August this year was not at all like the usual summer. In the Kanto region, it rained for 3 consecutive weeks, the daylight was shorter throughout the season. Because of this unusual weather, robust cicadas were chirping in autumn. The sound of cicadas after summer sounded isolated somehow. It was such a shame that insects like cicadas have to emerge even in an untimely season.
During this time, I sent a LINE message to the representative of the rice farm in the city of Tsuruoka, concerning this year’s harvest as I was feeling a bit anxious about the bad weather. However, to my surprise, he replied in an unexpectedly energetic tone that it was going really well and I was absolutely relieved. This summer, I visited Yamagata prefecture several times but I only went to the farm in July so I was worried about the rice fields. It was quite a relief to hear things were positively going well.
However, I still have to keep a close watch of the rice fields before harvest time comes. I turn back hands of a clock and look at the photos taken by a photographer for the last 3 months, thus I keep a record of some snapshots of the rice field this summer season.
May, tilling and puddling paddy fields to prepare for transplanting young rice plants.
In May, farmers begin the agricultural season. Tilling, paddling paddy fields, planting and weeding is done on a daily basis. Naturally, various kinds of plants grow on land however the farmer only wants to grow rice. Therefore, he constantly needs to weed his farm, a job that seems to undergo various farming processes.
Tilling paddy fields
Tilling paddy fields is one of the first processes of farming rice by breaking the soil into small chunks using a tractor and drying it. Mixing the soil with air activates microorganisms and it accelerates the decomposition of organic matter. This also helps the weeding process.
Paddling paddy fields
Paddling is the process of irrigating water into a paddy field after tilling. The farmer changes the tractor’s attachment that is used for tilling to paddling, then he runs the tractor around the paddy field. The attachment kneads the soil in water to make it muddy then the clay particles fill the cracks on the field and it prevents the water from leaking out of the paddy field. Furthermore, paddling makes the field surface flat, making it easier to run a planting machine in the field, thus making it less likely for the weeds to grow.
In the rice farming, one process that has definitely reduced in workload is weeding. Could this be because of herbicides? On the contrary, in organic or natural farming, not even organic fertilizers are used, much less agricultural chemicals nor chemical fertilizer. Through organic cultivation using natural materials, weeding is hard work as in the old days and weeding in summer is extremely tough.
However, the farmers have figured out a way to deal with this. The Dewa Shonai Tokusan farm spread paper mulch all over the field to prevent the weed from growing. This mulch sheet is made from black paper and decomposes naturally. It is ideal for weeding but it takes more than 14 consecutive days to spread it in the field which is tiring even for young farmers.
Since the use of herbicide from 1965 to 1974, the load of weeding has dramatically improved thus making it more popular.
Farmers flatten the surface of the paddy field with a paddling machine, then plant a young rice plant deeply in the field so that the rice roots don’t come into contact with the layer of herbicide that is spread on the surface of the soil.
However, herbicides seem to be harmful for the body for some reason. When I was a child, I occasionally went in the paddy field barefoot and I remember the feeling of having mud squirting between my toes. That reminds me, of what the representative of this farm used to say when he used agricultural chemicals and had experienced health issues due to that. He has since been in good health after he got into organic farming.
It is also a rare sight for a sea gull to be around the paddy field. It seems to be searching for earthworms. Perhaps it is because of organic farming, don’t you think?
As for the paper mulch that prevent weed growth, they decompose slowly and when the rice grows and casts a shadow on the field, the paper mulch is decomposed by microorganisms in the field and this will eventually disappear.
June, planting rice in a paddy field in a mountainous region and sowing seeds of soybean in a plowed field.
This is a season when the climate is unstable, alternating between hot and cold days. After the paddy field in the plain area is done, next will be to plant young rice into a paddy field in a mountainous region. This is the terraced paddy fields located in a settlement named Iragawa. Though I wrote mountainous region, this is in fact very close to the sea.
In front of the plowed field, previously a persimmon field, which the farmer cultivated and changed into the regenerated field at the end of last year, he told me that he wanted to grow green soybeans in this field. Now he sows seeds of Dadacha Mame bean and Hiden Mame bean (two different kinds of green soybean). They say that these soybeans are harvested at the same time as the rice so the soybeans are said to be slow growers.
By the way, I visited this field at the end of July and saw the soybeans growing quickly. I am looking forward to the first harvest.
Though it is unclear, I heard from a farmer in the city of Ishinomaki that the soil temperature of natural farming is a little higher so rice grows well even in an unusually cool summer. Furthermore, in natural farming, rice bears fruit even when sunshine is insufficient. It seems as if the rice quietly waits and resolves the lack of sunshine on its own.
The plant knows the best season when the ears come out. I perceive the wisdom of living creatures. If so, the robust cicadas chirping in my neighborhood might wait for the best timing till autumn when they should emerge. I should admire their intelligence instead of feeling pity for them.
At last the season changes into autumn.
I recently removed cucumber plants from the planter in my house, like an amateur farmer. Only the stem grew long but no fruits nor leaves. I was surprised at how the roots spread out. We often look at the height of the tree and plant but we are unaware of how much the root has spread. Plants know the soil well unlike us, our understanding is limited to the size or the price of the land. I will end this article here and regret that I didn’t make enough effort to learn about the soil