Backyard vegetable gardening has come a long way since the days when gardeners only planted tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. Today, I grow a variety of unique and global crops in my raised beds, including a new-to-me crop for 2016, rice.
And no, I didn’t install a rice paddy. Instead, I chose to grow an upland variety of rice called Duborskian. Rice is typically divided into two categories; lowland or upland. Lowland rice varieties are paddy types that are grown in flooded areas. Upland rice, as the name suggests, is a type of rice that is grown in higher terrain and adapted to drier conditions. They grow well in regular garden soil.
Because this was an experiment and space was short in my garden, I planted only eight seedlings. However, those eight plants were extremely vigorous and quickly filled their portion of the raised bed. I was surprised to learn that growing rice is actually pretty darn easy. It was a very low maintenance crop and wasn’t bothered by pests or disease. The summer of 2016 was plagued by a prolonged drought and I did give the plants about an inch of water each week, but that was their only demand.
Another surprise; rice is a gorgeous garden plant! The narrow, arching foliage formed pretty clumps in the garden, and turned from green to gold in early autumn. Seedheads appeared by mid-summer, with each plant yielding 12 to 15 panicles.
Rice is wind pollinated and when the seedheads emerged fully, the whole family had fun gently shaking the panicles to watch the small clouds of pollen drift away in the breeze. We also learned that rice is a ‘touchable’ plant, with everyone reaching out to feel the spiky foliage and seedheads as they passed the garden bed.
8 steps to growing rice
- Choose a garden-friendly variety of rice, like Duborskian. This upland type is adapted to short seasons and dry-land production (aka, regular garden soil). It’s a short grain variety available through several seed companies.
- Start the seeds indoors under grow lights or in a sunny windowsill six weeks before the last expected spring frost.
- Transplant seedlings to a sunny, well amended spot in the garden once all risk of frost has passed. Mulch with straw or shredded leaves to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. Space plants about a foot apart.
- Water weekly if there has been no rain and remove any weeds that appear.
- In late September when the plants have turned golden brown and the seeds feel hard, it’s time to harvest the rice. Cut the plants just above the soil level and gather them into small bundles. Hang the bundles to dry in a well ventilated spot for several more weeks.
- Once the plants are completely dry, you need to thresh the seeds from the plant. Most gardeners aren’t going to have a thresher, so you’ll need to pull them off by hand – grab the kids for this task!
- To remove the inedible hull from the grains, they need to be pounded. Place the grains on a wooden surface and pound them with a wooden mallet or the end of a small log. Once you’ve removed the husks, separate them from the rice by winnowing. Traditionally, this is done by placing the husked grains in a shallow basket and tossing gently in the air. The husks should blow away on the breeze with the rice falling back into the basket. You can also use a fan to blow the husks away as you slowly pour the grains from basket to basket.
- Store your winnowed rice in jars or containers until you’re ready to cook.
What do you think? Would you try growing rice in your garden?