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Newbie - restoring a farm in Japan

 
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Hi! I just moved to the countryside in Kochi prefecture on the island of Shikoku. I will be helping on a farm of a woman in her 80s who can no longer work the farm. The main crop is Kozo, a type of mulberry bush used to make washi paper. There are also plants used to make konnyaku. The plot is on the side of a mountain with plenty of sun and surrounded by sugi trees.

My main goal is to regenerate the soil. I just started a Johnson-Su bioreactor to make fungal-dominant compost. But it won’t be ready for 11 more months. And we have lots of weeds.

So I need a plan.

One idea is to cut the weeds and lay down cardboard and wood chips. Wood chips aren’t used anywhere here. I see a lot of exposed dirt, but sometimes a local straw is used as mulch on beds. Then in the spring, I will apply extract from the bioreactor compost.

Any advice is welcome! Domo!

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japanese gardens
japanese gardens
 
gardener
Posts: 499
Location: Nara, Japan. Zone 8-ish
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Hi Bobby, welcome to permies!

Your plan sounds good to me. I would recommend digging up/pulling out the monster grasses, as I call them. They tend to poke their way through cardboard or grow horizontally til they find an edge. I've found it's just easier in the long run to dig them out, which isn't easy if they've made a big ball of roots from being weed whacked.
The grass that gets like this:


Old tatami have been a great source of straw. There is a lot of straw packed into them. Kind of a pain to take apart, but the older ones from abandoned houses seem to all have used natural strings to bind them.

Please keep us updated!
 
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Hi Bobby,

Looks like you are in the same area that Masanobu Fukuoka was from. Have you read his natural farming book called, The One Straw Revolution?
I highly recommend it! It will surely be a great source for you. I myself live at 1600 meters so its very hard to grow what I want to. My family and I run a petit hotel in Nagano. This spring I hope to buy or borrow land at a lower elevation so I can begin organic farming using Mr. Fukuoka's methods.

Cheers,

James
 
Bobby Okinaka
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Hi James,
I started reading the book, but haven't finished it yet. I can't wait to start farming in the spring. It will be my first season. I will be trying some soil building using compost (for beneficial microbes) kuntan (biochar from rice hulls) and lots of diversity. Cheers.
 
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Location: Japan, roughly zone 9b - wet and warm climate
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Welcome to the region Bobby. I'm probably somewhere quite nearby.

One of my friends runs a washi business, so if you need any information or contacts with regards to that let me know.
 
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Location: On the plateau in crab orchard, TN
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Get garbage cans, plastic or metal, drill about 3 2.5 cm holes in the bottom of cans.    Then load up all the weeds in the cans.   Park it in sun, and get compost .
 
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Location: Shizuoka Japan
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Thanks for the post

Hmm you are in a bit of pickle right ?

So for starters how far away in the nearest supermarket and or shopping mall ? Its relatively easy to access the excess ubiquitous cardboard from the larger stores so that won't be an issue. However picking up enough of the stuff may prove to be quite a challenge. Maybe contacting the local community and asking about recycling pick up days so that you can get a jump on grabbing more cover material.

I highly doubt wood chips are going to be affordable or available. Maybe a golf course has excess trimmings that you can use as ground cover in a pinch. Then again golf courses are infamous for using all sorts of nasty chemicals so perhaps that is a very bad suggestion.
Sometimes the municipal recycle center has extra stuff that people are throwing out. So you should check in town about that too. Near our house we have a wholesale market and they always have extra "stuff" lying around that they are happy to be rid of.

The runoff could prove to be a bit of an issue during Tsu-yu right ? The slope looks to be a bit of a challenge. Maybe consider some swales to get the water to flow in the direction you want.

You may also find unwanted carpet which can make excellent ground cover, although placing and removing them is a real pain in the neck. If there is any large scale renovation projects you can ask the company about how, when and where they remove any and all possible ground cover.

Jon Jandai has an excellent YT channel that talks about all sorts of farming things
https://www.youtube.com/c/JonJandaiLifeisEasy/videos

The last thing to mention on this post is to seriously consider keeping some of the weeds as they do build fertility. Just keeping the right ones and removing the more invasive types. Also using charcoal and other types of ash put directly into the soil will also help build things up. I think you may find quite a lot of folks who will be happy to have you come by and sweep out their hearth or fireplace.

best of luck and keep us in the loop
 
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Hi Bobby
We're working to regenerate some depleted land in Niigata Prefecture. In our experience, the best way to get loads of great compost is to grow rabbits and feed them stuff you forage from unused land. You can load up with reeds, kudzu vines (high protein!), veg leftovers, tree branches, and whatever else you can find on unpolluted ground that the rabbits will eat. The rabbits aren't stupid - they won't eat stuff that harms them, so you can offer them things and see what works. They turn all this free feed into organic meat (and pelts) plus loads of compost from their manure mixed with floor bedding, and they're happy with the diet. You're also helping to prevent idle land vanishing under waves of kudzu vine etc. Everybody wins.
Chickens are also a good source of compost, but more complicated.
If you learn the wild foods that work for humans, you can forage for food for youself at the same time. I'm sure your old lady would be happy to teach you what to pick, and where to pick it without offending anyone.

Good luck!

Matt
 
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There is a book titled "The Lintel Underground" that you might want to read. The subject of that also is farmers in Montana trying to re-build their soil and being successful at it.
Staff note (Jay Angler) :

The title is "Lentil Underground" - https://bookstore.acresusa.com/products/lentil-underground

 
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"We're working to regenerate some depleted land in Niigata Prefecture. In our experience, the best way to get loads of great compost is to grow rabbits and feed them stuff you forage from unused land. You can load up with reeds, kudzu vines (high protein!), veg leftovers, tree branches, and whatever else you can find on unpolluted ground that the rabbits will eat"

That's what I was thinking, but with a different method!  To follow up with that, are you able to potentially do a few rabbit tractors to put over the area?  

Rabbits are excellent at digging out and escaping, but if they're contained in a tractor (or even in a secure metal dog kennel if you're able to attach it to something they can safely use for an overnight house so nothing can get in with them), they can just eat the weeds in place for you, and poop right on the ground.  Normally you'd want specific factors for a rabbit tractor if you were rotating them - but because your goal is to get rid of the weeds, you can literally just leave them in place (monitored) until they eat most of what they want right to the ground.

You'd just want to take care that they 1 -- can't dig or chew their way out of any wide space in the kennel (or tractor if you go that route), and 2 - aren't getting hungry eating everything down and then turning to toxic plants.  (Good to know what toxic ones might be in there first, so you can pull them before they get hungry enough to try and eat them).
You also want to make sure they're kept shaded if it's hot (rabbits do better in cold, but not heat and they definitely don't do well in hot direct sun!) and always have water, of course.

Alternatively, closing in some goats with electric fence will make short work of the area as well.    Same thoughts with making sure they're well-contained (maybe double fencing in case of escapes if you don't have a perimiter fence), and making sure they have the ability to avoid toxic plants.

Just saves you a LOT of work trying to pull and manage a large area of high weeds on your own when there are animals that will happily do it for you AND give you free fertilizer!  Once they chop it down to almost nothing, and poop everywhere, you're well-situated to try and cover the rest of the weeds with cardboard or a no-dig or whatever else you'd like to do.  

Love to see how you go forward with this project!  
 
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Location: Southwest VT, zone 5a - compacted loam
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I have a somewhat similar situation, an abandoned hayfield filled with goldenrod, and minimal inputs— only food scraps and some manure, aside from cuttings of mulch from the river such as wild comfrey. I wanted to encourage the growth of a diversity of weeds, not kill them, so I spread the goldenrod cuttings thickly to the side, and mixed them with some comfrey and manure. This spring I checked the soil, and it is quite similar in appearance to some soil from a young forested area. Since the meadow grasses were able to grow, the wild rabbits (rabbits having been mentioned for their soil-building!) have been, on the areas where I had cut, relying on these grassy parts for food this spring. A newcomer species allowed in by the light, who hasn’t yet flowered, seems a particular favourite food.

What I will be doing is piling cuttings this year into little ridges, which should help to make better use of runoff, encourage nutrient cycling by the rabbits, and improve the soil, to make a place to grow some garden vegetables. With hope the cut in-between areas might be a bit more productive in terms of organic material because of the nearby organic material, water holding, and life, and also because they are not the ones being mulched to death underneath the goldenrod. Maybe something similar could help with your situation; it is all an experiment here, but then, everything is when tried in a new area.
 
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