Wednesday, September 15, 2010


What is a volunteer? For me, it is doing something useful that nobody asked you to just do it because it needs to get done. Every year I get in trouble for being a good citizen. There are no "good citizen" awards because as we know, everybody by birthright, is a good citizen. I can never earn that status.

The crazy vines - some sort of wild bean and wild hops and wild something else - have enjoyed the neglect during this hot weather and taken over the roadside slopes and now the roads. Our roads are not very wide to begin with, so when wild vines creep from the slopes onto the roads and begin to cover the pavement, you know you have a problem. Children are forced to walk in the center of the lane because the vines are reaching for their ankles. Dogs can't poop along the roadside because there is no roadside without getting all tangled up in the vines. Cars veer toward the center and the whole thing is hazardous. I watch near accidents almost happen everyday. It gives me heart palpitations.

So, in the spirit of being a good citizen, I decided to cut the weeds. Armed with a new rotary blade on my gas canister powered cutting implement, like a warrior going to battle, I engaged the weeds in a cutting match. It was not easy because the vines did not like being cut and rather tangled themselves in the rotating blade but in the end I was victorious. My mother-in-law reprimanded me for wasting gas; the neighbors said I shouldn't be doing it; the village leader said it was the responsibility of the village but that they only schedule one day a year to deal with the weeds (tell the weeds). Don't grow so fast, there is only one day we will cut you back. Whatever. Now we can walk to the all important garbage collection place, where all important meetings happen, without tripping over a tangle of weeds.

I discovered, and tried to bring to the attention of important people, who ignored me, because they do not need more problems at this time, that the weeds have been covering a problem with the roads. Indeed, about eight inches of roadway has cracked off the road and fallen over the edge of the slopes, taking the white line with it. Now there is no clear delineation of the edge of the road. Seeing as we don't have street lights, this could be a problem for the uninitiated. Anyway, our roadway is eroding and nobody could see that unless the weeds were cut...then again, maybe the weeds were holding it together. Oh well.

End of heat wave

Finally, after suffering in incredible heat and humidity, there was a break in the pattern and we actually enjoyed a fall day. Mind you, it is still "sweat like a race-horse" hot when you are working, but at least the sun is less intense and there is a slight breeze.

The village has been in the doldrums with only a few very early morning dog walkers visible outside the cool interior of their homes. Farmers have been doing the minimum to keep the rice growing, spraying on spray days and regulating the in and out flow of the paddy irrigation water. Grass is uncut along the field edges, fallow fields are unplowed and full of weeds, trees have grown unruly and the weeds along the canals and banks of the roads have reached jungle status. But it has been too hot to deal with these issues....until today. There was a bustle of activity around the village, a buzz in the air, literally a buzz from the sound of equipment that has been dormant during the hottest summer on record.

I plowed the area next to the azuki; sprayed the caterpillar infested azuki with an organic mixture of red peppers, garlic and soap (it worked on the pine trees); planted 3 rows of potatoes; pulled up the pumpkin vines that have taken over the yard and harvested the winter squash that was hiding under the leaves; cut the grass around the big field and the road. Now I am sore. Too much activity all at once after sitting around waiting for my moment!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Working between storms

The thunder and lightning storms just roll in and out of here like trains in the sky. In between runs, we try to get a little bit of work done. I managed to get the fields plowed to keep the weeds under control and then attack the vegetable garden to remove those weeds. Luckily, I had neglected it long enough to allow the weeds to grow quite large so it was satisfying to see immediate results by pulling out those small "trees"! The yellow canary melons are still yielding pretty good fruit but the eggplants and tomatoes are done for. There are tons of caterpillars eating the taro imo but I am ignoring them for now - I think the potatoes will grow in spite of the leaves being eaten.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Azuki beans under attack

It is like war out here. Lacey leaves might be fashionable but they are a sign of insects feasting upon my precious azuki bean plants. Bean plants can sustain a significant amount of insect damage and still produce beans, so I'll shake them off and see if we can survive without spraying anything. Something crawled around and killed entire plants here and there so my rows are not full -perhaps root damage from moles? or some ravenous insect? I sometimes feel I should stand out here in my samurai gear and wage war - my beans will prevail, I declare!

Jumbo Snails

The apple snail or simply called"jambo" in Japanese is our worst enemy in the paddy field. With no natural predators (except for crocodiles), they are difficult to control. Those bright red eggs (on a previous post) hatch into these slithering slimy hungry creatures that eat all the new growth on the rice plant. In the daytime, they bury themselves in the mud but when they emerge, they are likely to be gathered by a farmer or farmer's wife, to be smashed upon the roadway. It sort of makes me hungry for escargot but I'm not in the mood to cook them up...seeing them gooshed on the road sort of dampens my appetite.


I had always thought that the JA was just trying to sell pesticide when they required us to spray for rice worms. I had read that the japonica varieties of rice, the native species, were naturally resistent to the rice worm but since we all grow some modern variation of the original rice, not true hybrids but somehow manipulated species, we need to spray. Anyway, in all these years, I have never actually seen a worm. This year, due to the relentless heat, there is actually a farmer's alert posted warning of rice worm invasion. You can see the scrappy looking leaves in the pictures. We sprayed and I don't see worms now, but before we sprayed, we ran a stick over the plants and it came up with dozens of green worms, like inchworms. Gross.

You can see the rice grains just beginning to develop. This is a critical time for the rice.

Open Sesame

Well, the sesame aren't quite ready to open yet - still in the blossom stage but I like the expression. Here is a sesame plant, thriving in the dry clay of the small field next to the big road. This is a dry field, not a paddy, so there is no water access. The plants are about 50 cm tall (20") and have pretty pinkish blossoms along the central stem. From these, the sesame pods will develop and we will have sesame seeds.