Farming | Home, DIY & Stuff


Japanese farming and agricultural production methods

Rice Paddy Planting

April 27, 2016

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.

Read more »

Growing Lettuce in the Japanese Freeze

January 22, 2016

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.

Read more »

Onion Harvesting Machines in Japan

July 3, 2015
Rows of mature Japanese onions on raised soil mounds.

Rows of mature Japanese onions within raised soil mounds in Ibaraki, Japan.
(Click to Enlarge)

summer-seasonJapanese onion harvesting machines save a huge amount of time and effort for the farmers of rural Japan.  The machines automatically pull the individual plants from the ground, remove soil, cut away excess root material and present the stalks to the operators for neat bundling.

Non-bulbous straight onions (commonly known as “Japanese Onion”, or “Naga-negi” lit: long onion in Japanese) are a popularly farmed vegetable in Japan. We have written about this particular variety of onion in the past, so if you want more information about it’s farming and general use in Japan, please check our original post here.

Japanese onions are usually grown within mounded rows of soil approximately 3 feet apart and 1 foot high.  The mounds are formed during the growing season, as a machine is used to partially bury the plants from the side to provide development of the desired long, white stalks below ground level.  This growing arrangement is also suitable for providing access to the harvesting machines that straddle each row during harvest.

Skip to the bottom of this page to view a video of a typical onion harvesting machine in action.

Onions are automatically pulled from the ground, de-soiled and de-rooted using a Japanese designed onion harvesting machine.

A Kobashi HG100 onion harvesting machine makes fast work of harvesting an onion field in Ibaraki, Prefecture, Japan.
(Click to Enlarge)

Onions are automatically pulled from the ground, de-soiled and de-rooted using a Japanese designed onion harvesting machine.

Japanese farmers use a Kobashi HG100 onion harvesting machine to save themselves from back breaking work.
(Click to Enlarge)

Machine harvesting of Japanese onions requires at least two operators for efficient workflow.   Many farms plots however, are owned by individual families, so harvesting tasks are shared amongst family members to reduce workloads and to get the crop to market more quickly.

Harvesting machines have an automated uprooting system towards the front of the machine and a bundling and cutting area at the back.

The first part of the uprooting section is equipped with angled guide wheels that run along either side of the deep onion rows.  Along with the main rear tracks, these wheels help the machine stay on course as it moves.
Read more »

Lettuce Harvest in Japan

March 4, 2015
A sea of gradually maturing lettuce plants grow under a frost protection tunnels in Ibaraki, Japan.

A sea of gradually maturing lettuce plants grow under frost protection tunnels in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.

winter-seasonWith greenhouses providing much of the warmth for germination and growth of lettuce seedlings in the Winter season, lettuce plants really don’t need much time in the ground in growing plots before being ready to harvest.  Growing conditions are suitable for multiple, staggered crops of lettuce almost year round in Japan.  All for except the peak Summer periods.

We mentioned the planting out process of lettuce in an earlier post, but in Ibaraki Prefecture, the last week or two has already seen the commencement of harvesting activity for some of that Winter grown lettuce crop.  Ibaraki Prefecture is an area well known for contributing to a significant portion of Japan’s annual 530,000 tonne  production quota.  The Ibaraki farming regions help supply the lettuce market demands of many cities within and surrounding the prefecture, including Tokyo.

Read more »

Greenhouse Farming in Japan

February 8, 2015

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.

Read more »

Natural Mole Eradication – Red Spider Lily

September 9, 2014
Red Spider Lily Flower (Japanese: Higanbana)

The striking Red Spider Lily Flower (Japanese: Higanbana) – protector against moles and burrowing rodents.

fall-seasonMoles can be a major problem for gardeners, farmers and groundskeepers around the world.

While moles are carnivorous and mainly eat only earthworms, grubs and insect larva, they can cause immense cosmetic damage to surface soil and can also kill or damage plant roots as they dig their tunnels, mounds and nests.

Various methods are available for controlling mole populations,  but the eradication options are quite unsavory.  With moles being somewhat difficult to trap, relocation is usually not possible. Ridding an area of moles therefore usually involves gassing, chemical use, spiking, or other methods of physically injuring the animals.

When it comes to rice paddies in rural parts of Japan, burrowing moles create an additional significant headache for paddy farmers.

When these furry critters make their homes on the edges and surrounds of rice paddies, their tunneling activities can damage and puncture water containment banks. This can lead to significant crop losses if the paddies unknowingly drain of water and rice plants are left high and dry.

Japanese farmers have used an effective natural deterrent for controlling mole and rodent populations around rice growing regions for centuries.  It doesn’t however, appear to be a technique that is widely used elsewhere in the world.
Read more »

Rice Harvest in Japan

September 3, 2014


A Japanese rice farmer begins harvest of his roadside rice paddy with an open cab rice harvester.

A Japanese rice farmer begins harvest of his roadside rice paddy with an open cab rice harvester.

As Summer draws to a close, the most important event in the Japanese farming calender has arrived – the rice harvest.

Rice crops grow rapidly in the heat and humidity of the Japanese Summer. As the rice develops, crops becomes heavily laden with grain and eventually start to dry and yellow.

The soil beds of the paddies remain moist, but are generally no longer flooded or soaked through.  Farmers have allowed the water levels in the paddies to drain and evaporate in the sunshine as the rice has matured.

The rice harvest does not begin until the the moisture content of grain heads fall to around 20-30%.  Once dry enough however, there is a sudden burst of determined activity and the rice harvest is on for another year.

Farmers, harvest machinery and trucks can be seen scurrying around the rice paddies; harvesting and moving the precious rice crop as quickly as possible.
Read more »

Super Storms Risk Rice Crops in Japan

August 24, 2014

A storm super cell approaches rice paddies in Japan.

summer-seasonWeather presents major risks for any farmer and their crop.

Rice plants become heavily laden with maturing rice grains.

Late season rice plants become heavily laden and top heavy with maturing rice grains.

For Japanese rice paddy growers, the unsettled weather and violent storms which occur regularly in Japan’s late Summer can be soul destroying.

Massive super-cell storms suddenly develop out of no where. The ferocious storms couple wild winds, flickering lightning and damagingly heavy rainfall.  Precious rice crops can be destroyed in minutes.

Intense rain downpours at fall rates up to 4 inches/hr (100 mm/hr) and winds up to 100 mph (170 km/hr) are not uncommon in Japan.  On top of localized storms, passing typhoons also bring further potential for widespread crop damage throughout the country.

The weather related risks for rice farmers are usually greatest just prior to rice paddy harvest in late August and September.

As rice paddies yellow, the mature rice plants become drier, more brittle and heavily laden with grain. The plant stems and leaves are thicker, but also more easily bent, broken and shredded under their weight.  The top heavy plants are prone to damage from both flooding and high velocity wind squalls (and even the occasional tornado!).
Read more »

Drone Helicopters for Spraying Crops

May 20, 2014
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.

Read more »

Chinese Cabbage Harvest is On Again.

February 2, 2014
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 »