Fall isn’t just for veggies. Plant these cool-season mostly annual flowers now through early fall for blooms next spring.
|bachelor button||sweet peas|
violas (Johnny Jump Ups)
Though it may seem like an odd time of year to read about growing rice it’s actually a really good time to start planning for next season. Rice is a long season crop and preparation this fall can really benefit your rice harvest.
There’s also a few misconceptions about growing rice that make it less popular than it perhaps should be.
The first is that rice requires flooding. Flooding is actually just a method of weed control. Rice does well in water while other plants like weeds do not. However it can be grown with just and inch of irrigation or rain per week. However if you happen to have a wet area on your property you’d like to put into production rice could be your answer.
The second misconception is that rice can only be grown in really warm areas. In fact there are varieties of rice that can be grown as far north as Vermont. SESE has varieties that are best suited to the south and mid-atlantic regions.
Lastly rice is often seen as a crop for big farmers and not necessarily backyard gardeners but you don’t need big fields or machinery to get a nice rice crop. It’s perfectly easy to grow and cultivate with hand tools. The only special equipment you need is a rice de-huller and you can find a variety of home scale models available.
Selecting & Preparing a Plot
Whether you choose to flood your rice or just irrigate it, water is probably the biggest concern when choosing a plot. Make sure it’s an area you can easy water because of its irrigation needs.
Rice also does best in fertile, nitrogen-rich soil. Compost is the perfect fertilizer for rice so if you select a plot this fall you can add about 1lb per square foot of compost and till it in. You can also grow a winter-kill cover crop like buckwheat this fall. In the spring the dead buckwheat will act as a mulch and you can plant your rice through it. The mulch will help hold moisture and prevent weeds.
Rice can be planted two ways either direct sown or transplanted. For transplants seeds should be started 6-8 weeks before your desired planting date.
Direct seed or transplant rice in rows 9-12 inches apart with plants about 6 inches apart in the row. Rice isn’t always grown in rows however this method has been shown to increase yields as the rice has plenty of space and nutrients and can be easily cultivated.
Rice doesn’t do well with weed pressure so be sure to keep it well weeded. Small plantings of rice typically aren’t bothered by pests or disease although birds will feed on rice as it ripens so you may choose to use netting.
The rice should be harvested once it’s dry and brown. There are two methods for harvesting. You can cut the entire plant as close to the ground as possible or cut just the seed head. Whatever you choose it should be noted that leaving the straw on the field will add nutrients and keep your soil healthy for next year.
Once harvested, rice should be threshed and winnowed. There are machines made specifically for threshing but basically you’re just trying to break other plant material free from the grains of rice. A common method is to place the rice in a 5-gallon bucket and use a drill with a paint stirring attachment to break it up.
After threshing the rice should be winnowed. This process can be done in front of a fan by pouring the rice into a bowl and allowing the fan to blow away the lighter plant material while the grains fall straight down into the bowl. This will need to be repeated several times before all the material is gone.
Unlike wheat, rice also has to be de-hulled as it probably won’t come off during the threshing process. Rice can be de-hulled by rubbing it between your hands but it’s a strenuous and uncomfortable process. If you enjoy growing rice it’s probably worth investing in a home de-huller.
Finally you can enjoy your rice! Just like other crops growing your own can allow you to branch out into more varieties and tastes than the one or two offered at the grocery store.
Fall is actually one of the best times for backyard gardeners to work on improving their soil health. Without a lot of effort gardeners can improve the soils through the fall, winter, and early spring for a better gardening season next year through the use of cover crops. Cover crops are not just for large farms and have a variety of benefits.
First off, using a winter cover crop is extremely important in resducing erosion. When there’s nothing growing in the soil in fall, winter, and early spring any rain or melt water can erode valuable soil and nutrients and pollute the local water system. Too many nutrients in the lakes, streams, and river can cause algae blooms that can be dangerous to both people and aquatic life.
Add Organic Matter
As cover crops die or are tilled into the soil they add organic matter which is key to soil health! It gives the soil structure, retains moisture, provides habitat and food for beneficial insects and microbes, and adds nutrients to the soil as it slowly breaks down. If not tilled in the pant material also functions as a mulch to continue to suppress weeds, preserve moisture, and reduce ersosion.
In the same way that open soil is vunerable to ersion it’s also vunerable to evaporation. Cover crops prevent sun and wind from drying out the soil and hold rainwater.
Some Fix Nitrogen
Any cover crop variety that is a legume actually adds nitrogen to the soil as it grows in addition to the nutrients it provides when it dies or is tilled under. Some examples SESE carries will be given below.
Cover crops also help to suppress weeds. Most cover crops are quick growing and vigorous allowing them to outcompete and knock back weeds.
Often your fall cover crops will be one of the first plants blooming in the spring, a critical time for pollinators. Planting in the fall gives you and them a jump start. They’re provided a reliable food source early helping you ensure reliable pollination throughout the growing season.
Fall Cover Crop Varieties
Southern Exposure offers a variety of cover crops suitable for fall planting.
Hairy Vetch is both beautiful and useful. Bees and other pollinators love its purple flowers. It’s also a nitrogen fixing legume. Sow August 1st – November 1st.
Austrian Winter Peas
This awesome crop can be grown through the winter in zones 6 and up. It’s nitrogen fixing and edible! Sow August 15th – November 1st.
Buckwheat isn’t really a winter cover crop becuase it’s what is called a “winter-kill crop” meaning that it dies back with the fall frosts. However it’s great for planting in the fall with a mix of clover because it provides clover shade and cool soil until it dies allowing th clover to take off. It can be planted in the spring up until 1 month before the last fall frost.
This nitrogen fixer does best where winter temperatures don’t dip below 10°F. It has longer blooms than traditional red clover. Sow from mid-July through mid-September.
Red clover has a lot going for it. It’s well loved by pollinators, fixes nitrogen, is great for weed supression and makes a wonderful, medicinal tea. Sow in spring or fall.
White Dutch Clover
Like the other clovers White Dutch is excellent for nitrogen and supressing weeds. Sow in late winter, spring, late summer, or fall.
Hulless Oats make an excellent cover crop for adding a lot of organic material. It should be noted that they will winter kill in areas where the temperature drop below 10°F. Oatstraw stems can be harvested for tea. Sow in later summer for a winter cover crop.
Common Winter Rye
While Winter Rye is not nitrogen fixing it’s still an excellent cover crop. It can actually help stabilize excess nitrogen and releases phosphorus and potassium from the soil for plants to use. It’s extensive root system makes it excellent for improving soil structure. It’s also vigorous and great for weed supression, erosion reduction, moisture conservation, and adds tons of organic material to the soil. Sow August 1st – November 15th.
Just because the gardening season is coming to a close doesn’t mean there’s not still planting to be done. If you want a healthy productive garden next year it’s definitely worth the effort to plant a cover crop this fall!