Organic Duborskian Rice
It's true, you can grow rice! Even in short seasons, even without a patty and it's remarkably simple. Not to mention marvelous: You're growing RICE!
The Duborskians were 19th-century communal agriculturalists in Russia, regionally adapting many crops to their short seasons. We will always be thankful for them and we're especially grateful for Roberta Bailey of Seven Tree Farm in Maine, who selected Duborskian rice in central Maine for years before gifting us our original seed stock in 2014.
Duborskian is short-grain upland rice --- also called dryland rice --- meaning it thrives in average garden conditions. It would perish in a classic rice patty. Indeed, we were astonished in 2016, the driest season on record in our county, to witness Duborskian rice absolutely flourish, undaunted.
With about ten inches between plants, each grain of rice will send up an abundance of stalks (tillers) with gorgeous mint-green seed heads (panicles) emerging in July. Explore more details on growing and harvesting in the tabs above and videos below, including a fun article from Roberta herself :)
One 100' row of rice will yield 6 to 10 pounds of grain.
Sow Seeds & Sing Songs,
& the whole Fruition Crew
115 days from transplant
Harvest Kitchen: Growing Rice in Central Maine
by Roberta Bailey (who gifted us our original Duborskian rice seed stock)
I grew rice this year! And I actually harvested mature rice heads.
The entire process entertained me all summer. It has been ages since I grew something about which I knew absolutely nothing. It gave me a glimpse into the world of the new gardener, packet of seed in hand and no idea what comes next. That newness, that blank slate, kept me grinning and marveling.
It all started last winter when I was handed two packets of rice and was asked if I was interested in trialing the varieties for Fedco Seeds. Always game for a new challenge, and having an interest in northern rice propagation, I agreed. The two varieties, ‘Carolina Gold’ and ‘Hmong Sticky,’ were from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I decided to order the five varieties being offered, with very little descriptive information, through the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) members’ list: ‘Shan Red,’ ‘Basmati,’ ‘Golden Rose,’ ‘Duborskian’ and ‘Ohsawa Pearl.’
I don't remember deliberating, but I must have decided to give the rice as much of a jump on the season as possible, because I started the plants in my greenhouse on April 29. I used 3-inch-deep flats and sowed the seed about 1 inch apart in rows spaced a few inches apart. Most germinated in seven or eight days, looking very much like a shoot of wheat or oats. ‘Shan Red’ took two weeks. I wondered if the seed was older or if the variety needed something my greenhouse was not providing. If that was the case, good luck in our Maine summer.
Over the next month, the seedlings formed three or four shoots, and I noticed that their stem and leaf structure was very flat, not rounded like some other grains. They were quite green and seemed happy. So far so good. Even ‘Shan Red’ was catching up in size after its slow start.
I had heard that rice can be grown on dry land and does not need to be in standing water. Water is used to control weeds, as rice can tolerate water better than weeds. I decided to plant in a section of the garden that had had standing water most of the previous summer. Wet summer or dry, it should fare well. I have rich but heavy clay soil. Even in a dry year, it rarely needs to be watered.
Again, I don't remember the thought process, but I decided to make slightly raised rows. As the land had been in buckwheat followed by oats the previous summer and fall, I thought that few nutrients needed to be added. I did add some Azomite and kelp meal and a small amount of compost in hopes of providing all the nutrients the rice would need; and I soaked the soil in the flats with fish emulsion solution – something I do to help all my seedlings through the transplant process.
I carried my flats to the prepared rows, set them down, wrote out the plant markers – and then it hit me: I had no idea how to plant rice. I had no idea what the plant looked like or how big it would get or how much room to give it.
The garden was pulling me and I decided to wing it. It's a grain. Think of how big wheat or barley plants get. So I started pulling apart plants and setting them in rows about a foot apart. I was grinning. For all I knew, generations of rice farmers were watching over my shoulder and laughing, just like a local farmer laughed when I planted my wheat in rows. It is good to be humbled.
The transplants seemed to settle in fine, then all varieties turned a bit yellow. Oh well, so much for rice in Maine. Or maybe it was transplant shock. Or a reaction to being mulched with grass clippings. I later learned that rice is traditionally started in some form of plug, then transplanted, so my plants may have been recovering from having their roots disturbed. After a few weeks, the plants greened up and began to grow. ‘Carolina Gold,’ ‘Hmong Sticky’ and ‘Duborskian’ were the most vigorous, forming 10 to 20 stems per plant. As I weeded I noticed how flat the stems were, almost like lemongrass.
On August 5, ‘Duborskian’ started to push forth grain heads on round stems. I was elated. It had two months to finish. Maybe I could grow rice in Maine. ‘Carolina Gold’ and ‘Hmong Sticky’ were lush but showed no sign of sending up seed heads.
Over the next two months, I watched the ‘Duborskian’ grain kernels fill out and get hard and yellow as they dried. Each plant sent out 10 or 15 seed heads. Each seed head had about 100 short, fat grains of rice. The SSE members’ list noted that ‘Duborskian’ is a short season Russian variety. A member had grown it in Massachusetts.
On September 20, ‘Hmong Sticky’ started to send up seed heads – possibly too late, as it took close to two months for ‘Duborskian’ to finish, but by October 17 this variety was hardening enough that I anticipated getting some mature seed. Maybe avoiding transplant shock would have helped produce seed sooner.
On October 2, shoots appeared on ‘Carolina Gold.’ The plants withstood temperatures in the low 30s.
In fact, the plants had withstood about five nights in the low 30s by October 17. Some looked a bit bleached, as if they had tip burn.
I harvested the seedhead by cutting the stalks at about 12 inches and then spread them to dry in the shaded area of my greenhouse. I have heard that rice seed needs to have its hull intact for good germination. I’ll store most of the grain for replanting, but I want to steam and eat some of it plain to get the full flavor of homegrown rice. If it is like any other homegrown grain, vegetable, fruit or nut, it will be a bit sweeter and bursting with more flavor than one could imagine possible.
I may have to become a Maine rice farmer.
Growing Rice in Short Seasons
Our Favorite Rice for Short Seasons: Duborksian Rice