Day 39: Learning basic farm tasks

I started the day at 7: 30 a.m. After a breakfast of cereal, goat milk (!!) and a banana smoothie, my first task was to take out the burnable trash. There are separate days on which the burnable trash and recyclable plastics are collected. All the residents of the area leave their trash in a little enclosure which is just about 100 meters away from my host’s house. I was also asked to put up the sign board for my host’s café by the street, which she opens on some days.
Next, it was time to go into the field for some farming activity. Sayaka-san told me to wear rubber boots, full pants and a full sleeve shirt. We started at 8:30 and went on until around noon.I was first asked to pick some plums that had fallen on the ground so that Sayaka-san could make plum jam later. They were all half eaten and when I asked why that was, Sayaka san told me that birds had eaten them. Later, I watched her make jam and it was surprisingly less dense than the kind I buy in the market. Apparently, there is a chemical called pectin that is used to make jam thicker. Sayaka-san uses no preservatives while making jam. She only uses sugar. 
My second task at the farm was to put composting material in this little black container (about 2 or 3 feet tall) which stood in the field. It was circular and black. I put the composting material (banana peels, seeds, etc.) in the container and was told to cover it with some soil. I had to use a digger for that. I’d always seen laborers using that and thought it was very heavy and tough to use. But it wasn’t actually too hard. 
My next task was weeding. Weeding was tough. First, I learnt how to identify the weeds. I was surprised to learn that the little green plants which I often admire as greenery are actually weed. There were all kinds of weed-small ones and large ones. The smaller ones were much easier. Some were so tough that I’d fall back trying to pull them. There was two tools that I could use. One was a small one with sharp steel lines curving downwards, to grab the weeds by the roots (see picture below). These could be used around plants. Then there was the bigger tool, which was the size of a spade. It had to be slammed on the soil sideways and then pulled back. It was hard. I ended up using the smaller one most of the time. Weeds have to be removed so that they don’t take up the nutrients from the soil. They grow all the time in every season and are what keeps farmers the busiest. 

The smaller tool used for weeding

After some weeding, I plucked purple-reddish herbs growing in the field called shiso. That was much easier. I had to pick the big leaves so that Sayaka-san could make shiso juice later. All this while I had to be careful to not hurt my back by bending too much. I was told that it’s better to sit on your heels while doing weeding or plucking as opposed to bending your back down in standing position. My feet started to hurt after some time, since I wasn’t used to sitting that way for long periods of time. 
After I finished plucking the shiso leaves, I had to do some more weeding and plucking beans. I was asked to remove some nets from the field which had been used to separate some plants earlier. My gloves, clothes and boots were all soiled by the time I was done. 
We finished farming around noon and took showers. We ate udon for lunch and then rested for two hours. I was pretty tired by now and fell asleep. 
Sayaka-san normally spends half a day in the field and the other half in the house doing maintenance tasks or household chores. So after lunch, I had mostly lighter work. Sayaka-san asked me to wash the boots which were very muddy. It was unexpectedly tiring, partly because I was still tired from farming. After I was done washing about ten pairs of boots from all the mud of the field, I was asked to help out with the kitchen. I stirred the plum jam mixture for a few minutes (which was basically rotating a handle that would push through the jam through the sieve and leave the seeds behind), and then I helped Sayaka-san dry dishes and put them back in place. It was around 5 p.m. by the time we finished.
I was exhausted and ready to retire. We ate dinner at 6. I noticed that Sayaka-san has more vegetarian food than meat. She says it’s because she has some many vegetables growing in the field that veggies are more accessible to her than meat for her. She doesn’t sell any of her veggies in the market and the farm produce is for self consumption (which includes consumption by her guests as well).  
Over dinner Sayaka-san told me that she started her guest house and farm three years ago and has hosted about a 100 WWOOFers since then. She said that WWOOFing is apparently popular among Europeans and Americans. In Japan, there are quite a few Taiwanese WWOOFers as well. Most WWOOFers are travelers in their late 20s or early 30s. I will be joined by another WWOOFer later this week and the guest house will have some overnighters next weekend. For now, the two of us are by ourselves. 
All this while, I’ve been sitting on the deck of the house and I’m watching the clouds change color as the sun sets. It’s beautiful. I can’t actually see the sun, but the clouds are fire red now. They were orange a few minutes ago.

Today was pretty tiring, and I think it will take me a few days to get used to this lifestyle and work. I don’t know what the future or outcome of this experience will be, but one thing I’ve learnt from my first day of farming is the literal meaning of getting your hands dirty.