Apparently, it will only get you this far...in a sweet potato field on Ajishima! Our little roto tiller did the best it could and I was right behind it the whole way. This was actually a regular potato field under the previous users, and they took awful care of it. The ground was so hard and compacted it took four passes over the same swath just to get it to a workable condition. So, I could have gone four times as far on that tank of gas, if not for having to double back and then double back and then double back again!
By the end of the day, however, I was able to make some beautiful looking sweet potato beds, if I do say so myself. The tiller makes mounds of dirt, but I have to go through and work that into nice even shapes with a hoe and then a rake. It is a lot of work, but worth it because Ajishima sweet potatoes are seriously the best in the world!
We are collaborating with a recent acquaintance we met in Ishinomaki. Mr. M has a no-chemical-added fertilizer business; he actually adds all kinds of beneficial microbes to his fertilizer and lets it compost and ferment for a long time, so it is ripe and ready for the plants to access all the vital nutrients they need. I added just over 30kg of fertilizer to this field per his recommendation, and that should ensure a good harvest this year. However, I am thinking 10-20 years down the road and would like to build up the soil health naturally, without investing an inordinate amount of time and money. The good thing is that sweet potatoes can be grown year after year in the same field, without employing crop rotation. The working plan we came up with is to use cover crops during the 8 months per year that there are no potatoes growing in the field. Rye, oats, clover, hairy vetch (not a curse word!) and a few other types of plants can be sown and let to grow most of the year, then cut down, chopped up and mixed in a little bit. This will add some much needed organic matter to the heavy clay soils and break it up some.
After taking a night of rest for both man and machine, we headed off to the other side of the island to prepare another sweet potato field. A fresh tank of gas and two wheels wouldn't take me nearly half way to the other side, so I built a ramp to load the tiller into our truck.
All of the materials I collected from the garbage dump two years ago. I have used them for various purposes thus far (including a drum stage at the summer festival we held two years ago!) but this is by far the most resourceful application of trash and upcycling I have come up with yet! It is collapsible and take-apart-able, although kind of heavy. Members of my family have a tendency to overdue things a little (read: a lot!) and this ramp is definitely overbuilt, but if it can hold the tiller and ME, then it should last a long time to come.
If we had the money we could have ordered a sleek set of ramps on the internet, and if we lived on the mainland we could have taken our time and shopped around and found a good deal on some quality used ramps somewhere, but living on the island and choosing not to take the ferry to the mainland every time we have the urge/need to buy something offers us more an opportunity than a limitation as I see it. If we had everything necessary available in an instant then our choices would be limited, in my opinion, to these things, as they are easiest to get. Not having direct access to the things we need and want means we have to get creative and utilize the available resources around us, natural, man-made and man-made junk all alike, to fashion the items we need. In this way, our options seem endless, to me anyway.
All that time saved driving the tiller to the other side of the island, instead of walking it there alone, meant that I could be joined by the garden muse herself, Michie. We only have a few chances per week to work in the fields together, so even if we squabble over how to orientate the beds, how high to build them or how many breaks a certain someone takes, I cherish every opportunity we get to spend time together.
Working alone is boring and, well...lonely, and that is one of the main reasons I didn't start seriously farming in the five years since we moved to the island. Our situation thankfully changed and now I am happy to work all week long by myself, just for the chance to work with Michie on the weekends. As our farm grows so too will our chances to work together even more. That is the essence of the dream we had together. I have come to realize, that at least for us, dreams come true are not simply granted, dreams are made true by a lot of hard work, sacrifice and compromise. For this, and so much more, I am thankful.