Thursday, September 1, 2016

Rice

I grow as many varieties of rice (Oryza sativa) as I can get my hands on every year as an experiment. This year has been challenging for this little project of mine, to say the least. My first sowing was almost completely destroyed by a mouse that got into our apartment and decimated the sprouting grain. The survivors and a second planting then suffered through an unusually cool May and June. Those plants that made it through as well as a third planting of only the hardiest and earliest varieties finally started doing better as the weather heated up from the end of June onward, though almost continuous drought from then until now meant that they were dependent on daily watering and probably did not do quite as well as they could have with more rain.

A rare depiction of rice cultivation in Indian miniature painting from a ca. 1785 manuscript of the Bihari Satsai from the princely state of Guler in what is now the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh; apart from the exquisite paintings from the royal ateliers, in the 18th and 19th centuries the region was renowned for its excellent rice (Sources: The Met; Bābū Nathū Rām. Bāghbānī aur zirā'at kā risālah. Lāhor: Maba'-i mufīd-i 'ām, 1909. p.150-153)

With all these challenges, some of the varieties did not make it at all. I have not seen a single flowering spike, for instance, of the Californian variety 'M-101', which has done well here in previous summers. Other varieties are quite behind and have yet to head, which means they may not make it before it gets too cold in fall. A few, however, have done reasonably well. The Russian 'Duborskian' tillers quite poorly compared to other rice varieties and gets quite lanky and droopy, but it developed reliably and made it to heading even from a mid-June planting.

'Duborskian' grains beginning to color

Two Japanese varieties that I am growing for the first time this year have also done relatively well; 'Hayayuki' and and 'Yukihikari'  are more delicate than 'Duborskian' but have tillered better and display virtually no blanking.

A small ripening panicle of 'Hayayuki'

A developing spike of 'Yukihikari' against a backdrop of Persian basil

I do hope that two fairly well-developed patches of 'Hmong Sticky Rice' and 'Charleston Gold' will make it two flowering soon; these two varieties managed to head in September last year as the days got short enough and some grains made it to maturity. Hopefully this year a few more will make it and maybe I can select for earlier flowering - that is, less day length sensitivity - over time.

4 comments:

  1. That's really interesting! The rice looks so tubby, different from common rice that we use to eat.

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    1. These are all short-grain varieties which tolerate cooler weather and also are less day length-sensitive; I am experimenting with whatever long-grain varieties I can get my hands on, too, but so far they all start flowering too late because this far north the days are too long in the summer.

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  2. I have never heard of anyone growing rice before. Amazing! And so many varieties. I know we have one here in Texas growing in the San Marcos river that grows only here. I once spend the day up to my chest in that river counting it! Never again. WIll you grow enough to harvest? Love the miniature painting. I have several but they are all of men and women.

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    1. If I focused on just one reliable variety I could probably grow just enough in my little patch for a meal or two, but since I keep experimenting I probably only have enough to increase my seed supply a bit. I had not heard of the San Marcos River rice before - always learning new things!

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