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Drone Helicopters for Spraying Crops

May 20, 2014
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Drone helicopters are replacing traditional techniques for spraying crops in Japan.

Drone helicopters are replacing traditional techniques for spraying crops in Japan.

Drone helicopters are quickly finding their place as efficient tools within the Japanese agricultural industry.

Drone helicopters specifically designed for crop spraying and inspection are well suited for use over confined farming land with numerous obstacles.  Drones do not have the same drawbacks or carry the same risks as alternative ground or aerial spray application methods.

Rice paddies and other farming plots in Japan tend to provide exceedingly poor access to farmers for servicing of crops once planted.

Irregularly shaped plots scattered over the semi-rural landscapes are closely entwined with a multitude of barriers and confinements in surrounding infrastructure.   Deep drains, pump  houses, power lines, communication towers, houses and roads all become access barriers and dangerous aerial hazards when it comes time to spray crops.

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Rice Paddy Planting

May 16, 2014
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Spring Season

A Japanese farmer plants rice seedlings in his rice paddy.

A farmer plants rice seedlings in a partially flooded paddy in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.

Japanese farmers have been in full force in their rice paddies in the last couple of weeks. As a result, once dry plots of farming land have suddenly been transformed  into flooded lakes of emerging greenery.

Rice farmers ride atop specially designed planting machines to embed neat rows of rice seedlings into the mud of their paddies.    The machines have large, broadly ribbed wheels designed for water and deep, boggy mud in the flooded rice paddies.

The machines come equipped with various arrangements of rotary planter mechanisms, fertilizer delivery boxes and driver seat positioning, amongst other features and components.

A rice seedling planting machine is loaded with seedling mats and fertilizer, ready to sow the season's rice crop.

A Kubota designed rice planting machine is fully loaded with rice seedling mats and fertilizer, and is ready to enter the flooded rice paddy to sow the season’s rice crop.

The machines typically vary in size from approximately 3-10 feet in width, with each planting a similarly varied number of seedling rows at a time.  The selection of the machinery is made depending on the size of rice paddies to be planted and the capitalization of the farming operations.

Rice seedling stock is germinated from seed in densely packed seedling trays during late Winter.  By Spring, the crowded seedlings form a sturdy mat of roots topped with vibrant 4-5 inch high blade leaves.

In preparation for planting, the young rice seedlings are removed from their germination trays as a complete mat and loaded onto the planter delivery systems at the rear of the machines.  Additional mats of seedlings are also stacked on racks by the farmers’ side, where they can be easily accessed and later loaded into the planting mechanism when seedling re-fills are required. This saves overly regular returns to the edge of the flooded rice paddy for seedling re-fills.

The rotating mechanism on the rear of the machines takes the  individual seedlings from the trays and inserts them into the water. The fragile seedling roots are embedded into the mud a few inches beneath the rice paddy’s water level.  Once planted and paddies are fully flooded, only a portion of the plants’ leaves appear above the surface of the water.

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Etching DIY Circuit Boards (PCB)

March 3, 2014
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PCB Screen PrintingElectronics hobbyists who have never ventured into the realms of making their own circuit boards, are missing out on half the fun.  Here, we present a quick step-by-step guide to the UV light transfer and Ferric Chloride etching method for making your own printed circuit boards.

Home DIY electronics projects can be a lot of fun for discovery and learning.  They can also be extremely useful for those  extra buttons and remote devices in your home.

What is even better, is being able sit the project components on a printed circuit board (PCB) that you also made yourself.

It is extremely satisfying seeing a finished DIY electronics project which looks so professional it could have just as easily come from the nearest electronics store.  Learning the skill of etching your own PCBs will help you obtain that same satisfaction in your home electronics projects too.

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Lettuce Freeze

February 13, 2014
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lettucefreeze

Lettuce plants grow protected from frost and snow in the weak Winter sun.

winter-seasonFresh, abundant fruit and vegetables in year round supply are what most residents of the modern mega-cities of Japan have come to expect.   People rarely stop to consider exactly how any of the fresh produce got there, let alone giving extra thought to how it is grown during peak Winter seasons.

In reality however, the cold temperatures and conditions in rural Japan in Winter dictate a major difference in how vegetables need to be grown in the off season.  While Summer sees various farming techniques that protect crops from persistent heat, insects and high humidity, Winter farming calls for warmth and protection from bitterly cold winds, frost and snow.  As such, when the growing days become shorter, farmers all across Japan turn to plastic …  And mountains of it!

lettucefreeze5Frost protection tunnels for lettuce are a common sight in the agricultural areas of Japan in Winter.  Preparing and planting the tunnels with seedlings is a labor intensive activity.  Specialized machines are used to both mound the soil into raised rows as well as to stretch black plastic over the leveled mounds.  This aids heat capture and prevents weed growth as the seedlings develop.   The plastic liner is pre-cut with staggered holes positioned abreast for placement of the individual plants.  The liner has the edges automatically tucked neatly under the soil to secure it in place.

Directly after planting, half hoops of metal rod are then pushed into the soft soil to form a tunnel structure above the black plastic.  A further sheet of strong, clear plastic is laid over the the top of the structure to form an enclosed tunnel.   Finally, the tunnel plastic  is strapped to the metal hoops to provide a tight cover and aerodynamic structure that can withstand strong Winter winds and snow.  The soil mounds and seedlings are now protected and ready for Winter growth.

plasticlettuce2The plastic tunnels are only a meter or so in width and are spaced so farmers can walk between them for servicing requirements.  Later in the Winter season as temperatures begin rise and the risks of frost withdraws, the lower edges of the tunnels can be opened to allow better aeration and to give access for spraying, inspection or any other treatment required.

While plots of land for growing vegetables in Japan tend to be relatively small individually, the cumulative sight of numerous neighboring plots covered with tunnels often makes the landscape look like a sea of plastic stretching into the distance.

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Greenhouse Farming in Japan

February 8, 2014
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winter-seasonJapanese Winter temperatures plunge below freezing on a regular basis, despite skies often being bright, clear and sunny.  In these low temperatures, seed germination is usually impossible and growth usually grinds to a halt in any open air farming environment.  Snow and frost damage is also a very likely risk for most unprotected crops.   Greenhouses are therefore an important part of farming in Japan for both large and small scale operations.  Die hard DIY gardeners also use greenhouses to produce home grown food for their close knit families, friends and communities.

Winter Greenhouse Farming

Snow engulfs the greenhouses of a private DIY gardener in Japan.

Japanese greenhouses

Commercial scale greenhouses sit in the bright sunshine and bitterly cold Winter air in Japan.

Busy supermarkets require vegetables to sell throughout the Winter season regardless of weather related hardships for farmers and their crops.  The farmers’ overall growing cycle and the propagation of seedling stock must also continue in all weather conditions to ensure seedlings are available for the coming planting seasons.  This is particularly important for rice production, as the young seedlings produced in Winter are vital for the later planting of paddies in what is perhaps one of Japan’s most important crops for food production and sustainability.

Greenhouses in the cold, dry air of Winter in Japan.

Greenhouses in the cold, dry air of Winter in Japan.

greenhouses-3Relatively simple plastic covered greenhouses  go a long way to help protect crops against the cold, frost and snow for many farming operations.  Black rubber or plastic ground covers on the floors of greenhouses also helps increase the absorption of sun rays and increases greenhouse temperatures for plants.

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Chinese Cabbage Harvest is On Again.

February 2, 2014
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Frost and snow burn on Chinese cabbage in late Winter.

Frost and snow burn on the outer leaves of  a small Chinese cabbage crop in late Winter.

winter-seasonLate Winter is a busy time for Japanese farmers.  There are many chores and preparations required before the Spring warmth returns in full force and new crops can jump back to life.

Part of the list of chores is to harvest cycled vegetable crops which have managed to grow and mature through the Winter season.  This includes crops of Chinese cabbage, lettuce and onions.

In the case of Chinese cabbage, the crops often look quite beaten and damaged after being grown without cover or protection in the full freeze of Winter’s snow and frost .

The damage is however, only skin deep.  This is because earlier in the season, the farmers bound each individual developing plant with string to ensure the inner bulk of the plant grows to become extremely dense. Read more »

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Making Miso from Soy Beans – We’re all go!

January 18, 2014
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Japanese miso paste

Japanese miso paste

winter-seasonA couple of weeks back we announced that we had received a DIY Miso making pack in preparation for our trek back into Japanese tradition and the ancient techniques of preparing this unique Japanese food. (The earlier story is here).

The DIY Miso kit was purchased from a special Miso manufacturing company called “Komego“, located in Fukui, Japan.  (At this stage, the company only supplies the kits to customers within Japan and website and all kit instructions are only written in Japanese.)

A complete step-by-step guide to how we made our Miso paste is provided here. We will update this guide as we continue fermentation and eventually re-mix and finally eat the Miso later in the year.

Japanese are usually very particular about the differing types and tastes of foods as produced by specialist regions of Japan.  Miso products are no different.  Various types of Miso can be produced with the taste depending on the origin of specific ingredients and the specific regional preparation techniques employed to make the paste. Read more »

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