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Rice Paddy Dry Tilling

February 4, 2013
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A rice farmer uses a tractor to till a rice paddy in readiness for the

A rice farmer uses a tracked tractor to till a rice paddy in readiness for the coming paddy flooding and rice planting.

winter-seasonThe only priority for most farmers in rural areas of Japan at the moment is getting growing plots and rice paddies prepared for the coming cropping season.

Over the last couple of weeks, the main areas of high, dry grass surrounding farming plots were burnt away. (That blog story is here.)  With Spring close-by, that burning off is done in tandem with another important job.   The soil of the fields and dry rice paddies are dry tilled and flattened.

With Japan having four very distinct and different seasons, the cold of Winter usually comes to a very abrupt finish, at which time the air is filled with a sudden warmth.  This change quickly turns Japan into a very different place.   Once the Spring air arrives, there is usually little or no turning back.  Plants greet the long awaited warmth with an explosion of growth and any crops that are not in the ground (or in the water in the case of rice paddies), get left behind!

Tilling  over-turns the low level, dried grasses that have grown over the paddies and plots; loosens the crusty soil and flattens the land so it is again ready for re-flooding with water and/or re-planting.

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Japanese Onion Planting and Harvesting

January 30, 2013
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A matured crop of Japanese Onion (Negi)

A matured crop of Japanese Onion (Negi)

winter-seasonJapanese onion, or negi, as they are called locally, are an important part of the Japanese diet.  The vegetable has a long stalk and non-bulbous base, unlike normal white or brown onions grown in other countries. The relatively light onion taste of negi is somewhat similar to that of chives, but the plant itself is significantly larger.

Both the lower crispy section of the hollow green leaves and the solid white shanks are edible and are usually sliced for use as ingredients in a huge variety of common Japanese foods.  In miso soups, within skewered yakitori sticks, with fish dishes, in ramen noodle soups and as strong tasting toppings and decorative finishes for tofu and sushi, to name a few.

Onions growing is therefore a large and important industry in Japan.  The seasonal growing cycle runs more or less all year round, with planting and harvesting timed to occur at regular intervals during all seasons to maintain supply.

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Winter Burnoff of Rice Paddies

January 28, 2013
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paddy-burnoff-7 winter-seasonWhen still in the chill of Winter, it is hard to think of rice paddies being lush and green ever again.  But as sure as the sun rises in the East, the warmth of Spring will bring plant growth bounding back at a moments notice.

Therefore, it is already time for Japanese rice farmers to start thinking about the chores required to get the dry, brown paddies back into a state where they can soon be re-flooded and re-planted with rice seedlings again in the next few months.

One important chore is to burn the stands of dry grass and weeds that have accumulated around the edges of the plots since the last harvest.  Reducing debris and grass seed nearby before planting is a basic measure to help control weeds and insects later in the growing season.  One thing is for sure.  Standing by a warm grass fire on a sunny Winter’s day is far easier work than clambering through knee deep mud to eradicate a weed invasion in the middle of a rice paddy in late Spring.

paddy-burn-2

With the Japanese culture being what it is, burning off around paddies is also part of keeping farming areas neat and tidy in general.  Appearance and good maintenance of growing areas is an important part of Japanese farming.  Not only for the purposes of quality of production, but also as a show of community pride.

The concept of strong community is shared across most fields of Japanese farming. For regions where there are larger expanses of land with paddies owned by many surrounding farmers, the main burn-off day is usually organized as community orientated event where everyone pitches in to help with what they can.

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Seedlings Get First Direct Sunshine

January 26, 2013
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Onion Seedlings

Japanese onion seedlings get their first taste of the outdoor sunshine after being born and raised in greenhouses.

winter-seasonThe Japanese Winter carries on with it’s signature cold winds and low temperatures.  Meanwhile, rural farmers have been toiling away in greenhouses preparing their vegetable seedlings for the next season’s planting and growing cycle.

Now the skies above are blue, crisp and bright, trays of well developed onion seedlings are slowly being moved from the relative comfort and protection of greenhouses to locations in the open air.  This begins the hardening process of the seedlings before they are planted out in the big bad world.

Now outside, the developing seedlings get their first taste of life under the full and strengthening rays of Winter sunshine.   They do however, remain under a farmer’s watchful eye.  Plastic covers are nearby and can be re-applied quickly to protect the seedlings if weather suddenly turns bad.  The protective covers are also rolled down before nightfall to protect the plants from risk of damage from overnight frost and snow.

Next step is to plant the seedlings into their allocated plots of land ready for the Spring growing season.
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Meade Autostar Damaged BIOS Recovery

January 26, 2013
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Meade AutostarSome time ago, during a clear, starry night which was perfect for astronomy, the Meade Autostar handset I was using to drive the motor tracking of a Meade DS-115 telescope, suddenly corrupted itself.  The orange two line LED display was filled with junk.  Both the handset and the telescope motor control became unusable.

Pulling out the telescope power socket and re-booting the Autostar did not fix the problem.  The BIOS couldn’t be repaired by simply resetting the device.

After a lot of trouble trying to find a solution without any suitable information or handbooks to guide me, I (pretty much) accidentally discovered what to do to force the BIOS to a selection mode where the Autostar had erased the previous BIOS and was again ready to receive an uplink for re-installing the new BIOS through the interface cable.

Perhaps there is information elsewhere on the internet now, but there wasn’t when I was trying to figure this out.  Either way, I hope this information can help anyone else who finds themselves dealing with the same frustrating situation.  This solution saved my Autostar and my sanity!

The Autostar damaged BIOS fix can be found here.

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Making a DIY Serial Interface Cable for a Meade DS115 Telescope

January 26, 2013
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mini-dailyview

Meade DS-115 telescope with Autostar handset controller.

Meade DS-115 telescope with Autostar handset controller.

Some time ago, I picked up an older styled Meade DS-115 telescope. It was a 115mm diameter reflector telescope, with a focal length of 910mm.  While the model is becoming a little dated, it is a great telescope and the lenses are still crystal clear and the tracking motors work just fine.

The Meade DS-115 telescope also came with a Meade Autostar handset loaded with a starguide reference database to control object finding and object tracking.   This is a handy device, but on its own is a little limited when compared to the experience offered by fully computer interfaced, graphical night sky mapping from modern computer software.

Unfortunately, the scope did not come with the optional computer interface cable that allows connection of the telescope to either USB ports or the older standard 9-pin (DB9 RS-232) serial communications port. This was despite the included Autostar handset having the required pinout socket on it’s base, ready to use.

Why make my own cable?  Because buying a specialized cable for this telescope from Meade is relatively expensive…for just a cable.  I therefore set out to find a cheap DIY option.

With relatively little effort, I managed to work out the wiring connections needed and make a suitable  9 pin RS-232 serial communications cable from spare cables and connector heads that were laying around.  The interface cable changes the entire astronomy experience with this scope.  It works fantastically.  The cable allows full telescope support from a PC or laptop serial communications port.  All tracking, object location and coordinate pinpointing can now be done with just the click of the mouse on any desired sky map object.

Full and detail specifics of the project, required wiring and how I made the DIY 9-pin RS-232 interface cable in general, are shown here.

There were absolutely no details on the internet about DIY wiring requirements for this particular interface cable, so I truly hope the information I provide can help others harness the power of modern computer software in their astonomy.

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Making CNC Bits Out of old CNC Bits

January 25, 2013
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diy-cnc-bit-1When experimenting with new materials on DIY CNC machines, it is often easy to break perfectly good and even brand new CNC router bits. This occurs even more so when working with small diameter CNC cutting or engraving bits.

We all know the feeling.  You know you’re pushing the feed rate just that little too hard, but you think you will get away with it this time…. and then…. SNAP!

Recently while cutting various projects from foams and plastics, I had a brain wave.  Shortly after breaking a second 1mm diameter End-bit while testing the feed rate on a plastic cutout, I wondered if the quality and sharpness of the bit actually really mattered for the lightweight materials I was working with.  Super sharp CNC cut edges are not always necessarily for many of my projects anyway.  Any rough edges left over can easily be cleaned up with light sanding afterwards.

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