Japan may have ramped up its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, but with the デルタ株 (deruta kabu, delta variant) on the rise, an already-long pandemic looks like it’s not going to end anytime soon. You’ve done the Netflix binges, you’ve done the baking and now it’s summer … so, how about some 園芸 (engei, gardening)?

If you’re serious about 園芸 in Japan, then you’ll need to learn a lot of new vocabulary — from 種 (tane, seed) to 肥料 (hiryō, fertilizer) to 収穫 (shūkaku, harvest).

In recent years, the rise of 農業体験農園 (nōgyō taiken nōen, community farms) have provided city-dwellers the chance to share land and grow their own vegetables. Sharing a single lot requires a small fee, usually around a few thousand yen per month. Lists of urban community farms can be found online on sites such as National Farming Experience Farms.

Once you have contracted your own small 畑 (hatake, field/plot for farming), there’s a lot of work to be done — and Japanese to learn. Before you start any planting, you need to decide what you’ll grow: 野菜(yasai, vegetables), 果物 (kudamono, fruit), 花 (hana, flowers)? Even if you settle on one category, there’s no shortage of options:日本では約200種類の野菜と果物があるとされています (Nihon dewa yaku nihyaku shurui no yasai to kudamono ga aru to sarete-imasu, It’s estimated there are about 200 types of fruits and vegetables in Japan).

On that, 出回る (demawaru) is a verb you may hear that describes what’s starting to show up at markets, with the nuance of it being in season. For example, 7月に入り、メロンやスイカがスーパーや八百屋に出回り始めた (Shichi-gatsu ni hairi, meron ya suika ga sūpā ya yaoya ni demawarihajimeta, Entering July, melon and watermelon are starting to show up at supermarkets and grocers).

Between 果菜類 (kasairyu, fruit-type vegetables) like トマト (tomato, tomato) and 南瓜 (kabocha, pumpkin), 葉菜類 (yōsairui, leafy vegetables) like ほうれん草 (hōrensō, spinach), and 根菜類 (konsairui, root vegetables) like 大根 (daikon, radish) and ニンジン (ninjin, carrot), you’ll have your pick of the crop.

Popular options for 果物 include みかん (mikan, satsuma mandarin) and 柿 (kaki, persimmon); common 花 can include 一年草 (ichinensō, annuals) such as 向日葵 (himawari, sunflower) or ネモフィラ (nemofira, nemophila). As a beginner, you’ll want to be on the lookout for 育てやすい植物 (sodateyasui shokubutsu, plants that are easy to grow).

According to Japanese websites, トマト、小松菜 (komatsuna, Japanese mustard spinach), シシトウ (shishitō, shishito pepper), レモン (remon, lemon) and カランコエ (karankoe, widow’s thrill) are 育てやすい野菜、果物や花として勧められている (sodateyasui yasai, kudamono, ya hana to shite susumerarete-iru, recommended as easy-to-grow vegetables, fruits and flowers.)

You’ll also need some gardening tools. 掘るために、スコップが必要だ (Horu tame ni, sukoppu ga hitsuyō da, For digging, you’ll need a shovel). The ために structure in Japanese is a common one that means “in order to do” the preceding verb. Be aware, however, that it can only be used with 他動詞 (tadōshi, transitive verbs) that have a subject and an object. So it can be used with verbs like 開ける (akeru, to open [something]) and 動かす (ugokasu, to move [something]), but not the intransitive forms of 開く(aku, to be open) and 動く (ugoku, to move [oneself]).

So we need a スコップ, what else? 水をやるためにじょうろが必要だ (mizu o yaru tame ni jōro ga hitsuyō da, for watering, you’ll need a watering can). 死んだ枝や花を切るために、植木バサミが必要だ(Shinda eda ya hana o kiru tame ni, ueki basami ga hitsuyō da, For cutting dead branches and flowers, you need gardening shears.) And for removing the scourge of any garden, 雑草 (zassō, weeds), you’ll need a ねじりガマ (nejiri gama, small sickle) or 小クマデ (shō kumade, mini-rake).

Now that we have a vocabulary full of gardening-relevant terms, how do you get started? 野菜を育てるために、まず土づくりが必要だ (Yasai o sodateru tame ni, mazu tsuchi-zukuri ga hitsuyō da, in order to grow vegetables, you need to prepare the soil first).

Healthy soil full of nutrients is key to growing healthy plants, so about two weeks before planting seeds, you should complete the 土づくり (tsuchi-zukuri, soil preparation.) You can read a full guide on websites such as sc-engei.co.jp, but here’s the basic process: 雑草をとって、石灰を散布して、土と混ぜ合わせる (Zassō o totte, sekkai o sanpu shite, tsuchi to mazeawaseru, Remove the weeds, then sprinkle lime and mix it with the soil). 2週間後、肥料を散布して土と混ぜ合わせる (Ni-shūkan go, hiryō o sanpu shite tsuchi to mazeawaseru,Two weeks later, sprinkle fertilizer and mix it with the soil). Finally, you’re ready for 植え付け (uetsuke, planting).

いろいろな種の植えつけ方があります (Iroirona tane no uetsukekata ga arimasu, There are many different ways to plant seeds). So make sure you read the container of the seeds to confirm what method of planting is best for what you’re growing. Some may be 直まき (jikamaki, planted directly into the ground) as opposed to first planting in a 容器 (yōki, pot) and then transfering into the ground after 発芽 (hatsuga, sprouting).

In the case of moving a plant from a container into the ground: 植えつけた直後に、根鉢を土に馴染ませるために、たっぷり水をやる (Uetsuketa chokugo ni, nebachi o tsuchi ni najimaseru tame ni, tappuri mizu o yaru, Right after you’ve planted, water the plant in order to make sure its roots mix into the soil). For those of us sticking to growing vegetables in 容器, the watering technique is important: 土の表面が乾いている時に、水をやる (Tsuchi no hyōmen ga kawaite-iru toki ni, mizu o yaru, Water when the surface of the soil is dry). Watering at the same time every day risks over or underwatering the plants.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg for gardening (and learning Japanese from it). There are abundant resources online in Japanese, so don’t be shy about challenging your linguistic knowledge to build a great garden in Japan. 綺麗に園芸をするためにも、綺麗な日本語を話すためにも、諦めてはいけません (Kirei ni engei o suru tame nimo, kireina Nihongo o hanasu tame nimo, akiramete wa ikemasen, In order to grow a beautiful garden, and in order to speak beautiful Japanese, you can’t give up).

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