Once your rice is planted, it will grow. If you keep the rice clear of competing plants, the only remaining issue is water.
Wading pool paddy. Just planted!
(Two children's pools inside one another, for structural strength.)
A mini paddy, about two weeks on.
First, let's talk about the paddy method. Real rice paddies are not stagnant pools. Fresh water is constantly introduced into the paddy, in a controlled flow. At times, the paddy may be drained until the soil is moist, but there is no standing water.
There are several specific reasons for draining a paddy. For example, to allow the sun to warm the soil around the roots; to control Tadpole Shrimp and Rice Water Weevil; to allow the heads to dry. In a mini-paddy, you'll find, both, intuitive and practical reasons for draining the paddy.
Here are two very practical reasons that are directly related to the rice's growth cycle.
A week or two after your rice has been planted in the paddy, it will become established. That is, the roots will take hold in the soil and the rice will begin to grow. Once you see that the rice is strong and growing, wait for several days, then drain the water to soil level. Keep the soil moist but don't raise the water level for 2 or 3 days. This will allow the sun's rays to warm the soil at the base of the plants; encouraging the rice to tiller (send up new stalks). After two or three days, add warm water until the level is, once again, about one inch above the soil. Our paddy rice tillered magnificently. Some plants developed over 12 stems, all vital and strong!
Later in the season, seed heads will develop. It is important to keep water in the paddy during head development. Later, the heads will begin to bend, in that graceful arc that is so characteristic of rice. Eventually, the heads will become heavy and the stalks will begin to yellow. The time between head appearance and yellowing varies with the type of rice. Our commercial short grain rice required just under one month. More ancient varieties may point straight up for five weeks, or longer, collecting the energy of the sun, moon and stars! When your rice is bent heavily and beginning to yellow, drain the water to soil level. This is the beginning of the drying phase.
It's okay to let the rain fall. Just keep your paddy reasonably dry. If you were to pick the rice heads, now, and dry them indoors, you would find that your rice is perfectly edible and capable of producing new plants in the Spring. But, it is best to allow your grain to dry beneath the sky, gathering its final nutrients from the mother stalk in natural procession. Like a child developing, full term in the womb. A strong constitution!
Beyond the practical requirements, you can use your intuition to discover other good times to drain and refill the paddy. Where do you begin?
Easy! Spend time with your paddy and watch the water.
The water will not grow stagnant as quickly as you may think. The rice has a way of keeping the water clear. In fact, we never had to drain our paddies due to cloudy water or surface scum. Occasionally, I would lower the water level and refill the paddy the following day, with warm water from a sun heated garden hose. That served to oxygenate the water.
We thought we would have to drain the water frequently, to control mosquito larvae. But, in reality, we only had to do that once, near the end of the growing season. But, that's the kind of stuff to look for. Wriggling larvae, cloudy water, or refreshment.
Using the drinking glass or small pitcher, scoop out the water. When the water reaches soil level, gently depress the side and lip of the glass into the soil and continue to scoop the water until there are no puddles.
Use water from a sun heated garden hose or another warm water supply. Curl your fingers in front of the hose to keep the stream from digging into the soil. Swish the water around as it passes through your fingers, adding oxygen to the water. You can wiggle your fingers in the water, anytime you like, to keep it oxygenated.
Can you plant your paddy, add water, and just keep the water level there, until the end of the season? Yes, you probably can! As I said, rice is very hardy. But, a careful eye on the water, the cycles and the seasons will enrich your paddy and your experience.
Short Grain- Heads developing and beginning to bend.
Older Variety- Heads still exhibiting upright growth.
Okay, let's talk about the cultivation of rice that is planted directly in the garden soil. There are several positive aspects to this method. For example, no artificial containers, no draining and refilling, and fewer limitations on the size of your crop.
However, in our side-by-side test, using the same soil, same area and identical planting time, we found the direct planted rice to have thinner stalks, less tillers, smaller heads and a longer growing season. Having said that, the resulting grain was fully formed and, apparently as viable as its paddy grown cousins.
This year (2002) we hope to grow a larger area (approx. 30' x 5') of direct planted rice in our garden. I'll keep you posted.
We've already covered the spacing, and the control of competing plants. The remaining issue is exactly the same as for paddy grown. Water.
In 2001, our part of the planet (Southwestern Ohio) received an unusual amount of rainfall. We also provided additional water with a warm garden hose. At this time, I don't know how well the rice will do, during drought or even under average rainfall. Until I learn more, I would recommend that you don't allow your soil to become dry for extended periods. Warm water is favored, but cold water may be used; especially in the morning on a sunny day.