Organic farming, Japanese recipes

Organic Farming in Japan


Heavy frost this morning. Apparently there was snow in some parts of the prefecture, but all we got was frozen windshields and baby lettuce frozen solid to the dirt. We’re hoping to plant spinach soon, but will either have to lay down some black plastic sheeting to warm the soil first, or just wait til the frosts stop. It’ll probably be soon. We’re still waiting for the ash to coat the cut sides of the seed potatoes as well. We could probably go buy some but it’s more fun waiting for people from our own community to help us.

Speaking of local circles and such, I spent about four hours today on the tractor, then another half hour washing it. Wow. On one hand I feel like I’ve gotten no exersize. On the other, my knees hurt, my thighs are sore (I have no idea why), and I’m pooped. Going up and down the rows at a snail’s pace, what I keep thinking about is, if I spread the fuel for this operation over the area that I’m plowing, it would be such a thin layer, but that tiny amount of fuel is doing something like 10,000 calories, or two marathons’, worth of work. To put it another way, I could put my back out many times over trying to replicate the energy expenditure of those few liters of fuel.

Still, it’s hard for me to balance in my mind the cost of the fuel, the tractor, the yearly maintenance, and all the rest with the idea of saving money by growing our own food. It’s probably something that’ll take me at least a few years to get a handle on as I do the accounting.

Everyone's happy!

Which brings me, sort of, to organic farming. To be honest, I’m not sure what it means, exactly, to practice organic farming. Which is why I’m never terribly confident when I buy something that says ‘organic’ on it. Take that down a level, and I’m not terribly confident when I buy fertilizer that says ‘organic’ on it. As you can see in the picture, the cow that made this manure was apparently a very happy cow, if we can infer a smile from its upturned nosering. But what else is in that bag? I suddenly feel like a character from Portlandia….

I can say this for sure: we definitely won’t be using any insecticide or pesticide sprays that we don’t make ourselves from natural ingredients. I’ve already had plenty of experience with aphids in Japan, and I’m excited to try garlic and tomato leaf-based sprays on them. As far as our rice goes, my wife’s mother has reduced her insecticide use to zero over the years as she’s discovered that she doesn’t actually need it, and the only man-made additive that goes on is a mold resistor that’s put in at the time of seeding to prevent some seeds from molding before they germinate. It’s possible to raise rice without it, but the loss rate is too high for an operation that doesn’t get extra income by charging extra for the organic label.

How do you say organic in Japanese? There are two ways:有機 (yuuki), and 無農薬(munouyaku). The latter literally means ‘without farming chemicals’, and is the equivalent of what ‘organic’ meant in America before the USDA stuck its dirty fingers in that pie. If your neighbors use sprays, apparently you can’t call yourself ‘munouyaku’. ‘Yuuki’ means organic, literally, in the sense of something natural that can decay, as in organic matter, but is also used to denote fruits and vegetables that are grown without man-made substances. So when my semi-fermented bark says ‘60% yuuki’, is it 60% pure, or 60% natural material? It’s quite confusing, and I suspect it’s confusing to many Japanese people too. I’ll report back when I have more than a picture of a smiling nosering cow as evidence.

One fun part of thinking about the future of our garden fields is the abundance of raw materials: we grow our own rice, so we have piles of rice hulls and rice straw, and from the restaurant come endless piles of coffee grounds and eggshells. Maybe a vermiculture bin is in our future?

Does anyone have experience with organic soil additives or homemade anti-pest sprays? Let us know in the comments!


5 thoughts on “Organic Farming in Japan

  1. Hellooooo Todd & Hiro, Nice photos. I can see that you are both somewhat attracted to the tractor. One of my favorite baby pictures (of me) was sitting on an old tractor in nothing but a diaper, so I can relate, if you know what I mean. Wishing you both well, and hoping to share hugs and stories when you visit us here soon! Ciao! W&Y

  2. Hi there,

    In regards to natural pesticides. I use a water-based spray with chili powder and ginger for my vegetable garden. Don’t make it too strong or it will burn delicate leaves. Look up some recipes online. I can’t remember where I got mine.

    Cinnamon is a phenomenal anti-fungal. Just sprinkle it around the soil and fungus cannot survive! I saved a crabapple tree that had leaf curl this way.

    Do you have fruit trees? If so, biodynamic tree paste works wonders! One version is 1 part compost, 1 part clay and 1 part diatomaceous earth (DE) or 1 part sand. Mix it all together into a paste and slather all the way up to trunk to the first branches. Best done in winter before the bugs start coming back. The compost feeds the tree, the sand or DE keeps the critters from climbing up the trunk and feasting on the leaves.

  3. A book that will help your decision making processes is “Holistic Management” by Allan Savory. It sounded to me like you are looking for directions. It is helpful, as a farmer, to have some guiding principles in place. That way when you need to make a decision about whether to spray this or that you can use your guiding principles to help make decisions. Hope I haven’t been too bold here. Good luck.

  4. Andrea and Matt, thanks so much for the information! I’ll follow up on it right away. Wonder if I can get that book on amazon japan… 🙂

  5. Hi again,

    As a fellow “organic” gardener I can sympathize with your plight. Also, when the tambo next door has a remote control helicopter spraying pesticides – only a few metres from your house – and I think “WTF – if I was certified organic, this would have just cost me my certification from the overspray”… well… here is not the place to rant.
    For some more productive advice – I found the major problem in Japan was plain old leaf eating caterpillars! They even managed to kill a few young fruit trees through constant defoliation. One spray you might like to consider, but would not be able to make at home, is the bacterial agent “bacillus thuringiensis” aka “BT”. Rather than a poison, it is a bacterial disease which infects only caterpillars and similar creatures. So – harmless to humans and other animals, but will stop your leaves being munched. You can buy it at local home-centres here and it does work well! Best of luck.

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