Weeds!

No, not the TV show.  Just the nemesis of my summer and the subject of a couple of the few-in-number blog posts I’ve been able to scrounge up in the past months.  Today, though, I’m going to be talking about some of the weeds that we find inside the rice paddies, not the ones I’m in constant battle with outside around the edges.

For the most part, weeds aren’t a huge problem for the rice paddies.  For the non-organic fields we give them a good dousing of weed-killer while we’re planting the rice and that usually does the trick for 95 percent of the rice paddy’s area.  There are a couple kinds that are kind of stubborn  and hide out along the sides of the paddy, but they’re easily pulled out (another fun reason to get into the mud with your bare feet).  A couple kinds will defy the death sentence of the weed-killer and grow out in the middle of the field, but these are sparse and easily found and pulled out as well.  Let’s take a look at a couple of the kinds of weeds one might see inside the rice paddy.

The first is…well, actually, I have no idea what it’s name is, so lets call him Bob.  This is Bob.

Bob’s a little hard to see in that picture (I need to get an actual camera instead of relying solely on my phone-camera if I’m gonna keep being picture heavy in this blog) but he’s the one with the star-shaped leaves and vines moving from the clump on the left toward the rice on the right.  Bob’s pretty easy to spot and easy to pull out.  If left to his own devices he’ll send his long arms along the floor out into the middle of the paddy.  Bob is like a first level boss: once you know his trick, you can kill him with your eyes closed.

Next up is…um, Edith.

I don’t need to point out the Edith here, do I?  Edith is a little more robust than Bob.  And sometimes you can find her in the middle of the paddy, while Bob confines himself to the edges.  Edith has a thick stalk that is easy to grab hold of and pull up out of the mud.  The only problem is that she tends to bring up a lot of dirt and mud with her roots, so you have to clean that off before you eject her from the paddy (don’t want to lose that precious mud!).  If left alone, Edith can grow pretty tall and can mess with the combine if still around during harvest time.

Next up is Olivia.

Olivia is a mid-level boss: kinda reminds you of a lower-level boss, but has some more power, and is a fun challenge that is overcome with ease once you practice enough.  Olivia likes Bob’s style of spreading out his arms, but not his choice to stay on the edges.  Olivia likes Edith’s height, but not so much the thickness of her limbs.  Olivia can be found along the edges and out towards the middle of the paddy and has some long arms that grow upwards and some that grow along the ground snaking through the rice.  Olivis is easy to pull out, but, like Edith, will bring a lot of mud with her and her leaves give little paper cuts if you grab her the wrong way.  I don’t really like Olivia.

Next up is Cecil.

You can see Cecil there hanging out with Edith.  Cecil loves to hang out with Edith, so you’ll often find these two together.  But Cecil does like his alone time, which he usually spends on the edges or in the corner (he love, love, loves the corner).  Cecil is that mid-level boss that you wonder who’s relative he is to be at such a level when he should be much lower.  His roots aren’t very strong, he doesn’t grow very high.  But he does like to spread what he’s got.  You can’t pull up Cecil in one hand like you can Bob or Edith or Olivia.  You gotta use two hands and usually go back for seconds and thirds to get rid of Cecil.  He loves the paddy.  Doesn’t want to leave.

Last (for the purposes of this entry…there are a couple other weeds that I don’t have pics of) but not least is the rice’s mortal enemy:  this one I do know the name of (Hie), but I will call him Tim.

I think you made a mistake.  That’s not Tim, that looks kind of like some rice that’s just growing along the edge. Don’t give in to the deception!  That is not rice!  It’s Tim!  This is rice:

You’ll notice (maybe not, since the picture resolution isn’t that great) that the rice has a little fur collar around where their stalks split into two.  Tim doesn’t have this.  Nor does Tim produce rice, but you don’t know that until it’s too late!  But at the early stages Tim and rice look really really similar.  And Tim grows anywhere that rice grows.  Tim wants to be rice so bad.  So bad!  But he must be stopped!  Tim is sneaky and Tim is strong.  If left alone Tim is a tough bugger to pull out when he’s finally found.  And if you’re not careful in pulling him out,  he leaves his roots in the mud to rise again when you’re not looking.  Take a look at this next picture.  Can you spot the rice and Tim?

Hint:  there are two Tims and a rice (a Flo and Patty are there too, but we haven’t talked about them.)  Here’s your answer:

Excuse my crappy Paint skills.  I’m not very good with image manipulation.  🙂

So, anyway, those are some of the weeds I see in the fields.  Next time I will post some pics of our organic fields to see how the weeds look there.

Oh, and I’ll do the peanut-butter onigiri post sometime soon too.  I haven’t forgot!

How are things progressing

Now we’re kinda up to date with the goings on from when I started in March.  There have been some small things I’ve missed mentioning here and there, but hopefully I’ll keep this blog going for a couple years so I can cover that stuff in later posts.  But for now we’ve talked about the most important things I’ve done so far.

Let’s take a look at how the rice looks at various stages throughout its growth so far.  Back in May we planted the Koshihikari rice with the machines.  Right after planting they looked like this:

Mostly mud and water there, but you can see the small green shoots of rice.  So much potential.  I took that picture on May 3rd.  So, about a month later, the shoots look something like this:

You can still see the mud and water, but those little shoots have multiplied and have about 10 or so stalks where there used to be only 2 or 3.  A month later, things look like this:

Pretty much a wall of green.  Those little shoots are now a collection of rice stalks about 8 or 9 centimeters in diameter and standing about 50 or 60 centimeters high.  They won’t grow too much higher but the stalks will increase and the leaves of the rice will increase as well.  I’ve been told that a single baby shoot of rice will grow up to make a riceball’s worth of rice at harvest time.  I haven’t tested this theory, but come harvest I’ll let you know. 🙂

The organic fields have progressed in pretty much the same way.  Let’s take a look at those too.

All three of those photos are from the same organic field, the one growing the kuromai (black rice).  The other organic fields seem to be a bit more robust at this stage (I don’t know why, though they are a different kind of rice, hananomai):

Still, they all look pretty good and will be just fine come harvest time.

Change of subject…I was thinking the other day that the name of this blog is Confessions of a Rice Farmer and I’ve yet to give any confessions.  Mostly it’s just been me spouting of about my experiences with farming…whoopty doo!  Get to the confessions, you freak, I can hear you thinking.  Well, OK, here’s my first confession:

I don’t eat a lot of rice.

During a normal week there will often be several days where I don’t eat rice at any meal.  Don’t know why.  It’s not that I don’t like rice.  I like it quite a lot and the rice we make here on Sado is super delicious.  (I used to be one of those folks that thought all rice tasted the same.  But after years of eating Sado grown rice, it’s hard going to other places in Japan and eating their sub-par tasting rice.)  I have a rice cooker and I know how to use it.  I think it’s just cause I’m a lazy man and tend to eat a lot of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and spaghetti when I’m left to my own devices.

My partner’s wife, Molly, has suggested that I use this blog to start documenting experiments in rice-ball (in Japanese we call it onigiri, which is what I will call it from now on) ingredients.  Onigiri that you can buy in the store usually comes with the same ingredients (salmon or tuna/mayo or pickled plum or seaweed), and Molly suggested that I try out some new ingredients and post my experiences here.  I think I might try that.

So, first up on the Onigiri experiment list: peanut-butter Onigiri.  I’ll make some tonight and let you know how it goes tomorrow!

Summer time jobs – Part II

Cuttin’ gutters.  Along with the weed whacking, in the summer we need to cut gutters into the mud of the rice fields.  Unlike the weed whacking, though, this is a one-time job.

Why gutters?  Well, after it has grown a bit, the rice doesn’t need as much water as it did at the beginning.  It’s the middle of the rainy season, so even though we’re not using the irrigation canals to fill the fields a lot of water ends up getting in.  The gutters help to channel that water from remote parts of the field down to the drainage areas in the corner of the fields.

The job also adds another machine to my growing list of “things I can use.”  The gutter maker:

This thing is pretty old.  But really, it doesn’t need to be modern…just a small motor, a wheel, and a wedge.  I take this machine and run it up and down the field, making a gutter every 10 rows or so.  Then you run one gutter around the outside of the field.  They looks like this:

You can kinda see in those pictures that there’s quite a bit of water and the mud is really wet.  After a day or two, provided it doesn’t rain, the mud begins to look like this:

There’s still some water in the gutter, but the mud is dryer.  And eventually even that gutter water will dry up.

Making the gutters is fun and is yet another way for me to walk around in the mud with my bare feet!

In other news, I’m getting business cards made.  Here’s what they’ll look like:

Kinda cool, eh?  On the back will be a qr code that folks can scan with their cell-phones to import my contact information.  Very convenient.  If you want to make your very own qr code, check out QR Code Generator.  Be aware, though that if you enter kanji into the fields for some reason Japanese cell-phones can’t read it right.  They garble the kanji and spit out Chinese characters.  Android phones, and I assume iPhones, have no problems with it.  If it’s all in romaji, the the Japanese phone has no problems.  QR codes are a great way to transmit info, though.  Anything from contact info to a website or even just a memo.  For example, if you scan the following qr code, you’ll go straight to our twitter site.

Fun with qr codes!

Summer time jobs

The planting is done, so you just have the rest of the summer off, right?

Man, I wish.

Weeds.  They’re everywhere.  And they won’t stop growing.  Ever.  (Well, in the winter they stop growing, but who cares then.)  So what’s a young(ish) farmer to do in order to combat this menace?  Behold, my Weed Fighting Kit:

Your handy, dandy Weed Fighting Kit should include one pair of boots, one pair of pants, a tank of gasoline (they have yet to engineer machines that run on my hate for weeds, but when they do…oh boy, fuel efficient!), a rake, a set of wrenches, one weed whacker, and one weed mower.  The k-truck does not come included, but is recommended.

The most important items for fighting weeds are, obviously, the weed whacker and the weed mower.  Let’s take a closer look at these things.  First the weed whacker.

Weed whacker?  Yeah, you say, we got those here in the States.  No. No you don’t.  You have the wuss version.

Whacking weeds with a rotating piece of plastic string?

Please.

Real weed whackers come with ten-inch steel buzzsaw!

The endless joy of trashing into a tall thicket of weeds with this thing is priceless.  And when you graze a rock or some concrete or wood, such an awesome sound.  Like sword fighting.  Aside from the fact that most Japanese houses don’t have a lawn to mow, I often wondered why farmers didn’t have young kids out cutting weeds and stuff in the summer time for a little spending cash (like we would do in the States).  Then I met the buzzsaw and I understood.  Bit of a liability.

The second most important part of a weed fighter’s kit is the weed mower.

This thing is awesome.  The wheels have these spikes on them that allow the machine to dig into the ground so that it can easily drive on the steep inclined areas around the rice fields.  And the handle moves so that you can just hang it from the top of the ridge.

The weeds really never stood a chance once these guys entered the battle.  Here are some pics of the carnage.  It’s common practice for the victor in battle to burn the vanquished in large piles.  That’s also the funnest part of cutting weeds.

This is a major part of my summer farming work.  It takes about a week or so to weed around all the fields we have.  And by the time you finish with the last fields, the weeds at the first fields are back up to their dirty tricks again and the cycle starts all over.  Once the middle of the summer hits, it gets a little easier since there’s less rain and way more blistering sunlight to keep them from growing so fast, but during the rainy season (June into July) it’s a never ending battle.