Rice is nice…and you can even grow your own here in the Northeast

Ben Falk of Whole Systems Design in Vermont.

Here I am swimming in seedlings and small potted plants sitting on shelves or the ground in the greenhouse, on my picnic table and on the terrace. Each one is waiting for the right time to be planted outdoors or to be moved to a bigger pot. So why would I add to the crowd by planting something as absurd as rice? Because rice tastes good and might be fun to grow.

Interest in commercial and home rice cultivation has been on the rise here in the Northeast, as attested to by last year’s second annual Northeast Rice Conference, held in (of all places!) Vermont. No paddies in the works here; I’m parting ways with most of my fellow growers in planning to grow rice under dry-land conditions.

Growing rice in flooded fields is a useful way to snuff out weeds – dry-land weeds, at least – and, more importantly in northern regions, to moderate temperatures. My planting is going to be very small – measured in square feet – so I can weed by hand, and my site is considerably warmer than anywhere in Vermont.

My planting has to be small, because I’m starting with very few seeds: the variety Hayayuki, generally recommended for northern conditions and kindly shared with me by Ben Falk (www.wholesystemsdesign.com). Ben has grown rice successfully in paddies that he constructed at his homestead in central Vermont.

So today I planted seeds in a seedling tray with inch-square cells, in each of which I planted one or two seeds. If everything goes as planned, I’ll be transplanting in a few weeks (rice does not tolerate any frost, doesn’t even like cold weather). Recommended spacing is 12-by-eight-inches for groups of two to three plants. My garden soil is very rich, so I’ll plant closer than recommended.

Harvest, with a grass shear, should come in September, followed by threshing by smacking seedhead-filled pillowcases against the floor. As for dehulling the rice – that is, removing the hard coat around each kernel – I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Plans for a small-scale dehuller are available at https://www.savingourseeds.org/pdf/grain_dehuller.pdf.

 

Moving on to more practical matters: gates. If good fences make good neighbors, good gates make good invitations to pass through fences.

The gate to my south vegetable garden is not good. It was when I built it, the sturdy frame of natural locust wood swinging either open or closed with the mere touch of a finger. But locust wood is heavy, and that weight was the gate’s downfall – literally. For the past few years, the bottom scraped along the ground, so that lifting the handle was necessary to open and close it. A five-foot span, hinged at one end, put too much stress on the wood.

I realized recently that the extra trouble of opening the gate and the possibility of it breaking were limiting trips into the garden. And there’s little worse for a vegetable garden than a disincentive – be it distance, too many weeds or a gate that’s too hard to open – to enter it.

That full five-foot breadth was only necessary to let pass the occasional garden cart full of compost to spread over the beds. So why not, methinks, rebuild the gate with two half-gates, one of which would be plenty wide for passing through for the almost daily planting, weeding and/or harvesting? With less leverage, a half-width gate would experience little stress.

The locust branches of the old gate made it charming but slow to build. I built the new gate – a temporary one – out of two-by-fours. Together, a pintle sticking up into a hole in the bottom and a bolt sliding down through two parallel eyebolts and then into a hole in the top make a sturdy, effective and adjustable hinge, so that each gate swings easily and, with a spring closure, shuts automatically.

Already the garden beckons me. Beds have been layered with compost, weeds have been pulled and today I’ll sow popcorn seeds. The only problem is that “temporary” building projects too often morph into things more permanent. Two compliments on the new gate have already started it down that road.

 

If you’re going to grow tomatoes, which I highly recommend doing, I also recommend planting heirloom varieties. Simply put, they generally taste better. (Sungold cherry tomato is an exception: It’s one of the best-tasting cherry tomatoes, and it’s a hybrid rather than heirloom variety.) Problem is that it’s too late to get seeds and start your own transplants now. But you can buy a wide selection of varieties of heirloom tomato transplants and other vegetable transplants at the annual Organic Heirloom Vegetable Seedling Sale at Four Winds Farm, located at 158 Marabac Road in Gardiner. The sale takes place on Friday, May 18 from 1 to 5 p.m. and on Saturday, May 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information call (845) 255-3088 or go to https://users.bestweb.net/~fourwind/HeirloomSeedlings.html. They’ll also have Sungold transplants. All transplants are Certified Organically Grown.

 

 

Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at [email protected] and I’ll try answering them directly or in this column. Come visit my garden at https://www.leereich.blogspot.com.

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  1. Lee’s experience getting rice started is really interesting. I’d like know two things: 1) how has it progressed? and 2) where did he get the seeds? Thanks. Mike

  2. My rice is coming along nicely. Seeds are forming, although still green and immature. I got the seeds from Ben Falk, mentioned in the article. He does does generally offer these seeds; I bumped into him and his rice crop at a NOFA conference a couple of years ago. By the way, the next NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) conference is Aug 10-12 in Amherst, MA. I’ll be offering 3 workshops there.

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