Lettuce plants grow protected from frost and snow in the weak Winter sun.
Fresh, 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!
Frost 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.
The 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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Japanese 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.
Snow engulfs the greenhouses of a private DIY gardener in Japan.
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.
Relatively 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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Frost and snow burn on the outer leaves of a small Chinese cabbage crop in late Winter.
Late 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 »
Japanese miso paste
A 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 »
Onions battling on in any weather!
For the DIY gardener, it is certainly difficult to do too much in an open garden in Japan in Winter. It is just too cold for the majority of vegetables and annuals to grow without artificial heating and without solid protection from snow, frosts and freezing winds exhaled from Siberia and prevailing weather systems.
The Spring, Summer and Fall however, provide a huge variety of options for garden preparation and harvest of fresh vegetables from the back yard. There will be lots to write about from the Japanese DIY garden soon. The soil will start to feel the warmth of the breaking Winter freeze relatively shortly.
In the meantime, professional growers in rural parts of Japan continue their usual growing cycles. They grow lettuce and other leafy green vegetables under frost protection covers or in heated greenhouses. Late planted onions from the previous year too, are basically left to battle on through any harsh Winter growing conditions thrown at them.
The cycles and activities of planting, care and harvesting on Japanese farms are always interesting. The techniques employed are often quite different to those used in large scale operations found in other countries. In Japan, production is often highly intensive. The growers aim to produce high quality, perfectly shaped fruit and vegetables on relatively small plots of land that often double as flooded rice paddy on a rotational basis. Although deviating from home DIY a little, we will be posting occasional stories relating to Japanese agriculture in future. These may be of interest not only for comparison sakes, but also because some of the techniques are potentially useful for application to home DIY gardens as well. More soon.
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Today at HomeDIYStuff.com, we received a project pack for making our own Miso. Miso is a very healthy, traditional food in Japan. It is a fermented bean paste that is extremely important in the everyday diets of most Japanese. A wide variety of miso pastes are used in Miso soup, ramen (noodle) soup, as condiment and in general, in an extremely wide selection of other everyday foods.
Miso paste takes many months to make as it is made from the gradual yeast fermentation of Soy beans. When prepared and left to to sit over time, the bean paste takes on the consistency of something resembling Peanut Butter … but obviously with a considerably different taste! If you would like to try Miso paste or Miso soup mix, various types and preparations can be found in the Japanese Foods section of our online store.
The paste adds a relatively a strong, distinctive Japanese taste and pungent oriental fragrance to dishes. The manufacture of Miso paste is quite an art and flavors can vary greatly depending on the Soy beans used and techniques used to make paste. It varies from quite a light taste with a soft yellow color, to thick and strong taste with a dark tan color.
Unfortunately, traditional home made Miso paste has gone somewhat like that of DIY jam making in other countries. Die hards still do make it, but for the vast, busy majority, it is usually cheaper and far more convenient to simply purchase commercially made brands from the supermarket.
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