Growing Rice at Home

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growing rice

Rice varieties, such as Carolina Gold, are surprisingly easy to grow from seed.  As long as you have 5 to 6 months of warm weather and the patience of a saint, there is no reason you can’t have great grains at home. If you are considering growing rice at home, there are some important factors to be aware of. If you plan to eat your rice, removing it from its husks / hulls can be more challenging than it might sound.

Searching for Rice Seeds

Rice turns golden brown.
Carolina Gold rice turns golden brown when it’s ready to harvest.

The hardest part of growing rice is finding reasonably priced seeds, especially when you’re factoring in the shipping and handling charges. After all, hard-t0-find varieties often cost more than going rate ($1-3 USD) for a packet of seeds. Then the shipping costs add several more dollars to the total. So it makes good cents (lol) to obtain your rice seeds from a place that sells other things that you want to grow in your garden.

Although there are cheaper generic rice strains sold on Etsy, I didn’t want to throw all caution to the wind. So I went with Carolina Gold Rice. It’s a heirloom variety that was rediscovered near Charleston (a nearby town) and is known for its superior flavor. It can also be grown as a paddy rice (traditionally flooded) or an upland rice (watered on the regular).

The current price for a packet of Carolina Gold rice seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (where I got mine) is $3.95 and their shipping charges recently went up to $4.50.  I paid less for the same product about 10 months ago and thought that price was already a bit high. With that in mind, I’d probably search around to find a better deal.

Planting the Rice

Planting rice.
Planting the Carolina Gold rice.

Another downside that has kept me from pursuing this project earlier is that rice seeds are only supposed to be viable for about a year. Therefore, the chances of getting extra crops from the same packet of seeds (like you would with tomatoes) is not good. I’m still going to give it a go next year and possibly expand my operations if I have the space.

Planting Carolina Gold rice seeds.
Rice seeds in a bucket.

Caroline Gold rice can be grown in the ground or in containers. In fact, I’ve seen numerous articles where people have grown wetland plants in cheap kiddie pools. Since I was worried about potentially leaching chemicals into my meals, I decided against that and ultimately went with the old, food-grade plastic buckets that I’ve been using for close to a decade. (Note to self: make sure they aren’t leaching plastic either. Yikes.)

Growing Carolina Gold Rice

Carolina Gold seeds in hand.
Rice seed prior to planting.

Getting the rice to grow was surprisingly easy. I just tossed the seeds on top of some soil, buried them a few inches deep, watered them regularly, and waited for them to sprout. Green shoots poked up through the ground less than two weeks afterward. It couldn’t be this easy, right? Well, yes and no. Then the waiting began: April, May, June, July, August, and into September. 150 days, more or less.

Rice growing out of a bucket.
A few weeks after planting.

However, all I had to do was keep the plants watered, which wasn’t too difficult. Although I was attempting to grow my plants as paddy rice in a bucket with no drainage holes, the soil never actually stayed damp enough to have standing water on top. Just as well, though, since I become a blood bank for mosquitoes every summer.

Months rolled by and suddenly little grains began to form on my plant stalks. I was thrilled and a bit concerned for their well-being. Fortunately, the birds had more interesting things to eat (like my strawberries!) so they ignored these lackluster treats. However, I did have netting ready, just in case they decided to attack.

Carolina Gold rice glowing in the sunlight.
Rice many months later: a work in progress.

In all honesty, the most difficult part of the entire process was telling when the grains were ripe enough to be harvested. All the information I’d found said that the entire stalk they were on was going to turn yellow. But I kept watching and it never did.

I left the grains on the stalk on for a good two weeks longer than the instructions had indicated. Unfortunately, the plants were still green. I finally came across information that said I could pick them if the pods had all turned yellow (more like golden brown), which they had. So I did.

Rice that is nearly ready to harvest.
The almost finished product.

Hull No – A Rice Removal Story

The next big item on the to-do list was removing the hulls from the rice. Actual rice hullers usually run several hundred dollars online. They are presumably worth the investment if you’re growing large quantities of rice on a yearly basis. But I certainly wasn’t going to spend that amount of money on an experiment.

My research also turned up some interesting instructions on creating homemade rice hullers using a drill bit and more mechanical know-how than I currently possess. There had to be an easier, more affordable way to accomplish this.

Drying the rice harvest on a baking sheet.
Drying out the harvest.

Enter the traditional process of winnowing the rice, which results in broken (but still edible) rice grains. If you were going to sell the rice, this might be a problem. But I just wanted to eat my bounty without choking on the hulls.

First, I would let my harvest air dry in a warm location. Then, I’d smash the grains with a rolling pin to break off the shells. And finally, I’d throw the rice in the air multiple times on a windy day to let all the dried husks blow away.

Winnow for the win?

Unfortunately, this method wasn’t very effective. Repeatedly bashing the grains with a heavy marble rolling pin didn’t remove more than half the rice hulls. Pouring the rice through the air to blow away the husks didn’t work very well either. It took several hours, and I still had about half left.

Attempting to winnow the Carolina Gold rice using a rolling pin.
Attempt at winnowing.

It needs to be fairly windy or you need to pour the rice from a greater height than I did (about 1 feet to the pan below). You also need very good light to see clearly to pick out the greenish-white rice grains from among the golden hulls.

I discovered that rubbing the rice together between your hands does help get some of the grains out. But not as many as you’d think and the hulls are a bit rough, so it’s pretty hard on your hands. Using a mortar and pestle instead worked significantly faster, but the rice got slightly more banged up.

1/4 a cup of rice after winnowing.
The end result.

In Conclusion:

Growing rice is easy enough for an amateur gardener. However, like dealing with introverts, it takes some real effort to get them to come out of their shells. If you’re not willing to invest in a proper hulling device, save yourself the hassle and select a variety with edible exteriors (like some species of black or red rice).

As always, happy gardening!

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About Lauren

Lauren Purcell is a freelance writer from Savannah, Georgia. She is the proud owner of two spoiled little dogs. Her hobbies include gardening (in case you hadn't noticed), cooking, traveling when she has money, and waiting on her key lime tree to produce fruit.

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