Yes, it has been a long time since our last update. Speaking of long, lets talk about long grain rice. We grew some! Diamante, a long grain from Chile is currently drying in our hoop house. The longer grain, on the left of the first picture firs below is Diamante. The one on the right is a short grain, Yukihikari.
We are the only farm I know of to have long grain rice finish in a cool climate (please contact us if you know otherwise!). All the commercial rices grown by the few rice farmers in the northeast are short grain brown rices. Next season, with the Diamante saved seed, we will test out its commercial viability. Furthermore, ten of the twenty varieties we tested (on top of the three we already grow commercially) have a lot of promise. Above and right, was my personal favorite, Titanio,which has such a unique panicle (heading formation). This winter we will share, sell and stow this seed for eating and growing.
This picture is from the middle of July. We directly seeded rice in the right half of this picture - as an experiment. Notice that it is two weeks behind the transplanted rice to the left. The directly sown yields where lower, the plants were more scattered and the weed pressure was higher. However, the labor and cost (seedling, greenhouse space, etc.) of transplanting is considerably higher than directly sown rice. We are now in the process of applying for a research grant to test the economic viability of directly sown rice production in the northeast.
There are a dozen varieties in the picture above and center. Name them all and the farm is yours! Notice all the different appearances. Hopefully a diversity of tastes ensues.
Directly Sown Rice
The other highlight, alongside seed saving, was a direct seeding experiment we did. This is shown in the right half of the paddy pictured below.
This is how rice is cultivated in most of the world. In northern climates, commercial rice is grown as transplants, like tomatoes. This gives these plants a head-start in our short, cool growing season.
For the past two seasons we have been selecting the earliest maturing plants from a trusty Hokkaido variety, Hayayuki, which we then directly sowed in 2015.
Piping, azolla, and young rice (below, left). Our paddy polyculture and infrastructure are hard at work here.
With a cooler June, it took a little longer for the azolla to spread, but by July it took off (above, center)!
While looking at and researching other paddies, I have found that weed encroachment, from neighboring grasses, can become a large problem. This moat (above, left) surrounds half of one paddy – yet another experiment. The other purpose of the moat is to provide wildlife with habitat if the paddies dry, due either to weather or management practices. See the tadpoles in the picture far right.
Challenges & Solutions
Issues this season manifested with pests, pollination and predation. All three of which reaffirmed how the scale of operations matters so much for agricultural production.
Pollination Problem: Three consecutive cool nights in mid- July zapped the pollen from the transplanted Hayayuki, the variety we also directly seeded.
Potential Solution - Transplant the variety later in the season, so that its pollen is released when nights are generally warmer, and/or flood the paddies to moderate temperatures for these few chilly nights.
Predation Problem: We lost a lot of ducks to a few different predators. I will spare you the pictures.
Potential Solution - Well, hopefully, we trapped some of the problem animals. We also had two lines of fencing up, as shown above. Next season we will build a coop for the ducks to go into at night.
"Why no ducks coop yet?" You may ask .
The ducks do much of their work in the paddies during the night and we did not have predation issues in the past.
Pest Problem: Bobolinks, whose Latin name, Orzivorus, literally means rice eater. They were only around for a few weeks, and they don't eat the mature rice. Rather, they peck at the unripened milky grains, meaning each bird can do considerable damage. As land stewards, we intentionally leave much of our fields uncut, largely for bobolinks, who have lost half of their habitat in the past 30 years. They are dear to our hearts and we will continue to provide habitat for them as we find a way for rice and bobolinks to coexist. Catch 22, eh?
Potential Solution – We tried many things this season. Next season we hope a combination of 1) predatory bird calls, 2) scare crows, 3) a sheep pasture adjacent to paddies, 4) nets, 5) and long term, closing off the paddies by growing tall plants. This can create a less familiar and hospitable environment for the bobolinks.
Below, I am demonstrating how to harvest the rice during a work party (middle left). Thirty friends joined in on activities in the paddies and throughout the farm. The paddies were weeded and mulched. Rice was harvested, bundled and dried. Rocks were moved and paths were made. It was a blast. More to come. Photo courtesy of Coralina Breuer.
Piggies (far right)! We only planted rice in two of our eight big paddies. The rest got cover crops, pigs, and ducks.
October: A Wild Folk Farmer and a Colby intern thresh the rice (below). The thresher is pedal powered. We got a kick out of using this, (pun kind of intended), so much that we want others to enjoy in this activity. Next season we plan to offer “You Pick Rice”. Pick your variety, muddle amongst the paddies, scythe through the rice, and then pedal power your way to locally threshed and hulled rice.
Experimental and innovative projects inevitably bring a host of challenges, that can be hard to anticipate. Even with these challenges, we still have a lot of rice, roughly ten times as much as last season. Our challenges from the season remind us how grateful and fortunate we are to have raised so much money. This project and our future successes would not be possible without your support. THANKS!
Some late donations have come in over the past few months, and while the campaign is over, we are still looking to raise $2,000 for some commercial-scale processing equipment and rice-drying infrastructure." This money will go towards some commercial scale processing equipment, rice drying infrastructure, and ecologically-sound bobolink deterrents. Late donations are entitled to all of the perks on the website. We plan to send off the perks this winter.
The picture below was taken yesterday. Soon half of the rice will be hulled, where we remove the seed coat, and then send it to you! This should make a great cold weather activity as we plan to use a bike-powered huller for much of it. Feel free to reach out if you want to feel the hulling burn. The rest we will save, sell and share for seed.