Lauren In Tokyo

Monday, May 14, 2007

Farmer Lauren

Ichikawa city has a summer program where for 2000 yen, you can learn about farming by planting sweet potatos in a special city-managed plot. It takes a little luck to get approved since selection is based on a lottery system, but we made it through and yesterday was planting day.

The land is divided into 2 plots of 15 rows. Each row is further split into 10 sections. Each section is 6 meters of black vinyl-covered soil. Our section is #218.

We pulled into the lot (if you can call a grass-covered field a lot) a little past 11:00. The program gets underway at 11, so we were a little worried that we would miss any directions from the organizers. It turns out that lots of people thought the same way and showed up earlier than 11. In addition, there was no group instruction, just a little explanation at the check in counter. So by showing up a few minutes later, we avoided the initial rush and were able to get our seedlings and planting stick in just a few minutes.

A nice old guy from the government office walked us out to our plot and gave us a little introduction to the program. Everyone (heh) knows that Ichikawa city's most important crop is Japanese pears, but Ichikawa's land can support a vast array of food crops. The plot we are assigned is near the ocean, so a strong sea breeze will affect how our sweet potatos will grow, so it is important, for example, to plant the seedling sideways so that the wind does not pull the plant out or wither the leaves before it has time to extend roots.

The planting stick is approximately 30cm long, so it can be used to measure off distances as well as poke holes in the vinyl sheet. First you measure off 20 holes at 30cm distance, then you push the stick deep into the hole to form a hole where the seedling can be placed. Then the seedling goes in (sideways, away from the wind) and some soil from the surrounding area (mostly from the walkways between the rows) is placed on top of the seedling like a blanket and underneath the seedling like a pillow. Press down firmly and the seedling is planted.

Julian was with us, we were hoping he'd learn something, but he got to be a hassle walking all over other people's sections that we put him in an ombu himo and I hoisted him onto my back while we did the planting.

Miki took care of digging the holes and putting the seedlings in. I took care of covering the seedlings with soil and tamping them down. In all, it only took about half an hour from start to finish to do the planting.

I was much relieved that it wasn't the back-breaking work it was advertised to be. Julian enjoyed the outdoors and really liked tromping around the loamy soil. We have to go every 2 or 3 weeks to pull weeds and reset any overgrown potatos (they will fall off the vinyl into the row and will try to put roots and potatoes into the hard ground). In three months the crop will be ready and we will be able to take home about 80 potatos (4 per seedling x 20 seedlings). What we will do with 80 potatos, I haven't got the slightest idea.

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