Bees and honey?

traditional japanese hive

traditional Japanese hive

By the end of this year, or more realistically, next year,  we hope to add honey to the list of foods we provide for ourselves. To get us started a local beekeeper provised us with 3 traditional style hives to attract native Japanese bees using the scent of wax.

If successful the bees will start making a cone from a horizonal cross suspended at the top of the top box. As it gets bigger, it will extend down to a second cross bar at the top of the next box. When the cone extends far enough into the next box, the cone in the top box can be cut off and harvested. The now empty box is then placed at the bottom of the stack. And so on…

That is the plan, and a wonderful site explaining this much better with video can be found here http://warre.biobees.com/japan.htm

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Winter fuel (part II)

In addition to the earlier post here two other sources of winter fuel:

  • salad (chard, muzuna, lettuce) and a few other vegetable greens (spinach, konmatsuna, tat soi) which are available when the snow is not covering them
  • deer meat (venison) – we have a neighbour who hunts deer and with winter being the middle of the hunting season, have a regular supply of fresh venison. Although I generally don’t eat meat, venison directly off the nearby mountain side ticks many of the boxes that help make good food item choices:
    • locally sourced
    • sustainable sourced or produced
    • organic

If you have any recommended venison dishes, please let me know 🙂

 

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Winter fuel (part I)

Winter is the time for both eating preserves made from summer produce and making preserves – for us this so far means marmalades – from the three citrus fruits the grow in our garden. These are Hassaku, a kind of Dekopon (may be), and Yuzu.

It’s also a time when we can appreciate the wood collected and prepared for the winter months. Collecting your own fuel for the winter connects you to the precious recourses nature provides, and also gives the feeling of achievement – securing the source of warmth for following winter season. This is much like the pleasure people get from growing, preparing and consuming their own home-grown produce, or creating handmade items rather than simply purchasing them off shelves.

dscn3051

Mid-winter wood cutting session

Although most of the wood collecting is done spring through to Autumn, above photos was taken mid-winter. This recently fallen tree was too good an opportunity to miss.

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Insulation, insulation, insulation

insulation-2017We’ve now been living in this house for 3 years and one of the greatest pleasures is walking into the house in winter and instantly feeling the warmth of the house – regardless of whether the wood stove is on or not.

The insulation we installed in the walls, roof and floor of this house, together with the triple glazing, are working beyond our expectations to keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer. While the house isn’t an airtight passive house  (or Passivhaus), which generally employ heat exchanging air vent systems, we designed it to perform as close as possible to a true passive house.

In winter, and without any heating, the house only very rarely gets below 15°C, regardless of the temperatures outside. Today (23rd Jan 2017) is a good example. Outside is 0°C and snowing hard. The wood stove was on the previous night only until 11.00pm and without any heating since then, at midday the house temperature is still hovering around 16°C.

More information:

1st year data on the inside and outside temperatures – see Insulation – 1st year’s performance – to give a better picture of how the inside temperature changes are minimized by the effects of the insulation.

And further details of the insulation we used can be found at this other earlier blog entry; Insulation.

 

 

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Ecolife video message

During the Autum (2016) I was asked by my university (The Kyoto University of Foreign Studies) to be the subject of one of their promotional videos aimed at highschool students here in Japan.

It’s now finished and part of a series of short profile videos on different lecturers.

To see it, or any of the other videos in the series, click the picture link below and scroll down.

 ecolife

 

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1 step closer

Thursday night (14th April, 2016) one of our goats gave birth to THREE kids. And although they are all boys – not ideal – the good news is they are all healthy.

goats

So this is one step closer towards our goal of getting all our own milk and cheese home- supplied. If everything goes to plan, all three kids will be weaned in 2~3 months time, which will then give us about 6 months of future milk (and cheese) supply. By the end of this time, around November, the whole cycle should have started again after a visit from a local billy goat.

With most high protein foods (meats, chicken & fish, and dairy) having the highest footprints in terms of CO2, water etc. my more ambitious goal is to become self-sufficient in these food groups.

foodmass-1

We currently have 14 chickens which supply us with more eggs than our family of 5 can keep up with, and  from time to time, they also provide us with opportunities for meat – for example – if we have too many cockerels, or any fall victim to local weasels (which has happened once so far).

We are also lucky to have a steady supply of venison and wild boar meat from neighbours, which I consider to be very sustainable sources of meat.

So in general, reaching the point where we don’t need to buy dairy, chicken or meat products is no longer the pipe dream it seemed a few years ago.

Post script:

Of course, a better course of action would be to become a strict vegetarian again (as before moving to Japan)  … and to then get my family to do the same.

May be this will become my next pipe dream.

 

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Water harvesting and conservation

As part minimising the impact of our house and lifestyle, conserving water is just as important as conserving energy. Indeed, if we consider that it takes energy to clean, move (pump), and then dispose of water, saving water goes hand in hand with saving energy.

Features we have to minimise our water use are:

  • using a wetland-pond area for recycling household greywater (subject of a future blog)
  • water-saving shower and tap fittings
  • a compost toilet (previous blog entry)
  • green (living) rooves (previous blog entry)
  • rainwater collectors (rainwater harvesting)

For a full list of the house features you can visit this previous blog entry

Although Japan has plenty of rainfall (on average, about double that of the UK), from a gardener’s point of view, there are often long tough periods without rain. May of this year (2015) for example was particularly dry, and after the June rainy season, will probably be as usual; very hot, humid, and dry.

It is during these times that one really appreciates how much water is needed to grow food, something that consumers  are often not aware of when they buy imported greens or meat from relatively dry countries – Australia, Africa etc. The consequence is that we can accumulate very large hidden water footprints – embedded or virtual water. In the worse cases, we may be contributing indirectly to water stress in other countries that are exporting food and other consumables with large amounts of embedded water.

A good site to get an idea of the water footprints of different products you can visit sites such as:

Returning to the water saving features. To help save water consumption in the garden, we collect as much rainwater as possible. During very dry spells, I use up to 80 litres per day watering. A more sophisticated way to tackle this problem however is to use more efficient watering methods than the simple watering can. These include drip feed irrigation or clay pot irrigation that have the potential to cut water use by up to 70%.

Happy rainy season.

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Green (living) roof

A quick update and review of the main green (living) roof on our property. The attached photo gallery shows the 5 main layers needed to make a successful green roof, and how well the sedum has established itself and matured over the past two years. Sedums are ideal for green rooves as their root systems are shallow but dense and the plants themselves need very little water or weeding.

The 5 layers are:

  • Waterproof layer (pond liner)
  • Drainage layer (small stones)
  • A layer to help hold moisture (old carpets)
  • Root barrier
  • Soil (sand and leaf mould)

The benefits of any living roof are:

  • supports biodiversity
  • helps clean the air – absorbs CO2, gives of O2
  • helps retain water and runoff -soaks up large amounts of rain and releases it slowly
  • is a natural insulation – keeping building below cool in summer, warm in winter
  • can lengthen the life of a roof

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

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TV appearance

tv slotLast December our house and family were featured in a programme here in Japan. The series is about the lifestyles of families that, for one reason or another, they consider interesting or different.

Here is the link to a copy of the program. I have split it into Parts 1, 2, 3

We saw this as an opportunity to get wider exposure that would help in changing peoples’ perceptions that building an eco house and having an green lifestyle requires huge compromise, sacrifice, and expense. Indeed, in building the house we have always been keen to highlight the many aspects of the house and our lifestyle which enhance quality of life and comfort, and which are invariably simpler and cheaper, and of course, have a lower inpact on the environment.

Unfortunately, we were informed that we could not talk about the energy-saving features of our house:

  • insulation,
  • triple glazing,
  • wood stove,
  • absence of air condition

The reason: the programme series was sponsored by an energy company. Incredulous!

Anyway, we hope you find the programme interesting, even though it is in Japanese.

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Insulation – 1st year’s performance

The insulation of this house was given top priority (see previous blogs #1 #2) so in this post gives an update on how this insulation has performed.

Winter

In December 2014 I starting recording temperatures inside and outside the house to measure the effects of the insulation during the winter. As can be seen from the graph (click for full size), average temperature inside the house during the 18 hours when we don’t have any heating on in the house, is 16c, whereas the average temperature outside over the same period has been 4c.

temperature data

temperature data

Hira eco house snowWe only have the wood stove for heating and almost without exception, the fire only needs to be on in the evening, after six or seven o’clock. The house then remains warm until the following evening.

To show this in more concrete terms, I recorded temperatures in the early morning, and again in the early evening, before the fire was lit again.

The lowest temperatures in the house are in the evening Hira eco house snow viewand after days that are particularly cold, windy or cloudy. Results are from recorded readings made are over a 3 or 4 week period, but on random days, depending on when I was around and/or remembered to make them.

Summer

During our first summer in 2014, while temperatures outside reached as high as 37c, inside rarely went above 28c. And while the windows were open most of the time, the reflective properties of the insulation still helped to keep the house cool by preventing the heat of the sun penetrating the roof and walls of the house. As a result, we only needed the moderate use of fans, mostly at night, and kept windows open to encourage air flow through the house.

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