On to the organic fields

In my last post we were planting rice using the machine and sprinkling the fields with pesticides and weed-killers.  That took about two weeks or so–22 fields in all.  Once that was done we moved on to planting the organic fields.

As you would assume, these fields use no pesticides and weed killers, nor do we use a machine to plant the rice.  It’s all done by hand.  Granted, we could use the machine if we wanted but this year we chose a rather novel method of keeping the weeds away that meant the machine was out of the picture.

A little bit of back story…  Last year Nabe rented a planting machine from the mechanic we use for our tractors and harvesters and such.  He had read on the internet about this new kind of machine that used biodegradable sheets of paper to lay over the mud of the rice field.  After planting the rice through the paper, the paper would keep the weeds from growing up between the rice.  And then after about 2 months the paper would disintegrate into the mud and any weeds that would grow up then would be too weak to compete with the stalks of rice.  Great idea.  But the machine didn’t work so well: when you reached the end of the line, it sometimes failed to cut the paper cleanly and so it would rip and you’d have to go out into the mud and cut it manually; it wouldn’t press the paper down into the mud so that it would get damp and stick to the ground and then when the wind would blow the sheets would turn over and cover up the rice.  The machine turned out to be more of a pain than it was worth.  However, the idea of using the paper to keep away the weeds was a good one and we thought that the next year we would try using the sheets manually.

Which brings us to late May and this year’s organic experiment.  Luckily on the first day we had a gang of local ALTs (assistant language teachers) out to help.

The paper came in a 2 meter by 100 meter rolls.  So at first we figured that we could have two people hold the paper and unroll it while 2 guys stand behind the roll and plant the rice.

That proved to be a bit heavy, so some bright mind suggested sticks to hold the roll up instead.  Brilliant.  It looked like this:

See those sticks?  It’s like we’re doing a replay of evolution all over again.  Soon we will discover fire.  🙂  The sticks worked good enough that we could get 2 lines going at the same time.

At the end of the day, and with the awesome help from the ALTs, we had planted 6 lines, which was about half of that small field.  This was going to be a long process.  But, thank the Monolith, our large brains and opposable thumbs would come to the rescue once again.  Behold, The Wheel!

It’s…it’s so round and makes transporting large, heavy objects so easy.  Has anyone ever thought of this before?  With the help of the wheel and some more friends we were able to plant 2 fields in about 6 days.  Here’s how it went.  We would start from one side of the paddy, pat the paper down, plant about 2 or 3 rows of 8 rice, unroll the paper a bit, and repeat until we reached the other side of the paddy.

Like I said, it took about 6 days to finish all 2 fields, and including the first field where we used the sticks (and a few days when it rained so we couldn’t plant) it was about 2 and a half weeks to finish all 3.  Not too bad.

It was a really great experience planting these fields by hand.  Of course it was hard work, but when, at the end of the day, you can look back over the rows and rows of rice you’ve planted with your own hands…very fulfilling.  And after 2 plus weeks of that kind of work, the beer with dinner tastes that much better.  🙂

Planting–finally some green

Hey hey hey, look at this a post with the same month of the last.  I’m getting better at this.  🙂

So, in the last entry we’d been plowing all the fields.  That took a long time for a couple reasons: one, the tractor moves very very slowly, and two, we have to plow each field 3 times over.  So plowing can take the better part of a month depending on weather, the tractor, and other stuff.  But that’s OK, because during that month the little trays of seeds have a lot of time to grow up.  When they’re ready to plant those trays of brown dirt end up looking like this:

Pretty green, eh?  When we’re ready to plant we take these trays out to the field we’re planning to plant and line them up on one side like this:

This is so we can easily load them onto the planting machine.  Notice those white little things sticking out of the nae in the bottom of the above picture?  The rice roots have grown really thick throughout the dirt and have also grown through the holes in the bottom of the plastic trays, so you can’t rip the nae out to load onto the machine without messing everything up.  Those white things are like a long plastic knife that you shove down the tray to sever the roots from the bottom.  After that we load them onto the machine:

You can see them there in the back.  The machine can hold about 18 nae in one go (6 rows of 3).  We usually have to reload nae once or twice depending on the size of the field.  Our biggest field used about 120 nae, while our smallest used around 15.  The part part of the machine that plants the rice shoots looks like a really thin, sharp 3 fingered hand (2 fingers one opposing thumb).  It’ll rip about 2 shoots from a nae and plant it firmly in the dirt.  Quite an amazing machine.  We drive the planter up and down, up and down, up and down the fields like we did the tractor, trying to keep in a straight line:

Don't use the force, Luke.  Use the yellow pointer!

After a field is done, it looks like this:

All those little rice shoots, hoping to one day grow up and become a rice ball or sushi.

For most of our fields we used the planting machine and sprinkled them with pesticides and weed killers.  But for 3 fields we planted by hand and didn’t use pesticides or weed killers at all.  In the next post I’ll write a little bit about that.  And by the way I’m improving on my blog timing, it might even be next week!

A little better – on to plowing

Well, the difference between this post and the last is slightly better than the difference between the first and second posts, so I am improving.  But it’s still not very timely.  I’ll keep working on it.

So, where were we…  Yes, we had planted the rice seeds and were waiting for them to sprout.  Now, during the time that we planted the seeds, they began to sprout, and we began waiting for the seedlings to grow into plantable rice shoots there were about 25 or so fields over varying sizes to plow.

After a winter of inactivity, a field looks like this around March:

Initially, the mud is a bit rough with all the old cut-rice stalks and roots.  On a single field we’ll usually plow it three times with the tractor.  Each time the mud becomes a bit more…what’s the word I need here…gooey?  After two plows the field looks something like this:

You’ll notice, in that picture, that there are some places that have a bit more water than others.  That means that the field isn’t exactly level.  That’s a bit of a pain, so in between plowing we’ll usually spend some time moving mud from the higher parts of the field to the lower parts of the field.  Backbreaking work, that.  Yes, a bulldozer would work wonders, but they’re a bit pricey to rent.

Here’s a pic from inside the cabin of the tractor:

I took that while driving.  That would be unsafe in a car because I’d be traveling at high speeds.  In a tractor, not so much.  Usually traveling about 25 meters while plowing takes about 5 or so minutes.  Slow, slow, slow.  But, all that time driving up and down, up and down, up and down the fields does afford me a lot of time to listen to lectures on mp3 from The Teaching Company.  This year I caught up on my Greek History, from Ancient to Classical to Hellenistic.  🙂

Next post we’ll look at planting!