Friday, June 29, 2018

On summer bounty: supermarket time vs. forest’s time

Before, I had a simple connotation for “Summer” with lots of veggies. In Japanese summer, vegetables in supermarkets are dominated with colorful palette, compared with earthy tones of fall or winter greens. “How vivid!” You know. Price wise, familiar vegetables, such as tomato and cucumber, are cheaper during summer. Provided not much fluctuation in demand, increased supply creates lower prices, right? “So, summer has plenty of blessings from the mother nature!” … er, these couple of years, I’ve started to notice the story is a bit more complicated. My understanding for “summer bounty” was half-cooked, dominated by marketing of supermarket chains. I’ve learned, at least in Kanto region 関東 July and August are lean season for vegetable farmers if they follow the dictation of the nature. The climax of summer vegetables comes June here, and the mid-summer is holiday for the soil preparing for fall-winter harvests. Hm, yeah, it’s just like us, humans having summer vacation. Watermelons and corns during August in Yokohama are thanks to the advancement of logistics bringing foods with lots of mileages, and heavily artificial agricultural technology up to the level of genetics.

In Yokohama,
 June is the high-season for corns.
This tomato is harvested this morning
 in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Yeah, the matter of food-mileage is here …
 but watermelons from Nagano Prefecture
長野県 is sweet in June.

We in megalopolis Tokyo had several heavy snows during last winter … In February we Niiharu Lovers 新治市民の森愛護会 postponed charcoal baking due to one heavy snowfall. Then, suddenly, temperature shot up and cherry blossoms concluded their party by the end of March. I don’t know if such knee-jerk changes in season have affected the bounty we can receive from the nature … One thing is for sure. This year, the timing for spring to early-summer harvesting like bamboo shoots, plums, berries, etc. from the forests in Yokohama and Kanagawa is 3-4 weeks earlier, and their yield is smaller compared with the last year at least. For weekend caregivers for the forests who made 2018 plan at the end of last year, it’s a disappointing year. Harvesting shoots of Japanese timber bamboo in June is a bit too late this year. The tree of Morella rubra that gave me in 2017 lots of jelly, juice and liquor has completed its fruiting season early June with far smaller fruits. They ignored my holiday schedule completely … That’s the nature … of global warming, perhaps.

The ice in this tab had more than 10cm of thickness this January …
Before June is ending,
 shoots for Japanese bamboos has reached to such maturity already
 … I don’t think any part of them is edible.

Recently, we Niiharu Lovers welcomed several new volunteers. One of them introduced himself “I was born in Shinjuku 新宿, near skyscrapers, and had not seen carrots growing in the soil until I was 17 years old. That was shocking to see them having green leaves sprouting from their top!” He moved in Yokohama several years ago, and became interested in organic farming. He told me the other day he had an exciting visit to the agricultural experiment station of Meiji University in Kawasaki. There, the researchers study the latest methodology of farming including organic and no-till. “You know, to achieve organic or up, they separate everything for growing crops between the organic and standard commercial approaches … seeds, land, tools for growing including tractors and boots. It’s for avoiding contamination. Organic farming takes time to reach to the harvest, but the result could be gorgeous vegetables … If we grow heirloom tomato organically, for one seedling of 5 or 6 branches beginning to produce juicy tomato it takes at least 2 months.” “Wow, is that so? But if we plant a seedling of the same size bought from garden centers, and plant it in our garden with garden compost, we don’t have to wait that long, do we?” “Now, that’s the point! Plants need enough time to yield a fruit, and if that’s shortened, it means some genetic modification, lots of artificial hormones, and/or some other tricks are applied to the commercial plants from garden centers.” “Wooooooow …” “Oh, yeah, I’ve learned it in the experiment station.”

Many kinds of cukes in a garden center.
 I bet you they will fruit within a month in your planter.

Come to think of it, no natural thing declares “Today is the beginning of summer and so we change our mode from spring to summer in terms of sunshine, water, air circulation, soil condition…” Everything in a forest changes according to its own pace that is often seemingly slowly. But the difference in leaves between April and September is enormous at least in Kanagawa Prefecture. Bridal wreath in Tanzawa 丹沢 was gorgeous last May, but already in the end of June they turn into pointy green berries that will be brown in autumn and remain on the branches in next May. White flowers of Japanese snowbell quickly ended their flowering stage in May, and now in June have lots of green balloon-like berries. They’ll have coffee color this fall. In March jamasakura cherries stunningly bloomed. Before we knew it, they now bear tiny fruits falling from the branches to dot the mountain roads of June … Daphne pseudomezereum, which was so distinctive with their freshly green leaves and pretty yellow flowers during monotone winter, now discreetly, stands in the burst of green of hot and humid forests of Kanagawa in June. Then apparently suddenly they bear bright red and oh-so-poisonous fruit that is a sign they are going to shed all the leaves within a couple of weeks to be completely invisible during summer ... I’m a kind of getting used to the clock of forest little by little. Their “time” is definitely different from ours of city-rats. If we force them to follow our pace, it’s the sign of “tons of hormonal drugs applied by humans, you know?” Yeah, it’s fun to have summer holiday of watermelons and corns in August. But now I think I’m going to do it this summer with a sort of trepidation.

In June chestnut trees already have cute burrs.
They are babies of tangerines.
 They need at least 7 more months to be sweet.
Fagara ailanthoides have already had
 this much fruits in June.
 They gradually mature and will be black
 with a bit too much sweet smell in October.
Green young berries of Parabenzoin praecox in June of Yokohama Nature Observation Forest.
 Once upon a time, villagers used the ripened berries and twigs
 of this tree for extracting oils for reading light.
 Oh, by the way, in Nature Observation Forest,
 nothing can be harvested, you know.
In Yokohama in June,
  Orixa japonica also has green fruits already.
 When matured in mid-autumn,
 they turn brown and eject black seeds from their clam-like pod.
 After sprewing the seeds, the pods close again
 and staying pretty on the boughs
 until the new leaves sprout early spring
 … But why do they close the mouth again?
Pretty fruits of Daphne pseudomezereum in June of Yokohama.
 We can find them often in Tanzawa
 where deer lavage the undergrowth.
 The clever creature knows the plant is poisonous,
 and so,
 they do not eat any part of them.
 I wonder why the plant has
 such an appetizing color for their fruits, then
 … They will soon shed all the leaves and fruits
 and become like sticks sprouting from the ground
 during high-summer.
 That’s their shape to have summer holiday.

If you find a problem in Yokohama’s forests, please make a contact with

Office for the Park Greeneries in the North北部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-311-2016
FAX: 045-316-8420


Office for the Park Greeneries in the South 南部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-831-8484

FAX: 045-831-9389

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