“All things that are worth doing, take time.” ~ Mos Def
Here’s where we stand. The broccoli and cabbage are in the ground now, looking happy about these warm days lately. The tomato plants are getting large. Mostly, they’ve been re-potted and moved to a sheltered mini hoop row in front of the greenhouse. My Fellow Man is in the process of transplanting peppers and eggplants to larger pots, the final move before they go into the ground.
This means that the greenhouse is emptying out a little, and THAT means that we’ve got room to put out the rice.
This is the fourth year we are growing rice. (I wrote a little bit about this on a previous post – the state of the farm report.)
We have eaten one meal of our own rice. It was fabulous.
There was no knowing how it might come out. It’s odd-ball enough to be growing rice on a personal scale that it’s difficult to find good cultural information about different varieties. And there are SO many different varieties. But, all was well. It was firm, and nutty, and tasty. And there were so many hours of labor invested in it that I have no desire to count them.
Allow me to give you some of the scoop on rice.
First, a piece of advice, to begin with: always rinse your rice before you cook it. I had heard this before, and began to practice it in earnest when word came out about the unacceptably high levels of arsenic in rice (even organic rice). Evidently, rinsing helps take the levels down. I get it now. Rice is dusty. After we finally got the hulls off our meal-sized serving of precious short grain brown grain, I looked at it closely and was thoroughly amazed at the amount of itty-bitty debris attached to the grain. It seems to be the nature of rice to hold debris. Please, rinse you rice. It’s really not hard.
Now, the nitty-gritty.
After we harvested the rice, last fall, we left the pretty seed heads in baskets for awhile, busy with other things. In the midst of winter, we separated the grain, still in the hull, from the stalks. My engineering husband designed a sort of system for this, but in the end we weren’t sure if it was any more effective than just pulling it with gloved hands.
He set a screen over a large wooden box, then, with his hand in an old (clean) shoe, he rolled and pushed the grain over the screen. In theory, the grains go through the screen and the stalks stay out. It wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done.
Then, he made the machine. Directions are available on line HERE. It’s basically a modified corona mill. The good news is that it worked.
The bad news is that the rubber disc was frayed by the hard hulls and lots of little pieces of orange rubber went into our rice. We were able to winnow, then pick them out, but we were only willing to use this method for one meal.
There’s a bucket full of last season’s rice – still in the hull – waiting for my Fellow Man to build the next generation of rice huller. We’ve got most of the parts now. But it will have to wait until the eggplants are potted up, and the cover crops mowed, and the chicken coop gets moved, and the storage shed gets built… you get the picture.
We will eat that rice, by golly. And even though it sounds a little nuts, we will grow more rice.
Why? It’s just what we do.
We like rice. We like it better than wheat, and about as much as corn. We grow plenty of corn, but not rice.
Our experiment began before the Consumer Reports article about arsenic levels in rice came out. But, that report and several more to follow it, certainly helped propel our interest.
Aside – in case you haven’t followed this news and don’t read every link in this post – almost every rice product grown in this country is contaminated with arsenic. There are no FDA guidelines for what a “safe” amount of arsenic might be, maybe because it’s a known carcinogen. There is no safe level of a carcinogen. Rice grown in the middle of the country had considerably higher levels of contamination than rice from the coasts. One reason for this unfortunate state of things may be that arsenic has been a common ingredient in commercial poultry feed for quite awhile now. Only the tiniest bit of that arsenic that makes it into the meat of those birds. Chicken livers are no longer safe to eat because of this practice, and if you follow the digestive stream, it doesn’t take long to figure out that the rest of the arsenic ends up in the manure. The manure, called “chicken litter” is used as fertilizer, even on organic farms. Thus, we have arsenic in the soil, water, and food supply. Bummer.
Rice feeds a lot of the world. Most of the rice that feeds the world grows in flooded paddies. I don’t have figures for this, but I suspect that a great deal of the paddy rice production in Asia happens in smaller-scale operations and is hand transplanted. One rice grower we spoke with, from Arkansas, told us that her paddy rice was dropped in aerially – as in, from an airplane. Her farm was much larger than ours. Clearly, this is not an option for the small homestead.
Here at Red Springs Family Farm, we have don’t have a handy place to put even a small rice paddy. So, we’re joining the six percent of the world’s known rice producers in growing what is known as “upland” rice.
Fortunately, home-scale grain production is becoming more common. There is more information floating around now, and more people like us, innovating food systems. Even given that, upland rice has proven to be a stretch. It is hard to find information. It seems that over the years (about 10,000 years that people have been harvesting rice), there have always been poor folks like us up in the hills, growing and eating upland rice. The kicker is that upland rice doesn’t produce as abundantly as paddy rice. Thomas Jefferson grew upland rice at Monticello, but stopped when paddy rice from elsewhere hit the market. It’s impossible to compete with paddy rice. So upland rice doesn’t go to market much, and probably because of this it doesn’t get much attention in agricultural literature.
Since we’re not taking our rice to market (and we also grow potatoes and corn), time is on our side. Four years and one wonderful meal into this experiment, we carry on. Last year, we trialed five varieties of upland rice (four of them were from the USDA National Plant Germplasm System, one from Fedco). Paul picked the one that worked best and saved seed. It is a Japanese variety with a similar growing period as we have here. Now the seeds have been soaked and sprouted, and my diligent Fellow Man is planting them into plug trays. Having read as much as we could find, on paper and on-line, we are becoming content to blaze our own trail. We’ll keep you posted.
For more information about rice and rice culture, we recommend: