your plants. And if you keep the butterflies away, you won't have any caterpillar problems. You can also make a range of do-it-yourself sprays… Oh… that use just things you'll find around your house like liquid soap, water and vinegar.
Oh, they don't like that. Oh, got it. Okay.
So, what's the most rewarding thing about growing your own food?
Oh, where do I start? First of all, it's going to taste much better. It'll be safer. It'll be healthier. It'll be cheaper. And you won't have to go far to actually access it when you grow it yourself at home. And it'll be organic if you don't use any chemicals. And one more thing is too that urban farming is really good for your community. As I started to grow vegetables, the harvest that I produced was way more than my family could eat. So, I started to share the food with my neighbors.
That's nice! Yeah, that was really good fun.
Yes, amazing communication isn't it, yeah.
And in schools where I teach. I've taught more than one and a half thousand students now. Whatever the kids grow, the food that they don't eat, we donate it to our local food bank, which is a really good community support exercise. That's true. That's fantastic.
Yes. I think it's an important life skill for anybody, anywhere, any time.
Wonderful insight today, Jon. Thank you so much for joining us. Today's senpai is Jon Walsh.
Thanks a lot for having me. Thank you.
GOOD TO KNOWOkay, now it's time for our next corner. The weather is always something that's always good to know. So, we're happy to welcome back NHK Newsline meteorologist, Tsietsi Monare. Tsietsi, nice to see you again.
Thank you. Nice to see you, too. Thank you for inviting me.
Glad to see you again.
Now, what do we need to know about enjoying the summer weather without overdoing it?
Oh, well, a summer in Japan and like many other parts of the world, is very beautiful, filled with fun at the beach, at the parks, you know, going out for a barbecue, but it's also dangerous at times. We here in Japan are usually under the North Pacific High Pressure System, and that causes a very hot and humid summer as temperatures are driven sky high. And this year, some parts of the country have already reported several heat strokes as early as April. Can you imagine that?
Wow, That's still kind of spring, right? Yeah, wow.
Well, my daughter, she's an avid walker. She loves to walk everywhere. And she was walking recently in Aichi prefecture, which was supposedly particularly hot recently, and she was enjoying it so much that she decided to push herself to get some more exercise and walk and walk and walk. But later on, after, it was actually the next day, she started to get a really bad headache and a high fever. And she was out of commission for about three days, and it was a first-time experience for her. That's horrible.
Yeah, yeah. it actually does sound horrible. And that's usually what happens in summer. You know, you need to actually limit your activity. You need to drink more water than what you usually, you know, used to, which you are accustomed to, just to stay normally hydrated. And sometimes, you know, you don't even realize what the risks are. Yeah.
And let me just tell you some of the other things that you need to watch out for. Okay, yes, please. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Well, first and foremost, I would say that heat strokes can occur even when you're sitting inside your home. What?
Yeah. Especially when you're falling asleep because your senses actually go low. The body's defense mechanism usually reduces a little bit when you're sleeping, so, you know, how you regulate your body temperature does not work as much as when you're wide awake and when you're conscious. So, you know, it's always good to keep your room comfortable at all times, try to use an air conditioner, use fans, sometimes you can use a combination of both. And having a thermometer that shows the air temperature is always a good thing, because I mean, sometimes you can't tell. You think the temperature is 25, but, you know, it feels even hotter.
It could be like 28 or something, you don't know.
Yeah, I always, every morning, wake up in an absolute sea of sweat. It's horrible. I really sweat a lot normally. But yeah, especially after sleeping.
Yeah, yeah. Of course, sweating is there to keep your body cool down, but at the same time, you release a lot of that water that you have in your body. And it's very risky because that can actually lead to heatstroke. So, therefore you need to go back to that first point of drinking a lot more water. And one sign you might not pay attention to is basically dry eyes. We usually have dry eyes during the wintertimes. Yeah.
So, it shouldn't really happen in summer because it's so humid, it's so moist. So, if that happens, that is a good sign that something is not right.
Okay. Got to be careful about having a dry eye during the summer. Understood. Cool.
Yeah. One more thing. You know, it's always important to always check your weather forecast, which will have forecast for heatwave, also known as neppa in Japanese. Yeah, it is a period of extremely hot temperatures or hot weather lasting several days between three and five days, sometimes can even be longer. You should be able to find out when a heatwave is going to take place. In the summer, always expect one. Those are relatively predictable, so it's easy for us to tell when one is coming well in advance. Yeah.
So how long in advance?
Sometimes depending on how the Pacific high pressure moves up and down from the north, as well as the off-coast pressure, we can tell three or four days in advance. Yeah. That's good. So yeah. Yes.
You can also find heat stroke risk information on NHK WORLD-JAPAN's English news website. It's basically, if you also tune on like the live section, you might be lucky enough in find my face and voice there. Great. Absolutely, yeah.
It's really nice to know that you can predict these things quite early so that we can be prepared and get ready in advance.
Yes, yes. That's what we strive to do. Our weather forecasts and predictions are basically here to plan your picnics for you and also save your life.
Thank you, Tsietsi-san.
Well, thank you very much, guys
It's great to see you. Thanks for coming again.
ENDINGI'm getting ready to grow some spinach on my veranda. Excited.
That sounds fantastic. Yeah. I'll come over and eat some of your spinach then.
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Keep cool indeed. Bye.