The responsibilities of the new farm differ extensively. Production & harvest was the focus of the first farm; at the second farm I’d get the chance to learn about the work preceding seed sowing.
My Daily Schedule
05:40 Wake-up call
06:00 Meet in the kitchen. Have a cup of tea
06:30 Walk the dogs
07:45 Return, have a small breakfast, get ready for work
08:30 Start farm work
11:45 Break: shower & prepare the table for lunch
13:30 Finish lunch, wash plates, and nap
15:30 Start Work
17:30 Wrap Up & Clean-up
18:00 Walk the dogs, part 2
19:30 Set the tables for dinner
21:30 Finish dinner & clean-up
80% of I-san’s fields were devoted to rice paddies. Rice seedlings had long been sowed and were pushing over a foot in height. Groups of 5-10 seedlings (I didn’t get a chance to count precisely) were spaced roughly 6-8 inches apart from neighboring seedlings to allow for room as they matured, and they were submerged underneath a few inches of water.* This is the composition of the picturesque rice paddy you usually see on TV. As you might expect, it’s more astonishing in person than what you can imagine.
The remaining 20% of fields were allotted for vegetables. Taro, watermelon, corn and more were grown in small batches — though watermelon and corn had been ravaged by crows. Soybeans and red beans were planned for 3 fields that were idling. This didn’t mean that nothing was growing: unwanted grasses were growing fiercely as a result. I’d be spending most of my 2 weeks getting these fields ready.
1) Weed. Lawn mowing with industrial machinery.
If you’ve ever mowed a lawn, this is like an exaggerated version of of that. We ran the beloved “hammer machine” across acres of grassy field and the occasional 7-foot tall bush to level the field.
This makes plowing possible later. Otherwise, you’d end up in a constant tangle of roots & grasses. And as I was learning, despite your best efforts, this doesn’t mean your worries are allayed. We still ended up in tangled messes later on, though less frequently, but this greatly cut down the extent to which we got tangled.
Time required to mow 3 fields: 1.5 long days
2) Plow. Small-lot tractor-ing.
Plowing accomplished multiple goals at the same time: burying weeds, unearthing rich soil, and making soil malleable for bedmaking. Method: tractor.
The manual transmission, 30-year-old red tractor had a plowing attachment hitched to it, allowing it to carve 2 feet into the earth with tremendous ease. The method we followed to plow the span of the field: steer back and forth along nearly-straight lines, then run the tractor around the perimeter twice with the second time further in the field to avoid overlap.*
Time required to plow the three fields: 2 days.
3) Bed-making, part 1: carve out walkways.
Create the walking paths that outline each bed. Tools: “ditch digger”, twine, and sticks.
With the walkways complete, the field would be framed and in the final priming stages. This method I-san used he had been expanding upon over the years: meaning, mistakes and improvements alike had been made (a prevailing theme to farming).
a) Measure your dirt to identify where walkways would be. At a bit under 2 meters, the endpoints of each walkway had to be selected and adapted to the contours of the field. b) Next, 2 twine-bound sticks would be inserted into the ground. c) With a straight line established, the ditch digger could run its course. This was a small machine that, while not pushed, required some muscling to steer it straight as it dug up dirt to create a rounded walkway in the dirt.
Time required to dig walkways: 1 day.
4) Bed-making, part 2: shape beds.
Prep beds for seeding by removing weeds and flattening the surface of the beds. This reduces unwanted plant growth and makes it easier to seed later. Equipment: hoes.
This was the most grueling activity. Equipped with only our hands and hand-held tools, we’d have to level both sides of the bed while pulling out weeds (90% of the gruel). Crab grass was the most insistent resident and it required some deep pulling to fully uproot it. Occasionally, large, palm-sized bundles of roots would also rest just beneath the surface of the dirt. Anything left behind would compete with the azuki beans, or interfere with the sowing.
Time required to finish building beds: 2.5 days.
5) Sow seeds. Run a small hand-powered seeder to plant seeds.
Sow 2-3 seeds about 1 foot apart by pushing a small cart through each bed twice.
In this final stage, we would forcefully and carefully trudge through moist dirt to seed azuki beans (red beans). When the soil’s too dry, seeds get exposed and eaten by birds. Too wet and it’s impossible to plant any seeds efficiently. When we planted, the soil was a bit moist and required that we remove dirt off the machine once or twice every bed. Moreso if roots got in the way.
Time required to sow seeds in one field: 0.5 days.
I was only able to finish one field in full (above) from the grass cutting to the seed sowing, due to my impending departure. Two fields were ready for seeding but would be finished later. Here’s what made the Azuki project extra special:
- Alternating blitzes of +100F degree temperatures and rainy downpours.
- Learning to drive a manual transmission tractor and then immediately taking it onto the road to drive it 15 minutes to the 3rd field.
And this is how two weeks flew by.