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Small-scale rice growing in cold temperate climates - methods, varieties and yields

gardener & author
Posts: 1600
Location: Tasmania
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The Power of Duck
I’m currently reading “The Power of Duck: Integrated Rice and Duck Farming”. This book is written for warmer climates than my own, but shows the system that Takao Furano perfected, where the right amount of ducklings are released into rice paddies within 2 weeks of rice seedlings being transplanted, and then the ducks are moved out before the rice ears form. The small ducks manure the rice, eat the weeds and insects, muddy the paddy water (this makes nutrients more available), but they leave the rice plants alone.

The rice plants he transplants are 40 to 50 days old, around 25cm (10”) tall, with 2 or 3 stalks each (or stalks per hill), the water after transplanting is kept at 10 to 15cm (4-6”) deep, and the ducklings are around 1 or 2 weeks old when released.

Furanu uses the ‘aigamo’ breed of duck - a Japanese breed that is a cross between a wild mallard and a domesticated duck similar to khaki campbell. He recommends smaller breeds of duck, but there is also one larger breed (Cherry Valley duck, over 3.5kg in weight) that he recommends, so I wonder if integrated duck and rice raising would work with dual purpose ducklings such as appleyards or anconas, or just with normal khaki campbells.

If mature ducks are used then there is some risk of them eating the young rice seedlings, but small ducks are only interested in insects and tender weeds. He also says that ducks of any age can be used to ‘tractor’ the paddies to remove weed seeds before direct sowing or transplanting.

Azolla is also introduced to the paddies as extra duck food (it grows well outdoors where he is from May onwards) and for some nitrogen-fixing benefits. Ducks do such an efficient job of weeding the paddies that they run out of green feed at some point, and this is where the azolla is so helpful, as it doesn’t compete with the rice at all, but provides extra food for the ducks.

How many ducks?
Furano’s standard of measurement used in the book is 100 metres by 1000 metres (328 by 3280 feet). For the scale I’m looking at to begin, a tenth of this is a better standard measurement, so for his 15 to 30 ducks for his area, I would use 2 or 3 ducks for 100 square metres (1076 square feet), or use more ducks over a larger area with only some of it being paddy.

Other books, and cold climate rice growing
I’ve also read about growing rice in “The Resilient Farm and Homestead” and “Small-Scale Grain Raising”, neither of which include any details about adding ducks or azolla to benefit the rice growing (“The Resilient Farm and Homestead” does have a fertigation pool that gravity-feeds into the rice paddies, ducks can manure in there, but there’s nothing in the book about ducks doing the weeding as well).

We have a longer growing season here than Ben Falk (Resilient Farm and Homestead) does in Vermont, so if varieties of rice from Hokkaido grow for him, then maybe they will grow well where I live. Hayayuki rice is the variety mentioned in “The Resilient Farm and Homestead”. Rareseeds.com used to sell this, and other varieties that will grow in short seasons, but now they don't and I am annoyed that I didn't order some earlier. Maybe there are other sources for these varieties?

Why I am thinking of growing rice, and how much space do we need for it?
We have plenty of runoff water that can be captured, stored, and then gravity-fed to small rice paddies, so this could be a good homegrown staple grain to grow on our land. We would normally eat around 50kg (110lb) of rice a year, which makes it seem achievable to grow all our own on around 100 square metres. For smaller families, a 5kg (11lb) harvest from around 10 square metres (100 square feet) would seem to provide a decent amount of storable food. Rice can be grown in the same paddy year after year, as long as it has plenty of fertility from ducks, other animals or compost. Paddy rice can also be grown on badly drained bits of land that aren’t suitable for much else.

Other thoughts
I’ve also read that rice can be grown in normal vegetable garden conditions, it’s just watered more frequently than vegetables (maybe drip irrigation would help?).

Hulling the rice seems to be a bit of a challenge - I wonder if running it through a hand-powered stone grain mill on the right setting would be enough to hull the grains? Or are there any home-scale hulling machines that will hull rice?

Spacing and yields
Ben Falk spaces his rice plants at around 8 inches apart, so around 25 of them per square metre (10 square feet). Furanu spaces his at around between 10 and 14 plants per square metre, and his rice yields are similar to Falk’s.


I’m interested to hear of others experiences growing rice in temperate climates, and hope to post some of my own experience here once we’ve set things up a bit better.
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I've started growing rice, although I haven't done anything as far as hulling yet as I don't have a lot grown yet. I'm in zone 5b in the mountains of Pennsylvania, which we get around 140 frost free days. I've only been growing upland rice because I don't have the ability to do paddies. Generally the upland rice needs as much rain as melons or tomatoes, so 1-2 inches per week and consistent. Some varieties are better suited to upland.

I transplanted mine, started them six weeks before transplanting, which ended up stunting them in the seed trays. I'm going to 3-4 weeks start this year. Some of the varieties don't work for me, since they're too long of a season and don't mature in time as upland. We had so much rain this year that I didn't really have to worry about watering. I mostly just let them do their thing and harvested them by heads when they were hard in the hull. I hand pulled the rice off the heads.

I can't help any with the ducks or the azolla unfortunately.

I highly recommend https://www.sherckseeds.com/ of Indiana, he's got good resources on rice hulling and he's in a similar zone as I am. He's also got a ton of awesome rice varieties, unfortunately he doesn't ship outside of the US. You might be able to find someone willing to order from him and ship to you.
Kate Downham
gardener & author
Posts: 1600
Location: Tasmania
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
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Thank you!

He has quite a few different rice varieties, including the Hayayuki variety. He doesn't ship outside the USA, but I could just ask a friend to send it instead once I'm ready to grow.

Good to know about your transplanting times, I will keep that in mind to be more flexible about not starting too early.

http://web.archive.org/web/20160409061255/http://www.brillengineering.com/table-top-rice-huller-with-chain-and-sprockets.html (web archive link)
"his small table top, hand-crank rice dehuller was designed and built by Don Brill of Brill Engineering. The complete plans are available online for free, including video tutorials. I have found that it works great for rice and millet. It does require multiple passes, but still saves an enormous amount of time compared to beating the rice in a mortar. The unit I have does not work for removing the hull from grains like Einkorn wheat."
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