Flipping through seed catalogs is always dangerous. There are too many things I want to grow and never enough garden space. However, that didn’t stop me from ordering Duborskian rice last year from Fedco. The idea of growing dryland rice, also known as upland rice, has fascinated me for reasons I cannot fully explain. Maybe it’s the idea of growing something out of its traditional location, or maybe I just like rice.
My rice experiment was very small-scale. I mostly wanted to see if it was actually possible and what dryland rice looked like up close. If it proved successful and interesting, I decided, I would think about expanding my rice crop enough to yield more than one serving.
History of Dryland Rice
The idea of dryland rice took root after I learned of a farm in Maine that was trying to build actual rice paddies (I don’t know if they succeeded). Since my Duborskian rice was reported to grow well in Maine on dry soil, this seemed like an awful lot of work.
I also discovered, thanks to the wealth of information available on the internet, that dryland rice is not actually anything new. It has been grown in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, along with other parts of the world, for years, although yields are reportedly lower than those of rice grown in paddies.
Dryland rice is grown for a variety of reasons, usually by subsistence farmers. Drought, limited space, and lack of access to water are the main culprits, and they are likely to continue to be a problem in the future of agriculture. Today, developing varieties of dryland rice could have important implications for areas dealing with drought and growing populations. Or, in my case, for gardeners looking to try something new.
Enter Duborskian Rice
Duborskian rice is derived from a Russian variety of dryland rice (according to seed catalogs) and grows well in colder climates. It also doesn’t require flooding, which makes it a possibility for gardeners looking to add higher calorie items to their gardens without putting in a pond. All of that sounds great on paper, but when the time came to actually plant rice I was a bit flummoxed. The only place I had seen rice growing was in National Geographic, and I didn’t think that was going to be a reliable guideline.
As it turns out, Duborskian rice and other varieties of dryland rice grow best when started indoors (in cold climates) in plugs. The plugs prevent disruption to the root systems during transplant, and starting them a few weeks early gives them a chance to get a head start on the season and on the weeds. I planted my rice 10-12 inches apart in beds approximately four feet apart. This variety grows to 20-24 inches in height, taking up a fair amount of vertical space.
My rice didn’t seem to be bothered by many pests over the course of the season. The biggest threat I was worried about was birds once the grains began to develop, but I had very little trouble with them. If you have grown rice and encountered pest difficulties, please post in the comments below.
Harvesting Dryland Rice
Here’s the thing about rice: it needs to be hulled before it can be eaten. I harvested my rice mid-September, following the advice of this helpful article, and dried it for three weeks in the barn. Then I pulled it out and stared at it. I did not own a treadle thresher or any other grain processing equipment, and even though my yield was small, the prospect was still daunting.
Hand threshing my small quantity didn’t actually take as long as I’d feared, but I am not sure what I would do on a larger scale. Winnowing was more exciting than it should have been, and I believe I inhaled more particles than I winnowed out before covering my mouth.
Sweaty but satisfied with my work, I was still left with the problem of hulling the rice. I opted to keep most of the rice back for seed, a gesture which I suspect was motivated by laziness more than anything else, and went inside to research what to do with the rest.
Since I didn’t have access to any equipment, there was only one thing to do. Take a mallet and beat the crap out of my rice until the hulls came off. It was the hardest I have ever worked for a bowl of rice.
Will I Grow Rice Again?
The rice was delicious, and I am nothing if not determined, so I planted the rest of my rice with surprisingly decent germination this year. My goal by the end of the season is to find a more effective way to de-hull them, and after that I will decide just how seriously I want to take rice farming.