By Nick Storrs

As students return to school, our rice paddies have also crossed a major milestone this past weekend. We were greeted on Tuesday with the first flowers of the season, in a process botanists and farmers call “heading out.’ This is always an important time because it gives us a glimpse into how large the harvest will be in the fall.

The flowers individually are very small and a pale green shade. They are so nondescript because like many grains they rely on the wind to spread their pollen rather than insects and animals. But what further makes rice special is that a flower can pollinate itself, and often do before the flower has completely opened to the world. Because of this it is extremely easy to save seed from rice, and is an important of the growing process in many of the poorer regions of the world.  When the flowers are pollinated before they are fully open they have much less of a chance to be contaminated by other variety and make hybrids. Instead the seeds will often grow into plants that are very similar to their parent.

While our three beds were planted at different times and using different methodsof starting seeds, they all headed out at about the same time. The youngest bed headed out 4 days after the earliest bed did.  But the size of the panicles was very different. The panicle is a stem that supports many flowers and eventually many grains of rice. The panicles of the strong bed were 8-10 inches long while the smallest bed was only 6 inches or so. This will reflect the amount of rice harvest from each bed.

What is so cool is that I expected the different beds to flower a couple of weeks apart because of their different planting times. But they must flower based on a cue from the weather or length of day, because it all happen so quickly. What wasn’t surprising was which beds grew longer panicles and will grow more rice. When we harvest it will be interesting to compare how much rice came from each beds.

All of these little citizen science experiments can really help to give us an understanding of how rice growing in this region of the world.

By EunYoung Sebazco
One summer’s day, I received an email from one of my Japanese friends, Aya saying, “Nukazuke is ready. Come over”. Nukazuke (糠漬け) is a type of fermented Japanese pickle that uses rice bran powder (nuka). DSC_1817So, I stopped by the next day to pick it up. She has been making it for me the past few months. She handed me a small container with full of pickles and a bag of rice bran powder. I was excited! I have never thought that I was able to make Nukazuke. I thought it would be very difficult to make process. My old Japanese friend, Sakai, had introduced it to me long time ago. When she took the pickles out of her old jar, the pickles were covered with brown crumbs which was different than I was used to seeing. In Korean culture, we make so many different types fermented pickles that most of them are soybean based or red pepper based. So, I was very happy to hear from Aya to remind me of another way to use rice. The more I learn about rice, the more curious I become. Any edible vegetable and fish can be pickled in Nuka. The taste of nuka pickles can be sour and salty. However, the flavor of pickle opens the appetite and after the meal helps digest the meal.

Slightly roasted nuka
Dried kelp (Kombu)
Vegetables (Cucumber, Carrots, Radish, etc)
1 Mix the salt and roasted nuka powder together in a container.
2 Add water, a little at a time, until you have a fairly dry paste.
3 Submerge kombu (kelp) and chilli in the paste (being careful not to break the chilli and release the seeds), and pat down the surface of the paste until smooth.DSC_1820

4 wipe the excess paste from around the edge with clean damp cloth.
5 Cover with a lid. Keep in a cool and dark place in the kitchen (or refrigerator) . Stir the paste at least twice a day, three times in hot weather.
6  After a week, the paste should be ready to use and have a slightly sour smell to it like sourdough starter does. Remove the chilli and kombu.
7 Place the slightly salted vegetable into the nuka paste.
8 After a week, They will be ready to eat.
* You will need to add nuka powder when you see the moisture on paste or when you place new vegetable or lose the pickle from the nuka paste.

By Nick Storrs

As our rice is entered its awkward adolescent stage, we went north to Putney, VT to attend the 4th annual Northeastern Rice Conference on August 3rd. We were greeted by a group of over a hundred northeastern rice growers, aspiring growers, and people interested in the development of a new crop in the region.   The Conference took place on the Akaogi Farm owned by Takeshi Akaogi and his wife Linda. Upon stepping out of the trees lining their fields we were shocked to discover the array of different varieties of rice in all their colors, 2013-08-03 08.59.14shapes, and sizes filling their rice paddies! So many were jaw-droppingly beautiful. Many of the varieties he was raising had already develop flowers and seed heads, a good month or two before ours does.  Later we learned all about the different varieties that are being imported from Northern Japan, a region with a much shorter growing season, and further work being done to adapt them to our region. We discovered how fortunate we are to have the long growing season her in New York City that affords us the opportunity to grow a longer season sushi rice like Koshihikari.

2013-08-03 11.28.56

As the conference proceeded we learned about the process of developing varieties for India, how to build small scale machinery to hull and thresh our rice, and we got to meet some new friends who we hope to keep in touch with.

We also became very interested in helping Cornell University conduct a study to understand the viability of different common types of rice grown here in the Northeast. Next year, along with many of the other farmers at the conference, we will all grow a mix of five different varieties and report back on how well they did, while recording some important information about how they grew. We are really looking forward to involving students and classrooms with this citizen science project and exposing them to real scientific research in action!

All in all we can back filled with ideas for our rice and bubbling over with enthusiasm. Thank you so much to the Akaogis for hosting us and everyone who help make the day possible. We can’t wait for next year!

Takeshi Akaogi offering a tour of his farm.   
Takeshi Akaogi offering a tour of his farm.

If you would like more information about this conference or rice being grown in the Northeast visit http://www.ricenortheasternus.org

By EunYoung Sebazco

We been trying to have a sustainable practice on our small rice paddies even though they are a “man-made wetland.” One of them is duckweeds, which is a rice companion plant. We have been growing duckweeds on our paddies since last year.

Lets say what the duckweeds do. IMG_20130803_090049They clean the water, provide bio-fertilizer, allege control, and limit mosquitoes. These are things that humans are not able to control without adding chemicals. Also, duckweeds contain high amounts of protein, more so than soy bean. Duckweeds are a good food resource in some parts of Asia for both animals and humans. Maybe we can also use duckweeds as a supplement for our teenage stage of chickens. Duckweeds spread quick, colonies of them could cause a problem of oxygen. But, don’t worry, we have a solar air pump and other good friends working together in the water. (Photo from Akaogi Farm, August 2013)

We (Koreans) call duckweeds ” Keguri bap” means ” Bullfrog’s rice”. A lot of time Bullfrogs live in the rice paddies. The duckweeds are extremely dense on the surface of the water that when they swim out of the water, their face is covered with duckweeds. 0.49809900_1368408945So, it looks like bluegills are eating the duckweeds. That’s how we named it? In Korea while the little children are eating rice and get some rice on their face, the parents say ” You have bullfrog’s rice your face”. I love the sound of word keguri bap. (Photo: http://bric.postech.ac.kr)

By EunYoung Sebazco
We would like to hear or see how our little visitors observed and their perspectives of our rice paddies. So, we came up with an experiment this year.
1045236_290189197793501_1586008799_nWe had a sweet 5 year old visitor on a Sunday morning in July. His name is Syun. I set up the small video camera on his forehead (He was very excited about the process).

Now… action! I gave him few simple questions. I asked him what he saw at our rice paddies. How many leaves, what shape of the leaves, any flowers or fruits on, any bugs around the paddies. He responded very well. I will bring him out the paddies thought out the season. Stay tuned-

By Winnie L.

The warm weather has given the rice seeds that final little push to germinate just in time for our Rice Festival on June 5th.

Chefs Yoshi Kousaka and MiHyun Han from Manhattan restaurants; students from Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School; Koichi Ai, the Deputy Consul General of Japan,  Masakazu Kigure, the Cultural Attache to the Deputy Consul General and Midori Goto, Cultural Affairs Specialist of Japanese Consulate (who also joined us for the Cherry Blossom Festival) and our own horticulture crew made this another fantastic Rice Festival! 

First graders making rice balls

The students made onigiri (rice balls) with umeboshi (pickled plums), nori (dried seaweed) and katuobushi (a fish-based, dry seasoning) with the help of our chefs. The rice balls were made with the same variety of rice that we’re growing here at the farm. Koshihikari rice is a short grain Japanese rice that has a sticky texture and sweet taste.

Koshihikari rice and rice plants from last year's Randall's Island rice harvest
Koshihikari rice and our own rice from last year’s Randall’s Island harvest

The weather is getting perfect for growing rice so we flooded the rice paddies that volunteers built (rice loves water!) and the students helped put the rice seedlings into the soil. On this sunny day, 300 seedlings were put into the rice paddies by forty first-graders (since April, over 900 rice seeds have been planted by students from all over NYC!).

First graders transplanting rice
First graders transplanting rice
First graders transplanting rice
First graders transplanting rice

We look  forward to harvesting the rice this Fall!

By EunYoung Sebazco

We received a letter from Mr. Koichi Ai is the Director, Japan Information Center & Deputy Consul-General in New York. We had an amazing first Cherry Blossom Festival along with the Consul-General of Japan in New York’s support. Now, he may join our rice festival!

Rice seeds are starting to sprout. We are planning to have the rice planting in the beginning of June. (Can’t wait!)

Japn Consul latter