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RICE GROWING 101: Starting Rice Seed

The rice paddies don't look very promising this time of year, but spring happens fast here.

Stubble remains from our harvest in October 2022. Once the paddies dry enough to get in with the tractor, we will rototill the stubble into the soil. [Note: These paddies were built six years ago and first planted five years ago. If you are just starting out, you must give yourself a year to prepare your paddy because it must be dry to undertake the initial soil work. Takeshi and Linda Akaogi provide an an excellent description of the paddy preparation process for this part of the world in their "Rice Growing Manual for the Northeast USA" at copy.pdf ]

When to start

Temperatures still dip below freezing at night, but it's definitely spring and time to start the rice plants. Typically, we start soaking our rice seed on April 1st - no kidding! We have been tracking the shifting climate, and it seems that our growing season is getting longer - starting earlier and carrying on much later into the fall. Our sense of this was confirmed in a recent presentation by Alex Cadel (Climate Services Specialist with the NS government and with ClimAtlantic). It seems that our average last frost date has moved back from May 20th (documented for 1921-1980) to May 16th (1981-2010) and now is projected to be May 7th (2011-2040). To take advantage of this we are planning to shift all of our planting activities to earlier dates.

How much to start

Back to the paddies. To plant this area (which is about 1/8th of an acre) we start 400 grams of seed (about 13,200 seeds). If germination is at 100%, and we plant two seeds in each plug*, that will give us 6,600 seedlings as plug starts. But, there is always attrition at every step so we compensate with an extra 10% additional seed.

The process

For 2023, we will be growing out two main varieties: Khudwani and Hayayuki, both from 2021 harvests. We did germination tests in February and found that the Khudwani seed is germinating at 100%, while the Hayayuki seed is germinating at 80%. Seed is weighed out, then water added, aggitated and "floaters" poured off - the first attrition. ["Floaters" are seeds that didn't fill and mature and thus are light and float. These seeds will not germinate and will not produce seedlings.]

Khudwani 2021

The rice seed is then soaked at room temperature until it begins to germinate - some 10 to 20 days, depending on how long it has been stored. Every day the rice seed is drained, rinsed and refilled with water. Be sure the water is not chlorinated, and don't fail to refresh it daily, or the seeds will begin to ferment.

In addition to our two main varieties, we plan to trial two new selections of rice - Yukimochi (a sweet, sticky rice variety) and the seed we harvested from a distinctive "sport" which declared itself to be special in the paddies of 2021. This seed seems very vigourous with large seed and, although it was stored in a warm environment, it is germinating at 100%. We have only a few grams of these two seed types. They will be started in the same manner and planted, monitored and harvested separately from the main varieties.

*The reason for sowing two seeds per cell in a plug tray is to ensure that you get at least one seedling in each plug. If both seeds germinate, that's OK. They grow fine together and you will just have larger plants and more rice per square foot.

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