Raising your own food – Rice, the last of four staples
I saved rice for last as you may not be able to grow this staple crop in your area. You need a warm climate (up to six months of 70 degree plus weather) and the ability to keep the soil moist during the growing period (plants are either submerged in a paddy or the soil is kept wet from rain or irrigation). Submerging the rice shoots underwater will limit competition with weeds.
► Rice is the oldest food still eaten today known in the archaeological record dating back over 7000 years.
► About 90% of the global production of rice is done in Asia where about 90% of the world’s rice is also eaten (I guess they don’t export much of it).
► Rice can be used to make vinegar, wine, beer and spirits (now that is an important survival factoid to know after the SHTF!).
There are numerous varieties of rice: long, medium, and short grain plus aromatic types like Basmati, Thai Jasmine, and Italian Arborio. It takes 90 to 180 days for rice to grow to maturity but you only need one to two ounces of rice in 100 sqft to grow ten pounds of rice (actually less if you do direct planting with no transplanting, maybe a little more if you do transplant from a nursery – more on that later).
Brown and white rice provide about 200 calories plus in a cup serving. Brown rice with the hull, bran, and germ layers intact is richer in vitamin B and several minerals (Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, and Zinc) while the white rice which only consists of the endosperm portion of the rice grain is mostly just calories and very little micronutrients. White rice will keep longer in storage (10 years at 70 degrees with oxygen absorbers, 30 years at 40 degrees). Due to the oils in the hull, brown rice has a shorter shelf life (up to six months at room temperature but up to a year if kept in cold storage) so you have to factor that into your plan for rotating food stock.
A University of Arkansas study estimated annual per capita consumption of rice in the US to be 30 pounds (in some Asian countries it was ten times that amount) (http://www.uark.edu/ua/ricersch/pdfs/per_capita_rice_consumption_of_selected_countries.pdf). So based on our estimate above of 100 sqft for ten pounds of rice, a family of four would need 1200 sqft (35’ x 35’, not bad but you might want to segregate the plot into several paddies to limit crop loss if a dyke breaks).
Ok, so we know we need warm weather and wet soil (a reliable source of water and a method to drain the water off at harvest time) to grow rice but let’s walk through the steps:
Select a type of rice that you know will grow in your area. There are many to choose from but why try to force a variety that doesn’t do well in your region?
Select an area as your paddy: You may have to dyke up the paddy and line the dykes so it will retain water. You want full sun and rice does better in slightly acidic soil. Well fertilized soil is a plus, consider using your raw sewage (black water) if it is not mixed with chemicals. You don’t need to keep the paddy flooded although submerging the area limits competition with the weeds. While commercial operations will keep up to 8” of water in a paddy, you can get by with one or two inches or less as long as you keep the soil wet.
Soak the seeds: one to two ounces of rice for each 100 sqft. Soak at least 12 hours but no more than 36. Pull them out of the water and let sit for another 12 hours.
Direct planting or transplant: If you are going to plant direct (provides a better yield by avoiding stress to seedlings when they are transplanted), you can plant in rows 9-12 inches apart with 3-4 inches between plants. The spacing helps you remove weeds during the growing process. Transplanting is labor intensive and it lengthens the growing process as the seedlings recover from the shock of transplanting. If you are planting in a nursery and then transplanting: you can use plastic buckets as a temporary nursery – the advantage of the nursery is to limit competition with weeds while the rice shoots are first developing). Place about six inches of fertilized soil in the bucket and add about six inches of water. Throw a handful of rice into the bucket and keep covered with water. When the shoots are 5 to 7 inches tall (about one month), they are ready to be transplanted.
Rice thrives in warm weather and cool weather can stunt growth. Let the rice grow until the heads start to nod and then drain the paddy and let the plants brown. Cut the heads off the top and let them dry out. I have seen farmers in the Philippines lay their rice out by the road. This works if it doesn’t rain. You can also roast the heads for about an hour under low heat (200F/93C). Let them cool and you can now remove the hulls by rubbing them together (this is another labor intensive task). Remember those Filipino farmers? They would move the dried rice from the shoulder to the traffic lanes – rubbing was accomplished by vehicles driving over the rice. Not a bad idea if you don’t mind the rubbery after-taste the rice picks up (just kidding, their rice tasted fine).
You should select some of the nicest heads (called panciles) for next year’s seeds. Store these in an air tight container for next year (remember, you will need about a pound and a half for a family of four to produce 30 pounds for each person – adjust the amounts according to your personal menu. My wife is Asian, we will need more rice…)
Removing the hulls gives you brown rice. Additional processing would be required to get white rice which can be stored for longer periods but as I mentioned above, it has lower nutritional value. There are some small rice hulling machines available on the net if you want to save some elbow grease both mechanical and electric. At this point, I am not sure if a wheat mill can be used on rice (have to check that out! And I did and you can find a mill that will grind various types of grains).
Note that the husks can be used as fuel, fodder or fertilizer (although they take some time to compost).