Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's blessing for the paddies

We're off to the local shrine to get our blessings for the year and to have a little New Year's ceremony of our own at the paddies that are right next door to the shrine.

We'll sprinkle a little sake on the fields and say a few words to the local gods.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

grass burning and clover seeding

This weekend was rainy and cool, but I got some work done in the fields. After having cut down the weeds in the fields, all except that in close proximity to hornet nests, I burned off the worst of the dried grass. It was so thick in places that clover seeds would never get to the ground to germinate. Then I planted clover seeds. I had 5 liters of seed and I planted about one liter per half tan.

I may go back and cut the space between the paddies. It has started to grow back, and the kudzu is in need of being knocked back again.

Monday, October 01, 2007

cosmos to the East

Originally uploaded by touzanka
This is a photo of some nice farmer's field where he planted around an acre and a half of cosmos flowers. Beautiful sight!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

paddy view

paddie view
Originally uploaded by touzanka
This is a view of our paddies from a higher vantage point. You can't really see the bottom two, because of the slope.

tall grass

tall grass
Originally uploaded by touzanka
This is the grass, partially cut, on the southern-most of our three rice paddies. This was the easiest of the three to cut, because most of the plants were relatively low. The other two were covered in similar species but with much of it over two meters in height. The middle paddy also had a hornet nest. I cut around it so as to avoid having to kill all of them. I felt bad cutting all this. Lots of bugs and frogs had their homes there. I hope their offspring will find the new look appealing

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bicycle helmet laws

It looks like Kyoto is coming out with the first bicycle helmet law in the country. They will make it mandatory for children who are riding with an adult in a child seat on the bicycle to wear a helmet. The local government is also encouraging bicycle sellers to emphasize safety and periodic safety checks at point of purchase. The goal, according to the NHK radio news this morning, is to make cycling safer. There are arguments for and against helmets for cyclists, just as there are arguments over helmets for motorcyclists. I have seen no conclusive evidence that wearing helmets is safer than no helmet, and I'm in favor of keeping the lawmakers out of our lives as much as possible.

If Kyoto really wants to make the place safer for people, they should make sure that cyclists have a safe place to ride, pedestrians a safe place to walk, and automobiles a safe place to drive. As it stands, in the downtown areas cars have huge amounts of space for their use only, and pedestrians and cyclists are forced to share the same crowded spaces. In many of the areas that tourists frequent, everyone shares the same space. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lots going on out there!

Wow! There's lots going on out there in the world of agriculture as the Japanese citizen watches its agri-cultural wither and be prepared to be sold off to the highest bidder. Two great sites that I happened on today. One is the Land Stewardship Project. They have a useful podcast, too.

The second site is one much closer to home, Shinji Shumeikai. This organizations headquarters are in Shiga Prefecture, just west over the mountains from here. Sounds like a must-visit spot. Their statement on the environment at their web site says:

The greatest expression of Shumei's deep concern for the health of our Earth is its commitment to the practice of the Natural Agriculture method of growing food, a method that emphasizes the integrity of nature and the purity of soil, water, and air.

They have also made a partnership with The Rodale Institute to cooperate in developing natural farming practices.

Interview with Japanese farmers' and consumers' cooperatives representatives - Rural America / In Motion Magazine

Interview with Japanese farmers' and consumers' cooperatives representatives - Rural America / In Motion Magazine

Good interview that details some of the major farming issues in Japan.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ground Breaking Ceremony

alter w:offernings
Originally uploaded by touzanka
The bank want us to take out insurance on our house and by health so that in the event of disastrous event, they will still get their money. We went to a higher authority yesterday to insure us against bad things, but to also confirm that good things come our way.

We conducted the ground breaking ceremony yesterday for the construction of our house. The ceremony is called a "Jichinsai" in Japanese, and it entails the fashioning of a mound of earth, which represents the plot of land to be built on and farmed, and a shrine alter. On our alter we placed salt, sake, rice, konbu, vegetables, fruits, and squid. We asked a Shinto priest to come and officiate. He came and invoked the appropriate gods, after which he blessed the four corners of the property with prayers and salt. Then at the mound with the bamboo stalk the property developer that we are consulting with about the house symbolically cleared the land by chopping the bamboo stalk with a wooden scythe. Then I symbolically prepared the land for planting by striking the mound three times with a wooden hoe. Finally the priest asked the gods to protect the property and family from pests, natural disaster, accident and disease, and to bless the people with happiness and prosperity.

It was a good investment in our property, if not only for the spiritual assurance to us that we are at least covered by the local deities.


Originally uploaded by touzanka

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

How To Build a Chicken Coop from Lightweight Cattle Panels

I'm thinking of raising a few chickens when I get some space, but I don't have any experience, so I've been looking around at how to house them. There are several homes in our area with chickens, and their coops/tractors/arks, whatever you want to call them look interesting, but this seemed like a simple, interesting design.
Hoop Coops: How To Build a Chicken Coop from Lightweight Cattle Panels

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The One-Straw Revolution

Yesterday I got a copy of Fukuoka Masanobu's The One-Straw Revolution. I haven't been able to put it down.

Fukuoka is a farmer and an agricultural guru of sorts. He is well known to people interested in natural farming, and has pioneered some revolutionary ideas in permaculture. As a young man he was employed as a scientist, and seemed to be enjoying his life when he contracted pneumonia. After a miserable stay in a hospital, where he contemplated his own mortality, he became depressed. He finally gave up his old life for the life of a farmer.

You can find out more about his life and farming philosophy at The Fukuoka Farming website. Rarely an idea or theory fully captures my attention, but when it does, it is usually from a book. My guess is that this will be one such book.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Biofuels News, Japan jumps on the bioethanol bandwagon

Looks like Japan is going to a variety of high-yield rice in order to produce ethanol. There are loads of rice paddies out there that are being neglected because rice-for-food production is becoming a losing proposition. I hope this is good for the farmers. I know there are problems, like jerking up the cost of food, but if farming something becomes more valuable, then farmers and their land will also be more valuable.
Biofuels News (Green Portal)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rice plants appear

On May 5th, my farming buddy and I went out to visit Mr. Kobayashi's, our farming teacher, for some tips on planting our rice crop. Until that day, I wasn't really sure that we would actually get anything in the ground. After a few pointers and getting Mr. K's seeds in the ground, we set off for our plot with our seeds to plant what we could with what was left of the day. As of this writing, sprouts have appeared on our plot.

It had been very difficult to find seed. We had been searching for weeks, and had come up empty handed. JA, the farming cooperative told us that they just don't sell rikutou seeds, ever. I found some on the Internet, but wasn't sure how much to buy to cover our plot. My feeling about why this is true is that there is enough suitou being planted to meet demand, and that most people do not want to eat rikutou, which doesn't taste as good as suitou. As it turned out, Mr Kobayashi had some seed left over after planting his fields, and he gave it to us. We had our seeds.

Planting rice by hand is hard work. I had an experience with planting some paddy rice the week before we planted our field rice (I had helped another person plant their organic rice paddy), and both are difficult, but I found that not having to slip and slide though knee-deep mud and fend off leeches while slamming seedlings in the sludge was tremendous. Mr. Kobayashi's plot was tilled in a rough kid of way, with most of the other plants still intact, but leaving a little loose soil to plant seeds in. The planter takes five to ten germinated rice seeds in the fingers, sticks them in the soil, and then covers them with a 3 centimeter layer of soil, then moves on to the next spot. I found that planting two or three rows at once is more efficient, because there is less leg movement and one bend takes the place of three, as does grabbing seeds from the container. The three of us planted an ittan area in about three hours.

We planted Mr. Kobayashi's plot in two varieties of rice. One was suitou seeds and the other was rikutou seeds. The suitou seeds are available anywhere, and the rikutou seeds were from his harvest last year. It hadn't even occurred to me that one could plant suitou in a field instead of a paddy. Mr. Kobayashi explained that it was possible, and the resulting rice may be a hybrid variety, although in an article that I read later on rice flowering, the varieties bloom at different times of the day, so that cross pollination may be unlikely.

After lunch we returned to our plot and planted ours in the same mixture of suitou and rikutou. Our field was much more completely cultivated, with very few weeds remaining. It was easier to plant, but I am doubtful about how useful it is to plow and weed the plot so completely. In fact, I will experiment at my home with a variety of rice growing environments, unplowed.

On May 15, we planted more seed, a mochi variety of rikutou. The seeds came from a helpful seed store in Kameyama. They ordered the seed for us and had it in our hands within a week. Thus we have three varieties of rice in our field.

Today the suitou rice has sprouted. Yesterday there was a pretty heavy rain, and I was concerned that our seed may have been exposed, but it was unscathed. The pictures included are those of our whole plot, and the suitou sprouts this morning.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Local food better for you, and the environment - News

Local food better for you, and the environment - News

Great article on how local food can be grown and used to supply local needs. Of course out of Boulder, CO, one of my old haunts. I really like that place.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Working in the red

Went to visit my farming teacher, Mr. Kitagawa today. He was upset because he was doing his taxes and found that he was working in the red for the last tax year, to the tune of about $20,000. He said that for the first time he and his wife had itemized everything, socks, gloves, oil...everything, and still they came out with a loss. He was upset, and suggested that I stay away from farming rice. I reminded him that I was up for subsistence farming rather than trying to make a profit.

I really feel sorry for him. He has spent his life growing organic rice and is proud of it, and now he is close to dispair. I will push on with my plans and try to help him sell his rice this year for a profit rather than go through the common chanels. I'll have to do a longer piece on JA and how it operates.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Field Rice

Went and visited a local farmer yesterday who grows organically, and plants field rice rather than rice grown in a paddy. He lives on top of a hill and his property does not have the water to grow in a paddy. He grows about 1 tan of field rice instead. Right now one of his three fields is in barley. The other two are fallow right now, but after he harvests the barley, he will put in rice. He rotates his crops among the three fields, and though he doesn't grow enough grain to supply all of his needs, he goes a long way to being self sufficient.

He says that field rice is a little bit more difficult to grow, because there are more weeds, so given the same area, field rice is more work than paddy rice. He has some great ideas about crop rotation and planting. I will go back soon to catch up on his barley progress and see how he's doing personally.

Funny, I had visited his house before unknowingly. I was visiting the woman next door to him who has a small Omotokyo temple. Most of the surrounding property is in crops.

I am now in the process of trying to borrow a nearby field to experiment with growing field rice.

Friday, February 09, 2007

It's alright to be a foreigner

One other sticking point in the process of coming into posession of a farming licence was whether a citizen of another country could rent farm land in Japan. I seem to be the first one to have done so, at least in this prefecture.

I called the town office today for clarification of their findings. It seems that it's alright for me to rent land. I was also advised to have my paperwork in line by the middle of April . That is actually much more time than I thought I had.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rice farming update

Yesterday I spent the day with my rice farming teacher, my gohan guru, my sage of the soil. I will call him Kitagawa, because I would prefer not to use his real name. There are several things one needs to become a rice farmer. I have none of them.

First, one needs fields, or paddies. I was originally considering five "tan." (A tan is a unit of area equal to 0.1 cho or 0.099174 hectare.) That is the minimum required land holding to obtain a farming licence. With a farming licence, one can obtain loans and national subsidies when your land is in soy or barley every three years. However, most paddies are in 3 tan blocks. It would be more practical to do 3 tan. I have been warned that 6 tan is quite a large amount, and that farming that much is very difficult, especially when not using agricultural chemicals. The weeding is quite a chore I guess. I'm not so worried about the weeding; there are people who will help with that. The problem is how to store the harvest. One tan produces about 300 kilos of rice. That means I would have to store 1800 kilos of rice. I could do that at the farming cooperative elevator, but all the rice gets mixed together and you get a kind of receipt for the grain you store there. That would mean that my naturally-grown rice would be thrown in with all the Frankenrice. Not a great option.

Which brings us to the next thing that I don't have. Land. If I had land, I could store the grain in a facility that I make there. However, I don't have any. The paddies I can rent from a farmer to get the farming licence and then buy the land, but it probably wouldn't be ready for the harvest. The ideal would be to have a house, a barn and so now and then be ready come October. The problem is that you have to have a farming licence to buy a farm house complete with all the barns and sheds. It's like "Who's on first?"

I plod on, searching for a hold.