Organic farming, Japanese recipes


Planting rice Japanese style–part 2

Japan’s obviously going through some hard times right now; I encourage anyone with even a little available to donate to Doctors Without Borders or any other organization working to help the Japanese.

I’m happy to report, though, that down here we seem to be just fine.  The winds generally head out to sea from the Fukushima nuclear plant, and the ocean currents flow northward.  We certainly can’t expect to be sitting pretty forever, but we’re also not booking the next flight out.  And local fish might be a real bargain for a while

We’ve completed the next three steps in planting this year’s rice.  One involved walking the fields with azumi, a fertilizer, and scattering it by hand—this was a week ago.  The second step had us attaching a hopper to the front of the tractor to scatter and then plow in “Dirt-making Boy”, another fertilizer, the next day.  Apparently these are both ‘organic’ even though they’re man-made.  I’ll translate the bags and get back to you…

Today we took the seeds from last year’s rice, measured them by volume into bags based on the fields they’ll go into, and set them soaking for a few days in water.  Into the soaking water we added a very definitely not organic, nasty-smelling chemical to prevent mold and other diseases.  This is one of the two hold-outs that my wife’s mother can’t get rid of, as problems at this stage could jeopardize much of the harvest.  In fact, our rice has never had a problem that might effect this stage of sprouting, but because of cross-pollenation we have to be careful.  Cross-pollenation affects rice enough that we order new seed rice every three to four years to make sure that our strains are what we want them to be.  It’s a fair sight better than farmers who sign a Monsanto contract and then can’t reseed their own crops on pain of a lawsuit … if you’re near a computer (I think you are) please google an anti-Monsanto action and sign, send support, call your representative, do something!  Harvesting and replanting seeds is a human right older than almost any other.

There are certainly other organic ways to inhibit mold, including a strong green tea solution.  The easiest and probably best-documented way is to use EM-1 (Effective Microorganisms), which I’ll be researching for a trial run next year on a portion of the rice seeds—I hope to be using it exclusively two years from now.

The next steps in the field we’ll contract out to neighborhood friends—levelling the dirt under water, which I’m definitely still too green on the tractor do to, and planting the rice, which is now done by a freakin sweet tractor that looks like something out of an anime, which we don’t have.  Pics of that are definitely to come.



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!