Organic farming, Japanese recipes

On mulching, organic soil, fruit trees, and mushrooms


I finally got the garden space near the tracks cleared enough to plant the trees we wanted, so I  took a trip to the local home improvement store, sore back and all, to pick out the shoots that I hope our kids will be picking fruit from.  $100 later I was on my way home with yuzu (right), lime, two seedless kumquats, and three blueberries.  An extra treat from the store was a bag of oyster mushroom starter.

It was a really slow day at the restaurant, so Hiro agreed to take solo duty while her mom and I went out to plant the yuzu, lime, and kumquats in the garden near the tracks.  I had two holes already dug and the other two were pretty easy to put in.  We poured some mikan haigo, a fertilizer for citrus and other fruit trees, put a layer of native dirt over that, and in went the trees.

I also carried in a big green composting cone so I could make my own compost in that space over time.  The family has been digging the restaurant scraps into the main garden, which is great, but I think we can do a lot better and maybe with even less work.  Compost generally takes a 1:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen (also called browns and greens); the carbon would be fallen leaves, newspapers, grass clippings, etc., while the nitrogen would be food leftovers.  If this is news to you, well, it was news to me too.  At any rate, I had some nice dry leaf material at the site which went in with a couple buckets of coffee, eggshells and food remains, about a 1:1 of browns and greens, add a little water, mix, and we’re off to a good start.

Then the hard work started.  A few days ago I started talking about how I want to use plant remains for mulch instead of the plastic sheeting that everyone uses around here.  In fact, the word mulch in Japanese, マルチ, is synonymous with plastic sheets.  I always figured that it meant ‘multi’, which is another meaning for that pronunciation, as in multi-purpose, but no, when you use the word mulch in Japanese without specifying anything different, you’re referring to a plastic sheet.  Oh, the horror.

If you’re curious, here’s a google images link for mulch in Japanese (combined with ‘garden’, since マルチalso means ‘multi’):

And here’s the English

And you see what we’re dealing with.

So the mother-in-law and I went to one of the rice fields whose surrounding banks had had its weeds cut a while back, and raked up all of the dried stalks.  Wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load we carried back to our little truck, and we filled the truck three times over.  Two of those went to the potato patch, where we covered one (one!) row of potatoes, and the last one was split between the garden near the tracks to cover our newly planted trees, and the blueberries.

It was nearly dark when we got back to the restaurant, and I hurried out to plant the blueberries in the corner of the near garden.  We decided to put them there for easier and safer access in the future.  And that was the end of what turned out to be a seven-tree day.

All this talk about mulching and organic gardening—I feel like I’m either preaching to the choir, or to people who don’t care either way.  Whichever you are, let me run this by you: It bugs the crap out of me that I’ve been digging in various dirts here for almost a month now, and have found only a few bugs and no earthworms whatsoever.  Regardless of how we got to this point, it’s no surprise to me that people given these conditions feed their crops artificial foods and cover them with plastic sheets to get them to grow.  But I’m determined to do better.  If normal, natural organisms don’t want to live in my dirt, I don’t want to eat the food that came out of there.

Which brings me to my final unresolved point of this post: oyster mushrooms.  Knowledge-wise, I feel like I’m throwing darts blindfolded, but consider this.  1. You can grow oyster mushrooms indoors in used coffee grounds (yes, google it, get some starter, and swing by Starbucks on your way home!); 2. Oyster mushrooms can de-toxify oil-polluted land more quickly and effectively than any other method currently known; 3. Mycelium networks are the ultimate basic necessity for any natural soil process and should be present in any soil medium but they’re obviously not present in many.

It’s easy and beneficial, so as soon as we have some grounds saved up I’m going to start growing, and as soon as the original base is used up I’ll innoculate my compost piles with it.  I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I envision magic.  

If you’ve gotten this far but you think I’m full of BS (or if you’re the choir but you haven’t seen Paul Stamet’s talk at the 2008 TED), watch the following video in its entirety.

-your tired but dedicated farmer


10 thoughts on “On mulching, organic soil, fruit trees, and mushrooms

  1. I can vouch for the oyster mushrooms growing in coffee grounds.

    It is a great way to use up your coffee grounds and get some tasty mushrooms.

    Where to get your oyster starter here in the U.S.? In Portland, check the Farmers Markets. There is usually a mushroom guy selling kits. Or check out Paul Stamets’ enterprise at

  2. That should be

  3. Have you read Stamet’s book Mycelium running?

  4. No, but I’m currently reading his Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms! What’s the premise of Mycelium Running?

  5. I actually haven’t read it but have been meaning to for quite some time. I believe it is an in depth look at the topics he discusses in the TED video. I’ll see if I can get a copy next time I’m near Powells.

  6. Good to see you’re growing organically in Wakayama. I’ve been living in Osaka for almost 30 years and started organic gardening a while ago. I suggest you take a Permaculture Design course and if you can find the time a Soil Foodweb course with Dr. Elaine Ingham. She’s an amazing teacher. A five day course with her will open your eyes to many things.

    I read your comments about compost and would like to point out that grass clipping and coffee grounds are considered nitrogen or green, not carbon. When plant matter is cut while green, it is always considered nitrogen. Even when it dries out and becomes brown, its still considered a green because the nitrogen content does not dissipate when it dries. Brown leaves from deciduous tress are carbon/brown matter because the tree sequesters almost all of the nitrogen from the leaf, leaving only carbon matter. Same with coffee grounds as they are harvested green and roasted brown. Many people make this mistake and end up with a very hot compost.

    Your browns need to be dead plant matter that has died a natural death, not something that was cut green and turned brown. Cardboard, newspaper, paper, etc. are good carbon too.

    To fertilize your soil I recommend you purchase worm castings and brew a compost tea with them. You will be amazed at the results. A 14L bag of 100% castings can be purchased for approx. ¥1,500 online from a manufacturer in Shikoku. A 14L bag is enough to inoculate about 10 acres of land. Check their website:

    Also, mixing worm castings into the soil is very beneficial.

    You will need to feed the tea while brewing. Though molasses will increase bacterial growth, its better to feed tea with proteins to encourage a lot of fungal growth as it much more difficult to get good fungal numbers than bacterial. You can throw some raw salmon, bones and all, into a blender and use a tablespoon or two to a 5 gallon bucket of tea or you could use 糠 (ぬか), rice bran. A little bit of both is better. Thoroughly leached seaweed works too.

    After one or two tea inoculations you will be amazed at the lush growth, bountiful yields, and when you notice all the worms anf life return to your soil.

    As far as your mulch dilemma, you need to buy yourself a chipper and make your own. Its very easy to do. Be sure to only add mulch to the top of the soil, not in the soil, as it will decompose and compete with your plants for oxygen.

    Happy farming and good luck.

    • Excellent information, thanks so much for taking the time to get it all down! I’m also working with bokashi-fermented kitchen scraps; do you know if those change the equation in any way?

  7. Sorry, I gave you the wrong link for the worm castings. This is the correct link:

  8. I am not a fan of bokashi for composting as its an anaerobic environment and anything anaerobic is potentially dangerous as dormant pathogens are always awakened. I would definitely suggest good healthy compost instead. I write “healthy” because even compost can easily become anaerobic and go bad. The core, hottest point, of a compost pile should never go above 165F. Ideally turning the pile at 160F is best. To check temperatures a compost thermometer is required. The are a little expensive, but needed. 3′ and 4′ stainless steel compost are available at:

    I suggest the heavy duty “Windrow” thermometer, not the flimsy “Backyard Compost” thermometer.

    Getting back to bokashi, its great for cleaning water i.e. stagnant ponds, etc., though inoculating ponds with compost tea works just as well.

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