My first experience with growing rice in North Central Indiana was far more successful than I had anticipated. I believe the decision to grow an upland rice variety over a traditional paddy rice variety was the golden ticket. Upland rice can be grown in any rich garden soil and requires at least an inch of water per week, much like sweet corn. Paddy rice, on the other hand, needs to be in a plot where you can flood and retain water, as well as control the water levels and drain when the rice is mature. Simplicity seemed like a good choice to start with. The second factor was which upland rice variety to choose. I found two possibilities for available seed, Duborskian and Blue Bonnet. Duborskian upland rice is a Russian heirloom. Blue Bonnet is a upland variety originally grown by Mayan farmers in Belize. Indiana and Russia felt like a better match than Indiana and Belize. In the future, I do plan to trial out Blue Bonnet, as well as any other upland varieties I can locate, but for this season, Duborskian was chosen and paid off.
I started my plants, 600 total, in April using plug trays (50’s). I would advise no more than three weeks as plugs before setting out. After 4 weeks the plants get quite root bound and begin to yellow and lose vigorousness. I planted on May 27th in beds 4′ wide and spaced 6″ apart. This was in an area in my fields that stays a little wetter in the spring than the rest. This soil would be classified as a clay loam, and with the rainy spring and summer, this year I only needed to irrigate 3 times. You would have to compensate with more water in lighter ground or a dryer season.
At the end of July, all the plants were forming seed heads and multiple tillers. The only additional feedings I do for any crop is a few foliar sprays as my schedule permits. I only use Maxicrop which is a highly water-soluble kelp product. This is one of the best foliar sprays for organic growers that I’ve come across in the past 20 years!
As the middle of August approached, the top seed heads were filling out nicely and the outer husks on the rice grains began to turn to a golden brown. The seed inside was dense and the seed heads began to droop down with their increasing weight. At this time I decided to take Gene Logsdon’s advice from his classic book, Small-Scale Grain Raising, where he suggests that bird netting might be a good idea at this point if I wanted to actually harvest any rice. I purchased a relatively inexpensive mesh from FarmTek and easily installed it over the rice beds using 5′ steel t-posts and poly twine. As Duborskian rice grows to a height of 3 – 4 foot, this was an easy job and, I believe, well worth the investment versus the risk. I cannot fully say that this was necessary since, as far as I could tell, I didn’t lose any of the rice to birds. I do know that a small millet bed adjacent to the rice was devastated by a single pair of finches. Imagine what a hungry flock would do if they decided that rice was tastier than millet.
The next step was to decide when to harvest. I could find very little detailed information in books or online as to when to harvest rice in general, let alone Duborskian rice in specific. I went with a logical approach to the problem and decided to harvest in phases and to then record and compare yields and germination rates for each group harvested. On September 10th, I harvested a single bed, bundled in groups of 4 plants, and hung to dry further in my shed. September 18th, I cut the majority of the remaining rice, and left only 1/2 bed. I wanted to see if the rice would ripen further, and at what point the grains would begin to shatter (shattering is when mature seed begins to fall onto the ground where it becomes unusable). At the beginning of October, I cut the rest and then proceeded to begin threshing the first bundles, which I had cut and hung 3 weeks earlier. I threshed my grain using a treadle (foot-peddle) powered thresher I purchased from The Back to the Land Store in Tennessee. It is not cheap to buy, but nor is it cheaply built! This is a great piece of equipment for the homestead grower! The rice threshed easily and quickly with this machine.
After threshing, I rubbed the grains of rice between my hands (I advise leather gloves for this job) to break loose the grain’s beards. Next, I proceeded to winnow in front of a fan, pouring the grain from one tub to another until clean and free of chaff. My total yield from 600 plants grown in approximately 500 sq. foot of bed space was 27 lbs. This weight includes the rice hulls (more about that in a bit). The germination rate testing found that the last 1/2 bed harvested at the beginning of October did have a higher germination rate (100%) than the first bed harvested on September 10th (80%). Given the likelihood of early frost for our area, I’ve opted for the middle ground and will plan to harvest next years crop around September 20th. I figure Duborskian rice is 115 day from transplant at the end of May till harvest in late September in Northern Indiana.
Here is the bad news. The last step before cooking up a hot steaming bowl of your own home grown rice is to figure out how to remove the inedible husks. This has proven to be a tough problem. There are small, hand-powered rice de-hullers available, the problem is they are all built and sold in China, South East Asia, and India. I have yet to find a single source for one of these machines in the U.S. Importing would be cost-prohibitive. There are some ideas for home built units on the Web and a few designs for converting a grain mill into a de-huller. I tried this and met with very limited results, but I do not claim to be any kind of engineer. So, I found myself with almost 30 lbs. of home grown rice and no easy way to de-hull and eat it. Putting my thinking cap on, I decided to consult with two businessmen in my area, one from India and the other from Cambodia. I was informed that in the absence of a cleverly engineered, simply-designed low-tek rice de-huller, that I, a citizen of the world’s only remaining super-power, would have to instead resort to the 4000 year old method of “beating the crap out of your rice with a wooden mallet on a stump”. This is what I did and am still doing. It works, but is very inefficient and time- consuming. A percentage of the grain cracks, but it is quite usable. Hopefully by next year’s harvest, I will have located a good de-huller.
Here is the good news. The Duborskian rice that I have de-hulled and cooked up was delicious!
Below is an updated video from 2014. It includes the use of a hand-crank rice de-huller.